Track Work: The Funk Ark, ‘Man Is A Monster’

By Joe Warminsky


What happens when you join a band that you love, but you’ve kept your own band together? In Will Rast’s case, something had to give in the old band.

The result is Man Is A Monster, by D.C. ensemble The Funk Ark, which takes its Afrobeat-rooted, Latin-infused global funk in darker, riskier directions. Bandleader Rast became a keyboardist for Antibalas—the Brooklyn-based band that turned him on to the U.S. Afrobeat revival—about a year and a half ago, and the new gig inevitably had effects on The Funk Ark, he says. Paying homage became less of a concern.

“It’s funny that it took me joining the band that I idolized so much to kind of start getting away from trying to recreate it,” says Rast, 33. “But that’s pretty much what happened.”

The results are clear on the new album’s title track, which has a firm Afrobeat foundation—thick brass, repetitive guitar motifs, aggressively funky rhythms and a fiery solo by baritone saxophonist Matt Rippetoe—but has strong currents of ’80s pop sounds. Those thundering drums that cut into the funk? Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” was definitely in mind, Rast says.

The band’s two percussionists, Graham Doby and John Speice, took every tom-tom from all the drum sets in the studio—”at least six or seven sets,” Rast says—and lined them up. They faced each other and traded off measures. So did it look kind of comical, or just plain cool?

“It was both,” Rast says. “Something so ridiculous as getting all the tom-toms in the studio and setting them up and having these two guys facing each other, doing a drum-off, is pretty hilarious. You could think of it as hilarious, and you could think of it as serious, and then you could think of it as hilarious.”

The song’s title is definitely serious, though. It doesn’t point to any specific indignity, Rast says, just a general sociopolitical and environmental sense that it’s “all kind of slipping away.” He originally wanted to have someone write lyrics for the song, but nothing felt right, and the band went ahead with it as an instrumental.

The main horn-section melody and keyboard lines retain the feeling that they were written to back up a human voice; it’s easy to hear them as forceful oration. In Rast’s mind, “Man Is A Monster” conjures a setting where mankind already has done maximum damage to itself.

“My visual image of that song is this calm, utopian place where all the people are gone,” he says. “It’s a different reality, it’s the future.”

The Funk Ark plays an album release show tonight at Black Cat.