The multitalented group infuses nasty feels and refreshing sounds into a modern funk setting. Here their founding drummer sounds off on their latest killing outing.
Since forming at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance in 2011, the modern funk quartet Vulfpeck have developed a feverishly devoted fan base and serious cred among the music community, thanks in part to the group’s highly appealing take on classic funk, as well as their substantial YouTube presence. The band—composed of Jack Stratton on drums, keyboards, and vocals; Theo Katzman on drums, guitar, and vocals; Woody Goss on keyboards; and Joe Dart on bass—released their fourth full-length, Hill Climber, on December 7. Vulfpeck packed the album tight with their signature brand of funk and refreshingly contemporary throwback sound, and they even brought along a few collaborators, including rising drum star Louis Cole of the electronic duo Knower, who delivered an explosive guest spot.
Each track on Hill Climber, which was recorded in Los Angeles and in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is accompanied by a unique video, following a tradition that dates back to the band’s 2011 viral YouTube video for the single “Beastly.” That success of the “Beastly” video encouraged the band to follow that same release model with their four EPs and as many LPs. Beyond providing a distinct, almost homemade look into the band’s style and humor, each song’s video offers a keen glimpse into its production techniques, dirty- funk aesthetic, and vibrant chops.
While Stratton composed the majority of Vulfpeck’s output early on, collaborations have become more common, including on Hill Climber. “We split songwriting duties,” Stratton explains. “I wrote the first few EPs, and then Woody came in with tunes, and then Theo came in with tunes. Then we covered some tunes by friends like [the Los Angeles–based multi-instrumentalists and songwriters] Joe Dosik and Ryan Lerman. All the while, I’d pic out Joe Dart bass lines from live shows and turn those into songs as well.” Katzman and Stratton decide who’s playing drums on a particular cut on a song-by-song basis. “Theo has a much better ear for harmony than I do,” Stratton says. “So if it’s a difficult Woody song, I’ll play drums.”
On Hill Climber’s “It Gets Funkier IV,” the group recruited funk and drum ’n’ bass drumming guru Louis Cole, who propels the tune with a blazing open-handed 16th-note funk barrage. “We’re huge fans of Louis,” Stratton says. “He lives nearby, and I asked if he wanted to feature [on the album]. He came over at noon and said he hadn’t slept.” Sleep or no, the drummer’s right-hand snare ghost notes blaze throughout the three-minute cut, especially during the rapid four-stroke flurries in the song’s featured drum break.
Vulpeck’s signature dry drum tone seriously pops on every one of the group’s records, a sound that Stratton explains is inspired by Chic, ABBA, and Earth, Wind & Fire records. To achieve those tones in the studio, Stratton developed a particular production approach. “I generally opt for close-miking the drums with dynamic mics, like a Shure SM57, and I really muffle them,” he says. “I get them nice and quiet so you can hit them comfortably but not be too loud in the room.” The drummer adds that he maintains a fairly stripped-down setup when recording. “Kick, snare, and hat, baby!” he chuckles, adding, “and we used whatever drums were at the studio for Hill Climber. We travel with a Roots EQ snare mute, too. Instant Ringo!
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