Funk Trek

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Funk Trek
Origin Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Genres Jazz-Funk, Jazz Fusion, Soul Jazz
Years active 2008–Present
Labels Funk Trek Records, Make Believe Creative Group
Associated acts Soulive, Lettuce, Frank Zappa, The Meters, Galactic, Miles Davis, Fela Kuti, Budos Band, After the Burial
Members Tom Murnan, Dan Pflug, Jared Dietz, Jake Reisdorff, Blake DeForest, Don Halverson
Past members Jay Egger, Alain Hernandez, Rob Barr, Andrew Wahl, Mike Lovejoy, Cameron Blazek, Kevin Pflug

Funk Trek is a funk/jazz fusion band formed in 2008 in Omaha, Nebraska by cousins Tom Murnan and Dan Pflug, with guitarist and friend Andrew Wahl. Funk Trek has released three studio albums, the most recent being "Quencher" released on July 10, 2015.

Voyager (2010)[edit]

For the first year, the band's name "Funk Trek Voyager", until late 2009 when "Voyager" was dropped and the band became known more famously around the Omaha indie music scene as "Funk Trek". It wasn't long afterwards that the creation of Funk Trek's first album, Voyager, was underway. The title was a tribute to the second half of their original name, using it as the album name as a memorial of their origins as Funk Trek Voyager, including some songs written early on in their career while Funk Trek Voyager was still active.

The recording sessions for Voyager took place in bassist Tom Murnan's basement and it was completed using Murnan's and rhythm guitarist Jared Dietz's knowledge of mixing and mastering. Dietz is also credited as Engineer of the album. The recording was done in a multitrack fashion, recording all instruments separately and blending them together for the final product. "Genetically Modified Groove" and "Black Mamba" proved to be the singles off of the album and are frequently played at Funk Trek shows. In an interview with UNO's classical radio station KVNO, trumpeter Alain Hernandez described the inspirations for the album: "The music is influenced by jazz with a big funk influence too. What I like about this album is that every song sounds different. We have some hard core, hip–hop sounds, with no vocals just instrumental."[1]

The cover art for Voyager drawn by Justin Valentine.

The album art was a drawing by a friend of the band's by the name of Justin Valentine. According to bassist Tom Murnan, the bright colors were used to illustrate the brilliance and atmosphere of the band's live shows, with a face drawn near the top to depict the euphoria one feels upon listening to Funk Trek's music. The CD was released to the public on December 10, 2010 at the Waiting Room Lounge in Omaha, Nebraska. Only 300 copies of the CD were made, making the album rare to date. However, the tracks can be played on, the band's official website.[2]

Years of Touring and Hedgestock (2011-2012)[edit]

Since 2010, Funk Trek has been touring around almost the entire Midwest United States. With appearances in over 15 diverse cities, the band was able to be reserved a spot for many reviews in the Omaha metro. Shortly after the release of their debut album Voyager in 2010, journalist B.J. Hutchemann for the Omaha metro's independent newspaper "The Reader" published one such article. He opened up his article partly by describing his latest Funk Trek concert experience, stating that "Funk Trek tore it up with a lengthy set to celebrate the release of their new CD. This 10-piece band of young musicians features four horns and some multi-instrumentalists. It was a double treat to see The Waiting Room packed with a diverse crowd that ranged from band parents to folks in dreadlocks and a hula-hooper. Funk Trek definitely had the audience grooving to largely instrumental music, which was a bit of a surprise."[3]

The band spent the year after their first release touring in the Midwest, headlining in cities such as Austin, San Marcos, Sioux Falls, Cedar Rapids, Denver, Kansas City, and Lincoln. Funk Trek has participated in various renowned Midwest music festivals, including the Yonder Mountains Harvest Festival in Ozark, Arkansas,[4] Love Fest in the Midwest,[5] FestyFest in Lawrence, Kansas[6] and The Hullabaloo Music & Camping Festival in North Platte, Nebraska.[7]

