Photo: Brantley Guitierrez
Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood On Subconscious Writing, Weathering Rough Seasons & Their New Album 'Welcome 2 Club XIII'
Drive-By Truckers' last three albums were intensely political; their newest, 'Welcome 2 Club XIII,' is their most personal in almost 20 years. What spurred the veteran rockers to turn inward and shoot from the hip for a change?
For years, there was little mistaking what a Patterson Hood song was about.
While his partner in Drive-By Truckers, Mike Cooley, spun riddles even at his most polemical, Hood increasingly poured straight from the bottle. "Baggage" was about his lifelong battle with depression. "Thoughts and Prayers" skewered politicians' empty sentiments in the wake of mass shootings. "What It Means" opened with the extrajudicial slaying of Michael Brown. Whether dealing in the political, personal or both, Hood got franker and franker and franker.
But when Hood wrote "Shake and Pine," he didn't know what it meant at all.
"So you've gone astray in a New York minute/ Nothing left to say, or ways to spin it/ You've just gone too far, unsafe within it/ All spun out and swept away." Hood wrote in a burst of inspiration — he estimates it took only 15 or 20 minutes. When he played it for his wife, Rebecca, she hoped it wasn't about her. (He assured her it wasn't — but that was all he knew.)
Seven months later, Hood was performing "Shake and Pine" solo in Asheville, North Carolina. Right then, he had a lightbulb moment. "I had a friend pass away suddenly around the first week of November in 2020," he tells GRAMMY.com. "I realized: Wow, this is about my friend Jimmy. It's all here. All these different lines are codes for various things about him and our friendship and my sense of loss with him dying and our last conversation.
"It was all written on such a subconscious level," Hood continues. "Which of course, is my favorite aspect of being a writer — whenever it happens." And on Drive-By Truckers' refreshed and reinvigorated new album, Welcome 2 Club XIII, it happens all the time.
On their preceding trifecta of very political albums — 2016's American Band, and 2020's The Unraveling and The New OK — the Truckers dealt in carefully worded statements of purpose. Even comedic moments, like Cooley's "Sarah's Flame" (as in Palin), served to articulate their specific political perspective.
For all those albums' merits, it's a relief to hear them so introspective, so internal-facing on this one, out June 3 — which, naturally, contains "Shake and Pine."
In ominous opener "The Driver," Hood is a shiftless young man, clearing his heavy psychological weather by "f<em></em>*ing around and wasting gas." The title track is an ironic ode to the dismal Muscle Shoals honky tonk where their pre-DBT band, Adam's House Cat, performed for indifferent or hostile audiences. "Forged in Hell and Heaven Sent," "Billy Ringo in the Dark" and "Wilder Days" swirl with memory, loss and regret.
But even when Hood and Cooley evoke concrete images — Klansmen scattering "like rats" away from a flaming dumpster, the "penny beer and cheap cocaine" in the title track — these songs remain impressionistic, their colors smeared in half-remembrances. And the shot-from-the-hip vibe of the songs applies to the one-and-done production; the Truckers tracked Welcome 2 Club XIII in three and a half days, added some overdubs and called it a record.
In an in-depth interview with GRAMMY.com, Patterson Hood discusses the inspiration behind the album, his 37-year partnership with Cooley and why he feels Welcome 2 Club XIII is their most personal record since 2003’s revered Decoration Day.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
One connection I made while enjoying Welcome 2 Club XIII was the recent resurgence of Adam's House Cat. How did it feel to reunite with those guys with decades of experience under your belts?
God, it was crazy. The original bass player has passed away, and the guy who replaced him in the band passed away. So, it was just Cooley and I and the drummer, Chuck [Tremblay]. He was older than the rest of us and kind of raised us. He kind of taught Cooley and I how to do this thing. He's an amazing drummer, so playing with him all these years later was really special. Plus, we just love the guy.
Finally putting that record out [2018's Town Burned Down] — hell, it was lost for almost 20 years. We thought the tapes had been destroyed; the mixtapes got destroyed in a tornado, of all things. But we were able to find the 24-track multitracks and mix it from that. I was really happy to finally put that out.
