Unpacking Funk in Trunk

The following is the interview (in whole) that originally appeared in the Billings Outpost featuring Billings-based funk band Funk in the Trunk.

Billings-based funk band Funk in the Trunk has a unique problem. Composed of nine members, the group has a difficult time just fitting on stages around town. Once they’ve collected onstage, however, and when the harmonies click and they deliver a funky blend of soul, jazz and R&B, there’s nothing quite like it.

The band is a collective mixture of performance artists, local teachers and solo performers. Percussionist Matt Devitt, bassist Robin Martinez, keyboardist Dave Green, guitarist Alex Nauman, trumpeter Jeff Long, trombonist Tony Hammond, tenor saxophonist Brent Koch, baritone sax player Paul Lechner and vocalist and Latin percussionist Gy Moody round out the band.

Three of the group’s members — Hammond, Moody and Devitt — sat down recently to discuss the band’s plans for the new year, their “Funky Valentine’s Day Party” taking place Feb. 13 at Bones Brewing Co., and their take on the upcoming romantic holiday.During the interview it’s obvious the musicians have amazing rapport. They laugh and prod each other throughout the interview, and are genuinely excited about the music they create together.

Hammond is a music professor at Rocky Mountain College and directs the concert and jazz bands. He also sings in the High Plains Chamber Singers. Devitt is an active musician who performs in three vastly different local bands (Funk in the Trunk, 4 or More and ENDever). He works and teaches music at Hansen Music and teaches percussion at Montana State University Billings. Moody plays in Funk in the Trunk and the old-timey music band Spur of the Moment. He has been playing in local bands, including Battlestar Kramden and Ruckus, since 1996 in Billings.

How do you balance your day job with what you do for a day job?

Hammond: The best gauge is my wife. When I’m really pushing the boundaries of how much I do outside of school, I hear it. And rightly so. It’s a good gauge to have.

Same to you Matt. How do you balance what you do?

Devitt: My schedule doesn’t change; it’s a mix between work, teaching music and playing music. I stay real busy.
Moody: I think this guy has kept the scene alive in Billings more than anybody. His jazz projects, the heavy metal band and the funk thing.
Hammond: It’s a lot. And three completely different styles.
Devitt: That is one thing that keeps it fresh: the fact that these three projects I am doing are so different.
Moody: Frankly if he wasn’t doing any of this stuff, I don’t think it’d be happening here.
Devitt: A lot of it helps what I do, as well. I work at Hansen, teach applied percussion at MSUB, so it’s an extension of that. It’s all connected to music, and everything that I learn and all the experience that I have gives me even more to pass onto students.
Hammond: It’s really good for both of us, as well as Dave Green, Jeff Long, and all of us who are in the teaching profession or who have private students. We are out there still playing and I’d like to think we are playing at a pretty high level. It’s a good model to put out there. No matter what we are doing, we are doing it well and we care about the quality.

Let’s chat a little about you, Gy. What have you been up to?

Moody: I’ve had a weird year. From the standpoint of the “incident,” it was a real arc of time to feel like I was really back on my feet again (Moody suffered a heart attack last July). It took a while and the band was really great about being patient. The thing that is really hard to describe is physiologically, everything that changed.

How soon did you feel comfortable enough to get back into performing?

Moody: The Windmill (Sept. 11) was my first real back-on-stage-full-set-try-it-out. I went into the gig thinking, ‘Let’s see what I got,’ because I can’t know.
Hammond: I remember him being really cautious about it.
Moody: We got through it. I had energy to spare. That was the first time I thought, ‘OK, I can come back from this.’ Physically I’ve been able to walk away from this going, ‘It’s OK.’

What’s the follow-up on the old ticker?
Moody: Everything is really good. I go in about every two months. I just had an update about 10 days ago and they checked my blood and all that stuff. It’s all really good. My cholesterol is down, and I’m working on my weight. (The doctor’s) really happy with everything. Also, I haven’t had a cigarette since the night before the heart attack. That was the easiest part of the whole thing. If you want a really smoking cessation plan, have a coronary.
Hammond: But you haven’t given up your Taco John’s habit…
Moody: I owe them an apology. I thought it was Taco John’s, but it was not. I was having a heart attack!

So things are somewhat back to normal? Gigs are starting to pick up?