Around this time, the band also was able to book frequent gigs at The Hive Lounge in Omaha.[8] Turnouts became so promising for their Hive shows that owner Jake Gardner, who has ties to the famous Omaha-native band 311,[9] offered them frequent opportunities for gigs which eventually turned into a bimonthly event for every other Wednesday. Funk Trek can also often be seen performing many shows at The Bourbon Theatre in Lincoln, Nebraska, and they often play with notorious Omaha music acts, including The Kris Lager Band, Andy Frasco & The U.N. and Satchel Grande.

In 2012, the band organized a Woodstock-type music festival and campout in Nebraska City, Nebraska which they called "Hedgestock". The concert drew in big local bands such as The Midland Band, Solid Gold, and The Kris Lager Band. Tom Murnan's cousin Matt, also headlined with his original rap music at the show under his stage name of Big Burn. Coincidentally, it was Matt's father Joe who allowed the band to have their concert on his acreage's corral. Krystal Sidzyik for HearNebraska writes that "when members of the local band Funk Trek, including Joe's nephew Tom Murnan, needed a name for the first-ever, one-day festival on the farm, Hedgestock stuck" on account of the "hedgie" trees that dominate the property.[10] June 9 of that year resulted in the first annual Hedgestock Festival, and the band has aspired to keep the tradition going since then. To the present date, Hedgestock has successfully continued to occur each year since its conception, which is now more commonly taking place in the fall.

Purify (2012-2013)[edit]

In April 2012, while the plans for their second album were still in the embryonic stages, the members of the band desired a new approach for the production of Purify. They sought out recording professional Rick Carson, owner of the local record company Make Believe Creative Group, and were recording by early May.[11] Carson's associates Jeremy Deaton and Noah James Mass also did a substantial amount of work for the album. As for the engineer, the band appointed mastering expert Doug Van Sloun, who had previously worked for Omaha's Saddle Creek Records before opening his own studio of Focus Mastering in 2007. With his experience in mastering for well-known Omaha-native bands in the late 1990s such as Bright Eyes, The Faint and Cursive, and his ability to give his artists a crisp but homegrown sound, Funk Trek eagerly entrusted Van Sloun to mix and master their new music.[12]

The album art is mostly credited to Tommy Hester, a friend of the band. Hester used his skills in laser cutting to create the visual on the screen of the aged Magnavox television for the cover art. The television was purchased at a garage sale by the band and was given to Hester, where he then took out the inside components of the television and placed the laser-cut artwork backed by colored cellophane behind the screen. As a finishing touch for an increased retro feel, a square of blue shag carpeting was placed under Hester's handiwork. The television was then placed in front a green screen for photographing. The same television was aesthetically placed on center stage at the CD release show and is still on the stage at many of their shows currently.

The cover art for Purify featuring the colorfully refurbished television crafted by Tommy Hester.

The album includes Funk Trek's first recorded songs with vocals, the songs in question being "Purify" and "Last Time". Bassist Tom Murnan is credited with the vocals for "Purify", while trombonist Mike Lovejoy sings the lyrics for "Last Time". "Last Time", along with "The B.K. Breakfast Heart Attack" were both released as singles for the album and were uploaded to YouTube by the band as a sneak peek for the new album a few weeks before its release.[13] Both songs can be found here:

 *"The B.K. Breakfast Heart Attack":
 *"Last Time":

After 10 months of recording, Funk Trek completed the album and scheduled it for release on April 13, 2013 with a special CD release show at The Waiting Room Lounge in their home town of Omaha, Nebraska.[14] 300 copies of the disc were made with mp3 downloads available from iTunes[15] and[16]

Increased Notoriety & Regrettable Departures[edit]

Ever since the band's establishment, Funk Trek has been rapidly growing its fanbase by means of their live shows and originality. What has helped the band accumulate fans all the more has been its success in booking and securing opening acts for more noteworthy bands. Less than two years after their formation on January 30, 2010, Funk Trek earned the privilege to open for Dumpstaphunk, one of the more notable and famous Funk bands in the United States.[17] The concert was held at one of Funk Trek's main venues in Downtown Omaha called The Slowdown.