We thought he was ancient. He was, like, 35. Cooley and I were barely in our twenties; Cooley was a teenager when we started Adam's House Cat. We thought [Chuck] was this old guy! He had spent years and years playing in bands on the road and we were green as s<em></em>*.
I don't know how he didn't kill us, because we were fighting all the time, drunk a<em></em>holes. He was really great with us and taught us how to be a band.
The title track reminds me of Richard and Linda Thompson's "I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight," in the sense that it's longing for a night out that doesn't seem very fun — in fact, it sounds miserable. Was that the comedic crux of it?
[Laughs.] Yeah, that was pretty much it! It was the only club in town, so it was the only place to play. And it wasn't suited for what we did at all. They let us open for some hair metal cover band, and we were doing our post-punk, Replacements-y kind of thing. None of them liked us there! The place had disco lights and industrial carpet and the stage was [Gestures a shallow level] this high off the ground.
But it was all we had, so it was something! It's kind of the anti-glory-days song.
As you've noted, every Drive-By Truckers album is political to some degree. But after three straight albums of 90 percent political material, it seems like it was time to get 90 percent personal again.
I think that's pretty accurate. We didn't know we were going to do a trilogy of that. We did American Band as kind of a standalone thing, but then everything went from bad to worse.
And the next thing you know, The Unraveling was inspired by so many conversations I had with my kids about all the bulls<em></em>* going on during the early days of the Trump era. Which, unfortunately, isn't over, because we're still seeing it. It's still going on. What happened in Buffalo has roots with all of that. It's so far from over.
But at the same time, this record is probably the most personal we've made since Decoration Day, because so much of it was written during the lockdown. We were dealing with a lot of loss, a lot of stuff.
I've always heard that Decoration Day was borne of touring constantly while relationships were falling apart back home. Is that accurate?
Very much so. Fortunately, that's not happening on this one! Home's OK, as far as that goes.
But, yeah, everyone in the band was either going through a divorce or on the verge of one when we made Decoration Day. That was about the time we hit the tipping point of being in the road 200-plus days a year, and no one making any money and everyone's wives saying, "F<em></em>* this." Except for Cooley's wife! She's still here. But we're all in a better place as far as that goes. That's not part of this record, thankfully.
Drive-By Truckers in 2004. (L-R) Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Brad Morgan, Jason Isbell, Shonna Tucker. Photo: Chris McKay/WireImage via Getty Images
When things were deteriorating in your personal lives back then, what kept you guys going? Why didn't you turn the van around?
I've been trying to do this thing we're doing since I was 8 years old. I started writing songs when I was 8. By the time we started Drive-By Truckers, it was my and Cooley's fourth band together. So by the time we started this band, he and I had been playing for 11 years already in three failed bands. Adam's House Cat breaking up damn near killed us.
When we started this band, we knew it was our last chance to do this thing we wanted to do. As hard as the early days were, it was still better than it had ever been. We were playing dive bars, but we were pulling people into dive bars. We were sleeping on floors and touring in a van, but we were touring. We were getting shows and selling merch and we could see it growing.
And we were stubborn. A lot of it was stubbornness. We believed in this thing we were doing. It was like, "I'm not quitting now! We've got a possible shot at getting to do this thing!"
It all worked out, but it was brutal at the time. I don't know how we didn't kill each other. Because after all the marriages imploded and we were trying to put out Southern Rock Opera and nobody wanted to put it out, we tried to raise the money to put it out ourselves, we weren't even speaking to each other.
We were literally mixing that record, having to talk through [producer] David Barbe. We would tell him and he would tell us. But, somehow, we got through it. I give Barbe a lot of credit for that. He definitely helped save the band because we were all too close to it to see things that were right in front of us. But we all trusted him. He could sit us down and go, "Look, guys. I know this sucks. But you're so close. At least see this through, and then if you want to break up, break up."
By then, we'd seen it through and were like "We're not breaking up now! We're getting some momentum!" That all led to Decoration Day, which was definitely an important record for our band.
