Recording and Performing Live Funk Music
New Pony (NP) recently stopped by to work on a number of records at Philadelphia-based recording studio, Lil’ Drummaboy Recordings (LDB). They filled the studio with some electrifying Funk and R&B.
When performing live or in the studio, New Pony makes playing funk music look easy. It isn’t.
For 12 years, this Philadelphia born and bred funk band has been writing and releasing some of the city’s most electrifying funk and soul tunes. Since forming in 2006, New Pony has been tapped to open for a number of national acts including Dumpstaphunk, George Porter Jr., The Budos Band, Bernie Worrell, and Bonerama.
Their schedule also includes yearly visits to a variety of local and regional festivals, including Stir Fry Music Fest, Opple Topple, and the Cape May Music Festival, and they’ve been a center piece at Philly’s own Blocktober Fest since its inception (https://www.newponyfunk.com/about).
New Pony currently consists of four musicians— Members: Chris Devenney on guitar and vocals, bass player Max Guerin, Hadi Sumoro on keys, and lead vocalist and drummer Stephan Young. Presently, NP is gearing up for their next performance at Slainte Irish Pub in Baltimore, Maryland.
Recently, band leader, Chris Devenney, took some time out of his very musical schedule to chat about all this is New Pony. Here’s our Q&A:
Q. ‘New Pony,’ how did this name for the band come about?
A. When we first started 12 years ago, our then keyboard player chose the name and was adamant about it. At the time, I don’t think that any of us thought that this band would go on for 12 years, not even in our wildest dreams. However, right as the band began to take off and as we started to get more work, he parted from the band amicably.
In addition, in the early days of NP, we were a blues band and there was a custom in blues recordings back in the 1920s and 1930s where many musicians would place the word ‘New’ in front of their recording in order to avoid copyright infringement. This was the tradition that was being somewhat evoked in the choice. All things being equal, though, we probably would’ve preferred to sit down and decide on a name as a collective. Granted, at any time in the band’s history we could’ve changed the name; honestly, we’ve been too busy playing music to really bother with the name change.
Q. Which members of today’s NP were the original band members?
A. The original members of the band were the bass player Max Guerin, and me.
Q. How did the two of you find the other two musicians to complete the collective?
A. We headhunted them at a venue that was known as “Tritone”. It’s now called ‘The Cambridge’ on South Street.
Across the street from “Tritone”, the gentleman who was in charge at South Street Sounds used to run a monthly all-day and evening open mic. We went down while it was going on and met our drummer Stephan. We went back over a year later when we needed a new keyboard player.
Q. I understand that these days the band is referred to more regularly as ‘New Pony Funk’ (NPF). Besides funk and blues, are there any other genres that NPF tap into?
A. Funk is kind of our default genre. Occasionally, we’ve taken classic rock songs and turned them into funk songs. For instance, we’ve funkafied a Black Sabbath song, (“Sweet Leaf”), and a Kings of Leon tune. We’re always on the lookout for new songs that we can turn into funk. We’re actually thinking about doing it to Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, of all songs. That said, stylistically, our original material runs the gamut of funk.
Q. As the co-vocalist, what are some of your biggest influences when it comes to the sound of NPF?
A. I’m not a natural singer. I’ve always been the guitar player; however, our need for a singer guided me into singing. I’ve been singing since the start of NPF and it’s been a long learning curve for me in that respect. That said, I listen to anyone and everyone. For instance, there was a female singer who sat in with us once to sing a song I normally sing. I just sat there listening to the techniques she used to the point where I almost forgot I had to play. I’m sometimes more interested in talking to people about vocal techniques than about guitar. It’s newer for me. I have a wide range of influences not only from funk singers. I can pick things up from Adele or John Mayer as easily as I can take techniques from a Stevie Wonder or James Brown etc. I’ve gotten a lot better as a vocalist from when I first started to now. But the real singer in the band is Stephan, the drummer.
Q. When you met Stephan and offered the spot as the drummer of NPF, did you know that he also sang?
A. We didn’t know that he sang until he’d been in the band for about a year and a half. As we were approaching the point of needing to look for a lead vocalist, we discovered that Stephan had been singing since a youth in church (and later in a vocal group), and is an all-around amazing natural vocalist. At this point, the joke in the band is that I sing to give him a rest [laughing].
Q. Has music been something that you’ve always had a passion for?
A. Absolutely. It’s the artform that most immediately and profoundly moved and affected me even as a young child.
Q. I’d say you’re a student of this artform being that you study so many different techniques of singing. Is this willingness to constantly learn something you applied when learning to play the guitar?
A. For sure. I’ve never locked myself into a specific genre when playing the guitar. I’ve always been wide open and easily influenced by musicians like jazz guitarist Mick Goodrick as I am Hendrix or Jeff Beck.
Q. NPF does covers, as well as original music. Does the band prefer one over the other when playing?
A. We’ve been fortunate enough to choose to do the covers we play. When we do choose covers, we pick songs that we like and that can complement our sound. We mainly perform and record original music. One of the best compliments we get is when someone walks up to us during a break between sets and asks, “do you guys do any original material?” The answer is, “yeah, we just did four.” I figure if they can’t tell the originals from the covers, then we’re probably doing something right.
Q. We’re halfway through year 12, what’s next for NPF this year and years to come?
A. We’re booked through the rest of the year, but unfortunately, we just lost our keyboard player, Hadi Sumoro. He was the gentleman who arranged the session last week at Lil’ Drummaboy Recordings. Hadi has been playing with us for eight years. He’s leaving due to his family and business obligations. Our immediate concern is finding another keyboard player. We have enough material to do another CD, but for now we’re actively trying recruit a new keyboard player. Once that’s taken care of, I think we’re all itching to get back into the studio to record either an EP or a CD.
Q. Finally, piggybacking off of your last session at LDB, what can you tell us about your overall experience in recording with Samori Coles at LDB?
A. I really liked it. Given the “boutique-style” space, Samori has done a great job. I thought everybody there was very professional and knew what they were doing, and it went very smoothly. We were even discussing the possibility of doing some more serious recordings at LDB when we get a new keyboard player.