By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
Mike Hill, drummer, reaches into a brown paper bag and fishes out a beer. "Nowadays," says Hill, "when you mention funk, everybody thinks of the Chili Peppers, but that's not the essence or the core of funk. I like to think we ride more on the vibe of what old-school funk was."
"Not me," says guitarist Andrew Kleine. "For me, funk is the stuff beneath my balls."
Another wave of laughter erupts in this trio's Tempe-based practice studio as beers begin to circulate. A defaced poster of a swimsuit model hangs on a wall nearby a gallery of X-rated cartoons. An impromptu round of jokes concerning altar boys, crack cocaine and whorehouses confirms the band members' reputation for being crude, amiably obnoxious and slightly depraved. Yet you'd be hard-pressed to find a more talented or exciting funk-based band in the Valley.
Mixing the oddly partnered elements of jazz, rap, blues and rock with a solid core of funk, Yoko Love creates energetic, danceable music full of frenetic, bluesy chords, meaty bass grooves and fervent rock and hip-hop rhythms.
As a front man, Prior is a natural. By way of vocal intensity, he often energizes audiences to their collective feet. And when he's not expounding the praises of Shorty the Pimp, he's crouched away from the microphone, bobbing to the machine-gun attack of Hill's kick drum.
"I love the stage," admits Prior. "It's so much power, having the microphone. I talk a lot about Mike's cock. I'll introduce Andy as C.C. Deville or George Michael. I'll admit that we can act goofy and stupid, but onstage we're just being us. I assure you it's genuine."
Whether Prior is encouraging the crowd to order more booze, piercing the air with an outstretched middle finger or introducing his bandmates' genitalia, Yoko Love's message is simple, ego-heavy and more overpowering than a progression of Hill's thunderous rolls: We're Yoko Love, so get off your asses and have a good time.
"It's kind of disheartening when an audience doesn't respond," Hill says. "Our main motive is for people to have fun. When they don't, it's like we didn't do our job."
Yoko Love got started 16 months ago when Prior and Kleine--who met at Chandler High School--posted some fliers in the hope of finding a drummer. About the same time, Hill posted his own flier trying to hook up with a band.
Within two days and completely by chance, Hill and Prior had ripped down and stolen each other's fliers so nobody else could use them. After exchanging phone calls, the three of them met at Francisco Studios.
"We played for an hour or two," recalls Prior, "and again later that night. Afterwards, Mike said, 'I don't mean to be a whore or anything, but, man, if you guys want me, I'm yours!' He was the first one we tried out, the first one we took."
Stylistically, blatant comparisons between Yoko Love and 311 or Rage Against the Machine are altogether tempting. However, their individual musical influences and backgrounds create a sound that's distinctive and fresh.
"We never got together and said, 'I want to be in a band that plays this,'" says Prior. "It was unpredictable. The three of us got together, and a year later this is the sound that we've made and still play. I like the combination of everything we've put into our music. I think it's something nobody has tapped into yet, and we're proud of that--doing something original."
Prior's musical melange of funk, jazz and rap--combined with his aggressive vocal style of rap--forms the nucleus of Yoko Love's sound. His bass heroes are a diverse lot.
"Peanut from 311," Prior says, ticking off the names like items on a shopping list. "Chuck Rainey from Steely Dan. Even Sting. But Jaco Pastorius was huge for me. He could do everything. He could play funk, jazz and blues. He brought the bass out as an instrument that could do something more than just carry a groove."
If Prior forms the core of Yoko Love's sound, Hill's energetic versatility and pointblank devotion to music are the foundation--emphasizing attitude over technique.
"I push a lot of the energy," says Hill. "A lot of drummers have the cliche of sitting in the background and just keeping time. I've always preferred drummers that got up and put on a show. They became an element that people watched along with the rest of the band. Mitch Mitchell and Tommy Lee--they just got onstage and blew the shit out of everyone."
Kleine, on the other hand, with a background firmly rooted in classic blues, seems like the oddest musical fit for Yoko Love's funk-based sound. But his addition to the band's chemistry is just discordant enough to be effective.