A few days ago we had the special opportunity to catch up with a pioneer of the new-funk movement, Tim Palmieri of Kung Fu. Tim’s a family man, one of the leader’s of Kung Fu, and an all-round stellar individual. With this interview, we dig in to his personality, the origins of the musician he is today, and what’s next for Kung Fu. To top things off, Tim gives us some great intel for what’s to come at Catskill Chill, as well as some new music from Kung Fu. Enough from us, let’s here what Tim has to say. Enjoy our personal favorite Kung Fu track, and take a peek into the mind of a musical menace. Also – don’t miss out on the last year of Catskill Chill at Camp Minglewood – just get your ticket here. “Just do it!” – Sir Shia Labeouf.
Sound Fix: Hey Tim, thanks for taking some time to first off answer some question for your fans and for our readers, we really appreciate it.
Tim Palmieri: No problem, that’s what I’m here for!
SF: So to start things off, tell us where you are right now, and what’s in store for the next week?
TP: Well, I’m in my home, with my wife and chid, in Ansonia, Connecticut, and soon to be moving in to a house in Bethany, Connecticut. I’m currently making linguini and clams, peeling skin off garlic – I like using a lot of garlic, it’s a good detoxifier, you know? It keeps the mosquitoes away. Hopefully not the fans though!
SF: That’s great, I always like to double the amount of cloves in my recipes, and I think that, whatever the recipe says, multiple the garlic by two and we’re in business.
TP: You know, I think that’s a great rule, honestly. I never really follow recipes, but wenever I see a recipe, I think ‘yeah, they have no idea what they’re talking about, let’s put the whole bowl of in!’
SF: Cool Tim, so you’re moving to Bethany. Is Bethany is also in Connecticut?
TP: That’s right! Bethany, Connecticut.
SF: So Tim, with our interviews, we really like to trace the origins of each musician, and then build a storyline that leads to the ultimate landing spot of the current band, so for you, Kung Fu, of course. So, Tim, tell us how long you’ve been playing the guitar, and how you eventually became a professional musician.
TP: Well, I’ve been playing the guitar since I was four years old. And I expressed some interest in it when my father was fooling around on the acoustic, he wasn’t quite a serious player, was just you know having fun playing Beetles tunes, and I was interested. So he showed me a few things, and I took to it pretty easily, and you know, for the mental aptitude of a four/five/six year old I was pretty consistent still, and I was always looking forward to coming back home from the babysitters to play the guitar, and you know, wouldn’t really want to do anything else. It was really a kid’s kind of attention span at that point for me. So then I took lessons when I was seven or eight, and learned some good basics, and I had a great teacher, and then it started getting to be a little too much work on top of everything else, I was actually losing interest, it was a little too much , I didn’t want to have guitar homework on top of regular kids homework. So I put it down, played some saxophone, did karate, did whatever. I would play guitar for family functions, you know, against my own wishes! They’d be like ‘Come on! Play it for your aunts and uncles!” And it was one of those “Ahhh do I have to??!!” kinds of deal. But then when I guess I was around eleven, I started playing it a bit more. I got in to The Doors, got in to the Black Sabbath, and then I got into Metallica, the Guns N’ Roses – all those kinds of bands, and noticed that I could hear something and then interpret it into the guitar. And then once I made that connection, it was on! It was the Grunge Movement, then it was Eddie Van Halen, then it was Led Zeppelin and every other classic rock band. Then it was Zappa, then it was P-Funk then it was James Brown, then it was Slide, then it was Miles Davis, John Mclaughlin, Mahavishnu, John Schofield, Mike Stern, and then it just keeps on going, I’m always diggin’ on new music and learning the classics, and you know, you should never stop trying to improve your craft! It’s a life long mission and then hopefully one day you become the Master!
SF: Cool, and playing off that, I’ve been a sax player for about ten years now , and my High School music experience was very interesting and unique, to say the least. As you said before, I also had to do homework for my saxophone.. I couldn’t really go to any cool shows because I was under 18 for most the time, but could see some shows with my parents in Boston. Kind of building off the story line you laid out for us just now, what was your high school music experience like?
