As I made my way through the Fremont Fair Solstice Festival I noticed that the people up ahead of me were nodding in synchronized approval. I paused to watch and wonder what was behind this. Walking a bit further, I began to feel the pulse of music in my body and found myself joining the head bobbing. I had reached the edge of a large, invisible bubble of groove so compelling that everyone who was caught within its sphere was engaged in collective motion. There were a great number of people who were excitedly dancing. In SEATTLE!
A woman’s voice was ringing through the air and backing her was a cadre of musical wizards whose relaxed prowess and easy charm held the entire northwest corner of the festival under sway. The sign next to the stage displayed three haphazardly assembled simple characters: F2D. This was my first experience with Funky 2 Death.
Time stood still for I don’t know how many songs, but when I eventually moved from the crowd I witnessed the earlier phenomenon in reverse; dancing gave way to generalized motion, which receded to head bobbing until the music no longer carried and normal walking resumed—well, almost normal walking. There was still some remnant of the experience that remained within me for quite some time. I have seen F2D many times since then and have found that they are easy to befriend, but enigmatic; when you think you know them, they show you a new depth and range.
Funky 2 Death has a somewhat symbiotic relationship with the Seamonster Lounge in Wallingford. They are distinct entities, but their fates have been very much entwined. The Seamonster will be celebrating its tenth birthday this November and two of the central characters in our story have been there for the entire ride.
Chief among them is the CEO of the Seamonster Lounge, Andrew Nunez, who has successfully run the establishment for almost a decade and has managed to keep high-caliber musical entertainment booked every night of the week. Keeping both patrons and musicians happy, he has created a singular environment that continues to attract many of Seattle’s finest jazz, fusion, funk and jam-band players. Even more amazingly, he does all of this without ever charging a door fee. The Seamonster is a great place to play, a great place to hang, and, judging by the faces of the folks behind the bar, a great place to work.
Our other central character is Woog. Woog has DJed and drummed at Seamonster since it began and has been in every incarnation of the its Friday night entertainment. Three years of Champipple followed by the tenure of Haiku-Chi have now given rise to F2D. Woog is unrelenting as he holds a rock-solid beat and verbally works the crowd for several hours every single Friday night. He doesn’t hesitate to compliment or berate. He works hard to set the right tone, and if people aren’t moving enough he will work even harder until they do. If I were only allowed one word for him it would be simply this: Respect.
If you visit the Seamonster Lounge earlier in the week you will probably notice a tall, fit man with exceptional posture behind the bar. He will likely wear a shirt bearing the name of some other group that frequently plays there. This man is Mark Mattrey. Woog came up with the name Funky 2 Death, and Mattrey suggested shortening it to F2D. The two collaborate in F2D’s rhythm section with Mattrey on bass. He is the John Paul Jones of Funk. Mattrey will tirelessly dig into a riff and play it each time as though it was the only time that mattered. Between them, Mark and Woog lay a foundation fit for a monument.
The next layers of F2D’s texture come from their two keyboard players, DeeJay Roc’Phella and, as Woog likes to introduce her, “The First Lady of Funky 2 Death, Miss Melissa Montalto.” In addition to Woog, each of these folks also does double-duty on the microphone. Always dressed to kill, Melissa will leave the keys and get right up front and rock the crowd. Roc’ is equally at home singing soulfully or standing and rapping, and when he gets into a strong flow…well, words may fail me but I have never witnessed them failing him.
Funky 2 Death also sports a very capable and stylish horn section comprising Peter Daniel on sax, Julian Locobazzi on sax and flute, and Jason Cressey on trombone. The horns round out the texture and lend depth and breadth to the overall sound. These guys are like a celebrity chef’s secret blend of spices. They give the meat its character and nuance and bring out all the flavor.
