Adam Rudegeair: ‘Lake Minnetonka is my attempt to blend jazz and heavy funk’

Adam Rudegeair is not your average jazz pianist. Regardless if he’s playing ‘straight jazz’ with his trio, or in collaboration with Melbourne legend Bob Sedergreen, or if he reimagines the David Bowie songbook as intricate jazz epics, he’s always adding a twist to his approach, a twist that seems to energize him and have him attack the keys with his trademark, almost percussive style. So, when he gathered a band to pay tribute to Prince’s contribution to music, using a keytar as his weapon of choice, it is no wonder that he would add layer upon layer to build a modern jazz-funk-with-a-twist sound. The band is Lake Minnetonka. The sound is perfectly showcased in their album ‘Melbourneapolis’. Adam Rudegeair explains it all here.

Melbourneapolis has received great reviews and – perhaps moreimportantly – has been embraced by the audience in a series of liveperformances; What has your experience been so far?

It can often be hard to make a dent in the digital noise of the internet, which is a sea of promotion, both from big corporations with bottomless advertising budgets, and indie artists just trying to get heard, so I’m thrilled we got a few reviews, and they really seemed to get what we’re doing. On the live side, there’s a much more immediate response, and having 200+ people at Howler for our album launch was probably one of my greatest career highlights so far. I feel that even though we’re kind of niche sound, the audience doesn’t necessarily need to know the backstory of how or why we sound like we do, people seem to respond immediately to the vibe. It’s funky, it’s fun, and even though there are lots of solos and improvised moments, no one’s stroking their goatee with a ‘jazz police’ hat on (that must be a beret with a badge hanging off it?). I love the fact that we’re 50% instrumental but also feature regular original tunes co-written by the vocalists, and we’re getting a wilder audience response than if were just playing wall-to-wall instrumentals or covers (though we have been known to cover the odd Minneapolis classic, instrumentally or otherwise!)

How would you describe this project?

Lake Minnetonka is primarily an instrumental band, and our music is a modern incarnation of the Minneapolis sound of the ’80s. Prince is largely credited with inventing that sound, but of course there were a bunch of stylistic antecedents that he was able to bring together in a unique way. As much as that sound is part of our DNA, the technology is different now, and we’re trying to find new angles and ways of looking at funk. I’m particularly interested in the jazz-fusion side of the music, (particularly Prince’s collaborative project with Eric Leeds, Madhouse, and also the Family, now known as FDeluxe) and I look for ways to marry the sophistication of jazz with the groove and danceability of party funk. We usually feature guest vocalists, performing a mix of Minnetonka originals and some covers too, usually by Prince associated artists such as The Time, Mazarati, Vanity 6 or Sheila E. As a lyricist myself, I’ve been really getting into co-writing lately, and it helps the vocalist really relate to the material if they’ve had a hand in creating it.

Lake Minnetonka is, at its essence, an ongoing exploration of what I call the ‘Melbourneapolis Sound’, which cannot be contrived, its true nature will only emerge through ongoing explorations; referencing the Minneapolis sound but not restricted to it. I don’t put any creative boundaries on it, except to say, we love the Minneapolis Sound, and let’s take it from there.

What is the appeal of the Minneapolis Sound?

Have you heard Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk’? That’s 100% the Minneapolis Sound. It’s pretty rooted in the 80s: Gated reverb on the snare, Linn drum machine (often mixed with live drums too) with lots of claps, synths like the Oberheim and an electric grand called a CP-70 featured heavily as well. Skeletal chicken scratch guitar plugged directly into the desk (think ‘Controversy‘). Prince kind of assembled a great formula for that sound, which really coalesced on 1980’s ‘Dirty Mind’ album, and he continued to explore different evolutions of it for the rest of his career. As a producer, he was so amazing and enormously inventive for so many years. I just learn so much from pulling apart the layers of his tunes, you could do a whole album exploring all the little nuances he crammed into one song! He would put a flanger on the hi-hat, or pitch shift the drum machine up and use the toms as a snare, or slow the song down and record his vocals, then speed it back up so he sounded like a sexy chipmunk – his bag of tricks was endless! ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘Kiss’ are two standouts of absolute production genius.

What is the Lake Minnetonka backstory?