TP: Well let me see, my high school experience … I was the last graduating class from my High School, so honestly, and I don’t advise this for any of my fans who might be in High School, but I didn’t really have a strict High School experience, because of the transition of High Schools, the multiple changes of Principals, and just a general lack of discipline, so I was able to skip class a lot. That being said, what I did do when I skipped class was play music all day in the auditorium. Other kids would skip class and do, you know, more nefarious things or whatever, but I was able to channel my derelict into something positive. And yeah when I played in the auditorium, I would play a lot of guitar, drums, bass, piano – whatever I could, you know? I had a lot of fun. And my band teacher, Judie Webber, was a really great band teacher. She supported me, helped me prepare for my All State tryout, which I made my Senior year, which was great, because I considered myself as more of a rock player than a jazz player, and they accepted me as their lead jazz guitarist in the state, so that was a huge accolade for me.
SF: And that was in Connecticut?
TP: Yeah that was in Connecticut, and just the preparation alone whipped me in to shape for jazz, which was pretty cool.
SF: Definitely, it’s great to have your fundamentals in jazz, and the blues, as well. Because you and I know the Blues is the foundation of all current genres. It’s funny, I wear this shirt all the time that reads “The Blues is the roots, everything else is the fruits.”
TP: Yep! Absolutely.
SF: Kind of looping back, what High School did you go to in Connecticut?
TP: East Haven High School. I was born in New Haven, raised in East Haven.
SF: Cool, what about college?
TP: Well, I never attended college. Mainly besides the lessons I took when I first started guitar, I kind of just taught myself everything I know about music. Maybe took a lesson here and there, but pretty much just hit the books myself, and was my own disciplinary – building chops, learning material, engaging the world of music. So you know, I would have loved to go to college if I could do it all over again, but at the same time, I wouldn’t be where I am now, you know? Tough to say, but regardless, I still advise everyone out there to still go to college. It’s important to have a degree in this day and age. Also, college is about connections too sometimes. I mean it is what you make of it, of course, but it’s great to meet people your age, in a specific field, and then everyone goes out into the professional world and does their thing. I think college is a great place to learn and for networking.
SF: So after High school, you’re this big musician, you made All States in Connecticut, so when did Kung Fu come to fruition? Tell us about the origins of Kung Fu.
TP: Well, after high school, we formed this band called Psychedelic Breakfast, myself, and Adrian, who plays drums for Kung Fu, along with two other musicians. So we did that about 13 years, played over 1,500 shows across the country, went through a lot of vans, trailers, managers, record companies. So finally when we got out of debt, we decided to give it a rest a little bit, and that’s when Kung Fu started up. It started out as a fun little musical idea / project to have on Monday nights. So we did a Monday night residency at a venue in New Haven, and we hooked up with a bass player from CT, a sax player, Todd stoops of RAQ. We played a lot of shows with RAQ as Psychedelic Breakfast. The venue in New Haven started to stream the shows online, and people caught wind of it, and it really just took off. Then we decided at that point to put a little more time and energy into it, and we did, and then it really started snowballing. And our mission statement was a little more focused than Psychedelic Breakfast and other previous projects like RAQ. Those were more your typical Rock n’ Roll jam bands that would stylistically stretch out, so, a little more Rock N’ Roll. Kung Fu went for more of the New Funk Fusion aspect, so yes, Kung Fu was gonna rock and be aggressive, but, it’s gotta be funky, and it was always technical. With Kung Fu it’s definitely been more challenging for us to learn the music, and even write the music, because we were giving it a more intellectual kind of quality.
SF: So you mentioned New Funk, we’re plugged into the New Funk Wave. We at Sound Fix see Kung Fu as one of the faces of this movement.
SF: Tell us a bit more about New Funk and what you envision for the genre looking to the future. One of our favorite bands next to Kung Fu in this genre is Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.
TP: Great! We just saw them at a festival called Wild Woods. Although we’ve shared bills with Pigeons, we never got to see one of their sets. But at Wild Woods we did, and I liked it a lot, you know, two guitar players, definitely funky, and they exhibit my kind of fun attitude towards music. You know it’s funny, I’ve always been into Funk, and always applied it to my music, but now I’ve found myself in the midst of it next to bands doing similar things. So I would have to say, nothing was conscious on all our parts, but you know, it’s the general trend. What do they call it, the Hundredth Monkey Syndrome? If enough monkeys know about a certain thing, then another monkey on the other side of the world will know about it as well. If enough people are dialed in to a certain sound, then other people will also plug in without the others knowing. Being in the New Funk Movement, I’m very happy about it. And you know, it’s kind of coming after the 2000s and the EDM movement, and EDM still wasn’t very pop, but it seemed to take over for a bit, but other bands like us seemed to have a tough time. And that was right before social media too. So at that time, the only way you’re going to get known is getting out there, which we used to do; drive out there, put up posters by hand, and distribute hand bills. Now, you don’t even have to do that very much. You pay for ads on Facebook, hype it up on Social Media, and you know, via however many sites there are out there, there a ton of them now, so it made it more effective you know? All of a sudden you have a band that could be known nationwide without even having to travel. The music spread quicker, the New Funk Consciousness, or Movement, was able to gain traction faster.