Drive-By Truckers in 2022. (L-R) Patterson Hood, Brad Morgan, Matt Patton, Mike Cooley, Jay Gonzalez. Photo: Brantley Guitierrez
There has always seemed to be one dark cloud or another following the band. I know depression over the state of the world has been a struggle for you. How are you doing lately?
I started writing as a kid, basically, to deal with my depression. I was a misfit, kind of lonely kid. I grew up in Alabama; I didn't play sports; I was bullied. My way of dealing with it was to write; that was always my go-to way of dealing with whatever my problems were.
In 2020, when everything shut down, I got really, really super-depressed and I couldn't write much. I did a little bit; I wrote a couple of songs for The New OK that were directly about the federal occupation of our town, when Trump sent the troops in and all that bulls<em></em>*.
But I wasn't really able to write about personal stuff for a bit, until the clouds started lifting at the end of it all — after the election and the vaccine got approved and it looked like we were about to start living our lives. And then the floodgates opened, and I wrote the majority of my songs on the record around that time.
And then, of course, when we got together and recorded Welcome 2 Club XIII last summer, we hadn't seen each other in a year and a half. Instead of rehearsing before our first shows, we just decided to go into the studio and demo our new songs. We went in for three days to demo and see what we had, and at the end, we said, "I think this is our album." We didn't feel any pressure to make a record; we just went in to get to know each other again and play and show each other our new songs. It was magical!
I was so happy with the performances for the new songs. You could tell that even though the songs were, at times, really dark, there was a joy in the playing that I felt lifted the whole thing up. I think we all instinctually felt that.
You and Cooley have watched each other develop for 37 years. To you, is his writing getting deeper and deeper?
"Every Single Storied Flameout" might be my favorite Drive-By Truckers song of all time.
I think it's just a monumental song. I'm kind of used to him having my favorite song on any given record, because he usually does. But I don't know if he's ever written a better song than that one. I generally don't like talking too much about his songs, because he doesn't say a lot about them himself. I feel like whenever I talk about his songs, he reads it and growls [Laughs.]
But, my take on it — and he might totally disagree — is: There's that guy in "Zip City" 25 years later, raising a family, watching his kids live through the same things he lived through and trying to figure out his place in that. It's like, "OK, I created this thing. What the f<em></em>* do I do now?" And I'm a parent, too! So, I'm dealing with my own version of those things.
He absolutely nailed that thing I feel 99 percent of the time as a parent. I think it's such an amazing song.
I love how he never explains his songs. My favorite Cooley song of all time is "A Ghost to Most." I read that you asked him what it meant and he replied "It's hard to find a suit that fits me right."
[Laughs.] When I first met Cooley, he worked in a men's shop fitting suits! Cooley can look at you and fit you. Whenever someone gives us clothes on the road, we always have Cooley write down our sizes. He can still look at you and fit your suit!
I feel like Welcome 2 Club XIII is impressively cohesive — no wasted moments. Would you agree?
I do. I feel really strongly about this record. I'm like a parent: I love all my kids, even the one who had to go to jail for a while. All the different records are all closely related to me for sure. But there's something about this one.
Especially the way it was recorded. More or less, all our records are mostly live in the studio. But for this one, there was no rehearsal. There was no prep. It's like "OK, I've got this song!" And I'd play it for them and we'd cut it. There was no time to think about it. It was everyone's first, primal take on it.
Photo: Kelly Samson, Gallery Photography
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc. via Getty Images
'Decoration Day' At 20: How Drive-By Truckers Dialed Back The Satire And Opened Their Hearts
On their divorce-themed fourth album 'Decoration Day,' the brilliant, perennially misunderstood Drive-By Truckers got realer than ever about family, divorce and the consequences of our choices.
It's a spine-tingling feeling for a Drive-By Truckers album to begin a cappella; although it's only happened on three of them, it feels like a trademark, a wink. And when singer, songwriter and co-leader Patterson Hood comes in alone, it's like a single lightbulb flaring up, illuminating the dusty air, brighter than creation's dark.
"By the time you were born, there were four other siblings/ With your mama awaiting your daddy in jail," Hood warbles through his mealy Alabaman twang at the top of 2002's Decoration Day — one of the cult rock band's most beloved albums. "And your oldest brother was away at a home/ And you didn't meet him 'til you were 19 years old."
