GOTTA HAVE THAT FUNK
It’s impossible to imagine how the course of musical history would have transpired if it weren’t for George Clinton. Certifiably one of the all-time greats, Clinton stands as one of the most influential figures in rock history, leading the charge with his landmark outfits Parliament and Funkadelic (Clinton’s collective oeuvre is labelled with the umbrella term P-Funk). P-Funk enjoyed a massive resurgence in the early ‘90s with the boom of west coast G-Funk rap, with Clinton’s work forming many foundations in the form of samples. These days, George Clinton &Parliament Funkadelic still tour extensively, spreading forth the good word of P-Funk to new generations, while featuring intergenerational personnel within their extensive ranks. Ahead of his return to Australia, an erudite Clinton recounts his perpetual battles with copyright issues, his hunger for new music, and the lasting P-Funk legacy.
Do you think the social messages you were getting across in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s are still applicable today?
Pretty much the same. Those things are still relevant – free your mind and your ass will follow – I think there’s a resurgence of people finding out about what we were talking about. A lot of what we said was through dance music, and people just danced to it, but now they’re beginning to relate to the things that we said. In the late ‘60s, early ‘70s when Funkadelic were doing rock stuff, with a lot of social messages – like ‘Maggot Brain’. But in the ‘70s they related to the dancing at first. But now they’re relating to what was said – ‘Think, It Ain’t Illegal Yet’, ‘Funkentelechy’, ‘Three Blind Mice’ – all the stuff we was talkin’ about back then.
What keeps you motivated at this stage?
We like doing what we do. That’s the main thing that makes it easy for us to do it. Everybody loves what they do.
How do you view your current audience?
Our shows have always been like a circus. The grandparents will go, the parents will go, and the kids will go. We have enough history and enough styles of music that everybody relates to us in some kind of way. They don’t mind seeing their parents’ heroes, or their kids’ heroes. We kind of get around that, which is hard to do because kids hate their parents’ stars and vice-versa. Kids don’t like their older brothers’ and sisters’ heroes. But I think with hip-hop having so much P-Funk DNA, a lot of the younger generation transfer to us kind of easy. It’s for three generations, all the way from 75 to 80 year-olds, to 12, 13 year-olds.
You’ve obviously influenced hip-hop, but do you see Funkadelic as being an influential rock outfit?
To some extent, yes. You get groups like Chili Peppers, Janes Addiction. You can hear P-Funk in them.
You’re obviously in tune with what is happening in the contemporary music world.
I search YouTube to find what’s cookin’ for the most part. There’s a small clique of people putting it out, and they’ve got the power. So you have to find alternative ways to find new shit or to get new shit played, to get people to hear your new shit. I think YouTube is probably the richest with that right now.
What are your thoughts on the internet being an outlet for musicians?
Well I feel more comfortable with the internet being an alternative to regular record companies because record companies weren’t doing anything for artists anyway. Now you at least have a chance of getting stuff out there when you want to, and you’re getting paid. If you only sell a few, you still make more money than what you were getting from the record companies.
Do you wish that you were starting your music career in this climate, rather than battling through the music industry since the ‘60s?
I’m fighting for the rights to my stuff right now, but I’m glad we’re surviving and we’re still around to fight for the rights to our stuff, or to at least put in motion. We’ve been to congress, to senators, to record companies. Especially now with the new copyright law taking effect next year, for the first time in a long time – since 1978. That’s getting ready to be tested. Record companies don’t want to abide by the law. I’m glad to still be around to watch it change.
Your shows often go for longer than two hours, and you’re still touring extensively. Where do you get the energy?
Funk got Viagra in it. You’re ready to be hard. We got the energy, the people give it back. It makes it so easy to do when the people are part of the show.
The rich Parliament mythology – Starchild, Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk – I can’t help think it’s fertile ground for a Broadway production or feature film.
We’re working towards that right now. A P-Funk show, a play. And a movie of the Starchild, Sir Nose, Mr Wiggles, Dr Funkenstein, Clones, the Mothership. There will be a movie somewhere along the line.
Do you think P-Funk will be eternal?
I don’t think it will stop. It will just be different. There’s a group called Drugs that’s a part of it right now, one called 420. Members have their offshoots, but there will always be some P-Funk, some Funkadelic around.
This will be the first time in a long while that the full P-Funk live experience will be in Australia. What can we expect?
Everything. We’ll be doing everything up there.