The funk is a genre ingrained and revolutionized in the crescent city, uniting all people who love to get out there and bust a groove to the hip of the music. Having taking on their own distinct tone, which the bands fans call “Prog Funk,” the home town boys in Earphunk have taken what they have learned from the Big Easy, developed their own recipe, and spread it around the country as they aggressively tour playing venues, festivals, and theatres everywhere. Their success gained on the road, however, could never replace playing to a hometown crowd of friends, family, and supporters of the city they love. This year the New Orleans natives get to play their first ever Jazz & Heritage Festival, a true homecoming event and dream come true for the hardworking defenders of the funk, rock and soul.
“I don’t think it’s gonna hit me ‘till we’re like rolling up on a golf cart on the way to the show ya know. It’s like wow, this is actually happening,” explains guitarist and vocalist Mark Hempe of Earphunk. For a group that has played over 200 shows, taken three trips across the United States, and have appeared at Wakarusa Music & Arts Festival as well as Bear Creek Music & Arts Fesrtival and Eectric Forest Festival in the past 24 months alone, to play at the festival they’ve attended since their childhood is truly something special. “I remember in like Kindergarten getting taken out of school to go to Jazz Fest and it being like the best day ever. Now to be playing it is almost surreal. ” Hempe describes.
The group started when the guys were attending college in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas. As so many bands have started before, the group came together because of a heavy desire to play, some late night jams, and one show to kick it all off. “Our buddy was a bartender, I told the owner we had a band and they were doing music at the time, and they were like ‘oh, by the way you’re playing Wednesday,’ so we just said ok, I guess we gotta learn some songs,” Hempe recalls laughing. After school, all the guys moved back to New Orleans, where they continued to grow as a band, tour more rigorously, and develop their signature tone that has fully come to light with their third studio album release of Sweet Nasty in 2014. Still, one of the most special things about playing at home is seeing all the people who have supported the group since day one. Since that first fateful show in Baton Rouge when the quintet came together to shed a few tunes in front of some friends.
“Seeing our good friends that not only we’ve known our whole lives and stuff, but our friends who have been at Bank Street, and have travelled to Baton Rouge or whatever to see shows, and ya know that was happening five years ago, and the fact that they’re still coming out and supporting,” the guitarist recalls and admires, “ Ya know we don’t play New Orleans as much anymore so its always nice cause its always a big homecoming every time and you get to catch up with your friends,” he describes, “That’s what makes it so special.”
Today, these same friends support the group at local venues like Tipitina’s as well as the House of Blues and can travel with the fellas as far as California if they do so desire. Earphunk has gained many fans both in town as wella s across the nation. Their ingredients for success being based on dedicated hard work, pushing their musical boundaries, and an inspiration provided by New Orleans that the band feels is ingrained in them. “The sound has given us the funk as one of our bread and butter, kinda go-to things in our songs,” Hempe describes of how the city has helped them grow as a band. Still, the bands time on the road and outside influences have allowed them to develop this prog. funk genre that is all of their own with driving guitars, complimenting a tight-grooving rhythm topped by heavily whipped, creamy smooth keys. “It certainly encompasses the edgier aspect of the sound, ya know the tone is not straight funk at all anymore it’s a little harder, a little rockier, that’s where the progressive aspect comes in, but the funk is always gonna be what we do,”Mark assures.
Looking forward to a memorable first Jazz Fest performance, the group knows that playing the special event will only help the band in the future and will definitely be one for the books. “Generally, it’s certainly a notch on the belt,” says Mark Hempe. “It goes way past an actual moment,” he further explains “that’s gonna stay for a while cause you’ll always have that, that’ll be the first one.”