SF: This all being said too, we covered Bisco this year, and a big following of our site are loyal Campers, so in terms of EDM, Funk and that kind of fusion, Bisco must have been the perfect setting for Kung Fu. Tell us about your Camp Bisco 2015 experience. A funny story or anything you can tell us about Bisco ’15.
TP: Well, I mean there was an unfortunate incident. We played right after Zoogma, so we were back stage, and I thought, ‘hey, let’s go check out Zoogma,’ and as soon as I go out in front, I see a guy jump up on stage and tackle the band. I see the band wrestle him, and yeah, that sucks, you know? As weird and crazy as it must be on the outside, being on the inside, no one wants that to happen. It’s not a true appreciation of the music. But you know, I’m all for a fan jumping on stage and stage diving, redirecting his/her energy to the celebration of what’s happening but shit, you know, taking it out on the band? Some people have been doing that lately, and I don’t agree with it at all. It seems like misguided energy, and honestly, it’s going to stop shows. Frank Zappa would stop a show as soon as somebody threw something up onstage. He would say, ‘As soon as that person is escorted out of the venue, the show will go on.’ So you know, I don’t think this shit is going to stand for too much longer. So that was one weird story. Um what else? The only other experience from Bisco is guitar players are few and far between, so, I was missing some guitar. **laughs**
SF: We were at that Zoogma show, and it’s funny, we wrote an article called, “The Things Said at Bisco,” where we compiled some of the funniest things people overheard at the festival. Zoogma tweeted at us saying their favorite quote was “Fuck That Guy!” You guys tweeted at us “Is that Zach Galifianakis?” We thought that was funny, but are curious to understand the origins or story behind your favorite “thing heard at Bisco.”
TP: **Laughs** Well, our drummer has a remarkable similarity to Zack Galifianakis which really wasn’t a thing until The Hangover came out. Then, when that movie came out, he started getting all this sort of attention to the point where people at the airport would walk up to take pictures with him. Even if they new it was not him, they would still go up and ask to take pictures with him. So that had its upside and downsides – you could milk it and it could be a lot of fun, or you could start to get pissed off and say, ‘You know, leave me alone! I’m not Zack.’ So yeah, he hasn’t been getting it as much, but at Bisco he was getting it. Now we think he looks like Jesus, the bass player from Lettuce, because they have the same beard, hair-do, same Lazer Sharp hat clip, and uh, yeah, it’s quite uncanny. He’s got a few dopplegangers out there!
SF: Then kind of looping back to New Funk, one of our other favorite bands is Sophistafunk. We think Jack Brown is a badass. We noticed you guys are performing with Sophistafunk in Boston – we love them. Tell us how you linked up with that group, and a bit about how it relates to New Funk.
TP: Well we played with those guys already a bunch of times in the past, so I think we wanted to hook up for some shows, cause you know, it’s great to pair up with bands and we do it a lot, and we have a ton of friends out there. But you can’t keep touring with all the same bands, you know? Come seasons per season, you gotta change it up. So I guess we haven’t done a multiple run of shows with Sophistafunk in a while, so it seems like it was a natural time to do it!
SF: Kind of pairing with that, in terms of sharing the stage with one other guitarist, who’s your favorite friend to share the stage with outside of Kung Fu?
TP: Ooooo that’s a tough question! I’m gonna piss off a lot of my friends. **laughs**
SF: You can choose top three as well if you don’t want to hurt feelings!
TP: Yeah man, there’s just so many. Cause there are guitar players I admire that I haven’t been able to go toe-to-toe with and share the stage with in a long while. Then there are people I’ve performed with a ton of times recently. So most recently, there’s Mickey from Twiddle. We’ve had a lot of great moments on stage, and he’s really opened to anything that can happen on stage; be it musical, or just antics that happen naturally on stage. So, he was awesome, and was a whole lot of fun to play music with. Um, Rob Compa from Dopapod – great guy, great player, and really seasoned on the guitar. And uh, let’s see, jesus there’s a lot! I really like Houser from The Werks, I like the guys from The Mantras, Kenn and Keith, they kick ass! Before they kicked ass, then Ken joined, now they kick ass even more. Let me see, Gabe from Consider the Source, he humbles me, but he runs around the Earth before I can finish my solo, cause he’s lightning machine-gun fast, it’s beautiful. So that’s a good start, but then there’s a ton of new ones! I’ve always loved to play with Chris from RAQ, Jake from Umphrey’s, I’ve got to jam with twice, but uh, he’s like a hero of mine, he’s an amazing player, great guy all round. Ryan from the Motet, we always have a great time playing with those guys. So you know, the list can keep going, as long as I have enough mental power to remember everyone I’ve played with the past year. I got to play with the Snarky Puppy guys at Jam Cruise.