I have never met anyone who can communicate Morse Code through a guitar but if anyone could I suspect that it would be Jabrille Williams. Every note starts and stops exactly how and when he wants it to. His ability to put sound or silence on the extreme edge of a beat makes his phrasing second to none. It is tight and clean, but I have come to believe that for all that it is, the greater part of what he brings is not in his hands. It is in his presence. He emanates groove into the atmosphere, hair swaying as his chin tips up with every downbeat. It often appears that it is his motion that is actually driving the groove rather than the other way around. He is at the very front of the beat if the groove calls for an urgent forward drive, but when it calls for time to be pulled, he can ride so far back you would think the next beat was dangerously tailgating. He can also do both of these within the same phrase and it is impeccable. He accomplishes this with crystal clarity and with a tone that is at once full but never steps on anyone else.
The generosity that is curated during a Friday night with F2D is a gift to all. There are eight people who each play their fill and yet leave space within the texture for everyone else. This generosity is also reflected in the way in which the band and crowd interact and how the patrons treat each other. There is only the thinnest invisible line between the band and those who are up front dancing and it is rarely crossed. I have only ever witnessed people being accommodating when someone needs to pass through the crowd. I attribute this to the positive environment that Andrew provides and to the sheer joyousness in the music that F2D creates.
A crowd can only be as sexy as the band and Funky 2 Death draws in a sexy and diverse crowd—multiple generations and shades, rich and poor all appear equally at home. There is another major tell of the band’s talent: It is not uncommon to see plenty of other accomplished musicians who are there for the show. It is no small feat to get a crowd inspired and moving, but when a band is also inspiring to their peers, they have become a rising tide that lifts the boats around them.
F2D have a sort of timelessness in their texture in the way their sound is presented. Specific instruments may sound quintessentially ’70s or ’80s and yet the band as a whole sounds very current and authentic. This applies to their original material as well, which is quite strong. They have a way of moving seamlessly through different styles with a unique sound of their own even when they emulate their heroes.
When I asked Woog about this he told me you just have to “Be true to what you’re doing” and “Don’t be pretentious about it.” These words may read like stock responses but this man says them with a soft gravity and a reverence for what he does. That reverence and faithfulness to the music goes especially for the songs they cover. If the original artist were to hear F2D cover their song, the band would want that person to be pleased and proud. My mind immediately went to Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” which Melissa sang a week or two earlier and I agreed that Wonder would be pleased. It was that good.
It was later that same night after this conversation that I had one of the peak musical experiences of my adult life at the F2D performance. In attendance was Anthony Briscoe, the consummate frontman of Down North. To my absolute delight, F2D introduced him to the room and he took the mic. Together they proceeded to run through a number of James Brown tunes, and—I kid you not—they sounded just like the CD of JB, live—right then and there in front of us.
To hear them make a run on an artist’s material is a special treat because the songs build upon each other and the impact is much greater. I saw it happen another time when Jabrille’s inner guitar-god was taken out for a stroll as the band serenaded the Valkyries with Jimi Hendrix classics.
If any band in Seattle is ready to blow up, it is Funky 2 Death. These folks are fully capable of touring the nation and rocking every club in their path. We could follow along and get a different show each night and they would all be great. I don’t know if they would want that, but they are only one hit single away from it being a possibility. In the meantime, they have a seven song CD and a 45rpm record that has recently been released on Funkscribe’s We Coast Records. These have been on rotation on Funk Republic Radio and on KBCS.
You can catch F2D in other venues, but my personal recommendation is to experience them at the Seamonster Lounge on a Friday night after 10 PM. They have been resident there every Friday for three years now and they know every aspect of that room. This is also where Woog’s philosophy, “If you build a bridge, they’ll come,” has been realized. You also may get to see the CEO of the Seamonster, Mr. Andrew Nunez get up and sing a tune “backed by the best band in the world”—in Melissa’s words. Loyalty goes a long way. As Woog told me, “When no one else would give us that crack, Andrew did.”
I, for one, am very glad that he did. That was one wager that has left everyone winning.