A few months later on June 26, 2010, Funk Trek also warmed-up the crowd for Euforquestra, who is nationally known for their blends of funk, salsa, afrobeat and reggae-dub.[18] The gig was played just over 50 miles away from Omaha at the Bourbon Theatre in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Perhaps the most impressive opening act appearance for Funk Trek came on June 14, 2013, once again in their hometown of Omaha. A few months prior, the NCAA presented the band with once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to open for O.A.R. at the opening ceremonies of the 2013 Men's College World Series.[19] Not only would Funk Trek be given more distinction by opening for a mainstream success, they would also be subject to the most-attended College World Series to date.[20]

Unfortunately, on the very same day of the opening ceremonies, lead guitarist Andrew Wahl was nowhere to be seen on stage, which came as a surprise to many of the other members. Murnan, concerned, later discussed matters with Wahl and it was later settled that Wahl would depart from the band permanently in order to further pursue his education and focus his songwriting more purely on jazz. The band was now forced to head in a different direction with their sound since Wahl had done nearly half of the songwriting up until this point. However, this opening gave Murnan more room to take his band in the direction he wanted it to go in and even to write an album he had been formulating in his imagination for years.

Late in 2013, another wrench in the spokes for the band came when trombonist Mike Lovejoy decided to part ways as well, due to his decision to focus more on work and family. Don Halverson then became his replacement in 2014.

Quencher (2014-2015)[edit]

In late 2014, Funk Trek began recording a mini-LP compilation of previously unreleased songs that were frequently played live. This became the first record release by the band that contained a more thorough influence in songwriting from Murnan, since the first two albums had shy of half its material written by former guitarist Andrew Wahl. After struggling with making a profit from Purify and due to the high costs from recording under Make Believe, the band decided it was more cost-effective to record the album themselves and revert to using home multi-track methods similar to the ones used on Voyager. The only difference this time around was the basement it was recorded in, which happened to be Dietz's instead of Murnan's. The record produced ended up being titled Quencher, a name that perhaps was a tribute to followers who had been desiring for years that these fan-favorites finally be released to quench their thirst for repeat listening. Albeit a short six tracks in length, Quencher is the fruit of over 80 hours of labor put forth in recording. The band once again entrusted the entire mastering process to Doug Van Sloun, since his expertise brought such a crisp and clean sound to Purify. The album was released on July 10, 2015 at the Waiting Room Lounge in Omaha. The album features the first appearance of Alyssa Kelly on vocals for the second track, "Live for Today". Impressed with her voice, which brought a more smooth, jazz-influenced sound to their music, the band avidly signed Kelly on as a permanent vocalist. After being almost entirely instrumental for seven years, the addition of Kelly was intended to bring a more mature and distinguished sound the band had been laboring to accomplish.

Richard Balonanavich (2015-Present)[edit]

Planned for release sometime in the near future, the band also plans to create their fourth studio album, a 2-disc concept album entitled Richard Balonanavich. The concept revolves around the story of Richard Balonanavich, who is a character created by bassist Tom Murnan. Richard's plight is to be told throughout the album as he goes through endless torrents of unfortunate events, with the attitude of positivity to be the uplifting morale of his story. According to Murnan, he "poured [his] heart and soul into" to compose these 21 tracks to speak his message in just the right way. To do this, he has planned the album to include a more prominent use of vocals and lyrics, in which the new addition of Kelly will greatly contribute to its expression. Currently, no tracks have been recorded and it is foreseen that further work on the album may be difficult, since Murnan had been grafted as bassist into the highly-successful and well-toured Kris Lager Band earlier in 2015.