Those Funky Floozies

Brothers Matt and Mark Hill of The Floozies recently talked with Pollstar in between gigs. “We’ve worked really hard but we’ve also been blessed with really great fans who kind of trust us,” Matt said.  

One thing that immediately catches a newcomer’s eye to The Floozies’ website is that the band gives away much of its music.  The group’s Tell Your Mother and Do Your Own Thing albums along with the Sunroof Cadillac EP, and assorted songs are all available as free downloads from The Floozies’ internet HQ. 

Featuring the group’s recording of “No Part Of This” with Karl Denson,  the recently released Granola Jones EP adds to a catalog that includes the brothers’ collaboration with Kool & The Gang drummer George Brown on “She Ain’t Yo Girlfriend.”

Catching up with the very busy Hill brothers is easier said than done but we managed to get each brother on the phone for a few minutes.  Although guitarist/producer Matt was in Kansas City while drummer Mark was in San Diego, the musicians came across as if they were in the same room and not half a continent apart.

Matt and Mark Hill find some time to pose for the camera.

Is it possible to define funk or is it something that must be felt?

Mark: Musically, I would say it must be felt because there are some oddly funky things when you hear it.  It’s not very specific.  I always describe it as being yourself, doing your thing.  It doesn’t mean being an asshole, but being true to yourself.  I dunno. I think that shows in the music, in how people dress, how they dance and how they feel.  It’s all about letting loose and being you. … You can hear certain music that is definitely inherently funky.  But I get surprised every once in a while when I hear something funky that’s even country, metal, whatever genre people like to call it.

Matt: I think as soon as you start describing it, the conversation becomes a lot less funky.  I think there’s certain ways you can describe, like classic funk from the ’70s.  Describing a piece of music as funk isn’t the same as saying it’s funky.  It’s got a groove hard enough to where you don’t think about it. You just start tapping your feet and make that face like somebody farted.  That’s kind of a goal when we’re in the studio.  You keep pressing and working on a song until you can’t stop dancing to it – that’s when it’s right.  If you have to sit there and think about it. … We’re going for something that’s like a more visceral experience than that.  I don’t want you to have to sit there and talk about it to enjoy it.

Mark, does your drummer’s ear seek out funk where it’s not expected, such as the rhythm track of a metal song?

Mark: I like it all.  Good drummers are everywhere.  There are a lot of parallels in music.  Some of my favorite drummers, I wouldn’t even consider them 100 percent funk drummers. I have my guys I grew up listening to that I love, like Kool & The Gang, Sly & The Family Stone, Lettuce, James Brown, the whole field.  The original funk drummers are definitely huge inspirations.

There are some guys out there who I was obsessed with, that I studied for a long time who played rock music.  Dave Weckl is a crazy jazz drummer I liked a lot.  Chris Dave is an R&B/soul/jazz guy I listen to all the time still.  He plays with Robert Glasper.  Chad Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Rage Against The Machine – I don’t even remember the drummer’s name [Brad Wilk] but I was really into them for a while.

Are you locked into what you’re doing?  If you want to explore a different direction sometime down the road, do you think you already have the means to do so?

Matt: We’re already doing that.  Some of our new stuff doesn’t really sound like anything we’ve done before, but we’ve been playing a few unreleased songs on the road that have been received very well.  We’ve worked really hard but we’ve also been blessed with really great fans who kind of trust us.  They’re not going to, like, slip out if something doesn’t sound like it could have been on our Tell Your Mother album or something like that. They trust us to give them something we’ve worked really hard on, that we can be proud of.  We don’t want to write the same album over and over and I don’t think anyone wants that from any of the bands they like in the first place.

Who was the first to decide this could be a career?

Mark: I think Matt.  He’s older. … He knew he was going to do music since … I don’t even know, maybe sixth grade.  He was already incredible on guitar then.  I think we both knew we could make it work once we started doing it.  We didn’t really think about it too much.  We always thought backup plans were kind of for people who needed them, so we just went cold-forced into it.  I always believed in what we were doing.  I didn’t necessarily see it going where it goes. I don’t predict that.  I definitely just went for it, did what it took to play the music and went on the road when we had to.

How has giving away some of your music worked for The Floozies?

Matt: It’s been great.  There’s not really much of a downside.  We’re lucky enough to get to do this full time.  But even when we weren’t, when I was working at UPS and Mark was a dishwasher at a country club, we were still giving it away for free.  It’s not as much about trying to drive up sales and stuff like that.  We would finish these albums and we were very proud and excited about them. … I don’t know what it is about clicking “buy” on an album on iTunes, but for some reason, even for me, I hesitate even though I’m trying to hear anything new that I can.  So we don’t want to wait for people to overcome that hesitation to hear it.  I want to share this with everybody as soon as I possibly can. That’s always the way we feel when we finish an album. We get too excited about it.

