Denver disco and electro-funk trio Juno What?! will move you
When Joey Porter sings onstage, it’s easy to get distracted by the giant straw that stretches from his mouth all the way down to the effects pedal sitting beside his vintage keyboard, a 1982 Roland Juno-106. Porter—one-third of the far-out funk collective from Denver, Colo., known as Juno What?!—isn’t sipping on anything but his own feel-good lyrics, voiced like a robot thanks to this ingenious and manipulative contraption: the talk box.
“I’ve been using the talk box for 20 years,” says Porter, a Tennessee native. “I really like soulful music, but I don’t have a soulful singing voice. A white boy in Nashville turns funk musician … doesn’t make sense to me either.”
How Porter found his funk doesn’t need to make perfect sense, though. In fact, nothing about Juno What?!’s music—created by Porter and his New Yorker bandmates, Dave Watts (drums and samples) and Steve Watkins (keyboards, talk box, bass)—should be deconstructed for greater meaning. “It ain’t nothing deep,” Porter says, quoting directly from the title track off of their second album, 2011’s Shameless—a song reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Superstition,” but even more upbeat and danceable with its electro-funk spin.
“That’s the whole thing about Juno What?!,” confesses Porter, “being shameless.” For him, it’s about exuding an overall rhythm that sounds profound, and prompts listeners to get up and groove for minutes on end. “We’re saying shake your butt,” he says, with a laugh. “People need that in life—times are stressful.”
That philosophy is prevalent throughout “Get on Down,” the epic six-and-a-half-minute dance track on the band’s latest album, Late Night Live, released in September 2011. The seven-track set was recorded in two consecutive nights last May at Cervantes’ Other Side, a music venue in Denver, and is a live version of their 2009 album with the same title. Late Night Live stays true to standard Juno What?! form, in that nearly all of the songs fall between the six- and seven-minute range, and are heavy on synth, bass, robot-like vocals, and funky yet futuristic-sounding beats.
Their tracks are consistently lengthy, yet the band skillfully manages to avoid becoming tiresome. “In general, electronic bands aren’t trying to be funky,” says Porter. “Ours is trying to have a bit more syncopation. We go out of our way to not be repetitive.”
Juno What?! has drawn influence from several bands from the late ’70s and early ’80s—including fellow talk box users Zapp and Roger and The Gap Band—since its inception in 2008. Each of the three groups has mastered the ability to keep the audience in motion from the very start to finish of a song. “You don’t want to just change up the beat every few minutes,” explains Porter.
This weekend, the Denver trio will head to Moe’s Alley, where they will perform a high-energy set alongside their funky friends and local favorite, On The Spot (OTS) Trio—pre-show stretching is a must.
“When you’re in a funk band, you’re kinda half pep rally,” says Porter. “You have to be vibing the most if you want everyone to follow you.” For those who don’t identify themselves as dancers—just wait. “You’re gonna shake your ass, even if you’re not rhythmically inclined.”
Juno What?! plays at 8:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 26, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $9/adv, $12/door. For more information, call 479-1854.