They’ve played alongside 2013 Grammy nominated group Snarky Puppy, New Orleans funk sensation Dumpstaphunk and Juno Nominees Five Alarm Funk and since the release of their latest recording are set to hit the road to develop a national presence, but while After Funk is becoming a national groove sensation, Hamilton can be considered at least partially responsible.
“I started University in 2009 where I met Jaime [Rosenberg] at the University of Western Ontario,” recalls Dundas native Justin Bontje. “He was my roommate in residence. I was enrolled in music and he was enrolled in business and we both played drums. He was really good so I couldn’t play drums any more and I picked up the bass. That’s when we decided to start a band. We were visiting a friend and we happened to stumble upon an open mic in the basement of the residence. We thought this one singer was really talented. We talked a little, started jamming, and then brought in a guitarist we met at Western as well. That’s how After Funk started.”
With Yanick Allwood (keyboards and lead vocals) and Brad McBurney (guitar), After Funk was born and before the band was eight months old, they offered their first recordings — a 5–track disc entitled Soul’d that was engineered by Bontje in Dundas.
“We did the recordings at Avalon Recording Studio,” offers Bontje. “I worked there as an engineer so one of my first recordings was for the band. We called it After Funk because musically we’re not funk. We’re everything that comes after it like soul, R&B, jazz — but all fused into something that’s true to the roots of funk.”
A solid but limited four piece, After Funk knew if they wanted to create the sounds the way they heard them in their heads, they’d have to expand and so with the addition of Julian Nalli (tenor sax), Brian Walters (trumpet), Phil Tessis (guitar), and Jim M.F. Toner (percussion), After Funk became a musical force to be reckoned with. Fusing modern jams, jazz and funk, After Funk call themselves a ‘modern jam orchestra’ that brings people to the dance floor. They so wowed audiences at last year’s Club Absinthe Pisces Party — After Funk were readily asked to return this weekend for the special costume party hosted by Where Heads Meet.
“We knew we needed horns and it’s different than what’s out there now,” says Bontje. “You see bands with just guitar, bass and drums but we wanted to have keyboards, horns and percussion to make it bigger. It’s allowed us to be able to do a lot more and I think that shows on our new recordings. The first recordings were an experiment but on our new 7–track CD, we wanted more professional and have a really good sound for this one. We want everyone to hear it so you can download it for free from our website.
“Yes, we’re a Toronto based band — all of the guys, all of their roots are in Toronto except for me,” adds Bontje. “I’m not a city boy — I’m into all of the waterfalls and scenery that Hamilton has to offer. And I’m excited to be playing Hamilton again. The Pisces Party — it’s just an excuse for people to get together and party really hard. It’s the same ‘pimp and ho’ theme as last year and After Funk fits in because we’re all about high-energy music and dancing. People want to get down and get wild and we had a ball at last year’s Pisces Party. We weren’t into the costumes last year but we’re going to be into that full force and we’re ready. We’re bringing a wild time for sure.”
After Funk plays the Pisces Party this Saturday March 16 at Club Absinthe with Satisfied Customers. Costumes are encouraged. Doors are at 9pm and $10 gets you in. Click on Afterfunk.ca
Jersey Reunite in Hamilton
Over the last few years, we’ve had the opportunity to delve deep learn into the multi–decade musical career of Greg Taylor — from his earliest experiences learning about hardcore at underground house shows on Upper Sherman that would help ignite the band Grade, to his forming of the ska–punk upstarts Jersey, to the more recent formation of Saint Alvia. When Saint Alvia’s eight–year run ended last December, Taylor considered life without a band... but that didn’t last too long. Taylor hints he might be looking at starting new musical projects in the not too distant future but in the interim, his old bands are keeping him rather busy and Jersey offers their first reunion show in Hamilton proper this weekend.
“Ben [Rispin former Saint Alvia vocalist and current Burling Calling/Club Absinthe promoter] just keeps coming and asking us to play,” laughs Taylor. “With Jersey, we don’t have a schedule or a mandate, nor do we practise unless there is a show coming up. If somebody asks us to play and all the cards are right — we go for it. We’ll do it as long as it is fun. The first couple of times, it was nice getting back together after all of the years — catching up and reminiscing about old stories but now it’s like hanging out with old friends. We get together a lot easier now. Having revisited our catalogue, it’s a lot easier to banging out a set than the first time around. We’re not really opposed to being a band, it’s just the timing is hard in this time of our lives with families and the guys are in other bands so we’re just taking things one gig at a time.”
After nine years together and five releases, the members of Jersey would follow their own musical paths — Johnny Lubera would go solo, Sean McNab would found the Creepshow and tour internationally, and Jordan Hastings would join Alexisonfire. They’ve since reunited at Rispin’s Burlington music festival Burly Calling twice but not in Hamilton. In fact, the band rarely played Steeltown.
“We played the basement of [tattoo parlour] Sinkin’ Ink once but to be honest, I don’t recall a lot of Hamilton gigs for Jersey,” offers Taylor. “We may have played McMaster once? Doing the circuit with all of these bands for so long, it’s kind of hard to remember which band did what although I do recall that we did play Fever when I was still in college in 1997 or 98. It may have been earlier than that but that was probably one of the few times we played Hamilton.”
So while Grade has tentatively recorded some new songs for a Dine Alone Records deluxe reissue of that band’s Separate the Magnets ten–inch, and there might be enough unreleased Jersey recordings to offer a new rarities collection, Taylor is content to take things as they come and not plan for anything specific musically. This weekend, Taylor’s focus is to bring back some memories and lead the band returning to the same building they once played in Hamilton — only this time upstairs and sixteen years later.
