As I’ve written in several past articles, one of the joys of attending multi-day music festivals is seeing a large number of high quality bands I’ve never heard of rock my world, and then, over the next year, they roll through my home town playing small gigs. This is how you become one of those music fans that says “Oh yea, I saw them in a 100 person bar four years ago” as you’re sharing a cigarette at a sold out amphitheater with some new, random friends. Earphunk has a lot going for them. They hail from music mecca, New Orleans, and hit all spectrums of music with their extended guitar riffs, horns, and keys. Simply listen to their track, Sweet Nasty, to get quickly hooked.
With their new album, Right Where I Belong, getting released in a month and a new tour promoting the album starting Labor Day weekend, I got a chance to talk music with lead vocalist and guitarist, Mark Hempe. Certainly one of the things that stood out is that he starting attending Jazzfest in kindergarten. Best parents ever? Best parents ever.
Writers on the Storm: The new album is 6 tracks and you’ve released the first track, Moola. When is the next new song coming out?
Mark Hempe: I think we’re pretty much only releasing Moolah as a single right now leading up to the album release. Then October 7th we’ll release the rest of them. But we also do have some alternate versions and remasters we’re going to release in the future as well.
Are you playing all six of them live now?
We are. There were a few we kind of held off on the last few months but now we’re going to bring those in the rotation more.
It stood out you did your album with Engineer, Steve Albini, who of course did Nirvana’s, In Utero…how did that marriage come together?
I think it was the idea of one of our managers. There were a few places we were looking at but he stood out to us, especially for us because of what we’re working on at the time music wise. The types of tracks that we were doing were a little rockier so it made sense to do it with him that album.
I saw you had a quote that “Working with Albini was exactly what our band needed.” What did you mean by that?
In the past we had done albums where you flood the part and go back at any point in post-production and redo that part. In the digital age, a lot of bands do it that way. So, in a way, you’re not staying in the moment just because you know you have that makeup time. So, in a sense, the energy kind of gets lost there. Being in the studio and having that studio energy. The studio magic. It’s a real thing. You lose that where you’re not really focusing on the take itself.
Does management ever ask you to do the 3 minute songs with hooks and not do the 10 minute riffs to make it more commercially viable?
No. We have free rein with that. They don’t delve into the creative process. They’ll give suggestions obviously. Our manager suggested that we do that Daft Punk thing in the beginning there. They throw ideas around but it’s ultimately our decision.
Do you plan to do any videos? I didn’t see any on YouTube.
Yea that’s something we’re trying to work a lot more on now. Yea, we’ll be releasing a video. I think it’s set to release right after the album released.
For the track, Moola?
No, no. It’s going to be a different track. I can’t really…it’s gonna be a surprise. It’s an alternate version…that’s all I can give you.
Sweet Nasty is such a full bodied track with the horns. Do you guys have a frequent or regular addition at shows to provide the horns, in the same vein as Ron Holloway with Gov’t Mule?
Not in a live setting so much. But in a studio setting, Khris Royal [of Rebelution] has always been our guy. He’s on every one of our albums. Here’s our go to guy when we need a saxophone player. Although that’s not the case on this last album. There’s no horns.
Do you skip the horn on live shows?
For the most part. We’ll feature a horn player sometimes. A friend will sit in a for a song or two. Generally, for the entire show we don’t have a whole section. We keep it to the five of us.
I saw Earphunk played Electric Forest this summer, but I couldn’t find a single video of it. How was that set?
You probably didn’t see any videos because it was so damn hot. It was the middle of the afternoon. The crowd was a little far back in the shade understandably. There was a solid group of people right in the front stage, though. That was one of the biggest stages we’ve ever played and it sounded awesome. Electric Forest is one of the greatest festivals ever.
Now, you guys opened for The Meters at Jazzfest in 2015…
And the original Meters this past year.
What’s it like meeting George Porter, Jr and Page McConnell?
We didn’t have much face time with Page. George is very cool. We’ve done shows with him a number of times now. It’s great and he’s a great guy. He’s always been an inspiration. We had George actually sit in with us at Bear Creek with us one time. That was one of my highlights…getting to play with him the first time. I think it was the Steve Miller Band jam, Fly Like an Eagle.
Where does Jazzfest rank in all the festivals and what are some of your favorite NOLA spots to play?
Jazzfest is probably one of my favorite festivals because I was going to it in kindergarten and what not. Playing there is one of the coolest moments I’ve had musically. It’s definitely up there if not top. Around town, Tiptitina’s. That’s pretty much the only place we play these days.
Earphunk has Nectars in Burlington, VT, as a tour stop for your upcoming fall run. Would you count Phish among your influences?
Not particularly. None of us really grew up on Phish. We’re from New Orleans, obviously, and they’re popular in a different region.
What about Umphrey’s McGee?
Yea, we’ve definitely seen them a couple times. We dig what they’re doing a lot.
If there’s anyone you could jam with today, who would that be?
There’s this guy, Eric Gales, this guitarist right now that I’ve really been following lately. He’s just a monster so jamming with him would be really cool I think…or really any of the Snarky Puppy guys.
Tour Schedule through November can be found here: http://earphunk.com/schedule/