After Funk enjoys quick ascent in T.O. music scene

Whether it’s headlining a show or opening a gig for one of their musical inspirations, Ontario-based funk and soul outfit After Funk is one of the hottest bands of the moment.

Their groovy, soulful sound, mixed with jazz and rock influences, have kept sell-out crowds dancing in Toronto clubs such as the Phoenix and the El Mocambo through the winter.

After Funk’s shows are filled with retro and modern sounds. Among the group’s eight members are a couple of young Jews with grooves: drummer Jaime Rosenberg and Phil Tessis, one of the band’s two guitarists.

Rosenberg, 22, is one of the band’s four founding members. With his Western University roommate Justin Bontje, a bass player, the duo set up a laid-back space in their dorm to play music. At school, the friends met keyboard player and vocalist Yanick Allwood and guitarist Bradley McBurney. The four quickly bonded over a love of funk and soul.

“We decided to sign up for a couple Battle of the Bands [contests], and we ended up winning them both,” Rosenberg tells The CJN.

The foursome decided to make their sound even bigger. By the end of 2012, After Funk had doubled in size and increased its volume. Four more members, including Tessis, now 25, joined.

Rosenberg got interested in funk music in high school and was a big fan of the bands Soulive and Lettuce. Since After Funk launched, the Toronto musician has become friends with members of both groups.

Alan Evans, Soulive’s drummer, mixed and mastered After Funk’s self-titled album, which debuted in January. Meanwhile, the group opened for Lettuce at a February gig in Toronto.

“[With Lettuce], we played the Phoenix, which is a big place. That was the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for,” Rosenberg says.

But jamming with some of his musical heroes couldn’t match the electricity Rosenberg says he felt at a gig in the summer of 2013. On that July night, After Funk was booked to headline an after-party performance in Toronto to follow a Phish concert.

However, Phish cancelled its show in the wake of a big storm. As a result, some miserable fans flocked to After Funk’s concert at the Great Hall instead, giving the rising collective the chance to save a dour night.

“Everybody was kind of bummed out and upset about Phish being cancelled and was in a bad mood,” Rosenberg says. “Everybody who was [at the after-party] had a great time and wasn’t thinking about Phish anymore. It kind of made them forget.”

After Funk also played shows in 2013 alongside high-profile groups such as jazz-funk fusion band Snarky Puppy, which won a Grammy for best R&B performance earlier this year. The group also opened for hot New Orleans collective Dumpstaphunk and the Juno-nominated groups Walk Off the Earth and Five Alarm Funk.

“If we just keep opening for bands that I like to listen to, I’m happy,” Tessis says, laughing. “It’s inspiring to get to play shows with them. They’re all really down-to-earth people.”

Tessis joined After Funk in July 2012. At the guitarist’s first gig, Allwood’s keyboard malfunctioned and was out for the entire show. This could have been a challenge for Tessis, since he had only learned the songs the day before.

“I was responsible for covering all of the chords and stuff… [But] it was a fun first-gig experience,” he says.

Although Tessis is a newer addition to the group, he wrote the music for the two instrumental songs on the band’s groovy, seven-track EP. Allwood does the majority of After Funk’s songwriting.

All eight members of the band have a music education, either from Western University, the University of Toronto or Humber College. Rosenberg currently studies music at Humber, in a program that Tessis graduated from in 2010.

After Funk’s music has complex composition, but is easy to dance to. Infused with soul, synthesizer and a big, blasting horn section, their unique sound is bound to catch on beyond Canada’s borders.

“We play funk, but we put so much else into it that it doesn’t end up coming out as just funk anymore,” Tessis says. “You get a bit of everything.”

The group is gaining popularity locally, but they also have their sights set on down south. Rosenberg says the group is trying to find more chances to perform in the United States.

Other members of After Funk have roots in London, Ont., Hamilton and Toronto, and the group often performs in and around the Golden Horseshoe.

They will head east for their next show, at L’Escalier in Montreal on March 21, and they’ll be playing the Merchant Tap House in Kingston the following night. The weekend marks the band’s three-year anniversary of their first performance.

Rosenberg says he credits After Funk’s quick ascent on the local music scene to the band’s chemistry.

“Everyone’s really close and gets along,” he says. “That translates when we’re on stage. The crowd picks up on that vibe. We’re always striving to be as good as we can be and get the band sounding better.”