Before last week, I was not familiar with the term "Janxta Funk."
After talking to Brian J, the front man of The Pimps of Joytime, however, I find it to be an aptly descriptive phrase that makes perfect sense, especially when used to describe the sound of this Brooklyn-based band.
First, some background. To understand Janxta Funk you need to have a basic understanding of the types of funk music out there. According to Brian J, there are two primary types of funk: the polished, crisp sound of bands like Kool and the Gang and the more raw sound exhibited by bands like Sly and Family Stone.
"It's an aspect of our operation and how I live, things are a little bit janky. You got to make it stylish and gangster," the lead man says. "You don't want your funk too clean."
That's not to say that The Pimps of Joytime don't sound like a professional band - they do - but they have more swagger than most, and certainly more swagger than bands we're accustomed to seeing here in Bend. Their funky sound has built them a significant following and when I caught up with Brian J last week he had just had played to a sold-out crowd at New York's Bowery Ballroom, near where he grew up and cut his teeth as a performer.
"Oh yeah man, it was an amazing, amazing night," says Brian J. "The pressure was on, you know, it was our hometown, but everything went perfectly."
The Pimps of Joytime, who play about 120 shows a year, travel both coasts fairly regularly and as such they have a similarly strong fan base out West. The fact that PJT have a song entitled, "San Francisco Bound" probably doesn't hurt. It's a notable tune in that it's more down-tempo than most of the band's high-energy tracks, but it has a stony, psychedelic feel that's bound to make your head bob and your mood mellow.
PJT last played in Bend band in January of 2011, packing the Father Luke's room at McMenamins Old St. Francis School for a raging, funky dance party. Funk is the obvious root of PJT's music, but Brian J doesn't limit his listening to just bass and drum beats.
"I always, always go back to certain gospel albums from the '50s, a couple times a year," he says, going on to reference lesser-known groups like the Swan Silvertones, The Reverend Dr. James Cleveland and Dorothy Love Coates. But it's not just classics that make Brian J's playlist. Rihanna and Santigold are also frequently in there, and lately he says the Rolling Stones' 1972 album Exile on Main St. has been speaking to him.
The rock and roll influence resonates within PJT's music, particularly on tracks like "Joytime Radio." Other tunes, such as "Blues Wit You" have an undeniable Santana feel, laced with heavy salsa undertones. The band also exhibits a bit of Prince's funkiness and sexual feel.
Now with two full-length albums (their latest, Janxta Funk!, was released in 2011) and one remix record, Brian J is hoping 2012 proves to be the year the five-piece band takes that next step. Though the group has experienced a number of "personnel changes," the bandleader says they now have momentum on their side.
"We've been steadily growing. I want to keep it growing, but I want to make more of a leap this year," he says. "Maybe get on a movie or commercial... it doesn't have to be MTV, although that would be nice. I'm trying to get to that point where this is a career for life. I'd like to see my musicians put a down payment on a house and not live month to month."
Perhaps this will be the year that The Pimps of Joytime's janky, soulful sound breaks into the mainstream. Surely there's a director or producer out there who needs a funky, danceable track in their world. It would take someone who understands the idiosyncrasies of the Janxta Funk sound. And, if you're still unclear just what that sound is, Brian J clarifies:
"It's a groove thing."
The Pimps of Joytime
7pm Thursday, January 19.
Players Bar and Grill, 25 SW Century Dr.
$12 at bendticket.com