Upon forming at a Halloween house party debut in 2011, the Chicago 7 (sometimes 8 or 9) piece Gramps The Vamp has been carving out its own niche of orchestrated funk workouts. In 2014, a year after being named Best New Band by Chicago Reader, Gramps The Vamp released its first official album produced by Sergio Rios of Orgone. The self titled album’s vintage-noir style, which the band half-jokingly calls “Doom Funk,” drew the interest of filmmaker Alaric Rocha, who used over half of the songs as the soundtrack for his 70s inspired horror film “Demonoid (1971)”. On October 18th,band will release its sophomore effort, The Cave of 10,000 Eyes, which brings together afrobeat, deep funk, soul, ethio-jazz, and exotica for a further exploration into the dark, wild, and strange side of the funk.
Glide Magazine is pumped to premiere The Cave of 10,000 Eyes (below) and give listeners a taste of funk that creates a surreal level of musical cinematography, keeping one’s ears tuned for the entire feature. Keyboardist/composer Maxx McGathey shared some inner secrets on what makes Gramps The Vamp and its “Doom Funk” so hittin’…
The Cave of 10,000 Eyes is quite a curious album title. Why did you chose that for a title and what does it signify?
The image of the cave arose organically during the writing process. “Caves” was at first just a goofy working title for a song, but when it came time to put the album into a cohesive story, the image seemed to make a lot of sense. A cave is dark, other-worldly, mysterious… you never know how far back it goes. It leaves a lot to the imagination rather than giving the boogieman away, which is what we like to do with the story elements in our music. The specific wording of the title is meant to be very old Hollywood, conjuring a time when titles were larger than life. We really wanted the title to grab ahold of you and get your imagination going.
The album sounds like a cohesive story, as if a soundtrack to a film. What was the creative process behind The Cave 10,000 Eyes ?
Ever since Gramps The Vamp first started playing together, our writing process has involved thinking of our songs as little mini-soundtracks to scenes. It’s helpful because sometimes there are dozens of possible choices of where to take an instrumental composition, but when you have a story in mind, the right choice always presents itself. We took this idea to the album level for The Cave of 10,000 Eyes. I wrote up a scratch screen play for a faux 1970s horror-adventure movie of the same name, and once that happened, the usual slow grind of composition became a waterfall of ideas. We were then able to ask “what does the story need?” which helped us write about half of the songs and re-arrange the other already written half to better match the story arc. This also allowed us to make each song more lush, adding in twists, turns and surprises whenever we would imagine action on screen.
If you could score a soundtrack in the next year or so – what director’s films would you most like to score and why?
If you combined the styles of Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton you might have the perfect movie for a Gramps The Vamp score. But I have to give a shout out to Alaric S. Rocha. We did the music on his most recent film, Demonoid (1971), and then he directed our music video for “The Cave of 10,000 Eyes.” Much like Gramps The Vamp, his work is very inspired by 60s and 70s horror, so our collaborations have been excellent so far. We would love to do more with Alaric!
I must say “doom funk” is a refreshing description for Gramps The Vamp’s music. What does “doom funk” mean to you and how is it distinct from straight ol funk?
Doom funk is the dark, strange, wild, weird, heavy, mysterious side of the funk. When we started out in 2011, we called ourselves a funk band, but it soon became clear that what we do is far from what you expect when you hear the word “funk.” We discussed dropping the word altogether, but there’s an essence to our music (heavy grooves, danceable rhythms, pentatonic scales, syncopated blues elements) that still resembles funk. So instead we decided to put the most contradictory word possible in front of funk to capture how this is not your average funk band. “Doom” communicates the heaviness, darkness and urgency that we bring to the funk paradigm. It’s very hard to describe our music, but perhaps that means we’re on to something original!
Ideally how would you like to most expand upon your music on future albums – do you see vocals or different thematics added in the years ahead?
I definitely could see experimenting with more instruments, including the voice, but it would still be in an instrumental capacity. We’re not about to switch to writing pop songs! As for thematics, I believe they are now an inherent part of Gramps The Vamp. We haven’t decided on what the next album will be, but we’ve toyed with some new story ideas or settings that would inspires us to write more music. I believe there’s still a lot more doom funk to be explored!
Seems you guys do your own thing and refuse to take any cues from what’s going on in any scene and strive to be your own voice, 100%. How do you definite your originality and what does each band member bring in terms of musicianship and voice?
One of the biggest draws of making this kind music is that it’s uncharted territory. As opposed to working within a clearly defined genre, it’s so much more interesting to work with an original style where you can set your own rules, and be continually surprised by the results. Our originality comes from our commitment to explore this uncharted territory. Despite our various individual musical backgrounds, all eight of us are on board with doom funk. We’re never sure exactly where we’ll end up, but we know we’re all headed in the same direction.
If anything –you guys carry some of the Daptone records vibe as well – classy and retro-minded. Musically, what inspires you these days from the past, present or future?
Daptone’s overall production style is definitely a big influence; Budos Band is probably one of the closest bands to our style. Afrobeat inspires a lot of what we do, so we’ve learned a ton from Fela Kuti. Also, Ethiopian Jazz is a huge influence on us, so we’d have a totally different sound if not for Mulatu Astatke. Curtis Mayfield inspires our rhythm section a lot. The horn section really looks up to the tightness of Lettuce and the fatness of Antibalas. The exotica of Martin Denny and Les Baxter are not really our style, but we love the way they arrange and orchestrate their music’s weirder moments. Some other great current artists we love: Woima Collective, Shaolin Afronauts, The Cactus Channel, Hiatus Kaiyote, Ikebe Shakedown, Menahan Street Band.
You have a good looking album release show coming up on October 30th at Lincoln Hall – would you say this is one of your most prestigious billings to date? What can we expect costume and theme-wise?
Lincoln Hall is definitely one of the best venues we will have played. Not to mention the other bands on the bill, Terrible Spaceship and North By North, are PERFECT for a Halloween throw down. We’re stoked for it! You can expect our costumes to be spooky and related to The Cave of 10,000 Eyes album art. But that’s all I will say 😉
It appears Halloween is a big date on the calendar for the band since your first gig was on that date and now the record release show leads up to that. Would you say Halloween is a big deal in the Gramps the Vamp camp?
Halloween is huge for us. The band was just a basement funk cover band until a Halloween party lead us up from the depths. We had such a good time that we decided to keep doing Halloween shows every year, and now in its 6th year, the party has made its way to Lincoln Hall! But most importantly, that first experience of playing on Halloween, trying to play a spooky yet party-friendly set, planted the seeds in our minds that would eventually develop into our signature style.
Gramps the Vamp will be celebrating the release of their new album with a show at Lincoln Hall in Chicago on Sunday, Oct 30th. Check here her for tickets and further information…
10/18 – The Whiskey – Fort Collins, CO
10/20 – Smiley’s Saloon – Bolinas, CA
10/21 – Boom Boom Room – San Francisco, CA
10/22 – Mrs. Fish – Los Angeles, CA
10/23 – Bonus Round – Phoenix, AZ
10/24 – Cervantes Other Side (Monday Night Menagerie) – Denver, CO
10/28 – Stay Gold – Austin, TX
10/29 – Blank Space – St. Louis, MO
10/30 – Lincoln Hall – Chicago, IL (official record release show)