Gloria Estefan was right. Eventually, the rhythm is going to get you. I particularly felt that way at my first Big Pill show. Their sound, sound, classified as big band funk or aggressive lounge, consumes you, and you’re forced to bob your head, tap your feet, and move your body. The unique incorporation of jazz, hip-hop, R&B, reggae, and rock has resulted in sold out shows, accolades from bigwig musicians, and an Overdose album (pun intended). Founded in 1998 in a Pasadena parking lot, The Big Pill (the name comes from a Parliament tune called “Dr. Funkenstein”) is made up of 7 guys that have a true symbiotic relationship. Joey K is both crooner and drummer, C-Money is on bass, Chankla Funk on percussions and vocals, Nick on guitar, and Chase, Jake, and Derryk on horns.
Now in their 11th year in the business, The Big Pill is challenged with producing their third studio album, while radiating the same cohesiveness despite two band members being miles away. But the odds are in their favor. They have hooked up with Chicharon Adventures for a merchandise run, creativity is alive with new tracks conceived every day, and with the exception of Joey K and Derryk, the guys reside in a city that complements their hybridity. Note: Derryk was not available for interview.
Why did founding members Joey K and Nick Lewis agree on a large band? Why not be conventional and go with a smaller number?
Nick Lewis (NL): We didnt start as a large band. The first incarnation of The Big Pill was only a four piece. I think the more we started to understand what our musical vision was, the more we grew. Also, many of us come from a jazz background so the horns came naturally to us. With a seven piece band you have the ability to play whatever you want.
Joey K (JK): It was just the way it was supposed to be. The sounds we had in our head were a combo of all our favorite bands. Artists like: Earth Wind and Fire, James Brown, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Stevie Wonder, Chicago, Oingo Boingo, not to forget all the jazz greats.
Do you think you have a better place in the music industry as more and more genres begin to integrate? Or do you feel that your sound is still unique?
Chase Bland (CB): Yes and no. The integration of different styles definitely opens the door a little further for a band like ours. But I feel that we are still doing something completely different. The music industry still looks for that "cookie cutter" thing where they know for sure that they are going to make money, and I don’t blame them for that, as times are tough right now. For a band like ours to get launched into the mainstream would take a label to step out onto a ledge and try something completely different. Our uniqueness has been kind of a double edged sword as far getting signed because what we are doing is so different. It is a hard sell to labels because there is no proven market. They would have to change the way they do things to make it happen. The plus side to uniqueness is that we are doing something new and different; we can carve our own niche and personally, I love that about our band.
NL: I feel like the industry always repeats musical eras. Right now pop music has rediscovered the groovy part of the 70's. Next year it will be the 80's. Ever so often, an artist or band comes along and creates a new sound. I feel like we have created our own thing and have forged our own niche. It’s an uphill battle but I think in the end it is worth it. I feel like now is a good time to make a new album. The industry might be open to a band that plays funk with a singing drummer. We will see.
Chankla Funk (CF): I don't think there is a place in the "Industry" for us yet. The "Industry" isn't ready for a band like us. We're a musicians’ band; we get off on musicianship. The "Industry” doesn't care about that. They want something they can put on a lunch box. I really don't think there are any bands out there trying to be innovative with their sound. It's either written for them or it's a carbon copy of something somebody else has done before them. I don't think there is anything that even comes close to our sound.
What about Los Angeles inspires your music?
Jake Wilson (JW): The funky grind of the freeway.
C-Money (CM): All the bullshit. It's fun to write and make fun of the lifestyle people live in LA. We also all grew up here so we are naturally inspired by our surroundings.
JK: The true diversity of the city.
NL: Los Angeles is so diverse in the arts. Because of The Big Pill's large size, we are able to mix all of the diverse sounds of LA into one sound. We are a sonic image of LA. Diverse.
CB: A lot about LA inspires the music - where we live, the people that live here, and the things that we do. LA is such a diverse place, we have it all here.
CF: Everything from the skyline to the freeways.
You have a song that tribute a Los Angeles swap meet. How did that song come to fruition?
CM: Chankla had the idea. We all shopped, and still do shop at the indo so it was only natural to write a song about it.
CF: I actually take responsibility for that one. It started as a joke. I am - to put it gently - fat. I have a hard time finding comfortable undershirts to wear. So I've been going to the "Indo" for years. C-Money was living just down the street from the one I would frequent. One day after a trip I stopped by C's and started singing the hook "Down at the Indo!" The rest is history.
Why was the song "Floss Angeles" written? Do you believe it has an important message for Angelenos?
NL: Most of our songs have some sort of comedic value to them. "Floss Angeles" is about people who are faking the funk. It seems that LA has a higher per capita of flossers than most states. It’s just a commentary on all the people who are not comfortable being themselves and not living within their means.
CM: I think "Floss" is one of our best tunes from the old days. Living in LA we are surrounded by the behaviors described in the song. It gets annoying, so why not write a song about it? I do think it's a message. Or even a lesson like you don't want to be that guy that drives a benzo on 22's but still lives with his mom.