SF: Nice, yep!
TP: They’re kicking ass; love Snarky Puppy. Nick Cassarino from The Nth Power, he sat in with us at Jazz Fest and we did a Steely Dan cover, and went back and forth trading licks, and it was really good. Cause you know, even the greatest players portray blips, and it might not work out natural, so you know, there’s something else to a musician’s quality about getting on stage with another guitar player and being like, ‘We don’t have to just trade licks and have a pissing contest, but actually get in together and make good music.’ That’s what I sort of look out for, not looking for chops central.
SF: Right, right. That being said too, with regards to musical collaboration, I’m covering Brooklyn Comes Alive in a couple weeks, and I think there’s a member from Kung Fu attending.
TP: Oh, Brooklyn Comes Alive??!!
SF: Yeah, the music collaboration festival in Brooklyn.
TP: Yeah yeah, that’s me. I’m doing something with Natalie Cressman.
SF: Great, we’re covering that as well, and it aligns perfectly with what you were saying about true collaboration and not just trading licks. It seems like a special festival. What can you tell us about what you have in store for us end of September?
TP: I can’t name everybody, but Natalie Cressman, Peter Applebaum, Ray from Trey’s band on the keys, and I think we just added a bass player. I’m really excited, I just did a bunch of stuff with Natalie, so I’m really stoked she reached out. And then after Brooklyn Comes Alive I hightail it out to a Lake George gig with Kung Fu. So once we’re done in Brooklyn, I hop in a car and bust ass three and a half hours up to Lake George to rock out up there. (tickets)
SF: Cool Tim, so this interview is part of a “Catskill Chill Artist Spotlight Series.” We can’t wait for Camp Minglewood, it’s our first time there. So, tell us whatever you can about Catskill Chill, and what you have in store for that festival. (tickets to Catskill Chill here)
TP: Catskill Chill is gonna be a busy one. Catskill Chill – love it. Love the set up. Love the guys that throw it, and I love all the bands on it. It’s always a really fun time: a very friendly setting. So I’m doing four different projects there, believe it or not. I’m doing a Kung Fu set, I have a Lettuce set, which is my Santana tribute, I do it a couple times a year. I’m also doing a Grateful Dead tribute with Twiddle.
SF: O nice, you’re doing the Dead Set, that’s sweet.
TP: Yep. Then I’m also playing with the Bryac Funk All Stars, which is really funky, with a couple Kung Fu guys.
SF: So will you join Dweezil for the Zappa Plays Zappa set? I know you mentioned Frank Zappa as one of your influences, and that you have a Frank Zappa Tribute Band, Z3. We won’t find you on stage there?
TP: No, Dweezil knows about me, but they run a tight shift, so I would have to rehearse with the guys before to be able to sit in, and at festivals, it’s not really that kind of place for the rehearsal. I plan to play with Dweezil one of these days, that would be a life moment for me. Cause you know I have an appreciation for his father, and of him doing an amazing job recreating his father’s music. And we have crossed paths multiple times. My band Z3, everyone in his band, except Dweezil, has seen us play and likes us a lot, one of these days it will happen. But I’m certainly going to be front row, or the side of the stage, head-banging!
SF: Cool, you’ll find us there as well.
SF: So you mentioned you did karate back in the day. That must have something to do with the origins of the name, “Kung Fu.” Tell us a bit about how you came up with and chose the name, “Kung Fu.”
TP: When we started forming the band, we thought of a bunch of names. Kung Fu was one of the working titles. Todd Stoops actually came up with it. And, in light of everything else, and all the other names, it seemed like a good one. I wasn’t so sure at first about the name, but then I looked it up, and realized once I looked it up, it stood for “excellence,” meaning an excellence in any subject. So you can practice Kung Fu in cooking, Kung Fu in music, or rock climbing, you know what I mean? It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re practicing excellence and trying to perfect your craft, that is Kung Fu. And once I understood the meaning, I was totally into it. Also Kung Fu is a general kind of name – so sometimes people are still confused. People think at a festival it’s gonna be Kung Fu classes, or people think of the Panda thing, it’s like, “ahh whatever.”