That’s a pretty long story… but here goes. About four years ago I knew my next musical project was going to be a Madhouse-style jazz fusion thing, and I thought Lake Minnetonka was a good title because it referenced Purple Rain but not in a bleedingly obvious way like “IT’S RAINING PURPLE CRYING DOVES: THE PRINCE TRIBUTE SHOW”; firstly, because we’re not a tribute show. No-one is impersonating Prince, and even if we do play a Prince tune, it’s never a hit, we’re more likely to play some bootlegged song from the vault or a B-side, or something by the Time or Sheila E. Secondly, I knew I wanted to explore the kinds if ideas I was hearing in Madhouse, but write original material in that style.

Shortly after we started jamming and gigging around a few places, our manager Claire and I were involved in organising ‘Dr Fink’s Housecall’, where Matt “Doctor” Fink, the keyboardist from the Revolution, came to Melbourne to do a masterclass and a gig. I was asked to be the musical director of that gig, so Dr Fink and I picked the setlist together over email (and the occasional phone call), then I put together a band that could nail that stuff.

We hung out a fair bit over that week, and got to know each other. One day there were a bunch of us in Chinatown having Yum Cha, and Matt got a call from Prince’s people at Paisley Park, saying they had Prince on the line! Matt told them he couldn’t talk, it was too noisy in there, haha! Can you imagine, rejecting a call from Prince and saying “nah, these won tons are too appealing?”

So Lake Minnetonka had been together for a little while by that point, and Fink even came and sat in with us at the Spotted Mallard! So glad we caught that on video.

The next year I made a pilgrimage to Minneapolis, and recorded two tracks at Matt’s studio in Savage, Minnesota, which is about half an hour south of downtown Minneapolis. Matt helped me get some amazing players like Eric Leeds (the original sax player from Madhouse), Sonny Thompson (The New Power Generation), and Petar Janjic (Dr Mambo’s Combo, Cory Wong) in for the session. We only had a couple of hours, but we recorded ‘Clipnosis’ and ‘Out There Bout There’, which appear on our album Melbourneapolis. Matt not only engineered the session, he also played on the recordings. And yes, he took me to the real Lake Minnetonka!

Adam Rudegeair with Eric Leeds and Matt Dr Fink

So I came back to Melbourne with those two tunes and said to the band: “okay, this is the level we have to come up to now for the rest of the album!” It took us quite a long time to record, we did it in about five different studios, as time and finances permitted. Quite late in the recording process, St Paul Peterson (a Minneapolis music legend who played with everyone from The Time and The Family to Sheila E and Dave Sanborn) came to Melbourne to play at Bird’s Basement, and we managed to get him to record some bass for ‘Rare Love’ and ‘4AM Bunker Funk’. That was a real coup, as he’s definitely one of my musical heroes. As the album neared completion, we ran a successful crowdfunding campaign which allowed us to finish all the post-production and even press vinyl!

All that time we’d been gigging pretty constantly, and Two and Four Music (which is run by our manager Claire) put on a series of events known as Royal Funk Party where we created lineups of similarly funky bands like Mayfield, Fulton Street, and Silver Linings, and invited a lot of guest singers to perform with us. This allowed us to really break the ice and meet a whole bunch of amazing artists, some of whom appeared on Melbourneapolis, and many I’m planning to include on the next album.

Melbourneapolis was launched at Howler in Brunswick on 23 February this year. It was our biggest show yet (and we expanded the band to include Neda Rahmani on percussion and Mina Yu on second synth) and now that it’s out, we’re working on the next batch of tunes for album #2.


If Melbourneapolis was a real city, would you want to live there?

Of course I’d want to live there, it would be funky as! It’d have a slamming live music scene, just like Melbourne, but the arts would even more a part of the social fabric. Music, dance and other art forms would be highly valued by everyone, and artists would be spared a lot of the constant hustle, rejection and humiliation so many of us go through. Society would look after them better. People in general would feel freer to express themselves, like with the clothes they wear, it’d be pretty freaky, but a more accepting and less divided community than what we experience now. You know, your typical funk utopia, like Bill & Ted 700 Years in the future! Minneapolis has some really cool futuristic buildings, so we’d have those too… One element of Minneapolis I wouldn’t transfer over to Melbourneapolis is the weather! It’s blizzard central there right now, like 18 inches of snow, and it’s the middle of their Spring!

You are a champion of keytar in Melbourne; who is your keytar hero?

