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All funked up and everywhere to go

BY RACHAEL LANDER | MAY 08, 2009 7:26 AM

mp3 samples: Bumpus

"Something's Got to Give"

"All the People"

Chicago band Bumpus, best known for its ’70s funk-influenced tunes, will bring the noise to the Yacht Club Saturday night.

Anyone yearning for the days of “The Brady Bunch,” The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and shag carpets should go to the Yacht Club on Saturday. The era of funk will feverishly return on Saturday night when Bumpus hits town.

Bring your pet rock to the Yacht Club, 13 S. Linn St., at 9 p.m. for the show, in which Chicago-based Bumpus will be joined by the Big Funk Guarantee.

“We started off, and it was spoken word over acoustic hip-hop tracks, and slowly, we became a funk band,” said James Johnston, Bumpus’ singer and guitar player. “We didn’t know how to play any instruments in a funk band, we just liked the music.”

Bumpus formed about 10 years ago when a few friends heard a Sly & the Family Stone album and became motivated to start their own retro group. Sly & the Family Stone influenced Bumpus largely because it worked to close the ethnic gap, incorporating blacks and whites into the band as well as mixing up the sexes.

“[Sly’s] songs are great, [and] the energy is great,” Johnston said. “That sort of inspired us to have a band where we have guys and girls and different races. I think [Sly & the Family Stone is] our biggest influence.”

The members of Bumpus came together without even knowing how to play instruments, which Johnston said was a focus for the band’s first three years.

“It took us a while, and we didn’t make an album right away, that’s for sure,” he said. “We just played as many shows as we could. We played all over Chicago at any bar that would take us.”

Bumpus has hit a few natural glitches along its musical path, including shifts in the lineup and a one-year hiatus, but that hasn’t stopped the melodies from flowing. The band is working on its third album, which Johnston hopes will be ready when Bumpus returns to Iowa City this summer for Camp Euforia.

“This one is just like a dance record,” he said. “It’s all fun tunes and hopefully funny — we’ll see. I don’t know if humor can translate to record, but we’re hoping that it will.”

One of the things that came with shifting members was the band’s realization that it needed to keep things jovial. Johnston stressed that humor is key when on tour, because if one person is in a bad mood, it affects all the band’s musicians.

“We like to play jokes on each other and surprise each other — it keeps it fun on the road,” Johnston said. “You have to streak at least once per tour. It’s fun, it keeps it loose.” The last time the group was in Iowa City, he said, one of the members blindly led them to a strip club. All in good humor, of course.

As for its non-retro sounding name, Johnston describes it as something that stuck from a misunderstood phrase during a wild college night.

“A lot of people think it’s some Christmas story, but actually, the truth is that our bass player, Travis, and his good friend were super high on acid when they were in college, and Travis just misheard something [his friend] said.”

While many bands congeal easily at the outset only to later dissolve, Bumpus’ story has the opposite trajectory. Johnston described the band’s relationship as much more competitive at its start than it is now.

“We had the sort of, My art is more important than your art [thing],” he said.

Despite the negative vibes, Johnston stuck with it. The new members brought a new feel to the group, and the vocalist said the names on Bumpus’ roster are all on good terms now.

“It’s taken a lot of effort to keep the group together,” he said. “It sort of comes back to, you ask yourself why are you doing this and is it still for the fun of it. I’m in it to write good songs and perform live because it gives me a piece of mind, and I really love it.”


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