“For the show, we try to pull songs off of every release that we’ve done so the whole catalogue is represented,” notes Taylor. “We’re throwing in a couple of songs we haven’t played at other shows. We may even play a new song that we recorded but never released and I really liked that song so we might play that as well. There’s enough stuff that we have recorded but not released that we could do a new CD release but we don’t have anything planned like that. Everyone’s working on families or on other bands so all we have planned is just this show. It may sound like something to say to get people in there but this could be the last time we do this. At one of our last practices, Johnny just came out and said, ‘I think this might be the last one, I just have this feeling’. So you never know. I’m not saying it is the final show for us — but it just may be.”
Jersey plays this Friday March 14 at Club Absinthe with Somehow Hollow, the Penske File, Catapult and Heavy Hearts. Doors are at 9pm and tickets are $15 in advance.
Robyn Dell’Unto’s Little Lines
While she’s gained a national presence touring the country and having her songs featured in a variety of television shows, there’s always a certain feeling that swallows Robyn Dell’Unto when she comes back to Hamilton. The Mississauga native came to Hamilton to study at McMaster University alongside the likes of Max Kerman and Dan Griffin (who’d end up forming Arkells here) and they’d all learn much more than their major disciplines.
“I graduated McMaster in 2008 but it feels like just a few years ago I was living on Sterling Street and skipping night class,” recalls Dell’Unto. “I lived at 100 Sterling in the ‘ghost house’. I definitely forged my musical voice and identity in Hamilton. I was so affected by the music that was being made and played and passed around and I was constantly mimicking everything I heard. Everyone had good taste. Every mix CD I got my hands on seemed to change my life. It sounds dramatic but I’m dead serious. I was so lucky to have had so many performance opportunities in Hamilton, too. I developed who I wanted to be onstage by playing The Casbah and Pepper Jack’s over and over and seeing how crowds reacted to this or that. I had never really played real venues before coming to Hamilton for school.
“I moved to Toronto right away and it was a really, really hard adjustment,” adds Dell’Unto. “I missed Hamilton in a really bad way for about a year. I hadn’t really realized how lucky I had it, and what a safe place it was for me to figure out my shit, musically speaking. Making the first record was a really whirlwind thing: whittling down from probably 50 songs and with the guys at Orange Lounge putting in their say about what should stay, and also writing new stuff all of a sudden because I finally had the resources to make my own demos and try things out. A lot of the “Hamilton Years” songs got cut but a bunch made it, like ‘Ghost,’ which I recorded in Hamilton with Bob Doidge. That was the first track I’ve ever had licensed to a TV show.”
Dell’Unto’s 2010 debut, I’m Here Every Night, introduced her to a national audience. With songs like “Ghost” appearing in the television series Being Erica and “Astronaut” in Degrassi: The Next Generation, Dell’Unto has toured the country to promote her songs. With her new CD, Little Lines, Dell’Unto tried a different approach. Mixed at Canterbury in Toronto and recorded in various studios across Ontario with the likes of Tino Zolfo (Carly Rae Jepsen), Todd Clark (Phillip Phillips), John Critchley (Dan Mangan), Adam King (Good Lovelies), Jon Chandler (Amos The Transparent) and Matthew Montour (Gavin Slate), achieves similar pop perfection on Little Lines but with a little more grit — perhaps offering homage to her Hamilton days.
“I sort of cleaned house after touring for a couple years, around 2012,” explains Dell’Unto. “I left my label, manager and agent. I wasn’t having fun with music anymore. I focused on starting up my company A Song Of My Own [www.asongofmyown.ca], which is a songwriting, recording and industry–navigation workshop for young songwriters. A Song Of My Own is now the most consistent joy in my life, and has allowed me to remain “full-time music” no matter what happens in other avenues of what I do in the biz. I friggen love it and I love those tiny people and their beautiful songs. And it gave me the courage to get back in the studio to work on record number two for myself.
“I was buzzing around Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa working with so many different writers and producers and I couldn’t choose, so decided opted for a Mandarin Buffet of contributors,” smiles Dell’Unto. “Also, that way, I knew I was allowing myself the freedom to co–produce, be present and active during mixing, and all that. I think I was worried that if I got a big wig producing the whole record they might keep me out of the room, so to speak, and I really, really needed to have my hand in this one, if not just to learn how to build something from the ground up. I’d never done that before. I think this record is just being itself. The songs are about mistakes and being disappointed. The performances are imperfect and have cracks and all that. I did glossy for my first record and I wanted to try something different, maybe a bit more grounded. Either way, it’s still a pop record. I have the Midas Touch of pop and the Midas Curse of pop.”
With a new batch of songs, Dell’Unto returns to the local stage and is destined to be engaging and enrapturing, with song wit and charm. Fans witnessed her ability to hold an audience in her palm first hand nearly a decade ago when she was just beginning but reports are Dell’Unto’s just gotten better.
“I’ll be playing with a ridiculously talented keyboardist and vocalist named Michelle Willis and I’m going to have a bunch of special guests, including Ben Somer, who is opening the show,” says Dell’Unto. “I freaking love his music so much and always have. I’m really excited to be on that stage again, in my favourite town. I so look forward to coming back for a show in Hamilton or whatever, but it also feels like an insane time travel every time I get off on Main Street West, like I’m 19 again and getting pumped for open mic at The Phoenix. It’s extreme nostalgia every time.”
Robyn Dell’Unto plays this Sunday March 16 at the Casbah with Ben Somer opening. Doors are at 8pm
and $10 gets you in. Click on robyndellunto.com