Mark: We didn’t really think about it.  I don’t know how to compare it because we’ve always given them away for free so I don’t know if selling would have worked better or worse.  We figured more people listening, the better.  It’s a lot easier to get somebody to try something when they’ve never heard it if it’s free.  It’s like if someone makes a really good sandwich and gives out samples, I always love to try the sandwich.  But if they’re like, “Come try this sandwich.  It’s $10,” then I’m not going to try it.

I imagine [selling] works, getting new music out to listeners and everything.  For us, it was more “Let’s focus on the live show.  Let’s give the people a taste of what they’ll see live.” Then they listen to it at home, enjoy it, and then they come and buy a ticket and that pays for us to keep working on what we’re working on.

So it was always about the live show more than making albums?

Mark: Definitely the live show.  When we first started touring we did 100 percent improv.  Basically, every night we just invented the entire set.  It was really wild and had some beautiful moments but it was also really volatile and really taxing on us, musically.  You start to get into ruts where you play similar things.  Then you’re like, “That’s not improv.”  I’m glad we’ve since evolved and written a lot of really good music.  But it definitely started out all about playing a show.

Has The Floozies always operated as a self-contained unit?

Matt: Yeah, definitely.  We have a crew that have been with us for a long time. We have guests but we’re not looking to add anybody to the band. If we did that we could develop a rapport after a good number of shows but they’re not going to be on the same mental wavelength as Mark and me for a long time.  That’s something that’s become integral to our performances.  I don’t have to tell Mark anything. He can figure out where a song needs to go live without ever having to talk about it at all.

Are you the kind of brothers where the two of you could drive 500 miles without saying a word but feel you’ve had a conversation the entire distance?

Matt: We’ve done it.  When we first started touring it was just us in a hatchback.  We’d [talk] sometimes, sometimes we’d just sit there.  We’ve listened to every album that each one of us has thousands of times.  Maybe not literally but we’ve listened to all of our music, we talk about everything [but] sometimes you just got to sit there and look out the window.

You’re playing headlining gigs and festival dates.  How are festival shows working for The Floozies?

Mark: We’ve been doing festivals for a long time.  They’re like another home for us.  I love them a lot.  We have a lot of dedicated fans who go to all the festivals we’re playing.  There’s always new listeners there.  It’s really fun.  There’s something about playing outside that’s different.  It makes us play differently.  It’s a good feeling.

Do you enjoy communicating with fans via social media, meet & greets and VIP packages or do you have someone handling that for you?

Mark: We do a lot of our own stuff.  Even stuff as little as merchandising, my brother still designs a lot of our merch, and we work with the art designer.  All of the online interaction is pretty much us.  We schedule out certain things.  Social media stuff, we’re pretty on top of that.  I think it’s important to be genuine.  I legitimately love the people we meet who are fans.  I’d hate to ever step away from that and try to hide myself. Show days are different.  I do like to focus on the show before we go on.  Like Sunday night after our show I met some really great fans who drive all over the country to see us.  I definitely don’t want to stop doing that because those are the type of people that make me want to keep going.

Do you collect guitars, Matt?

Matt: No, not really.  I have two Strats, an acoustic, and a Fender bass. That’s it. I’ve had a lot of guitars, but, typically, when I’m ready to move on to a new sound, I sell the old one.  I had a Pat Metheny Signature Ibanez hollowbody and then I wanted to play my Strat full time.  So I sold the Metheny.  Now I have two Strats so that I have a backup in case something goes wrong with one of them live.  I’m pretty satisfied with the Strat sound.  It’s got a lot of character. I like the way they feel.

So if a stranger walked into your house he/she wouldn’t know they were in a musician’s home until entering the basement?

Matt: Upstairs is pretty boring.  In the basement I have old lighting columns, keyboards. … It got messy. There’s music gear everywhere.  I gotta clean that up, get a little more organized.

Do you have any set routines on show day to prepare yourself for the performance?

Mark: On tour I try to do the same type of things every day.  I try to get out of bed early and work on music, drink some coffee, try to get inspired, take in the city.  That’s how I start my day.

Then, as far as show time goes, we have a little thing we do now, we just changed it, where we give each other a big hug, we take different sides of the stage, and we rip it up from there.  We do like to have a completely empty room with just my brother and me for the most part, like 10 minutes before we go on where we just kind of focus.

