Life as a young funk band is a mixed bag in New Orleans.
The upside? You get gigs. People always want a band they can dance to.
The downside? You live in the hometown of The Meters, Dr. John, Eddie Bo and all the greats, as well as Galactic, Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, all the brass bands and next generation of funk heroes.
Measure up to that.
Flow Tribe formed in 2004, so the band is not exactly young, but it faces some generational challenges. It will also play a CD-release party Friday night at Tipitina’s.
Being normal teenagers in the ’90s, WWOZ was not the band members’ radio station of choice. They grew up in New Orleans, schoolmates at Brother Martin and Jesuit, but listened to Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and whatever else was cool.
Keyboard and harmonica player John Michael Early was slightly socially handicapped — “I couldn’t watch MTV; it was restricted in my house” — but classic New Orleans funk and R&B wasn’t a part of their everyday lives, either.
“I knew the Chili Peppers before I knew The Meters,” singer K.C. O’Rorke said. “I was listening to ‘They All Asked for You’ in the car with my parents not realizing The Meters birthed this.”
At the time, the New Orleans music that they gravitated to was bounce and hip-hop. The music released on No Limit Records made a lot of young teenagers in the ’90s feel dangerous, just as punk and rock did for previous generations. O’Rorke hid his copy of Master P’s “Ghetto D” under his bed. The title song’s refrain is the command, “Make crack like this!”
“Naturally, your parents don’t want you to listen to that,” O’Rorke said.
Kangol Slim from bounce duo Partners-N-Crime makes a guest appearance on “Back N Forth” on the new EP, and band members were impressed by what he brought to the song.
They left a space for him to add a rap when they cut the track, but he did more than they expected. “He totally transformed the song,” Early said. “He added a verse that he wrote all on his own.
“Watching his process was very informative for us. He’s a perfectionist, so it was a huge growing process for us.”
Their musical backgrounds showed in Flow Tribe’s early shows and recordings.
Like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Flow Tribe often seemed hyperactive, but without someone who knew funk like the Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea, the grooves were thin.
The new “Alligator White” is the band’s most fully realized release, and while they’re always going to have a fidgety energy, they also lock in to deeper, funkier grooves.
“We’ve been touring for five or six years,” O’Rorke said. “We’re at a point where we’re comfortable with our sound and the chemistry of everybody that when we do go in the studio, we’re free to take risks.”
Eric Heigle produced the album, and he brought a musicians’ ear to the project since he also plays drums with the Lost Bayou Ramblers, Ernie Vincent, and the Big Easy Bounce Band. “He has the same background as us, and it’s great to have a seventh man in the studio helping us figure everything out.”
O’Rorke, Early and guitarist Mario Palmisano talk around the word “funk” when describing their sound, partly because it has been a sticking point, but also because it’s not wholly accurate.
O’Rorke’s dad played Fats Domino and old New Orleans R&B records in the house. Early’s parents played him the oldies-oriented “The Big Chill” and “Stand By Me” soundtracks, as well as the “Cruisin’ ” tapes sold at Shell gas stations.
He brought all those influences with him to the band, and others had similar experiences.
“All our parents listened to WTIX,” Palmisano said.
Still, “funk” is close enough, and though it hasn’t always been obvious, Flow Tribe’s members have long loved New Orleans music. Hearing marching bands in Mardi Gras parades was formative before any of them thought about playing music, and by the end of high school, ready for a broader musical experience, they started tuning in to WWOZ. That opened up their hometown music to them.
“You hit (Allen) Toussaint and explore all the branches on that tree,” Early said. “There are a couple of honey holes where you can stay busy forever. There’s so much to go get curious about.”
“That’s Mount Rushmore,” O’Rorke said. “You’re inspired by that. You aim for that.”
with : Cha Wa and Seven Handle Circus
WHEN: 10 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5
WHERE: Tipitina’s, 501 Napoleon Ave., (504) 895-8477, Tipitinas.com