Don’t Put Funk Shway & The Dojo Birds in a Cage

By TIM HONE | Aug 31, 2016
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Usually a simple and reliable way to categorize a band is by its genre, but Funk Shway & The Dojo Birds rejects this convention. It’s not necessarily a conscious choice to do so; it seems to be more out of a genuine love for all music. But the result is that the band’s genre is defined by whichever of its six members speaks up first.

Tyler Sprague, a lively saxophonist with long, blond hair that hung over his dark sunglasses on stage at The Old Causeway in Manahawkin last Saturday night, explained, “We’re all over the place from like, surf rock to reggae to funk rock.”

Quickly, Chelsea Wozniak, the tambourinist and singer, who regularly shimmied into the audience to dance with the crowd at the Old Causeway, added on to Sprague’s list. “Funk, disco …”

Sprague continued, “... jazz.”

Ant Capriotti, who held the set list on stage and often led the band with a heavy bass riff from one song into the next, tried to interject as a cooler head. “You guys really just named it all there.”

But they weren’t done. When Sprague tried to tie it all together by saying, “basically every genre besides country and rap,” fellow horn player Sam Lasko entered the conversation. Lasko also wore dark shades on stage. He and Sprague played horns together in the Pinelands Regional High School Pep Band and Jazz Band.

“We love rap,” he said, “and country.”

Wozniak pointed out that they covered a rap song during their first set at The Old Causeway.

Capriotti decided that the simplest thing to do would be to “call us a fusion band.”

“A funk fusion band,” added Lasko.

“A surf funk fusion band,” drummer Mike Konyha chimed in. He had been particularly excited during the band’s performance of “The Tequila Song,” when he got to raise his sticks above his head and yell “tequila!” along with everyone at the bar.

“Yeah. But funk leads the way,” agreed Lasko.

“And jazz,” said Sprague, slipping the final word in.

Part of the reason that it’s important to understand Funk Shway & The Dojo Birds’ genre is that when they perform live, they weave their original music into a very diverse set list. The band covered rap songs on Saturday night, as well as songs from The Band and Bill Withers. All the while, people at the bar generally couldn’t seem to tell whether it was an original or a cover they were hearing. Somehow, in between covers of songs from totally different eras and musical stylings were original songs that fit. It felt that night as though Funk Shway & The Dojo Birds was the hammer that pulverized the imaginary wall standing between The Beach Boys and Grandmaster Flash.

“Everything we want to play is to make everyone feel good,” said Konyha. “We’re not an angry band,” he added, laughing.

The band’s album From the Attic to the Basement came out this summer, and was a popular item for sale at The Old Causeway on Saturday. Several people approached Wozniak, who seems to be the band’s PR person when she’s not singing and playing the tambourine, during the intermission to buy CDs.

Of the six members of the band, Wozniak joined most recently. “I pretty much gave them no choice. Me, Aaron (Aaron Budd, guitar player and vocalist) and Sam played in a band together for, like, four years. So when Funk Shway started, I was like, I’ve still got my microphone so I’m gonna just plug in and sit in the attic waiting for my turn to sing. I’m ready!”

Wozniak shares singing duties with Budd. She often sang in support of his voice at The Old Causeway show.

The band originally got together when bassist Capriotti moved in with Budd and Konyha in the summer of 2013. After a summer playing shows as a trio, the band approached Sprague about joining as a horn section. “They were like, you still got your sax from high school?” recalled Sprague. “And I was like, yeah, my parents are threatening to sell it on me if I don’t start playing it again. So I was like, yeah, I’ll come jam.” He recruited Lasko for horn support, and the old friends added a new element to the band.

“Together they just take each other’s abilities and take each other to the next level,” said Konyha.

The new horn section also added a new musical element to the band because according to Budd, “a band that doesn’t have horns can’t really do a lot of James Brown or other funky (stuff).” Often these horn parts come in lieu of a keyboard section, and Budd said, “Honestly, I decided to do ‘Superstition’ (by Stevie Wonder) and ‘Use Me’ (by Bill Withers) because we didn’t have a keyboard player, and I knew it would sound funky with the horns.”

It’s worth noting that pretty much any genre can be made to sound funky. Funk Shway & The Dojo Birds seems to play with this in mind, aiming to create an original sound. Hearing this sound performed live, precisely because it is difficult to explain, is worth the trip.

Funk Shway & The Dojo Birds will be playing again at the No Name Festival, which is hosted by the Lizzie Rose Room, at the Sea Pirate Campground in West Creek on Sept. 10. 

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