CB: I think it has a great message for Angelenos and for society as a whole. Be true to yourself and don’t let what society and the media dictate the way you live your life. By writing a song like this, it brings up the question of why we do things that we do.
Why have you decided to collaborate with CA? Do you feel that street culture influences lyrics or even the band’s identity?
CF: C-money and I met you at a gig we were playing in Hollywood. We went home and looked at the site and saw that there was some really good representation happening with your designs. Then through our conversation we felt like the company was also sending a good message. It has been a great working and personal relationship ever since that moment. I feel like street culture is our biggest influence, at least in terms of lyrics. It's a very big part of who we are as a band.
CM: Street culture definitely influences us. I personally listen to a lot of "urban" music. We are collaborating with CA because we are down for their cause. And they make some dope gear.
How has the band evolved between 1998 and 2009?
JW: That question needs a book and a movie.
CF: We have all grown up so much both personally and musically. The two have to go hand and hand right? So many life experiences. If you think about it we were all in our early 20's when this band started. Some of us even younger perhaps. That's fucking wild.
NL: The band has evolved tremendously. A lot of life has happened in the last eleven years. Personal tragedies, drug addiction, breakups, and some really good times that make for better song writing. I was 18 when Joey and I conceived The Big Pill. I’m going to be 30 in April....Shit. Our point of view is different.
CB: A lot...I don’t think there is time for this one...the main thing is that we all have come together and have taken ownership of the goal of the band.
What can we expect from your next album?
JK: I just want to make art and make no apologies.
NL: I imagine the new album to have more focused song lyrics than in the past. The core of The Big Pill is to make people happy and release them from their day to day lives for a couple of hours. Like I said previously, a lot of things have happened in the last five years that have dictated our lives as a band and individually. These experiences may bring about some heavier song content. We will still have a good time though.
Are there any differences or similarities between playing at House of Blues (LA), Old Towne Pub (LA), and The Warped Tour (Various cities)? What is your favorite environment?
CF: We play just as hard in front of 2 people as we do in front of 2,000. All that's different is the stage size. You may be a little more charged up at the HOB or Warped Tour, but as soon as you hit it that goes away. At least for me it does. You still have to remember to play your instrument. My favorite kinds of shows are the small joints. When it gets hot and sweaty from people dancing all night and people are pushed up on you like you're their prom date. Good times.
JK: They are all great in their own way. HOB makes you feel like a rock star, OTP is my second home (I’ve been playing there since was 17 years old), WT...Let’s say it’s like boot camp for musicians. It’s sweaty, dirty, grimy, with really long days; it makes you feel like a survivor.
CB: They are all awesome for their own reason. My favorite stage is the HOB but I love the intimacy of the OTB; the crowd is right there in the mix. The WT was a lot fun because we were on the road together. We were in an environment where we proved that our sound could work. One of the things I still remember was this punk rock guy in plaid shorts, black suspenders, docs, and a big mohawk who was watching us. He’d be the last person I would ever think would listen to The Big Pill. He walks by and I look at him and he is bobbing his along with our music. It tripped me out!!!
Joey K - what do you miss most about Los Angeles?
JK: Friends and THE FOOD.
Last year I visited Manila. I noticed that their nightlife hardly revolves around clubs, but rather around local talent. Do you think that Los Angeles could be more sympathetic to the local band scene? Or do you think that it does a solid job at spreading the word? Why?
JK: Sad to say, but LA is about who you know and the latest trend. Period. I don’t think LA will ever look past the end of their blackberries.
JW: Right now, LA is all about the clubs. We have to bring the live music back.
CF: I love Los Angeles. But it IS still Los Angeles where people want a certain look or vibe. It doesn't always have to do with being good at your craft. I said in an earlier question that industry people want to able to sell your image on the side of a lunch box. That is MOST true in L.A. Sometimes you have break people down and convince them that you are worth their time, get them excited. Then maybe they will bring a friend out to the next gig. That's what we aim to do every time we hit the stage.
NL: I think that LA could do a lot more for the local scene. We live in the entertainment capital of the world. Everything is about money and fame. We have people that are famous because their mom or dad is famous. Who gives a fuck? I think as soon as we start focusing on music and not marketing ploys, we will be better off. The Music industry is full of entertainers and not musicians. It should be the other way around.
CM: I think the LA scene is whack. Too many pay-to-plays, too many bands with no talent but lots of their parents’ money to spend. That makes it hard to break into the LA scene.
For the guys, LA is truly the city you love to hate. It can offer a world of possibility—from the freeways to the food, from its people to its establishments—but it can also offer unsympathetic ears. At the end of the day, however, Los Angeles is influential. Through its diversity, bands are formed and songs are written. And through its neglect for independent talent, musicians and writers are constantly hustling.
The Big Pill just completed two shows at The Old Towne Pub to crowds that were numbered by the hundreds. They kept their same fanbase and gained new ones. I'm telling you, this band is the best band you’re not listening to. Get at me for their CD. You won't regret it.