Lineup changes are a fact of life in the music world, though fans are rarely happy to see a member of one of their favorite bands depart. This was certainly the case with Kung Fu, who dealt with a bit of a backlash a few weeks ago after founding keyboardist Todd Stoops announced that he had been replaced. Some fans that had followed the funk-fusion quintet since the beginning declared their intention to boycott the band, while plenty of others expressed interest in what was to come, while also wishing the best for Stoops. Kung Fu—for their part—haven’t been content to dwell on the past, choosing instead to focus on their future with their new, multifaceted keyboardist Beau Sasser. We got on the phone with guitarist Tim Palmieri just a few days after the group’s first proper show with Sasser to discuss Stoops’ departure, what he hopes Sasser will bring to the band and more.
Kung Fu just played its first show with new keyboardist Beau Sasser at the Disc Jam Festival. Can you talk a little bit about that show? How did you think it went?
I thought it went great. There was the initial shock of the the whole thing, but at the same time, it was funky, and still very strong. We knew it was going to be like that. It’s like, “Alright, play the first show, get that one out of the way and then it’s smooth sailing.” It was a bit emotional and mental for me, but once we got going everything was great. We flew out to Colorado the next day and played the LOHI Music Festival, and the after party at Cervantes as well. Those were smooth sailing. It was really dialed in and really channeled so I’m happy.
I know at that LOHI after party you guys had Joey Porter take over the keys for a little bit because Beau had to head out and go play with another project. Is Beau’s commitment to other projects going to be something of an issue going forward?
There might be a few things, but that’s because his summer was booked in advance and he’s a busy guy and we did our best to make our schedules meet up so he could accommodate the Kung Fu schedule. So I don’t really foresee that happening too much more.
Is Beau coming in now as a full-time member of the band? Will he be recording new material with you guys, or is he just a part of the live band?
Yup. He’s coming in as a full-time member. Recording, writing, playing.
What do you think that Beau brings to the table now? Are there any stylistic shifts that you guys plan on making now that he’s in the group?
What he brings to the table is a very classic-schooled sound. He went to Berklee so he’s got that jazz vocab and his sounds are just classic. The organ, the Rhodes. We’re still looking to throw some synthesizer in to match the previous Kung Fu sound and not abandon what we’ve sort of built our career on. But we’re looking to get a little more boogaloo—I guess classic is the word—so that we can step up the jam circle a little bit and into jazz circles. Newport Jazz people, the people that dig on that sort of thing. I love versatility, I think versatility is key. We’ve always wanted to tap into something like that, but just never really did. His energy is amazing. He’s really good at building a solo and throwing it so that when it hits, it’s like “Whoa!” (laughs). You can see and feel it. The crowd definitely responds to his soloing sounds and his energy. He’s like a John Medeski wizard on the organ.
You mentioned the Newport Jazz Festival crowd. Does that mean you guys going to be working toward some slightly different markets now that you’ve got a different keyboardist?
We’re going to try. We’re still doing the jam thing—always—but yeah, it’d be nice to try some new things and see what’s out there. I appreciated when Soulive was in the jam scene when they first broke, but then they’re at the Blue Note and in that other sphere. Like I said, versatility is key in this business. Going toward anything possible is a good thing.
There’s been a lot of vagueness from both camps about the reasons for Todd’s departure. Can you provide any insights on why he exited the band?
I mean nothing too specific because both of us, we’re still working out details of our exit strategy. To sum it up, it wasn’t working. It was not a productive working relationship towards the end there. That’s what we’re here to do, to work and make music and move forward happily. With respect, it was crumbling and we couldn’t really get ourselves to sit down in a room and be productive. In the name of self preservation, we had to do something, and it made him upset. It was a tough decision, but not a light one.
What else do you see for Kung Fu going forward? Is there another album on the horizon? Is Beau bringing in new material?
Yep. Beau has originals, and we’re sitting on a lot of originals right now that we’re just going to start bringing to the practice room to start banging out. A new album is definitely in the works. We’re going to do some playing this fall, but nothing crazy like the beginning of this year. So we’ll play our shows, keep that going, make a new record and keep looking forward to a busy 2016.
So there are plans then for a fall tour after festival season wraps up?
Yes. We’re definitely going to do some northeast dates and pepper in a few national plays to follow up on the tours we did with Lotus and Galactic earlier this year so we have a California date, a Colorado date, maybe some Florida, we love Florida, Florida’s been good to us so…it’s always nice to go down there in November (Laughs)
Our whole band is excited about the sound. We know it’s tough. Breaking up is hard to do and .fans who have put so much time and emotion into our sound may be upset. But at the end of the day close your eyes and listen to the music and if it moves you. I think people will be moved by the new sound.
When you say “new sound,” does that mean there’s going to be a huge break from the old Kung Fu sound?
Oh, no. It’s just inherent with a member change. Personalities make up the player. A lot of people, they wouldn’t be the player that they are without their personality and you can sense that on stage. In previous bands, I’ve gone through a lot of member changes and although I don’t it’s quite different, people out there will definitely think it’s different. We’ve changed one member, so really the band hasn’t changed much. Beau has a lot in common with Todd Stoops. They’re both rhythmic players, they both play organ, they both like funk and fusion. It’s just more of an intangible quality that comes across that people will think is different. We’re going to pay homage to Todd and the sound that he’s built but we’re also looking forward to Beau’s energy and a bit of that classic quality now.