Though it seems pretty obvious, Funky Nashville is a difficult band to categorize. They aren't a funk band as the 'funky' part of their name implies nor do they sing country as the 'Nashville' part of their name might imply. But the name 'Funky Nashville' still manages to perfectly describe the band's country-tinged, rock, with touches of pop and Mexican rhythms that plays like the soundtrack to a road movie set on the hot, dry highways of the American Southwest. Only the Southwestern Americana comes from a band across the pond in Denmark.
In the late nineties frontman Sverre Stein Nielsen, bassist Mads Mazanti and guitarist Thomas Engelhardt formed a group called Weatherbeat. Weatherbeat played in a more typical European style that the members compared to Radiohead or Coldplay. Though the band had some minor successes in Denmark it never really took off.
Then one day the trio got together and created something new, "the three of us went to a cottage in the countryside to finish the songs for our Weatherbeat album but suddenly something happened, I don't know what, some spirit came into this cottage and we invented this new style" Nielsen recounts, "We brought a computer with some beats then some country songs came up, twang guitar, surf things. I don't know why but it just happened. And then we changed the direction".
They're not sure whey but the members somehow knew this new direction was right, "it was like we were being possessed by something... We talked about that actually - like a western movie a Native American spirit possessing us and suddenly we were chantingÖ"
The sound was definitely something new and different and the uniqueness was what made the members of Funky Nashville so excited about the new sound, after the addition of drummer Caspar Quorning the band was off and running. Evoking pictures of Southwestern landscapes and deserts and long stretches of never ending highways it's easy to see the influence of artists like Johnny Cash, Calexico and even Beck. But Engelhardt says that it wasn't only music they looked to create the new sound, "A lot of the influences from our music is coming from films and so we love those, road movies, old western movies and I think our music could be the soundtrack to one of those movies, we just love that kind of style." The band began quoting classics like Once Upon a Time in the West and films by Quentin Tarantino.
But all the Americana gained mixed reviews in Denmark, though Americana is currently popular there, like anything trendy there's been a bit of a backlash, "some people in Denmark think it's fake that we play music with such an influence from the US" Nielsen comments. But in the United States it has been a different story with positive reviews, but not only because of the American influence, "I think they like it because maybe they can hear some Scandinavian European vibe in the music at the same time which people in Europe in Scandinavia aren't able to hear".
The positive American reviews for their second album, first in North America, for Hitch A Ride are still a good sign for a band with only one member, Thomas Engelhardt, ever having been to Nashville. However, that's about to change. After a stop at Toronto's Canadian Music Week and exposure at the ubiquitous indie rock fest SXSW in Austin, Texas the band is heading on a road trip to their namesake city. Hoping to get inspired by Nashville the band also wants to collaborate with some local talent, "so it will probably be more genuine American style this time on the next album I guess but mixed with our European, Scandinavian influence," says Nielsen.
After their stop in Nashville the band will head for LA where they'll stay for three months to record their next album but of course in the spirit of the band they'll be taking the road all the way there and Mazanti says they can't wait to get out there, "I guess all in all we're very influenced by the Americana thing movies, landscapes of course music all the Americana thing, that's what we're going to experience when we get down to drive through America".
For more information please visit www.funkynashville.com and check out their video "Hitch a Ride" as Soul Shine's Most Requested video from February, www.soulshine.ca/onDemand.
Writer: Michelle Garcia