INTERVIEW - Alex Camp and Christian Barnes - Mean Poppa Lean



For those not formally baptised by the Church of Funk, Mean Poppa Lean's music is an extremely enjoyable fusion of funk and rock. Big on the fun factor, their music is designed for the dancefloor.


Tracks such as We Eat Funk, Ain't Nobody and Fax Machine are oozing with not just danceable rhythms, but out and out, pure unadulterated funk grooves. Although, it's their raw, tongue-in-cheek mentality that gives Mean Poppa Lean's music such impact and uniqueness - more so than many of their former contemporaries.


Their 2009 tour with Floors and Walls not only earned Mean Poppa Lean some well-deserved praise, but in many ways, it also laid the foundations for what would become a decade long friendship for Conor, Jordan and myself. All three of us remember watching this band perform for the first time in 2009 and being so utterly and completely fascinated about what we were seeing. Just like the band, we were "united by a common love of funk and vintage clothing."


Fast-forward to 2019, and somewhat remarkably, the boys returned to perform a reunion gig (seven years after they disbanded) at The Hope & Ruin in Brighton. Meeting at The Bok Shop, in what could only be described as possibly the nicest chicken shop in Brighton, I spoke to Alex (C-Dogg) and Christian from Mean Poppa Lean...


So, it has been seven years since Mean Poppa Lean originally disbanded. What have you all been up to during that time?

CHRISTIAN: I got married... C-Dogg was my best man. I had a kid and I have another on the way. I moved to Chicago. And I play in a band there, called Chicago Funk Mafia... Also, C-Dogg now lives in Tokyo.

ALEX: Yeah, I live in Tokyo now. I moved there in 2015. I stayed in Brighton for a bit and then moved to Tokyo. I run comedy nights there, in English. And, I don't have any kids!

CHRISTIAN: That you know of!


What motivated this reunion tour? And who originally instigated you guys reforming?

ALEX: It was so easy to instigate. I feel like Christian got caught up in it and once he said something to us, we [the rest of the band] thought that it HAD to happen. He is a very infectious person... Someone offered us a gig. Someone in Austria, who had seen us at a festival there. That is right, isn't it?

CHRISTIAN: Well no. Originally, I just posted out something hammered on Facebook. Something like, 'what do people think about a reunion?'

ALEX: Oh, was that before?

CHRISTIAN: Yeah! He saw that post and thought that was great. The response we got was untold. It was insane. We had about five-hundred comments. So, we thought that if everyone who commented bought a ticket, we could sell out some shows in England and it would just pay for us to all be together again and play the music that we love. Because we are all close friends in the band. For example, the trombone player and the bassist stood up at my wedding. You know, we are still all very close and keep in touch with each other. Even though we are spread all around the world.

ALEX: Yeah, four out of six members of Mean Poppa Lean live outside of the UK now. It is complicated because we have had multiple drummers and now, we have a new drummer. My brother now plays drums for us. But he lives in Manchester, our bass player lives here [in Brighton], Christian in Chicago, me in Tokyo and the trumpet and trombone players are both based in Berlin. So, we are all over the map! It is hard to get us all together. But that was the genesis of the reunion!


That is amazing to hear! Because, I imagine organising these things is incredibly stressful and it is nice to know that on a personal level, it was so easy! 

CHRISTIAN: I was thinking about that last night when we were all together. I was thinking how the f*** did we pull this off? Also, I think what has been really cool is that we have found out that we have some kind of cult following. We kind of wish we knew that when we were actually a band though!


That is right! Even within the social groups that I know, it became apparent that is wasn't just me that has seen you guys play!


CHRISTIAN: We played a lot of shows! We never discriminated and we would play in your back garden if you wanted us to. You know what, we may have! This one time we played a lamb roast.... We were very much of the mind that we should play everywhere. Play anywhere and our show would see us through. Because we always knew that we have one of the best and meanest live shows. If we played there, those people would be fans. That was always the motto of the band! 

ALEX: Yeah, nobody in the industry was particularly interested in us. Because we were not really like anybody else. And I don't mean that like we were special or anything, but there isn't something that you could 'sell' about us! However, we always appealed to people. In the places we went to, the people always enjoyed us.


Living and traveling abroad is great for opening one's mind to different perspectives. With that in mind, could you tell me the role music has played in expanding your horizons?

