In CONVERSATION WITH... FSQ
Chuck Fishman! Thanks for taking the time to have a little chat with us over here at Acuña, it really is our pleasure to be able to bend your ear for a little bit.
We were introduced to FSQ after a hearing a remix of ‘Nick Monaco – Babyface’ way back in 2014 and their sensational EP ‘Zulu Congo Call’ we’ve been avid listeners of your sound. This new album 'Reprsise Tonight' released on Soul Clap Records is a fantastic blend of incredibly talented and experienced musicians who all bring something wildly unique to the table when it comes to their productions.
Always reverent with the message and a bringing raw funk to their productions, the band is deserving of its name FSQ, an acronym for Funk, Style, Quality. Three qualities which these guys have in abundance. This accomplished album is no exception and features some amazingly talented collaborators with the likes of George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Nona Hendryx & Fonda Rae. The album takes you on a trip, a conceptual piece designed to tell the story of a person with an opportunity of having one last party, the party of life.
Check out the tracks here and see what Chuck had to say below...
1. With a musical history to be truly envious of, we would love to get know a bit about you and how FSQ came about...
Thank you! Wow, thank you for the compliments on the early FSQ work. For instance, you mentioned “Baby Face” remix ; I would say that could maybe stand as my favorite FSQ production of all time.
I think there are two major threads to mention regarding how FSQ “came together” - our sound and the people.
First sonic style - let’s talk about FSQ music. Coming from Philadelphia, I grew up on dance music that I did not call or really consider to be what is now called “dance music”. What I mean by that is, all the early 80s stuff - the post punk new wave, dance oriented pop, boogie funk R&B, early hip hop and house music. But nothing had a specific genre tag then or really a name, it was all crossover and it was all over the radio and in the streets. If a song was good, it got played, and we had love for everybody. Look at Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage DJ playlists - they are documented - while I wasn’t in the club then, he had a style very reflective of what we were all hearing all over the place - diverse groovy music.
I discovered the music of George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic (P-Funk) in the early 1990s. The group’s music catalog is so expensive across dozens of spin off projects and member solo releases you can spend years studying it. And that’s exactly what I did, became a P-Funk scholar. That’s how I got my nickname - Chuck Da Fonk. And something that P-Funk does well more than any other band out there - is deliver an amazing live concert experience based around funk music; we are talking 5-6 hour live sets. So this really became my imperative - to make a band perform my songs - in a big band manner like P-Funk.
By the late 90s, I had engrossed myself completely in live funk music and I had moved from the East Coast to Colorado. You’re up in the mountains and you’re missing out what’s going on in Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta etc. I had a live funk band called fONKSQUISh. Sure like King Britt gets to Boulder, Colorado and that’s like the one show you see all year. And the internet wasn’t as powerful of a platform to deliver you new music then. As such, I was missing out on the next evolutions in dance music.
When I moved back to Philadelphia in 2004 and saw what was going on with local parties / crews like Diplo and Low Budget’s Hollertronix movement. I was like oh, I get what is going on - they are including the music of my youth, mixed with future sounds like trap and international flavors like dancehall. Hollertronix had the ability to mix it all up and come up with something unique that will keep the crowd moving. I heard Diplo’s “Florida” album on Ninja Tune and I was super inspired by it to move my sound beyond live funk music. When I say “live funk music” we would literally go in the studio and just cut all the instruments right to tape, full band. I picked up a copy of URB, a US dance music publication of the times, and I started reading more about the current releases. Through URB, I found and started listening to the early output of Bastard Jazz Records and Tru-Thoughts Recordings which I also found to be super motivating.
It still took me a while to evolve my idea for sound which still included the live instrumentation but had a deeper connection to current Nu-Disco and the next generation of house music. But that was the genesis of the idea of FSQ.
Ok let’s talk people - how did FSQ come together people-wise? Well first I offer It’s not easy to keep people together around a band or group concept. Heck with my first group, “Chuck Da Fonk and The Mile High Funkers”, I recruited the best funk musicians in Denver, Colorado using classified ads in the local newspaper. After about a year of playing together, I showed up for practice to find out the whole band jumped ship with the guitar player to start a new group! We are now 7 years together as FSQ, which feels like a great accomplishment.
