Sunday’s “Funky, Steamy Stew”

Thursday, August 16, 2012 9:27

An Interview with Dawn Silva of the Brides of Funkenstein

By Casey Pukl

Dawn Silva has made herself known as one of the key ladies of funk. Starting off her career as a background vocalist for Sly & the Family Stone, she quickly made a name for herself. In the mid 70’s, Silva teamed up with funk master, George Clinton, to join the P-Funk Collective. Since then, she has gone on to not only perform with such acts as Coolio, Snoop Dogg, and B.B. King. The Brides of Funkenstein have remained through it all, and are now stronger than ever.

I had the chance to catch up with Dawn and hear her thoughts on the ever changing music industry as well as her newfound fan base. Read on for more!

CP: Tell me a little bit about what our Anthology listeners can look forward to!

DS: I think we’re pretty unique. We have an eclectic following of funk, jazz, rock, and R&B fans. We also have a hip-hop following, a blues following, and even now a bit of a gospel following. It all depends on what venue we’re playing, but we’ll get everything from housewives to rockers! We’re really blessed. But the audience can expect a great mix of music. We’re not a one-genre group by any stretch of the imagination. You’ll hear rock; you’ll hear blues; you’ll hear jazz, R&B, and funk. The funk has been the nucleus that really holds it all together.

CP: With so many different genres that your music spans, do you ever find it difficult to build your set list?

DS: Nah. The set list is just so much fun! The band sometimes has a tendency to just get a little sibling rivalry— we’re a big family over here, so everyone has their favorites that they want to play. So we try to put in what we can. There’s only so much time to play, so we have to touch on everything to fill it. This Anthology show is unique because we usually play shows that are 3 or 4 hours long, and this set is 90 minutes, so we really have to pair it down to the hits. This is going to be the condensed really high energy version.

CP: It’s the highlight reel!

DS: Absolutely. The fan favorites always seem to work really well for us.

CP: That’s what makes them favorites! I’d love to touch on your experience in this industry over the years. You’ve been in this as a background vocalist, writer, producer, band leader, so that really puts you in all shoes. What has been the biggest change for you over the years in the way you approach your business?

DS: We’re finding ourselves doing more promotion and booking ourselves. There’s no longer someone knocking on our door to bring us work. Everyone is now trying to work. There used to be shows all the time, especially in the summer. So now we’re just trying to find festivals and book. The internet helps with that a lot. But the festivals give us an edge.

As far as the musical end goes, we actually haven’t changed a thing! The sound of some of the songs we’ve been doing, the songs are really old, but they fit! Lady Gaga is probably the closest artist in this day and age that I’d categorize as even close to our music. The only difference is we have more of an R&B sound verses a pop sound.

CP: I feel like it’s just a cycle. Retro always makes a come back. That classic R&B funk sound never gets old.

DS: Oh yeah! I mean, it never really left; it just went underground. We have a really big cult following of a couple of million. It’s just that the networking channels have been closed off in terms of reaching them. Not everyone is on Facebook and Twitter. The radio used to do it. We’re actually going to be doing a song at your venue called, “There Ain’t No Funk On the Radio,” [laughs]. We just wrote it, and I think we’re going to test it out at the show.

CP: I love that title! I’d love to get into your songwriting process a little bit!

DS: Sure! Everyday living really motivates and inspires me. It could be flowers, the smell of a rose when you’re walking down the street, kids playing. Every day life can be so inspirational. There’s one song we’ll be performing at the show that was inspired by the homeless children in Brazil. The song is about a 4 year old girl who lived in a cardboard box behind a five star hotel. She’d been living there for a few years on the streets, and then her mother just left here there on the streets behind this hotel! She never left there because she was just waiting for her mom. So the staff of the hotel actually made her this cardboard box for a house. They covered the top with foil and crushed cans and all that for the rainy season, and at the end of the night, they’d give her extra food and things.

I used to see this girl in the hotel at night when I was staying there for about three months. So I used to sneak her into the hotel at night and let her shower and take a bath and such. After three months, it was pretty hard to leave the country and know that little girl was homeless. There are so many homeless children in Brazil and all over the world. That story, unfortunately, isn’t all that unusual. I’m starting to see that story happen in this country, and I find that pretty scary. So I wrote a song about it. It’s a very sad song, and sometimes we don’t perform it because the crowd is up and dancing, and the next thing you know they’re starting to cry! But it’s just part of the whole emotional roller coaster of the Brides experience [laughs]. So to answer your question in a very long way, that’s what inspires me [laughs].

CP: I’m glad you answered the long way! That’s an incredible story!

DS: Yeah. The song is called “Calling Out Your Name” and it’s all about asking where this child’s mother is. But I also write about what goes on in my life, the lives of my friends, the world— whatever I’m drawn to.

CP: Once you have the basic melody and chords to the song written, what’s the next step for you putting it all together with the band? Do you demo it yourself and write parts, let others chime in…

DS: I go to the band- the three singers in the band right now have worked with everyone from Diana Ross to Barry Manilow, Luther Vandross, Joan Jett, Rod Stewart. They’re all incredibly talented, and I feel so lucky to have them right now! We’ve been together for the last 10 years. So I go to them and see what they think of the melody, the groove, this harmony part and that. Then we can change and add. There are 6 girls, and one of my girls I’ve been with since Sly & the Family Stone! So she’ll give me feedback if she thinks a lyric is corny or something, and sometimes the girls will come up with better ideas than I will!

We collaborate. I have no issues with everyone sweetening the pot. We’re just making one big funky, steamy stew.

CP: I love that— a funky, steamy stew [laughs]. That funky, steamy stew is coming back!

DS: Yeah, that’s what’s going on right now. There’s not really any hardcore mixture of rock and funk— think of a mixture of Aerosmith and James Brown— on the radio right now.

CP: I can’t argue with you there. That sound is uniquely yours.

DS: It’s not playing anywhere, so that’s the downside to the industry now. However, that plays to our advantage live. We have a lot of new fans who are betwee the ages of 19-25, and they’ve never heard stuff like this before. It’s really crazy to watch because I’ve seen people when they first hear it at our shows, girls will start pulling their hair and screaming, jumping up and down! It’s a rush to watch that!

CP: Wow, I’m sure! I guess I’d technically fall into that category of knowing you’ve been around, but I wasn’t around for the first go-around because I’m younger. But it is really exciting to hear the energy of your music. It’s making it’s way back into the mainstream.

DS: Thanks to Rolling Stone Magazine! They gave a kickstart to us in 2001 in a big article on the best albums ever released, and we were in their top 50. We were up there with the Beatles and Bob Dylan. It really inspired us to put the group back together. We’ve been back together about 2 years, and we’re picking up steam all over again. It’s fun! We’re picking it up in a different way. We have a really unique opportunity here, and I couldn’t be more excited to bring it to Anthology.

CP: What are you most looking forward to about coming out to Anthology?

DS: It’s virgin territory! The last time we played San Diego was 20 or 30 years ago! we used to play it 2 or 3 times a year, but then we just stopped. Coming back after all this time is exciting! It’s a beautiful city, and the food is so good! The air is so fresh because it’s a seaside city. I’m just so excited because we haven’t been there in a long time.

Special thanks to Dawn for her time and preview into the show! Come on out and experience the diversity and energy of the Brides of Funkenstein! We’ve got one show only, so don’t miss your chance to dance into the new week!
Brides of Funkenstein on Spotify

WHAT: Brides of Funkenstein
WHEN: Sunday, August 19, 7:00pm
TICKETS: $10-$39 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile