[Interview] The Ladies of Parliament Funkadelic

Photo credit:  Melissa Fossum

Photo credit: Melissa Fossum

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic funked up the house at the Fox Theater in Atlanta on July 25th. The “One Nation Under a Groove” tour is the last for George Clinton who is retiring after a long and illustrious career. But the funk will live on with the progeny of George Clinton and the musicians of Parliament Funkadelic.

I was able to interview the Parliament Funkadelic back up singers: Patavia Lewis, Tonysha Nelson, and Scottie Clinton backstage right before the show. The entire time we were talking Scottie was trying to untangle a pair of fishnet stockings she wears in her performance. She was a tiny bolt of energy able to jump from one topic to the next with lightening speed. Tonysha has the gift of instantly putting others at ease with her openness and her welcoming smile and conversation. Patavia was the more quiet of the three, but I had the distinct impression that those quiet waters run very, very deep.

Q: Patavia and Tonysha, you two are cousins and you’re also the granddaughters of George Clinton. I know when you were little girls you would sing along with a particular movie over and over again. What was the movie?

 Tonysha and Patavia: (laughing) Sister Act!

 Q: What was it like having a grandfather like George Clinton who nurtured the artistic side of you?

 Tonysha: It was just the way it was. Patavia grew up in his household and he always went to her plays and things like that, and music was just always around the house. He recorded us when we were little kids.

 Q: You still have those recordings?

 Tonysha: It was on Dope Dogs.

 Patavia: Yeah, Dope Dogs. It was on the album

 Q: That was the first recording you two did?

 Patavia: Yeah, I was four (laughing)

Q: I can’t imagine what that was like, just being a kid. But if you grow up around all the music that’s just the way it is.

Tonysha: Yeah, it’s just the way it is. I look back now and I’m like, how did we do that? We were just little kids when we recorded that session.

Patavia: Yeah, Granddad said one time, “You know you were much easier to manage when you were younger?” And I was like, “Excuse me, sir?

 Q: Well, because you know where kids are when they’re little.

 Tonysha: He always told us, “No back talk” and now he says “You’re just giving me too much back talk.”

 Q: Your grandfather was recently honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and he deserved that so much.

 Tonysha: Yes he did. That was dope. A real honor.

 Q: Tonysha, you and Patavia have a duo called Kandy Apple Redd?

Tonysha: Yes, and we just released our first single titled Psychotropic. We don’t have a release date on the C.D yet, but we’re working on it. Scottie released a song Break Right Now in May.  

Scottie: I have five songs out on itunes. I usually just promote my website because it has links to all of my social media information. www.scottieclinton.com. I also have my own clothing line coming out. It’s through the same store that designs George’s clothes that he wears onstage and I’m trying to figure out just what I’m going to accentuate in my clothing line. 

 Q: Just give me a pair of pants I don’t have to alter the length! I’m 5’2”

 Scottie: Me too! I have that problem. I might have to design some pants that’ll fit off the rack, now that you’ve said that. And we can design them so that they aren’t all the way up here!! (pointing to her calves).

 Q: Us short girls have to stick together.

 Scottie: For real! The store is on Melrose in L.A and it’s where George gets all the clothes he wears on tour. It’s called Nathalia Gaveria.

 Q:  You’re around each other a lot, especially on tour.  You’re family, not only band family but a blood family.

Scottie: Yes, I’m a step-daughter but I’ve been around everyone since I was a little girl, as well as George. George is my godfather.

 Q: So how do you guys manage to be around one another so much? I mean it’s hard enough with family off the road.

 Patavia: She (pointing to Scottie) wears her headphones. I disappear. Isolate.

Tonysha: Yes, Scottie wears headphones all the time.

Patavia: All the time!

Tonysha: It’s an interesting thing because I was telling someone the other day, there’s Uncle Muddy (in a chair taking a nap near us). He’s known my mom since she was like eight or nine, and he’s known her dad since he was like thirteen.  And there’s not too much back talking going on. That’s your uncle. You’re not blood, but that’s your uncle and you better watch yourself.  (At this point Uncle Muddy glances up and grins before closing his eyes again) and it’s definitely family. When someone has known you for your entire life…. that’s family.

Scottie:  The kids and the grandkids!

 Patavia: Exactly.

Q: You are all three part of the P Funk third generation. How do you think you’re going to change the music and how do you think that fourth generation might change the music?

 Scottie: Oh, wow, fourth generation?

Tonysha: We have our kids onstage sometimes. We’re going to add to the music by giving music subject matter that has weight to it and that’s going to last forever. We’ll still have that classic funk but something that can elevate our generation at the same time. And it’s going to have to be something the little kids can identity with because that’s who’s going to be listening.

Q: Do you try to be socially conscious in your music?

Patavia: Yes, you have to be socially conscious, especially now.

Tonysha: Times have changed.  I hear a lot of people older than me talking about how they were able to get out of high school and get a good job at a bank and work their way up, but in this day and age, it isn’t like that anymore. But the music industry has changed too. There’s more freedom now.

 Patavia: Everything is digital.

Tonysha: There are other ways to utilize and put yourself out there than there used to be.

Scottie: Yes, like now you can be an independent artist and not even need a record label. That’s what the internet is providing us. I’m signed to George as an artist and I put myself out in other ways.

Q: And George encourages that?

Patavia: Exactly. And that’s his label, so he’s in control. But we can go off and do projects that feed our creativity.

Tonysha: And that encourages the individual creativity. And no record label was ever able to limit him when it came to that.

 Scottie: Free your mind and your ass will follow.

 Patavia: There’s the message. 

Tonysha: We went to Japan and most of the people who came and saw us didn’t speak English but they could sing American hip hop and even our songs all the way through.  And in the same accent as we used.

Scottie: Music is the international language. George’s music is like going to church, without going to church. All the spiritual stuff is involved and sometimes it’s spiritual because everyone is one vibe of happiness. That’s what I want to emulate in my music. That same freedom of being yourself, not being afraid to express who you are because that’s what an artist is: understanding who you really are and using music as your outlet.

Q: Is attending to a P Funk show a total escape from the real world?

Tonysha: The whole P Funk experience is an escape, the whole thing can be an escape, sometimes too much, and you know I think you have to be careful how much you escape because we need to pay attention.  There’s too much going on. There’s the work and all of that, but then there’s your world that you’re trying to escape.

Scottie: And as far as the show being an escape from the world, I try to bring it all together through positivity. I give every bit of energy I have on stage and then it’s reciprocated from the audience. After the shows I have people coming up saying how much they needed that energy and they needed to get away from real life for awhile. Then they can take that positivity home with them and change other people.

Q: What it’s like being on the road with the whole P Funk crew?

Tonysha: It’s interesting. There should be a class on it because there’s no way… I mean this shit is crazy!  It’s freedom, but it’s work definitely.

 Scottie: Yes, we have the freedom to do the work.