Nashville's Downright offer nightly proof that Funk is a collective noun. Over the course of a roughly 15-year career, the band has paid homage to each distinctive era, every colorful permutation of the genre, from the brass-tacks beats of James Brown to the hard-rock forays of George Clinton's funkadelic, from the '80s-era paisley pastiches of Prince to the slicker sounds of contemporary hip hop and R&B.
"We got our start playing in the mold of James Brown, and then we got into the Meters some"
says vocalist/guitarist Steve Lewis in a recent phone conversation. "But over the years, it's become more experimental, more avant garde. We're not trying to do a rehash of funk and R&B from the seventies. Too many people are already doing that. We want to take those flavors and make something new."
Which isn't to say that Downright can't play it straight, or at least as straight as straight gets in a genre defined by vivid personalities such as Brown, Clinton, the Purple One, et al. In fact, some of the band's most galvanizing material -- they've authored five full-length albums and a handful of singles releases to date -- could have been cribbed from the crazy cartoon-funk era of the 1980s, when the likes of Cameo and Morris Day and Rick James dominated pop radio airwaves with a potent mix of lurid charisma, New Wave-style electronics and bedrock bass grooves.
"We started out in the 1960s, and finally made it to the '80s," Lewis chuckles. "We love stuff like Prince, the Gap Band, the Dazz Band. A lot of it gets back to the way they started to use tape loops in that era of music. It became important to have a Deejay, and to have good production, and to take that element to the floor, as opposed to just having a straight-up live band.
"We use tape loops a lot in our music, in part to keep things fresh, but also so that we can take those great sounds to the stage."
And that's important for other reasons as well, given that Downright's membership has fluctuated wildly over the years. Right now, Lewis and fellow founding member Jay Frederick are the mainstays, supported by a constellation of "extended family members" who enable the band to put as many as seven people on the stage on a given night.
Lewis says he and Frederick are currently putting the finishing touches on a new EP, at which point it won't be long before they start work on yet another full-length release. The band's newer material draws more from post-millennial hip hop, he says, with all its attendant electronic shenanigans, plus the band's standard measure of madcap musical R&D.
"We're pretty excited about incorporating a lot of the newer hiip-hop production," Lewis says.
"We're really into guys like Southside, or Metro Boomin'. As a vocalist, I'm not really a rapper, so it's more about the beats than the rapping.
"But the production on the new stuff is pretty experimental, with lots of backwards, spooky-sounding stuff, heavy kick drums and crazy hi-hats. It gives us a lot of breathing space, lots of room underneath it all to experiment."
Downright will play Preservation Pub Friday, Sept. 15 at 10 p.m.