A Family FUNKtion

Family FUNKtion and the Sitar Jams will perform 10 p.m. Friday at the Bullfrog Brewery, 229 W. Fourth St. Bringing a blend of Indian elements, using bass, drums and a sitar, the band hails from western New York.

With a love of music starting very early, these brothers formed their band, using not only their talents, but their improvisation to bring audiences an eclectic mix and “unique psychedelic experiences.”

The Sun-Gazette recently caught up with Naryan Padmanabha, who plays the sitar to talk about the creation of Family FUNKtion and the Sitar Jams, as well as the experience of performing as brothers.

BETHANY WIEGAND: Who are the members of the band and what role do they play?

NARYAN PADMANABHA: The band is comprised of three brothers, thus the name “Family FUNKtion … ” The members are Ravi Padmanabha – drums-percussion, Aneal Padmanabha – bass and Naryan Padmanabha – sitar and electronics. Living in the same house allowed us to jam at all times of the day and night and really let inspirations flow. There was no fear or pressure of what would happen next while we played together. This made one of the most ideal atmospheres to take musical risks in.

BW: How did you get the idea of a fusion of bass, drums and a sitar?

NP: Well, we’ve been playing together in different formats for over 20 years. We’ve tried all sorts of combinations from classical Indian ragas, jazz, to crazy hard-rockin’ blowouts! So, one day, I finally decided to try to tune the sitar that had been sitting in our family’s living room for years. This was sort-of pre-internet so there wasn’t anyone around to help me tune the instrument. So, after many strings bursting in my face, I finally figured out how to do it. Having been a huge classical Indian music fan for most of my life, all I really tried to do was play something like I was hearing. My brothers were both accomplished in their instruments and we decided to combine them on a whim during a random jam. My brothers had heard me playing the sitar around the house and they thought it would be cool to try them in a louder scenario.

BW: How long have you been playing together? Where did the idea for Family FUNKtion and the Sitar Jams come from?

NP: The group itself was established in 2009. We had all played in all sorts of venues, but most of them were concert halls where the setting was very formal. So, we noticed that our local music scene didn’t have many groups that fused world traditions. So, we worked on writing songs that we wanted to hear. We found our niche when we entered more jam band-friendly venues. Because our musical background included classical Indian music and jazz, we all had years of experience improvising. We did what felt natural, jam out and make it interesting.

BW: What have been some of the more memorable performances that you’ve had? Any venues stick out in your memory?

NP: Well, we’ve shared the stage with some amazing and talented musicians such as Max Creek, Rob Wasserman, Toubab Krewe, The Heavy Pets, Consider the Source, Marco Benvento, Micael Kang (String Cheese Incident) and Steve Molitz (Particle) to name a few. One of our favorite and memorable shows was our first tour of Colorado. It was the furthest the band traveled together and we played a show at the legendary Quixote’s True Blue. The top musicians of the jam scene have all played and hung out there. But, the moments that are most memorable are the nights when everyone is dialed into what we’re doing and have smiles on their faces!

BW: Can you remember your first encounter with music? Did you grow up in a musical family?

NP: Our parents were very supportive with our interest with music. When we were growing up, all we wanted were instruments. My brothers used to set up cardboard box drumsets and guitars and have pretend KISS concerts when they were only about 10 years old. Years later, I remember my brother drumming in our basement. I heard him play for so many hours each day that I felt that I was going through the stages of learning with him. By the time I was 10, I literally picked up the drum sticks and was able to play beats because of all the observing I had done. From that moment forward, we all knew that music was something we loved doing.

BW: What are some of your musical influences?

NP: Whew! Ravi Shankar, Phish, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Toumani Diabate, Grateful Dead, Modest Mouse, Boards of Canada, Allman Bros., Beatles, The Clash, Rush, Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, Dr. Lonni Smith … just to name a few.

BW: Since you rely heavily on improvisation, does that mean each performance is different?

NP: For sure. Just like jazz, we start with the main theme or “head” of a tune and then … just see what happens. We’re perfectly comfortable letting each song do it’s own thing. If a song is normally fast and rockin’, it would be just as fine with us if it turned out slower and more introspective. We really feed off of each other and the people around us. We totally are fine with a collective mood of the people and we’d like to say that we’re influenced by our surroundings.

BW: Any pre- or post-show rituals?

NP: Well, seeing that we’re all brothers, we get to have really good laughs and conversations before we play. Besides all the craziness of setting up our stuff … our ritual of packing up the van with our gear, choosing great tunes to drive to ultimately ends with one question. My eldest brother, Ravi, wears a turban for our shows. We always ask each other before we play; “Is this a turban gig?” and the answer is always “YES!”. The meaning behind it is that we will never hold anything back. We’ll put our best at that moment whenever we can!

BW: What can the crowd at Bullfrog Brewery expect at your performance?

NP: People can expect us as a world jam trio to include many moods to groove and also chill to … I think the best part of what we do is never alienating anyone. For the hippie dude who wants to space out and dance … we’re there for them or the reserved music connoisseur who loves checking out technique, we got them too. It’s never about how down you are with jam-scene-type-of-music, we approach is as a experience that we can all have together. Also, IT’S FREE!!!!

If anyone is interested, we have many FREE downloads of entire shows on our website