It’s safe to say that the Nevilles are probably New Orleans’ first family of music. Art “Poppa Funk” Neville was vocalist and keyboardist with the Meters, the seminal New Orleans funk band and one of modern music’s most sampled groups. Art also founded the Neville Brothers with Ivan’s uncles Charles and Cyril, and Ivan’s father, vocalist Aaron Neville. The Nevilles’ musical range has spanned a spectrum that includes pop, soul, R&B, jazz, carnival rhythms, and more.
Ivan Neville is now that legacy’s principal torchbearer, now that Aaron Neville has announced his retirement from touring (Cyril Neville is still active) and Charles and Art Neville are deceased. Ivan is perhaps the family member with the most expansive set of collaborations, bringing his musicianship to bear with mainstream acts like Bonnie Raitt, the Rolling Stones, Spin Doctors, and Don Henley. With his band Dumpstaphunk, for 20 years he has taken every one of his experiences and has found a way to infuse them into a funk sound that continues to remain transformative and new.
Ivan Neville’s sense of adventure, alongside his commitment to honoring his family’s past, take a new creative turn with the release of his fifth solo album, Touch My Soul. It’s his first solo record in 20 years and it’s been in development for over four. It richly combines funk, soul, jazz, and more in a way that is uniquely Neville and remarkably contemporary as well. To no one’s surprise he is accompanied by many collaborators on this 10-track journey. The album opener, “Hey All Together,” features vocal contributions from Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, Michael McDonald and David Shaw (The Revivalists), with instrumental sparkle from Troy “Trombone Shorty’ Andrews and violinist Theresa Anderson. It perfectly kicks off the record melodically and sets a tone of promise and hope that is delivered with purpose and a very deep groove.
Copper caught up with Neville to talk (and laugh) about how the record came about, why it took so long, how he picked his collaborators, and what’s next for this tremendously gifted artist.
Ray Chelstowski: It’s been 20 years since your last solo record. Why release one now?
Ivan Neville: My initial thought was “why not?!” (laughs) It wasn’t intentional, because it hadn’t even occurred to me that I should do a solo record. It just happened. I wrote just one song about four years ago called “Hey All Together.” The spirit of community and the idea of being neighborly toward one another inspired me, because in recent times I haven’t seen enough of that. People have become so divisive about everything and I just felt the urge to write this song. I was able to get a bunch of cool friends to all be part of the tune.
Dumpstaphunk had the opportunity to sign with a label and put out some music we had been working on and that gave me the chance to do an “Ivan record” in conjunction with that. I had this one song, now I only needed eight or nine more. It just kind of worked out. The pandemic gave us a lot of time to be creative in a different way.
RC: How did this whole thing kick off?
IN: The first person that I got involved with this was Michael McDonald. He happened to be in New Orleans doing a show and I think it actually got rained out. So I played him the idea I had had up until that point and he came over and sang some harmonies with me and I took it from there.
RC: How did you decide on using guitarist Doyle Bramhall ll for the song “Dance Music Love?”
IN: When I was developing that song I began to realize that its only one groove. The turnaround is the chorus, then there’s an instrumental section where I had thought about adding a horn. Then I thought about Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar fills on David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” In the spirit of that, not a typical solo, just some badass licks, is what I had in mind. If Stevie Ray was still around I’d have had him play on it. We were friends and I got to know him when he did a tour in the mid 1980s where Bonnie Raitt opened. So the next thought was, who do I get to do this? The two names that came to mind were Doyle and Gary Clark, Jr. I know Gary a little bit but I know Doyle better and I was able to get ahold of him. I sent him the song and a period of time passed. Then one day I got a call from him and he was hanging with [guitarist] Charlie Sexton, playing together. Charlie had engineered the section of Doyle playing on this song, and it was totally beautiful. They called to play some of it for me and I told them to keep doing what they were doing and when they were finished to send me what they had. I couldn’t have asked for a better result.
RC: You have worked with so many talented people. Is there anyone you turn to, to conduct a “taste test” on material that you’ve created before you share it with a wider audience?
IN: There’re a few people that I do that with. There’s a guy named Charley Drayton and I send him stuff. He actually played very subtle drums on the song “Touch My Soul.” I also bounce stuff off my dad Aaron Neville and my uncle Cyril.
RC: The photo of you on the album cover has a real NOLA vibe to it.
IN: The album cover is pretty deep. It’s a picture of me with candles. It represents a lot of [my] ancestry because I can see my dad in that photo, I can see my grandmother, I can see my mom, I can see all of them coming out of those eyes.
RC: Are fans going to have to wait another 20 years for another solo record, or do you have something else in mind?
IN: No, it won’t be that long (laughs). I’ll probably start kicking around some stuff later this year. This record kind of kicked off a little buzz in me about writing. I’ve written and co-written songs with Dumpstaphunk, and I had a project called Neville-Jacobs several years ago with Chris Jacobs who did collaborate with me on some of these songs. We have a pretty good working relationship. I can have a few ideas like a chorus and some verses and I send them to him and he sees if there’s anything he’s working on that might match up. So, I’m ready and it won’t take that long for there to be another record.
Touch My Soul by Ivan Neville includes the following songs:
Hey All Together (feat. Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Michael McDonald, Trombone Shorty, David Shaw)
Greatest Place On Earth (feat. Trombone Shorty, Ben Jaffe, Charlie Gabriel)
Might Last A Lifetime (feat. Cyril Neville)
Dance Music Love (feat. Doyle Bramhall II)
Touch My Soul
Stand For Something
This Must Be The Place
Pass It All Around