SF: So you mentioned you’ve been to Chill, and that it’s a great setting. Tell us a bit about your experience prior to this year’s festival.
TP: Well, it’s been mostly Kung Fu. I think Breakfast played once. I think it’s our fourth year doing it. At Chill you got this kind of like camp vibe, hanging out in cabins. The set up of the place is great. It’s really easy to walk around to wherever you need. It’s not like you’re walking a ton to see your favorite bands. So it’s easy on the legs, and the way the artists backstage is set up, we all hang out in a cabin together, and it’s just a really tight intimate kind of vibe. So it makes for a great festival.
SF: Great, we’re very excited. One of questions I have for you is – it’s been a busy summer for Kung Fu, looking back on summer 2015, what’s been your one favorite concert or festival?
TP: Hmmm, well, ok so for festivals, Vibes was awesome, we really loved the funky set. We did a set with the Funky Dogz Saturday in the park, by Chicago. Just playing that song in Seasides Park on Saturday was very fitting, I loved that kind of surreal moment there. Umm, let me see. Every festival has it’s own charm, you know? The LOHI Festival we played in Colorado, it was a street fest, and it was really really good, amazing crowd, a beautiful sunny day, great Colorado beer, among other things. **laughs** What else did we do? Bisco was fun! Bisco was quick though, and we had a great turnout. At a lot of these festivals, sometimes we get to hang out, sometimes we don’t. Depending on whether we get to hang out or not, that increases the enjoyment a lot, you know. Fly all night, play, fly back right away. It’s like, grrrggh, it stinks a little bit.
SF: So every morning I wake up to “Bopcorn.” What is your favorite Kung Fu song to play? And then what’s your favorite song to cover?
TP: mmm, favorite song to play? “Bopcorn” could be one of them. Cause that always will surprise how tricky it is, you know?
SF: Yeah, definitely.
TP: Yeah it’s a crazy head on the guitar. It’s my tribute to Charlie Parker. It’s always fun to write a melody for yourself to relearn. It’s like “I wrote this, but I’m having a tough time replaying it.” That’s always an interesting challenge. I like that one a lot. I really like “Samurai,” cause it’s high octane, fusion Rock, and then you get that trance moment. So it’s a little bit of everything. It’s like chops, and precision, and then it’s transcendental group jamming on a lot of levels.
SF: So, What new music do you have in the oven for us?
TP: Cool! Well, we got three songs finished, and a bunch more in the wings. So we’re slowly working on them, and also want to stagger them, so we’re not throwing them all out there, and then they’re old by the time the new record gets released. So right now we have three tunes, one of them being “Daddy D,” – it’s a tribute of R.A. Dicky the pitcher. I always describe it as Steely Dan meets Prince, and it’s also described as P-Funk meets Steely Dan. That one I like a whole lot. Definitely a little more of a commercial side, you know? Shorter tune, lyrics written in, you know, just catchy and poppy. Another song our bassist, Chris, wrote, is called “Joy Ride.” It’s to me Talking Heads meets P-Funk up tempo. Then we just did a new one called “The Get Down” which was inspired by Mel Sparks, the funk guitarist, but also I’ve been wanting to write something for James Brown. So, we just wrote that, and we’re looking to debut it this Friday at Boston. But we’ll definitely play it at Catskill.
SF: Ah I wish I was going to that show in Boston, I have friends going, and I was born and raised there. I’m in New York City right now, so if you hear the buzz on your end of the line, it’s because it’s a loud city and there’s no silence anywhere.
TP: O well I have a kid, two dogs, I’m in the middle of a busy intersection as well. Never a dull moment here!
SF: And then, Tim, last question. Open forum. Anything else you’d like to leave for your fans?
TP: All I can say is thank you for supporting us over the years, and listening. I thank all our fans for sticking with us through the transition of all our members – we’ve gone through three members so far. But it’s all about the music, good vibes, and really just making good music that we all care about and as long as it’s good, we’ll make it for you!
F: Awesome, Tim. Well thanks for your time, we got some great content here to share with your fans and our readers. Hope to see you guys at Catskill Chill! To the least, we’ll be at your Kung Fu set.
TP: Yeah, well if I don’t see you at Kung Fu, I’ll definitely see you at Zappa Plays Zappa, we’ll rock out!
SF: Thanks again.
TP: My pleasure guys, thank you!