CHRISTIAN: Well, the way I got into Chicago Funk Mafia was that they have heard of Mean Poppa Lean. They found out that I moved to Chicago and contacted me. So, I went and started jamming with them and now I write and play with them all over America. Playing music and being a professional musician has allowed me to fit easily in. I think the performance aspect in regards to C-Dogg, has allowed him to develop his stand-up comedy show to be a professional outfit. I think the whole thing of being engulfed in the music industry and being a professional has helped us all in many ways.

ALEX: Definitely! We thought a lot about our performance. I know Mean Poppa Lean was a bit of a weird prospect for me, we did some strange things. For example, we had these odd stage settings and costumes. But, we thought a lot about that stuff and we put a lot of effort into that. Which a lot of other bands don't necessarily do. So, that has kind of transferred into what we do elsewhere. We all put a lot of effort into what we do on stage because we are used to doing that.

CHRISTIAN: I cannot count on my fingers how many times we have had relationships with promoters who we would constantly work with. We would go to these places and we would not only just perform well, but we would make friends and make business associates. And that is how you build a fanbase and that is how you also build up your band without a manager.

I think that what C-Dogg was saying earlier in regards to how we think about everything on stage, that is something I've tried to take into anything I do musically. When we started this band, that was our vision. We were not just going to turn up and play songs. We are going to make a whole show! Because, when we started doing this it was the early 2000s and it was very indie orientated.

ALEX: By the way, I love that music!

CHRISTIAN: Me too, don't get me wrong. But we were watching Purple Rain and what came out around that time. The performers looked insane, they danced insanely, they were giving you everything and the songs are amazing. We needed a slice of that and to come in and wow people.


That is very interesting. In regards to what you just said, do you think that if you formed in 2019 the band would have gone down a different stylistic route?

ALEX: There is a lot more funk music now. There is Vulfpeck, Louis Cole and all of those types of artists.

CHRISTIAN: When we were coming out, people would tell us that funk was dead.

ALEX: Yeah, there really wasn't much. And we tried to move away from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers kind of thing. We were fans, but we kinda left it alone and we were listening to Zapp and Sly & The Family Stone. We were trying to create our own version of that sound. We also tried to bring in genres like dancehall and reggae.

CHRISTIAN: But really, if we are honest with ourselves we are a rock band! I really think we did a good job of incorporating our influences.

ALEX: I feel like now it would be different. We always thought about having synths... Although the horns are a really great part of our band, we probably would be forced to put electronics in there. Or, we'd go the completely opposite direction.

CHRISTIAN: I think it would just be me and C-Dogg... Dressed as robots and playing to backing tracks!

ALEX: I'd really like to make some more music.

CHRISTIAN: So would I. One of the things we have said is that, Mean Poppa Lean will be a band forever. There is no breaking up this band. Because, why would we ever break up? We have no reason. We are just a band that really doesn't play that often! We will always be a band and that has been solidified. Mostly, because Max - who is C-Dogg's little brother - has been a drummer his whole life. C-Dogg and I have been in bands since we were 15 and he would want to be in those bands. And when we formed Mean Poppa Lean, he wasn't a good enough drummer that could have been in this kind of band. But, we've watched him become a phenomenal drummer... It is poetic because he was born to be in this band sooner than later and now he is in it.

In retrospect of everything, what has been your proudest achievement with Mean Poppa Lean?

CHRISTIAN: I'd say band-wise, just constantly being able to tour around the world and still staying friends. We are still such close friends. Yeah, we have played some incredible festivals and some incredible shows. We have toured a bunch of places, but the fact that we all have still remained so close and just love hanging out with each other is a big achievement.

ALEX: I'm a bad person to ask because I always want more. However, it was the first time we went on tour to Europe in our van with our bed inside it. We went all the way to Norway, Holland, and Croatia... Basically, a whole bunch of different shows. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a musician and I wanted to be a famous musician. But, what I really wanted to do was that! To go around with my friends and play music. And we got the chance to do that. It was a small thing, doing gigs and for not a lot of money. But, we just did it and it was really fun. Also, the fact that people liked us that we survived long enough to do that is a wonderful achievement.


You can watch the official live video for Fax Machine via YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3RVo_g8EiI


George Miles – Follow me on Twitter @GeorgeMiles6

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