fONKSQUISh grew out of the ashes of that first failed band effort. Geography has always been a big force in how my music projects came together. So fONKSQUISh as a live jazz-funk group ended when I moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco in 2006. Meanwhile, I was still reaching to mature my sound to be on par what I was hearing out in the world of dance music.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, I linked with Loose Shus, a Nu-Disco producer and G Koop, who today is an 8 time Grammy nominated producer for his hip-hop work. I always have an eye and ear out for music talent because it takes a village to make a unique sound. Otherwise, your sound is just going to be you and you and you again and it’s harder to innovate. I realized if I was going to be in the world of dance music, it wouldn’t be as much about putting together the best musicians for a live performance as it would be about assembling the best world’s best producers. Loose Shus and I started on a few tracks which later became the backbone for some of the tunes on the “Reprise Tonight” album. After that, I wound up really focusing my time with G Koop. And while the music was still called “fONKSQUISh” in name at this point, it was certainly fresher, dance oriented, more electronic and 100% different than the straight ahead jazz-funk we had been putting out. The first work I did with G Koop came out later as our FSQ Soul Clap Records debut EP, “Zulu Congo Call”.
Michael The Lion, today my label mate on Soul Clap Records, heard some of the early updates I was making to my sound and he encouraged me to keep going on my path. Without his voice in my ear about it, I’m not sure I would have pushed ahead with my efforts. One thing I think Michael and I both agreed upon was that the fONKSQUISh name wasn’t slick enough for dance music, so I took a bunch of the letters out of the name to the simple three letters of FSQ. Which is great for consumer search and stuff - you only have to type in three letters for instance into Spotify or Apple Music, or our website is simply FSQ.me. But I also realized FSQ could be an acronym for Funk - the basis for all of our music productions ; Style - we certainly produce in many styles of music just like my favorite musicians from the 80s did ; and Quality. G Koop taught me about quality and making sure that everything is completely polished before you let anyone hear your music, so we stick to that ethos.
Geography again came into play in terms of people building FSQ. I was on a business trip to New York City and I was introduced to Soul Clap (Charlie Levine and Eli Goldstein) by a Village Voice reporter, Chris Tarantino. Soul Clap had all this love for George Clinton, and I had a connection to him of course, so together we began to figure out how we could affect a collaboration. I called up my long time friend, P-Funk member, and George Clinton’s nephew - Sa’d The Hourchild Ali (RIP) - to see if he wanted to jump in on the idea and help steward the Soul Clap-P-Funk project with me. I also turned Sa’d on to the idea that my new music work with G Koop was becoming something really special and that three of us should form a team as FSQ.
At the time, I knew Sa’d’s work away from P-Funk to mainly be in hip-hop, but I had no idea he was a disco DJ prodigy having cut his teeth as a youth at Zanzibar nightclub (Newark, New Jersey) in the late 1970s. Or that he was very friendly with Masters at Work (Kenny Dope and Louie Vega) and that Sa’d had road managed Fingers Inc!
At first, I didn’t consider Sa’d as a DJ in the group. I thought Sa’d would be the ultimate hype man for FSQ but really from him joining we now had a FSQ DJ unit, myself, Chuck Da Fonk and The Hourchild (Sa’d). In fact, right after we brought George Clinton, Sly Stone and Soul Clap together at Red Bull Studios Los Angeles in May 2013, Sa’d went on tour for a bit with Soul Clap as a DJ / hypeman! G Koop, Sa’d and I were there for those Soul Clap Red Bull sessions and we played a big role in making sure they went off. Sa’d was the guy who was able to actually round up Sly Stone and bring him out of hiding for the session. You’ll also hear G Koop playing all over that Funkadelic / Soul Clap EP.
Unlike other music projects I have started, FSQ is like the mob - once you’re in, you’re always FSQ. That’s also very much like a P-Funk mentality.
Geography - again - grew FSQ when I moved from San Francisco to New York City in 2013. While G Koop was going to remain active in FSQ, I wanted to enhance our sound with some more talent I could sit with locally in a studio. I found One Era via his remix work, and Chas Bronz via a song he had on a Soul Clap compilation called “Dancing on The Charles”; both are highly skilled producers and multi-instrumentalists and are just train rides away from New York City with One Era in Philadelphia and Chas Bronz in Boston. So now there were 5 of us as FSQ. Having so many different people work on a track creates lush layered music - like you may hear G Koop, Chas Bronz and One Era all playing different guitars with unique tones on an FSQ production.
Meanwhile, Chas, Sa’d and I were now DJing together as a trio and sometimes a duo ; our first big performance was at Soul Clap’s House of EFunk at Movement Fest Detroit 2014.