So begins "The Deeper In," one of Drive-By Truckers' prettiest and most affecting songs. With immense pathos and an odd sense of sweetness, Hood tells the true story of a brother and sister falling in love with each other, having four babies and going to prison for their incestuous relationship.
Despite this unconventional and taboo subject matter, by the end of these three minutes and 16 seconds, even the uninitiated can behold the Truckers' giant, beating heart.
"It's not like they grew up together as brother and sister gettin' it on," Hood remembered more than a decade later. "They didn't meet until they were grown-ups, and it was just such a sad story.
"A lot of the people I write about are nothing like me, but there has to be some aspect to them that I can feel a certain empathy for or else I'm not interested in writing it," he continued. "I try never to be condescending to the characters I write about, even the really s—y ones."
Which makes it the perfect gateway to Drive-By Truckers' fourth album.
Named for the day that southern churches place fresh flowers on the graves of their ancestors, Decoration Day is their most vulnerable album by some margin, and a pivotal entry in the Athens, Georgia-formed rockers’ discography. On June 17, the album will ring in two decades in DBT fans' ears and hearts.
Since then, Drive-By Truckers have evolved from scrappy, brainy, misunderstood road dogs to a bona fide rock institution. And their ex-guitarist, singer and songwriter Jason Isbell — who made his precocious debut on Decoration Day — has led a GRAMMY-winning solo career that involves things like a GQ spread, an HBO doc and a forthcoming Martin Scorcese flick, Killers of the Flower Moon.
As such, the story of Decoration Day has necessarily been told and retold:
After three failed bands together, Hood and his partner and foil, Mike Cooley — two incredibly distinct yet totally simpatico songwriters — finally get their big break with their fourth. Afterward, their band tours for two years, wherein a gifted, 22-year-old upstart jumps in the van as third guitarist. Within two weeks, he writes two of their finest songs, "Outfit" and "Decoration Day."
Given their breakneck touring schedule, relationships frayed back home. Hood and Cooley write about the attendant emotions, and their lyrical references, characters and themes swirling into a matrix of grief, despondency and regret.
"Everyone in the band was either going through a divorce or on the verge of one when we made that record," Hood tells GRAMMY.com of Decoration Day. "Because that was about the time that we had really hit a tipping point of being on the road 200-plus days a year, and no one making any money. And everyone's wife's saying, 'F— this.' Except for Cooley's wife, who's still here."
But when they picked up their instruments, the result was explosive joy; Hood, Cooley and Isbell remember the Decoration Day era as an unmitigated blast. But more than on any past Drive-By Truckers album, their candid, evocative lyrics made the material penetrate the heart.
In a single line in the shattered "Sounds Better in the Song," Cooley seems to sum up Decoration Day in its totality: "I might as well have put that ring on her finger/ From the window of a van as it drove away."
While it's been beloved by fans since its release — and as Hood says, it still sells well today — Decoration Day can be somewhat subsumed by the two other major albums that precede and succeed it.
But while 2001's Southern Rock Opera and 2005's The Dirty South also represent DBT at their finest — full of crackling storytelling, elephantine performances, sticky melodies, and idiosyncratic turns of phrase — there's a case to be made for Decoration Day as their crown jewel.
Because from the album opener onward to "My Sweet Annette," "Heathens," "Sounds Better in the Song," and so many other tracks — Decoration Day is arguably the most personal and heart-forward album the Truckers ever made.
Drive-By Truckers' first two albums contained some of their most representative songs, like "The Living Bubba," "Uncle Frank," "Love Like This," and "One of These Days." Still, those tended to be sandwiched between a lot of goofs and piss-takes, from "Steve McQueen" to "The President's Penis is Missing" to "The Night G.G. Allin Came to Town."
As Isbell tells GRAMMY.com, Hood and Cooley's irrepressible humor and irony reached a crossroads on Southern Rock Opera.
