Funknut is already the big band it will never be. Don't get me wrong; the Funknut sound is big and soulful, nestled somewhere between Curtis and Sly and a persistent jazzy jam. This is the cry of a trio that can't even get past trio as far as keeping permanent guns in its ranks. When Funknut came together in 2005, both keyboardist-vocalist Tony Gallicchio and drummer Tristan Greene functioned competently as a duo and didn't initially seek to expand. They were happy as they were.
"It was just keys and drums," says Gallicchio. "I'd play a little bit of bass with the left hand and we started playing around." The two met bassist Sean McLay and he signed on. And then there were three. But that was it; No. 4 in the line-up remains elusive. It has been a revolving cast spinning through a revolving door.
"We've had a lot of great musicians as the fourth member, you know," says Gallicchio. "Sort of in and out, a rotating cast of really great guitar players; people like Kurt Johnson, Paul McCardle." This shifting personnel approach leaves the band's sound a little more open and less permanent, as if the charts weren't written in ink.
"It makes it flexible," Gallicchio says.
"It opens it up," McLay says. "Because you can kind of change the flavor, based on who is sitting in that night."
Despite the obvious challenge presented by a revolving cast of characters, Gallicchio digs the funky unpredictability.
"It would be nice," Gallicchio says, "to have it with one person, where it's locked in, and that's the sound, and you're all working together. But it's still really cool to have someone change it up and put a new twist on some things."
According to Gallicchio, the same broad-net approach applies when the band is in the studio. "We try to get as many people involved as possible," he says. "Just because it's way more fun."
With one CD, "Hit It," to its credit, Funknut is currently in Acme Studios on Humboldt Street laying down the tracks for album No. 2, "Juicy." At least, that's the case when the band isn't on the road or waiting for Gallicchio, who plays keyboards for rootsy road dogs Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. Besides scheduling and just life in general, the process is slowed by the band's attention to detail. McLay points the finger at Gallicchio.
"He's kind of a perfectionist," McLay says. "He likes to experiment with a lot of different textures. I also think Tony likes to come up with ideas on the fly — not necessarily just in the studio, either. We'll do mixes, take them home, make notes, listen to them a while, sleep on them, and revisit them maybe a few weeks later and be like, 'Maybe that didn't work right, let's try re-doing it.'"
"We don't have anyone telling us when it has to be done," Gallicchio says. "And if we're paying for it, we should really take the time and not regret a note, and enjoy everything."
Will those notes and their predictability cascade over live-show audiences who want to hear the songs as they are on a record?
"We can change the interpretation of a tune that is, say, 4 years old and not play it as it was on the recording," McLay says. "Even if we played it live that way back then. It's always slowly evolving. We don't want to get bored with it. We don't want the audience to get bored with it."
"They're into hearing it for what it can be," Gallicchio adds.
As for what the band can be — in looking at what will be Funknut's future legacy — the band members look at the present as the group's infancy.
"This is the beginning of the best part," Gallicchio says. "This is where it gets good. I can feel it, I can feel it."
The band is the pistol-packin' ruler of Western swing and all the genres that lead up to it.