Having someone to work with in the studio - in person - a skilled audio engineer who knows their way around today’s software and all kinds of hardware back to like vintage synths or Fender guitars and basses. This has always been crucial to FSQ, starting back to my time with G Koop in California. After working with various New York audio engineers, I found that Midnight Magic’s Morgan Wiley filled a void for us that I had been missing since I wasn't able to work with G Koop in person anymore. Morgan became the 6th member of FSQ in 2017. Sa’d unfortunately passed away in 2018 but his legacy shines through FSQ every day. So regardless, I always say there are six core members of FSQ - Chuck Da Fonk, G Koop, Sa’d The Hourchild Ali, One Era, Chas Bronz and Morgan Wiley.
We have collaborators that really are part of the group consistently, for instance Funkadelic original bass player and Motown session legend Billy Bass Nelson. Billy Bass and I have been making music together since 1996. Or there’s David Marston who you’ll find playing guitar on countless FSQ remix productions. David is an incredible producer, turning in spectacular jams via his own solo works, through his collaborations with Life On Planets and with his new ULTRA Records project, Dejavilla. We are so fortunate to have such a community of musicians around us ready to always jump in and work.
2. By all accounts this album has been some time coming, what’s been the main force behind this great piece of work and why do you think it took so long to release your debut album?
Thank you! First, let’s talk about timing. We have been so busy! There has been a lot of focus on our remix work which sometimes we have prioritized over our own songwriting. When I look at our FSQ catalog since 2013 when we started we now have about 50 or so productions out there. There are some like this FSQ remix for Damon Albarn that are just plain hard to find.
If you are a remix producer, the streaming music services do a horrible job of presenting your body of work. You’ll see a little “Appears On” section on Spotify artist profiles which show artists’ remix productions or collaborations between artists. But Apple and Amazon Music completely skip showing artists’ remix productions. That’s frustrating for us as we have so many remixes we have done - ones we are really proud of are for Kraak & Smaak, David Marston Midnight Magic, Inkswel, B Bravo, Navid Izadi (RIP). It’s harder for the fans to find the FSQ remixes presented in one single place. Soul Clap was really clever in that in 2018 they released an album compilation of our remix work for our Soul Clap Records label mates, titled FSQ’s “The Remix Special” which features our work for Life on Planets, Nick Monaco, and of course Soul Clap and beyond.
One of the things I really wanted FSQ to be known for is incredible production work and for many artists, a way to flex your skills is to do remixes. Think of someone like Ron Basejam from Crazy P ; you KNOW his remix work. It’s also a real challenge to take an existing song and revise it into a different musical style; that’s something we are known for, in fact you’ll see we did not only a disco remix of Nick Monaco’s “Baby Face” but also a reggae dub remix of the tune.
Beyond the amount of time we spent on remixes, some amazing original FSQ tunes have come out over the years - like “Break The Funk” or “Shaking My Damn Head”. But these didn’t fit into the narrative I was creating around “Reprise Tonight” so they came out apart from this collection. The story is this :
“Reprise Tonight is a funky concept album about someone who thought their chance to have a legendary night out, a party of a lifetime, had escaped them. Music and the party adventures were over for them, done for good, or at least that’s what they thought. ‘Reprise’ means that our protagonist actually is given a second time around, a chance to take the party as far as they want.”
And in telling this album story, I was telling my own personal story, anonymized a bit maybe through song. My life has developed and changed incredibly over 10 years. The first song “Reprise Tonight” was written in 2008, but “What They Don’t Know” and “11:00AM”, the lyrics at least, were written in 2018. I’m glad I was able to have the luxury of time to write songs that followed these life changes, and then arrange them in a timeline that reflected my own personal growth (and sometimes, regression).
3. The craft on show on this album is impeccable, quite clearly you all bring some special energies to your tracks. When you begin your creative process, how does it start? What was the inspiration for the album?
Wow, “the craft is impeccable”, really? High praise, thank you! but then you understand why it took so long to finish this album. Craft takes a lot of work and input. You asked about “how does the creative process” start, but I think it’s just as important to mention how it evolves and the process of creating a tune finishes. FSQ’s method is about constant refinement until a track really shines, and includes instrumentation from most of the FSQ members. Most of our tracks will have at least 3-4 FSQ members, if not all of us, on the work. So that means you’re dependent on everyone’s timeframe to get their part in.
For instance, the initial audio for “Dancefloor Democracy” was recorded with Loose Shus in 2009. Then in 2011 Billy Bass Nelson, TreyLewd (George Clinton’s son), and I recorded a bunch of guitars and bass lines on the original nu-disco production, we gave it a more down and dirty funk with the help of G Koop. In 2016 or so, One Era then took over the “Dancefloor Democracy '' production, and gave it a sheen of Georgio Moroder euro disco on top of the existing Funkadelic lean the tune had. For “11:00AM”, to finish the tune we needed to have the right vocalist to really properly convey the story of someone who is stumbling home from a whole night of extended partying. FSQ’s Sa’d The Hourchild Ali has amazing connections with legendary soul, funk, disco and house musicians beyond George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic. (Clinton also happens to be Sa’d’s uncle) Sa’d wanted us to get the amazing Fonda Rae on the track. Eventually we got her, but unfortunately by the time the session came around, Sa’d had passed away. Fonda Rae brought so much life to the track and the session. That’s big in our creative process - people.
