“We have roots here. It’s where we grew up, it’s where we have family and friends and we really don’t feel the need to make a move elsewhere,” says guitarist Stefan Kallander as he sips a cold Olde Meck beer.
Looking around the rehearsal room and the site of the 10-year funk veterans’ next project, the “Wannamaker Sessions,” you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of more authentic Charlotteans.
Hornets and Bobcats bobbleheads line the window sill, a ball signed by the original Hornets sits in a case above a Rhodes electric piano, and cans and bottles of local beer sit at the band members’ feet.
Drummer Daniel Allison’s purple and teal high-top Nike shoes tap the bass drum and pace the soulful jam.
Singer and key player Dylan Ellett runs through his introduction of the band, smiling and nodding over his shoulder to bassist Nick McOwen as the words “we are so happy to be sharing the stage with George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic” roll off his tongue.
Bubonik Funk is playing with the funk legends Friday at Amos’ Southend, but how did they get there?
In the winter of 2005, the four were wandering the halls of Charlotte Catholic High School and playing in bands in garages after school. Allison tells me that Bubonik Funk started as a shell of a couple different groups.
They had been friends for years and had all played music together, although not in the same bands. At some point, they gravitated toward each other. Ellett, who has a way with words, says, “We just magnetically became magnets for each other.”
His soulful and introspective lyrics and singing have helped drive Bubonik Funk’s music, or musical love affair, for a decade.
“It’s always been very romantic. Romance, but with music.”
When asked about the name, Kallander tells me that he was learning about the plague when he was a sophomore in world history class and thought it sounded cool. Ellett adds, “It’s infectious.”
Although the group’s sound has stayed true to its George Clinton and Red Hot Chili Peppers-inspired roots, its newer funk and soul takes more inspiration from Bobby Womack and D’Angelo, and the “Wannamaker Sessions” will showcase just that. They will revisit the room where Zabooki was recorded in 2012 and release a new song every few weeks. It may turn into an EP (extended play) or an album later in the year or early in 2016, but for now, “revisiting old vibes,” as Ellett puts it, is just what they need.
“We’re creating more intimate music. It’s music in a music room in a house, and it takes its form as we record it.”
Bubonik Funk, who has played gigs up and down the east coast, can hardly contain their excitement over sharing the stage at Amos’ with P-Funk.
“I said to the band when I was 15 years old, ‘Can you imagine playing with P-Funk?’ We used to daydream about that and now it’s happening in our hometown,” says Allison.
We start talking about their hometown and the music scene here, and while they name places like the Fillmore who are pushing the Charlotte music scene, they mention property development as a major deterrent. Kallander says that until people with power stop prioritizing property development and start respecting artists, Charlotte can’t take the next major step as a music city.
“It’s hard to imagine the Neighborhood Theatre or the Chop Shop not existing, but that’s where we’re headed unless something changes.”
He adds that noise ordinances in Charlotte’s arts districts, areas created by and for artists and musicians, only further the problem.
Ellett continues, “It limits all types of artists and takes away from a full, communal experience, and it does the same for a lot of small businesses.”
It will take a lot more than a property developer to limit Bubonik Funk Friday night when they take the stage with some of their heroes. They’ve jammed and run through their set for about an hour, and it’s finally time for me to leave them alone. Local trumpet player Eleazer Shafer, who along with sax player Phillip Whack, will be playing a few songs with them at Amos’, is getting up to speed on some music. But, before I leave the friendly confines of Wannamaker and step back into the world, I ask Ellett what’s next for the band.
“We’re getting on the Mothership, and after that, it’s anywhere in the universe.”
Allison interjects, “Pint Central. We’re playing Pint Central Saturday.”
Catch Bubonik Funk and George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic Friday night at Amos’ Southend. Doors at 8pm. Show at 9pm. Tickets are $30.
Photos courtesy of Kayla Tidwell Photography.