The Core: Ivan Neville

Mike Greenhaus on May 23, 2019
The Core: Ivan Neville

The Dumpstaphunk singer/keyboardist and next-generation Neville Brother dives into Jazz Fest’s 50th anniversary as he approaches 60.

Dumpsta in the Can

Dumpsta’s been working on some new music for quite a while. We’ve been piecing it all together here and there; we have a lot of stuff in the can. We’re figuring out how to put it out. They’ve all got a Dumpsta thing, but we’re branching out a little bit, incorporating new songs and some stuff we have played on tour that we’ve never recorded. We’re trying to do what feels natural to us and not think too hard about it.

This summer, we are gonna be part of George Clinton’s farewell tour with Galactic and Fishbone. We were all influenced by that music. The late, great Bernie Worrell was a big part of that sound and he was like an uncle to me—I’m proud to say he called me “neph.” We got The Meters funk in us, that goes without saying, but we also listened to P-Funk, James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone growing up.

Uncles and Brothers

It’s such a gift to have been born and raised in New Orleans and to get to do Jazz Fest every year. The first time I went to Jazz Fest, I was in about tenth grade in the mid-‘70s. They gave us a half day so we could go—either that or we skipped! The Meters played and the food was really cool, but what I remember most was being out of school for the day. [Laughs.]

It’s a big deal to have the Stones be on it this year and to play right before them. [Ed. Note: Since the publishing of our April/May issue, The Rolling Stones canceled their Jazz Fest appearance. Instead, Widespread Panic headlined May 2] The Stones have a big history with New Orleans, going back to 1975 when The Meters opened up for them, and Keith [Richards] had a band called The New Barbarians that Zigaboo Modeliste was a part of. The first time I met Keith was when The Neville Brothers opened for the Stones in he early ‘80s. There was talk of the Brothers being on Rolling Stones Records; we went up to New York and put some stuff on tape with Keith and Ronnie Wood that never really went anywhere.

But I got to know the Stones and ended up playing on their Dirty Work record—that was my first hang with them on my own—and not long after that, I got a call from Keith to play on his first solo album, Talk Is Cheap. That was the beginning of a very long relationship. He’s played on my records, I’ve played on his records and I was in his band The X-Pensive Winos. And I ended up playing on the Stones’ Voodoo Lounge record and at a couple of tribute shows. Keith’s like a big brother to me.

Ivan Neville and Keith Richards in NYC, February 2017

Big Shadows to Fill

I lived in LA off and on for most the ‘80s, before moving to New York in the early-‘90s and back to LA around 1996. I moved back to New Orleans a few times in there, but finally ended up back here in ‘01 when I started playing with the Brothers after my Uncle Art had back surgery that put him out of commission for a while. When he was ready to play again, I helped produce and write some songs for Walking in the Shadows of Life.

I stayed with the Brothers until 2007 when Dumstaphunk became the priority. We’d been playing together, but there was one particular gig right after Katrina that really inspired us to want to do Dumpsta full time: Bonnaroo 2006. We played at 2 a.m. after Dr. John did a “Night Tripper” set. That’s when Dumpsta really started getting a buzz on the scene. We already had a bond from playing together with my dad [Aaron Neville] and my uncles, but we really felt each other that night. We’ve had times where we take little short breaks—matter of fact, we’re on a little break now since I’m out playing with Bonnie Raitt, who I used to play with in 1984-85 when I was living in California—but that’s when we decided to do this band as our primary thing.

The Vulnerable Spot

My 60th birthday is in August, and there are a few things that I am hoping to accomplish: There’s probably going to be a retrospective of my recordings, I want to rerelease a few things on vinyl and we’ll probably do a video. I’m also doing a special piano session at the Le Petit Théâtre the same day we play Jazz Fest with the Stones. My uncle Cyril, my cousin Ian and some of the other Dumpsta guys are gonna play, and there is no telling who else might show up. I’m always excited to do a set that’s a little different than the normal, full-throttle funk show. It’s a little more of a retrospective and focuses on my songwriting. The first time I did it was on Jam Cruise—the boat had a piano in the atrium area and [event organizer Cloud 9’s] Annabel Lukins Stelling pushed me to do it. It’s my vulnerable spot, when I feel very naked, which is a beautiful thing and you can bury your soul. I would tell a couple of stories and it became a tradition on Jam Cruise.

I also started to do it in New Orleans around Jazz Fest and at the Blue Note in New York. The show we’re planning is going to be a little longer, with some pieces from my records If My Ancestors Could See Me Now, Thanks and Scrape, and other songs that have left a mark on me. There are also some songs that the Nevilles and The Meters have done that have a special place in my heart.

Foundation of Funk

I’m playing with George Porter Jr. and Zig in Foundation of Funk, but there’s no such thing as filling my Uncle Art’s shoes. It can’t be done. As far as I’m concerned, there was The Meters, and all other funk music comes from that. And, The Meters are Art, Zigaboo, George, Leo [Nocentelli] and Cyril. Everything else is just an extension of that. There are some Meters songs that I’ve heard my whole life and, to this day, I’ll hear some shit that I’ve never heard before.

Growing up, I looked at that music as the local scene—Professor Longhair’s “Big Chief,” Al Johnson’s “Carnival Time” and “Hey Pocky A-Way” by The Meters were the songs we would hear on the radio during Carnival time. “Cissy Strut” charted, but we didn’t think about the New Orleans groove, the funk groove, until much later, when hip-hop music started becoming popular and Meters grooves started to be sampled a lot. It made me appreciate where I come from and what I grew up on. Then, it came back around when the jam scene started to appreciate funk music and a new generation of these bands who were influenced by The Meters started coming up. It’s a beautiful thing.

This article originally appears in the April/May 2019 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here. You can follow Mike Greenhaus on Instagram @Greeenhauseffect3