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Return of the Funk

Whitehorse’s Major Funk is back with a new album, set for release on March 19
Major Funk, from left, Selina Heyligers-Hare, Brent Gallant, Etienne Girard, Adrian Burrill, Toby Moisey and Anders Grasholm. (Courtesy of Major Funk)

Manus Hopkins

Special to the Yukon News

Etienne Girard likes to put his head down and work when it comes to making music.

As Major Funk’s bassist and creative mastermind, he’s been busy this past year preparing material for the band’s upcoming debut full-length studio album, Is That You?, which will see a digital and physical release on March 19. The album follows 2018’s Thoughts EP and 2016’s live record, Hot Off the Floor.

“I always keep on plugging away, so I don’t have time to really get worked up,” he said with a laugh. “I’m just working all the time, and then one day the show is going to happen.”

The show Girard mentioned is Major Funk’s Is That You? release concert, which will consist of two separate showings, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., at the Yukon Arts Centre the day of the record release. This will be Major Funk’s first live performance since their sold out show at the Arts Centre last September.

There are certain challenges that come with putting on a live concert right now, including limited venue capacities to accommodate social distancing. To maximize the number of people who are able to see the show, it will be streamed online in addition to being presented to two separate live audiences.

It wouldn’t be enough for Major Funk to release an album without a performance to celebrate it, according to frontwoman Selina Heyligers-Hare.

“We were really hoping we’d be able to do a CD release this whole time,” she said. “We honestly really miss performing live.”

Heyligers-Hare said Major Funk is lucky to be able to stage a live concert, but admits that it might be awkward to play the band’s signature brand of danceable funk to a largely empty venue with little movement. Because of this, the musicians have stepped up their showmanship with custom set pieces, fresh outfits and new equipment, including in-ear monitors to provide each member with a better mix.

Without an energetic audience to feed off of, the musicians must build on each other’s energy to present the high-strung type of show for which they are known. This is something they have ample experience doing and are well-prepared for, said trumpeter and vocalist Adrian Burrill.

“Often we’ll be bouncing around and dancing during rehearsal when it’s just us,” he said. “It’s really good to practice that, because sometimes you get a crowd that’s not that rambunctious, but you still have to have that same energy.”

When Major Funk released Thoughts EP, Heyligers-Hare was new to the group. In the years since, she has settled into her role and become more comfortable collaborating with her bandmates.

While Girard primarily spearheads the band’s creative process and Burrill typically takes care of the business end, the majority of the nine songs on Is That You? had input from the entire band. Most started as ideas from Girard and guitarist Brent Gallant, and one was even composed and arranged solely by Heyligers-Hare.

“Etienne and Adrian are definitely the leaders,” she said, “but they’re really open to hearing my thoughts and they want me to have a voice.”

Girard said Major Funk’s new music reflects the development of the band, which has undergone numerous lineup changes and experimented with elements of all kinds of musical styles since its formation over five years ago. The now-sextet has recently welcomed to the fold drummer Anders Grasholm, a veteran of Whitehorse’s heavy metal scene, and Porter Creek Secondary School band teacher Toby Moisey on saxophone and flute.

“I think standing on its own, the new music does show the evolution of the band,” said Girard. “The sound echoes all of the different phases that Major Funk has had.”

Is That You? was recorded at Green Needle Records with Jim Holland, who engineered and produced the album. Two singles off the record, “Show Your Heart” and “Slippin’” are accompanied by music videos shot and produced by award-winning videographers The Bullen Brothers. Major Funk has also undergone a rebranding to mark this new era, dropping “and the Employment” from its name and unveiling a new logo, designed by local illustrator Tedd Tucker.

It can be tricky to finance ventures like this without performing live as often, according to Burrill, but the band was able to rely on grants from Yukon Media Development. To make up for a lack of performances, Major Funk is releasing several more music videos and other projects throughout the year.

“We’re just trying to get a lot of content out there,” said Burrill, “because that’s what we can do right now. We can’t tour and we can’t play a bunch of shows, so we’re trying to focus more on online stuff.”

When he started Major Funk, Girard had been playing in local bands for years, and wanted to try his hand at a new genre. Whitehorse didn’t have a band that played original tunes meant for dancing, so he saw an opportunity and seized it.

He hadn’t necessarily thought that the band would become one of the Yukon’s best-known music acts.

“There was just a total void,” he said. “There was just a job that was sitting there, waiting. I’ve played in all kinds of bands, and it’s all super fun, but I’ve always just wanted to make people dance.”

Tickets for Major Funk’s Is That You? release concerts are on sale at the Yukon Arts Centre’s website. It costs $28 per person to attend, and a donation of any amount to view the livestreams. The performances take place at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Is That You? will be available on all streaming platforms and on CD March 19.

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