Here’s how the creative process for this album started: My preferred manner of songwriting is to write a song completely in my head - the rhythm, the melodies, and lyrics - then go to the studio and get all that to tape. This can drive the rest of the group a bit nuts because they may come with their own musical ideas or songs they want to put into FSQ. And I’ve become more open to that over the years, for instance recently Chas Bronz brought a tune that I wrote lyrics to, it’s called “Nightlife Geography”. But at least for “Reprise Tonight” the skeleton of all the songs were songs I had in my head - I can hear them in their entirety even before they become real. These songs had to come out of me. They are real stories based on my own experiences. In the case of the album, these stories are about me rediscovering nightlife and club culture across my years in San Francisco and New York City.
4. The accompanying cast on this album is impressive, there must be a few interesting stories behind these collaborations? Any story in particular that really stands out for you? The weirder and more wonderful the better!
It’s not the “weirdest” thing in the world, but what always feels strange for me is the fact some people weren’t in the room with me when they cut their parts on the songs on the album. People giving their all, putting the most spirited soul into a tune!
For instance, One Era (Matt Coogan) and I cut the basics of “11:00AM” with Funkadelic legend Billy Bass Nelson in person together in Philadelphia. Chas Bronz then took the session via email and worked on it on his own. He added all this italo disco flavor to it with real synth arpeggios up and down the track and 2 minute extended guitar solo of his own. It was a real surprise how he took the track in a completely different direction. Chas Bronz’ guitar solo on “11:00AM” just makes me cry every time I hear it. But it feels so uncanny that someone can do that, deliver just the right stuff for the moment remotely. Especially when I like to have control, or at least real time input with the FSQ production process.
The best at this kind of remote studio work is chanteuse Dolette McDonald. Dolette’s an important part of major musical groups - Talking Heads, Police / Sting, Laurie Anderson, Juan Gabriel. We have never once been in the studio with Dolette in real time. Now mind you, I’m giving her my somewhat obtuse song lyrics without any direction on how to phrase the vocals, or lay them out on our songs. The first time she followed this approach, she sang my lyrics to FSQ’s “Shaking My Damn Head”, and hit the nail on the head as if the hammer was the mighty Thor’s. The song got a 10/10 by Mixmag. I was blown away. Let’s hope her turn on the record, “What They Don’t Know” receives the same applause ; I think it’s a magical tune.
I’m still searching the memory banks on “weird” experiences in making “Reprise Tonight”. The studio certainly isn’t “a party for me”. It’s work, I like to remain focused and sober and I usually like to cut from like 5pm / 6pm in the evening until 11pm at night. A good 6 hours max is my capacity to get quality work done. Anything over that amount of time, I get sloppy. If the local bar is open, I like to go have a cocktail afterwards to wind down, with my cocktail of choice being the rum oriented Mai Tai. Ramona is a cocktail bar around the corner from Morgan Wiley’s Brooklyn New York based recording studio, Transmitter Park. Ramona is a great place where you can imbibe post session, but our nights there are still rather tame.
Ok, ok these stores are still pretty plain jain. I did find it “weird” in 2011 that George Clinton somehow found out I was between jobs and flew out by himself to San Francisco to record new music with my help since I had all this free time. I put George with G Koop as the best person to work with to get done what he wanted to accomplish. One night George called a bunch of people to the studio party with us. Again that would kind of be against my idea of a proper session, inviting in friends for a party! I was even more surprised when George asked to go home and asked me to carry on as party host in his absence. That was a wild night!
5. Being the ‘Kid from Philadelphia’ who had the opportunity to tour with, sit with, record and grab a slice of life with the wonder of George Clinton & The Funkadelics must have been some experience. Is there a small piece of wisdom which you would like to impart onto any current artists that only experience can tell, regardless of where they may be on their journey?
When I first met George Clinton in 1993, I may have had more bravado than I do now as an older guy. As a kid, I was so pushy. I was like George, “I am going to perform with you, on stage, this week”. I was insistent about it. It actually got me in a bit of trouble with the other P-Funk band members at first because I hadn’t earned their trust yet. So the wisdom here is - if there’s something you want to accomplish in music, be resolute about it, but make sure you’re taking the right steps to win people over and gain their trust. I’m glad I had the wherewithal to say “hey I’m going to tour around with P-Funk” and make that happen ; it changed my life. But actually I had a near death experience a few months before I took this approach so I’m sure coming that close to my end inspired me to seize the day.