Devitt: We always get busier in the summertime because there’s more (gigs) and there are actually stages we can fit on.
Hammond: Ones where our bass player doesn’t fall off.

Are you guys writing your own tunes or doing mostly covers?

Devitt: All covers.
Hammond: I’ve had desires to do some original writing, but making time to do that is so hard. It takes a lot of time.
Moody: It would be fun to tap into that, but you’re right, the time element.
Devitt: It would just take so much more time.
Hammond: When we learn a tune, we have sheet music and we have reference recordings that we’re emulating. Between the recording and what’s on the page, we can determine how we want it to sound. But an original tune, trying to get what is in one guy’s brain … . That’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen.
Moody: My methodology in these things, generally I go for imitation first to figure out the timing, the phrasing, the words, but also getting the words in the right time, let alone the notes, and then I make it my own.
Hammond: We’re always communicating.
Moody: Those times when we tap into that harmony part of a song, and we count it off and we hit it, and it just clicks naturally, when all of those vocals are going, it blows their minds. We kind of take that harmony for granted.
Hammond: Four-part harmony is not done very often because you don’t usually have instrumentalists that double comfortably as singers.

What are some of your favorite tunes to play?

Hammond: ‘Don’t Change Horses,’ a Tower of Power tune.
Devitt: I’ve been digging ‘Getaway,’ by Earth, Wind and Fire. That one’s really pushing Tony’s range. I’m torturing Tony with this one.
Moody: I do like ‘Horses’ as well. Even the Chicago pieces are really fun because they are kind of cheesy.
Hammond: They are also musically complex and really well structured. I really enjoy singing Stevie Wonder tunes. I grew up listening to that stuff and I always felt like I could emulate his style very well.

What is your set list like for your pre-Valentine’s day performance?

Devitt: Nothing but love songs (jokingly).
Hammond: Sex Machine.

Tony, how about your plans for Valentine’s Day?

Hammond: You know, I can’t remember if my wife is out of town.
Devitt: That’s romantic!
Hammond: I’ll probably cook a nice dinner and I will probably order her something.
Moody: Get a bit of Barry White going on?
Hammond: I can’t sing that low. Marvin Gaye or something.
Devitt: I don’t think we are doing anything. We are going to Chico right after that, which was just coincidental.
Moody: I got no plans. I might fix myself a nice dinner, take myself out.

So I have to ask something cheesy. What is your ideal date?

Moody: Ideal date?!! Must contain protoplasm. Hell I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve every had an ideal date, which means I’m actually working on somebody else’s ideal of an ideal date.
Hammond: Starts with food, ends with dessert.

Let’s hear the most romantic date you’ve taken your wife on (directed at Hammond)

Hammond: We went to a jazz club in Seattle and had apps and drinks and watched a great jazz pianist named Kenny Warner and a jazz harmonica player named Toots Thielemans. It was an incredible night. It was two sets of jazz with those guys. That’s my ideal date. I don’t know if it was her idea date, because she loves to go to movies, but it was just the two of us and that was really the most date-like thing we’ve done.

Matt, you’ve had time to think on this one. What’s your idea date?
Hammond and Moody: Gwar!
Moody: It starts with Gwar.
Devitt: Probably a nice dinner, and I like quiet time. Dinner and being mellow. I’m so busy all the time and I’m constantly playing and making noise. It’s nice to just relax and be mellow.

Any last words regarding Valentines Day? How ridiculous it is? How much you love it? How much you hate it?

Moody: I’m sure I’d feel better about it if I had someone to share it, but at this point I’m ambivalent.
Hammond: I’ve had positives and negatives. It’s just a holiday.
Moody: It’s contrived.
Hammond: Yes, it’s a very commercial holiday. I’ve had good experiences on Valentines Day, and I’ve had horror experiences on Valentines Day.
Moody: I want to hear that story.
Devitt: This is going to sound bizarre, but it seems like a mean holiday. My girlfriend and I weren’t like, ‘We have to have dinner and we have to go on a date.’ But if I didn’t have a girlfriend I would feel much worse.
Moody: It’s like Christmas. Just get past it.
Devitt: It’s just another reason to feel bad.
Hammond: I could go back to seventh grade for bad Valentines Day stories.

Funk in the Trunk performs a “Funky Valentine’s Day Party” taking place Saturday, Feb. 13 at Bones Brewing Co., starting at 8 p.m. The show is 21+ and costs $5 at the door.

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