How much planning goes into today’s shows versus how much time you set aside for improvisation?

Matt: We used to not do set listsbut we have so many songs now.  The front of house and the lights guys want to know the song orders so they can hold up their ends, accordingly.

Mark: We plan it out but then we change it up a lot.  The transitions are always improvised.  We’ll set a list of songs we want to play but getting to and from those songs, we try and not stop it all, but we try to improvise seamlessly in between songs.  A lot of times we’ll write songs on the fly, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes

When those improvisational moments take flight, have you ever had backstage people screaming that your time is up and you have to quit?

Matt: Not so much anymore.  We’re a little more mindful of that stuff.  It’s cool when you just keep going and the venue wants you to stop but they ultimately acquiesce.  Those are fun moments.  But sometimes you get cut off and that’s it, especially at festivals. That’s not a fun ending for anybody.  We try to be mindful of that.  The setlist gets looser and looser as the set goes on.  I usually plan to have two hours worth of stuff but at an hour-fifteen, hour-thirty in, it gets pretty loose and we start doing whatever feels right.

What was the longest show you ever played?

Mark: I think, in New Orleans, years and years ago we played this weird thing that started at 2 a.m. and we played until 6 a.m.  That’s the longest.

What kind of audience did you have?

Mark: Oh, about 30 people, or something. There was a show before us and they got out.  We started at 1 or 2 a.m.  I just remember thinking, “Wow!  We played for 3 or four hours.”  The sun was coming up and we were just getting done.  I was playing drums with no sound on around me. They had turned it off.  People were singing Biz Markie and I was playing drums at 6 a.m. That was probably, like,six years ago.  A different time.

Considering the advances in technology during the past couple of decades, do you think The Floozies could have launched, say, in 2,000?

Matt: It would have been a lot more difficult.  I started using Ableton Live, I think, in 2009, 2010, around then. Before that we were just doing live looping.  I don’t know for sure if the technology even existed in 2,000. … It might have.  It might have been something I wasn’t aware of back then. … I wasn’t even old enough to vote.

The technology has certainly allowed us to experiment and expand upon funk music in general.  We try to make the funkiest stuff we can but we are using modern tools.  I think if we wanted to start this kind of a project back then it would have [had] a lot more band members.

What do you see for the future of The Floozies?

Matt: We’re about done with the next EP in the Granola Jones series. It’s very pretty … love songs and pretty moments, stuff like that. Like I said, we’re not trying to write the same album over and over.  Also, both of us are just the happiest we’ve ever been and that kind of bleeds over into the music. 

I dunno if I want to give it away too soon, but we’re going to have some guests at a few shows and I think it’s going to be pretty great.  In college I used to arrange for a jazz combo, where I had a horn section, a bass player and a drummer.  One EP that’s in the infancy stage, I guess, is going to be arranged for multiple members.  I think it’s going to be really fun for us and for everybody else.

Who’s the funniest one in the duo?

Mark: Matt. 

Matt: Mark’s probably more off-the-cuff funny.  He’s probably better at telling jokes but I think I’m better at making funny videos and things like that.

“We have a little thing we do now … where we give each other a big hug, we take different sides of the stage, and we rip it up from there.” – Mark Hill of The Floozies

March 30 – Santa Cruz, Calif., The Catalyst
March 31 – Crystal Bay, Nev., Crystal Bay Club Casino 
April 1 – San Francisco, Calif., Mezzanine
April 2 – Los Angeles, Calif., Teragram Ballroom
April 9 – Chicago, Ill., Riviera Theatre
April 22 – New Orleans, La., Tipitina’s
April 30 – Pomeroy, Ohio, Wisteria Campground (Paradise Music & Arts Festival)
June 9 – Manchester, Tenn., Great Stage Park (Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival)
June 11 – Bethel, N.Y., Bethel Woods Center For The Arts (Mysteryland)
June 17 – Live Oak, Fla., Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park (Purple Hatters Ball)
June 23-26 Rothbury, Mich., Double JJ Resort (Electric Forest)
Aug. 11-14 – Scranton, Pa., Pavilion At Montage Mountain (The Peach Music Festival)
Oct. 8 – Morrison, Colo., Red Rocks Amphitheatre 

Because daily lineups for the Electric Forest festival in Rothbury, Mich., and The Peach Music Festival in Scanton, Pa., have not yet been announced, the itinerary listed above includes each festival’s complete date span.

For more information about The Floozies, please visit the duo’s website, Facebook page, SoundCloud account and YouTube channel.