"They finally fully accepted a persona, and wrote songs that were specifically for Southern Rock Opera, and a lot of those were in character," he says. "And I think once they did that, and got that out of their system, Hood and Cooley both felt freer to be themselves in songs, and take it a little bit more seriously."
Even when Hood sings in character — like the foreclosed farmer plotting a "banker man's" homicide in Decoration Day's one-take scorcher "Sink Hole" — there's a splash of real-life battery acid in his delivery; his fury feels wholly genuine.
Likewise, Cooley's "Marry Me" and Hood's "My Sweet Annette" — which Hood once characterized as "two very different views of marital bliss" — don't feel like character songs, despite being constructed as just that. Regardless of who the narrator is, Cooley's small-town bluster on the former, and Hood's pained, regretful delivery on the latter, hit you straight in the chest.
"Hell No, I Ain't Happy" represents the other side of the coin; between your ears and Hood's psyche, there are zero obfuscatory layers. The sound of an opening beercan kicks off one of Hood's most face-peeling meltdowns — capturing the mother of all ragged, unmoored days on the road.
"There's a purdy little girl outside the van window/ 'Bout 80 cities down, 800 to go," he roars. "Six crammed in, we ain't never alone/ Never homesick, ain't got no home."
"Outfit," Isbell's debut song for the Truckers, is also as real as it gets. A fabulously witty, detail-stuffed rundown of advice from his father, it remains one of his signature songs, a hollered audience request ever since.
Isbell calls Hood's loping, gorgeous ballad, "Heathens" his "favorite song of Patterson's — one of my favorite songs anybody's ever written." (Years after getting booted from the Truckers and cleaning up his act, Isbell covered the song for Hood's birthday; today, Hood says the two have grown especially close over the last few years.)
From there, the three songwriters keep slugging out impossibly great song after impossibly great song. The straight-ahead rocker "(Something's Got to) Give Pretty Soon" is one of the band's most perennially rewarding deep cuts — as well as one of their most raw-nerved.
"Maybe what you need is for someone to send you flowers/ Someone strong and mean who can prove he has the power to/ Show you more than charm and take you on your way/ To where you want to be at the end of the day," Hood sings. "And it breaks my heart in two to know it ain't meant to be."
"But it ain't me," he concludes.
In its final stretch, Decoration Day heads into more elliptical territory — starting roughly with Cooley's chilling "When the Pin Hits the Shell."
Following the title track — Isbell's steely-eyed chronicling of a festering feud between families — the album concludes with "Loaded Gun in the Closet," featuring Cooley at his elusive, riddling best. To overanalyze the lyrics would be to spoil the mystery of whether the gun was ever used — and if so, which of the unwitting spouses will end up on the business end.
As a whole, Decoration Day is an album that you can revisit over and over and over, and still perceive new shades of meaning.
"That whole album is really about love and loss and the choices you make," Hood said about a decade after the album's release. "Dealing with the consequences of the choices you make is a huge overriding theme."
Which applies whether you're an incestuous couple on the lam; an exhausted, punchy rock band barrelling through the middle of nowhere; or a dysfunctional couple with an exit strategy in a waiting firearm: it's all Decoration Day.
In his nigh-definitive breakdown of DBT's discography, writer and musician James Toth characterizes the band's following album, 2004's The Dirty South as such: "If the divorce-themed Decoration Day examines the destruction of a relationship, the glacial, smoldering The Dirty South sounds like the monstrous diesel engine garbage truck that comes to collect the detritus and run over the small pieces."
A remastered, expanded edition, The Complete Dirty South, which features vocal re-recordings and tunes meant to be on the original album, is out June 16 — a day before Decoration Day's 20th anniversary.
Coincidence or not, this proximity shows how Decoration Day profoundly widened their aperture, and allowed for that masterpiece in its own right. From there, the Truckers have continued to fine-tune all dimensions of their cockeyed universe — the personal, the political, the philosophical, the devastatingly funny. (Many of their songs being all four.)
Thereby, this so-called "Southern rock" band with a deliciously regrettable name were able to transcend their rough-and-ready original parameters, and write songs that shake you to your foundation — a giant handful of which can be found right there on Decoration Day.
One could go on and on. But it sounds better in the song.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.