If you ever wanted to know what it’s like to hang out with Guy Fieri, talk to the guys who make up the band Sophistafunk. They play his birthday party every year.
“He’s a great dude, man,” says lyricist/MC Jack Brown, calling from Syracuse. “He loves good music along with good food. You know, he’s a character, just like you see on his TV show. There’s nothing different. He’s really that spontaneous.”
If the Syracuse restaurant and music venue known as Funk ‘N Waffles (where Sophistafunk recorded their recently-released live album, “Live at Funk ‘N Waffles”) had not been featured on an episode of Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” Sophistafunk might have never gotten to be friends with the culinary bad boy. It turns out that place was co-launched by Sophistafunk keyboardist Adam Gold, who came up with Funk ‘N Waffles when he started having parties filled with both funk and waffles back at Syracuse University.
“Basically, what it was was you had beer kegs and the funk band playing and, in the corner, they’d be making very crazy, funky waffles for everyone to eat and enjoy,” says Brown. As the parties started to become popular, Gold eventually turned Funk ‘N Waffles into a full-fledged destination on campus. That’s where Brown and drummer Emanuel Washington enter the picture.
“We were in different respective bands who came to play down at this fledgling music venue,” remembers Brown. “And, from there, we met Adam, who had his clavinet conveniently onstage, ready to rock and sit in with the band that played.”
An all-night jam session in 2007 with Brown, Gold, Washington and other musicians led to the formation of Sophistafunk, an “analog soul/renegade hip-hop trio” (that’s what they call themselves on Twitter) that has been touring and releasing music (on their own label, called Funk Is So Phat) ever since.
While Brown says they put about 60,000 to 100,000 miles on their touring van each year, there have been some near-death experiences on the road – like the one they had earlier this year: “We were in Albany, New York, and I came over a hill and I saw a car that was a little bit over the hill that was stopped,” says Brown, who was driving the van. “And I tried to brake and noticed that the brakes weren’t working. … So I tried to swerve around the car, and the car ended up making a turn into me and we went spiraling off. Luckily, after I was hit by the other car, I was able to steer safely into a cornfield.”
The van and their trailer were totaled, but everyone walked away injury-free. “It was definitely a moment of reflection after such a big tour,” says Brown. “And, at the same time, we felt very blessed and we had outreach from our friends and family, from our fans and even the local newspaper covered it.”
Even though he was sleeping at the time, the Rocky Mount-bred Washington was just as shook up as his bandmate behind the wheel.
“You know, it’s one of those things that I think about often when I’m on the road,” says Washington, also calling from Syracuse. “And you try to think about, like, if you’re in an accident, what would happen. What would you do if this happens? And so, at that time, I didn’t have any time to think about it. I was just thrown up from the brakes slamming and, after that, we were just in the field. So, it was one of the scariest days of my life, almost facing that reality.”
Despite that brush with death, Sophistafunk continues to hit the road and perform in venues all over the place. Wednesday night, they’ll make a stop at the Pour House Music Hall in Raleigh. Basically, you can’t stop a band that still has a lot of funk and hip-hop to give.
“We’re hard-working musicians who love what we do,” says Washington. “And we put a lot of passion and soul into the music, and we want to continue to make the music for years to come.”
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Where: The Pour House Music Hall, 224 S. Blount St., Raleigh
Details: 919-821-1120 or thepourhousemusichall.com