A Conversation with Will Rast (The Funk Ark)

As The Funk Ark settles down for a brief period and Will shifts his focus to Antibalas, we spoke with him to gain his perspective on his projects and Funk itself...

J-man: Talk to me about how you got your start on the live music scene and what keeps you going.

Will: When I was 12 years old, my 5th grade music teacher encouraged me to enter a composition that I had written and played for her, into a nationwide youth composer competition. I was one of a few selected to attend the American Association of Music Teachers national conference in New Orleans, LA. My family hopped in the car and drove 17 hours from Washington, DC so that I could perform my piece. This was my first taste of live performance. I was hooked, both on gigging, and on New Orleans music. I guess I'm always trying to recapture that feeling of excitement and anticipation I felt the first time. That's what keeps me going.

J-man: How did you get involved with Thievery Corporation and can you talk about some of your more memorable experiences with that band?

Will: I first started working with the ESL Music/Thievery crew in 2008 when I began jamming and playing some shows with Thievery bass player, Ashish Vyas and Fugazi drummer/multi instrumentalist, Jerry Busher under the name, Black and Tan Fantasy Band. We got hired to go on tour with ESL recording artist, Federico Aubele and through working with him, I met Eric Hilton and Rob Garza. I began to do random session work for Thievery Corporation and other recording projects at the label, such as Ocote Soul Sounds, featuring Martin Perna (Antibalas) and Adrian Quesada (Grupo Fantasma), Mr. Lif and Frank Mitchell Jr. Most of my most memorable experiences happened while just hanging out with the guys in the band at their shows. I never was invited to play live with them, even though they use recorded tracks of me playing in their live show. Working with Eric as a producer was a great learning experience. He has a great ear for music and beat matching, finding that one obscure sample that will set the track off. Working with him on the "Culture of Fear" record was a very cool process involving a lot of very talented people. They surround themselves with a very talented group of musicians, including former drummer for The Funk Ark, Jeff Franca, who left the band to join Thievery Corporation shortly after we signed our deal with ESL Music.

J-man: How did The Funk Ark begin and what are your visions for the band?

Will: The Funk Ark began as an attempt at creating a large funk band, comprised of local session players and friends of mine. My focus at first was on playing covers of songs by bands like the JB's, Sly and the Family Stone and The Meters. Soon we began to develop some original material that I wrote, which eventually started to morph into this Afro-Funk/Latin/Deep Funk hybrid that our sound resembles today. The ultimate goal is just to keep bringing the music to more and more people and to play more fun shows. We love collaborating with bands that we hold in high esteem like Rebirth Brass Band, Budos Band and Trombone Shorty to name a few, so getting to do things like that also keeps you coming back.

J-man: What is it about funk that draws you to the genre?

Will: Funk to me is a universally empowering music with a spirit of "get up and go." Often times there are theme's of social or personal empowerment, whether is Bobby Byrd singing "Try Again," or it's Fela Kuti singing "Gentleman" there is a freedom to it. It literally moves people with it's gyrating polyrhythms and driving, anthemic horn melodies.

J-man: The Funk Ark will be returning to Colorado this spring, can you talk a little bit about what brings an east coast band out to Colorado and why Colorado is such a crucial music market?

Will: We have played some of our favorite shows in CO, and we have come to realize that CO audiences have a real openness towards new sounds and when they like something they are very supportive of it. That type of support is sometimes hard to come by for independent artists, so when you find a place that has such a diverse array of markets, like CO, all with similar open attitudes towards music, you want to keep coming back to sort of bask in it, and let that positive vibe recharge your creative juices.

J-man: It was recently brought to my attention that you will be touring with Antibalas, how did that come together and being that they are an international act, where will the tour(s) take you?

Will: I've worked a lot with Antibalas founder, Martin Perna in a side project of his called Ocote Soul Sounds for ESL. When Victor Axelrod couldn't go on this coming trip to Australia and New Zealand, I was offered the opportunity to go. I of course jumped at the chance, having been a big fan for quite some time. I'll also appear with them on the Jimmy Kimmel show on Jan. 30th and at Brooklyn Bowl, Feb. 5th.

J-man: What are you listening to currently (past couple of weeks)?

Will: To tell you the truth, I've been listening to a lot of Antibalas getting ready to go on the road with them. For me, the best way to learn music is total emersion, sort of like a language, so I've been paying a lot of attention to their new self titled record, Antibalas. It's off the chain. Apart from that, I've been listening a lot to the "Roots of Chicha" compilations.




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