She Gots Ta Buy Two Tickets To See: Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band
What is it about these guys? Yes, Al Al has his costumes, his stable stance and loose bass slopped over his shoulder. Mary’s got a way with keys and a way with voice that makes you go, “Wait? That’s one person doing both?”
Along with Derrick on trombone, JP on guitar, and Lee on drums, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band will draw you into their world, a frisky throwback of funk, something neither ramped up like Turkuaz nor precisely composed like Lettuce. Instead, YMBFBB is the whipped cream of funk, the sugary extra to the sound. Al sings and so does Mary. The songs are everything from psychedelic to big band tra-la-la. They are a circus of funk with power and stamina.
The band, based in North Carolina, tour with fury, so if their songs weren’t good enough on their own, their energy on stage is a hurricane. Take Mary, who tonight during the set, walked around her fortress of keys and turned her booty to the audience, offering a mix of twerking and old school booty-shaking. There was no shame, just a love for the moment.
A band that’s spent this much time together touring, and traversing scenes from jambands to blues, has charisma to their comprehensive being as they walk me backstage at one o’clock in the morning after their set. They rarely get this far north, so it was an opportunity to watch a new audience become hooked to the soulful spirit of the quintet.
They all have southern drawl, which is charming integrated with their kind and relaxed personalities. They are admittedly overtired, but it doesn’t stop them from answering my questions with honest enthusiasm.
Did you know each other before you were a band?
Al Al: Some of us. JP and I played in a band together, about a year or so before Big Fat Booty Band.
Mary: What did that stand for?
Al Al and JP together: Down With It. [Laughs]
Mary: Y’all need to write a song and call it that. For real. I didn’t even know that. I’ve only been in the band four and half years. I never heard that.
Al Al: Our drummer, too; he’s been in the band about four years. Actually, I knew Lee from way, way back, ‘cuz we went to middle and high school together. We were in marching band, symphonic band…His dad was actually my music instructor in high school. It came back full circle, especially having that rhythm section, with the same musical training. When Lee joined the band, there were a bunch of songs that I wanted to do but they didn’t work out until Lee. Mary being in it too, it’s our first time really incorporating keys into the groove. Having a strong female influence is always great to have.
Mary: Thanks, Al.
Mary, how long have you been singing?
Mary: Well, I wanted to be a singer in my imagination when I was a little girl. I played piano from a really young age and I would sing on my trampoline to a large audience in front of me, in my imagination. But I started vocal lessons in high school and then I went to school for music. I sang in some choirs in college. But, pretty much, I’ve never studied vocals. To me, singing is about who you are. Singing everyday as a soul sister, putting your heart into it- that’s bigger than any training.
You keep the funk level high. Do you ever not feel not funky?
JP: I don’t feel the band ever feels not funky. Sometimes we’re looking out at the crowd, going, “Are they funky? Alright, guys; we may have to work a bit extra hard tonight, just to get everybody out of their seats.” Sometimes everyone’s out on the dance floor, but sometimes you got to work a little bit harder. In my head, it’s not are we funky, because we wake up and breathe the funk in, first thing.
Mary: I’d say there are some times when I don’t feel funky. I have a lot of times at home by myself where I write music that is far from what I would consider funk. I don’t know if you guys experienced that, but growing up listening to other styles of music, I like to write outside the box. That’s what inspires me to write funk, is satisfying other sides of myself that don’t fit in that box. It might be writing the country side, the folk side, sometimes it’s towards electronica. I feel that once I get that out, even when I’m not performing that, it create space for me to create more funky.
Let’s talk about your latest album. Did it come out on vinyl?
JP: Oh yeah. Our last album came out on double vinyl. This next one’s coming out on lavender vinyl. We’re stoked.
Are you vinyl people at home?
Al Al: Yeah! More comic books than vinyl, though.
What comics do you like to read?
Al Al: Savage Dragon’s my favorite. But I like the Marvel stuff. I like Walking Dead.
When did you all get funky?
Al Al: Out of the womb! [Laughs]
Lee: I grew up in marching band, and they had this swagger to them. I’ve been trying to emulate that this whole time. The swagger of drum lines, to me, was represented nicely with funk with records in my dad’s collection, like Chicago and Tower of Power. I was instantly drawn to it.
JP: If you have the funk in you, whether or not you know what it is, it activates one day when you see what it is. It’s not just music. It’s a lifestyle, a feeling, a freedom, and that might be something people are searching for, for however long. When they connect with the funk vibe they find that funk within, like, “I always felt funky; people called me weird, back in the day,” when really, you felt like doing things your own way, which might have been different from what everyone else was doing, but you just needed to find an inspiration, a person or band that helps you find your inner funkiness.
Mary: That’s how we all got together. Funk equals happiness for all.
Funk bands, kind of more than many other genres, really have a responsibility to get to your audience.
Al Al: Funk music is one of those things where you say that you’re a funk band- a lot of the times when you go around this country, people expect you to play Tower of Power or “Brick House”, but we’re not that, an imitation funk band. Funk is more of a lifestyle than a music style. You’re free to do whatever you want to do. It’s a responsibility for us, to be ourselves, be comfortable in our skin. We have to keep that strong so they can feel comfortable.
Did you have to work towards being that level of comfortable?
Derrick: When you operate with five people that you wholeheartedly trust with your life, it’s pretty easy to turn to you bandmates and smile. That’s the beauty of the art. All music. When you see a group that’s able to interact with each other and enjoy, it allows you to interact with people, and enjoy. Drop it like it’s hot, with someone you’ve never met. [Laughs]
It must be hard to tour this time of year.
JP: I was beginning to think we should get our own Big Fat Booty Band snow shovel, just to have in the van. We were shoveling snow to get to every gig, and once we got to the venue we’d shovel to get our gear inside, and then we’d shovel to get our vehicle out, and then we’d shovel again to get back into the parking space.
Lee: We had chains on our tires four days in a row.
JP: Chains on and off, on and off.
I think chains are illegal in Vermont.
Mary: Not for us. Not if you want us to move our vehicle. [Laughs]
Al Al: “’Scuse me, officer; we’re a funk band from North Carolina.” [Laughs]
JP: Generally we only need [chains] in the northeast or out in Colorado. We do over 100 shows a year. Snow has never stopped us. The only thing, winter-wise, that ever stopped us was a freaking avalanche that we couldn’t get around. We pride ourselves on getting to shows. We go beyond the call of duty to get to the gig. New York City last weekend was ridiculous. We couldn’t even bring our trailer up because there’s no parking for trailers downtown, so we had to take half our gear out of the trailer and into the van. We had to undo our front bench seat, flip it onto the next one over, and then dig an area out from our trailer, dig a pathway from the side of the trailer to our van so we could walk our gear, and then it started sleeting. Not light sleet. Heavy sleet. We’re running, throwing our stuff, taking towels, wiping it down. We get to the gig and do the same thing through the slush to get our gear inside. We’re drenched. Then we go into the club, load in, put on a show. It’s completely insane. Most bands would have called it a night, but we wanted to make the gig.
Mary: ‘Cuz that’s what true funk soldiers do!