There aren’t too many keytar heroes to choose from. I guess it would probably be Herbie Hancock, because he’s a serious player who uses a keytar to amazing effect, not just as a gimmick. I get right into programming the sounds and making sure I have all the little details of the sound right, like a string pad coming over the top in a particular range, or making the pitchbend go one octave in one direction but only two semitones in another…

I like putting my keytar through heavy guitar distortion and Hendrixing out. Since I went wireless I’ve been having a whole lot of fun using all the space on the stage, and I can get down in the crowd too, that makes for a better show.

Prince had his own patented keytar, called the Purpleaxxe. It was huge and cumbersome though, and his poor keyboardist Tommy Barbarella got relegated to just triggering samples with it…

He did get to crowdsurf with it though, so that’s something. I’d like to try that one day!

Tommy Barbarella and the Purpleaxxe

How does Lake Minnetonka fit in with all your other projects?

Some people find it difficult to switch between mindsets, but I find it easy. Though, arguably, I’ve got a little bit of the Minnetonka mindset going in in my brain at all times! I guess Lake Minnetonka is my attempt to blend jazz and heavy funk. Most of the other things I do are in one camp or the other.

Outside of Lake Minnetonka, I am involved in a lot of groups: Bowie Project, Soul Cupcake, Ruby Rogers Experience, Brian El Dorado and the Tuesday People, Little Songs of the Mutilated, just to name a few! I really thrive on having all sorts of new music to focus on all at once, because my brain is always cooking up new ideas. Of course, my role in all these different groups changes, so I get to do a wide variety of composing, arranging, recording, and performing. This year I’ve had some regular pockets of time where I can just play for pleasure, refine my craft, and just practise. That’s a rare thing for me, and I’m relishing it, because so often I’m pumping things out to meet a deadline like the next rehearsal, or a mixing session or whatever.

So, in short, it’s the perfect way for me to work, it’s living the dream, really, keeping me out of the rat race!

What about ‘Trench’?

Trench‘ is an independent feature film made by Cinema Viscera, and directed by my friend Paul Anthony Nelson. I’ve been composing the music for his short films for the last couple of years, and when he wrote this, his first feature, he asked me to jump on board. Actually, truth be told, we kind of asked each other at the same time. His team shot a practice version of the film over a weekend with the actors and no production values just to see how the script flowed onscreen. They invited a bunch of their film buff friends over to watch it and give some feedback. It turns out he had written a modern-day noir detective comedy, and that is 100% my bag, so I said: “Paul, who’s doing the music for this film?!” He replied “oh actually, I was going to speak to you about that, I was kind of hoping you would…”, and I said: “Yes. Yes I am, correct answer.”

I have loved film music since I was a very young child, and I actually got a film degree before I studied music at a tertiary level! I loved all the Sci Fi film music like Star Trek and Superman and all the John Williams stuff of course, plus Danny Elfman too. I used to record things off the TV onto my little tape deck, I didn’t care if it was an ad jingle or if there was dialogue over the top, I just liked to hear the music in the background. I still have those tapes…

So ‘Trench’ is my first feature film soundtrack and I was very much inspired by the funky scores of ’90s crime cinema like ‘Get Shorty’ and ‘Out of Sight’, as well as Antonio Sanchez’s drum-centric score for ‘Birdman’, and older stuff like Godard’s‘A Bout de Souffle’(composed my Martial Solal) and of course Louis Malle’s ‘Ascenseur pour L’ echafaud’(composed by Miles Davis!).

What else have you got lined up?

Well, we’re planning a Trench soundtrack release in May, and there’ll be a gig or two associated with that. Beyond that, we’ll launch a Bowie project live record that we recorded last year at the Paris Cat. I’m excited because it features a three piece horn section, and also a few arrangements I had just finished before we recorded, like ‘Killing a Little Time’ (from Bowie’s posthumously-released ‘No Plan’ EP and ‘New Angels of Promise’ (from ‘Hours’), done in a South African style inspired by Abdullah Ibrahim.

And of course Lake Minnetonka are jumping into the next batch of writing and collaborating for album number two… what will be the next evolution of the Melbourneapolis sound? Wait and see!

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

I’m really feeling the funky stomp of Billy Joel’s ’52nd Street’ right now.

I just bought a Yamaha CP-70 Electric Grand, so I’m playing a lot of Billy, 80s Prince, and D’Angelo type stuff at the moment. Lucky my neighbour is a Billy Joel fan!

On Saturday 5 May Lake Minnetonka are playing at Melbourne’s new venue, the Hummingbird

Adam Rudegeair is taking part in our International Jazz Day Jam Session leading the house band at the Paris Cat