With the pandemic lockdown, I took an assessment of FSQ’s seven years worth of work as a group. One thing I immediately realized was that we didn’t do enough to work on building a fanbase digitally, beyond just going out DJing and meeting people and shaking hands. For years, I jumped up and down shouting at agents about getting us more prestigious DJ bookings. I have a lot of regret about this, as we should have also been focused on finding and connecting with potential fans. Just because you get a 10/10 Mixmag, that’s a press thing you know, it’s prestigious, but it’s not a fanbase.
I would recommend artists be relentless and persistent in terms of using social and digital media channels to make 1:1 connections. For instance, we are producing about 60 Instagram stories a week now. We do monthly FSQ Top 10 DJ charts which are a great way to connect with the community of other artists, and we have a weekly FSQ radio show on The Face Radio. It’s a hard production pace to keep up with beyond just making music, but in order to make it in the world of music, you will constantly have to be hustling like this and in people’s feed with high value content.
While I am always learning new ways to market our FSQ music, I am trying to give back to new artists with the knowledge I have acquired. I actually have spent years working on the technology side of the music business at companies like Nielsen / Gracenote, Official.fm, Acquia and Cisco. I just gave a 30 minute course on how to improve your music metadata for the Artist Lockdown Challenge. Now I am writing “The Guide to Releasing Music” in partnership with music equipment maker Focusrite which takes you through the steps from mixing to mastering, to what to look for in terms of a record deal and how to self release and market your music as well.
6. The partnership with Soul Clap seems to have gone full circle, being such an inspiration for the sound that they now push, to releasing on their own imprints must make you feel some kind of special satisfaction? How did you manage to meet and make the connection?
I mentioned earlier how we met via connection, Chris Tarartino of The Village Voice. But you know it’s again about people and their vibe, that’s so crucial to make things work. I don’t think the Soul Clap - P-Funk collaboration would have ever happened if Charlie and Eli (Soul Clap) weren't such wonderful, affable and talented people. I wouldn’t have pushed for it to happen. Also I think Soul Clap’s sound is entirely their own, brilliant and unique! Right now I am banging their new tune “Jussa Come” which seems to synthesize soca, house music, and this dark disco thing all together in one tune - it’s an incredible jam - I don’t know how they do it. They should be winning Grammys or BRIT Awards, something.
Soul Clap let me and Sa’d play a part in their 2016 self titled album as producers which was incredibly fulfilling, especially as we were able to bring in Nona Hendryx (on “Shine”) or Billy Bass Nelson (on “Future 4 Love”, “Funk Bomb”).
There is extra special satisfaction here as FSQ has this incredible opportunity to be part of such a special record label. The other artists on Soul Clap Records over the years - Michael The Lion, Midnight Magic, David Marston, Navid Izadi (RIP), Nick Monaco - are incredible!
Our first Soul Clap Records EP “Zulu Congo Call” went all over the world and introduced us to scores of other musicians, especially in the Balearic scene. People we would have never met or had the chance to collaborate with, like legend Afterlife (Steve Miller). Pete Tong played the main track from the set on BBC 1 Radio ! When “Zulu Congo Call” came out, I saw just how powerful Soul Clap Records’ platform is with its ability to really reach listeners. We are so grateful for Soul Clap’s investment in FSQ and the label overall. They are such a huge part of our success to date and hopefully in the future.
7. Lockdown’s been the necessary evil over the past few months and it has been the music which has helped keep us all on track over here. Have there been any tracks in particular which have been on heavy rotation for you recently?
It’s incredibly difficult to select a top five - that’s why we have a weekly radio show and DJ Top 10 charts each month. Because we want to give shine to all this incredible new music; the release pace is furious and the flow of fresh jams coming out is oceanic! I already mentioned Soul Clap’s “Jussa Come” ; looking at the rest of my playlists from this spring and summer 2020, these 5 other tunes stand out...
Rheinzand - Obey
Phenomenal Handclap Band - Do What You Like
Yehan Jehan - Invisible Friends
Bad Business featuring Fantine - Cadillac Villa (FSQ Caribbean Disco Remix)
Bell Towers - Want You Need You (Deep Dean Remix)
Thanks Chuck for your time, been an absolute pleasure. And thanks for the wonderful music!
REPRISE TONIGHT LP
SOUL CLAP RECORDS
RELEASE DATE: Friday 24th July