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February 29th, 2008

INTERVIEW: DJ’S STONEROKK + GRAHAM FUNKE.

by John Coakley

at the club
StoneRokk (left) and Graham Funke (right)

DJs StoneRokk and Graham Funke (his real name – seriously) are busy guys, working regular parties in LA and Las Vegas while doing special events for everyone from Marilyn Manson to George Clooney. But they don’t let all of that Hollywood glitter get in their eyes. Their focus is the music, whether it’s the latest pop hit or your favorite classic rock tune. It all works if you know how to work it, which Stone and Graham certainly do. I spoke with them in the bar at the Hudson Hotel, which doesn’t have iced tea and will make you check your coat whether you want to or not.

SJ: Folks in NY and LA tend to forget that nightlife exists in other American cities. As DJs who have been all over, what other cities have stood out for you?

GF: The trend is: you have a number of nightlife meccas – NY, Miami, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco. People from places not usually associated with nightlife come to visit these places and figure out what they want to do in their cities. So the clubs we’re playing at in places like Kansas City, Oklahoma City, or cities in Texas have elements of the clubs in the (bigger) cities – they have bottle service, they have a door policy. It’s not like the other cities are so isolated that you can’t figure out what works and deliver it to your smaller town. The places we’re playing are really high end, and those cities have people who have a ton of money, so if you associate some of these places with the backwoods, two dollar Pabst kind of thing – it’s not even like that. People are popping magnums of Dom like crazy; people are wildin’ out in these places. There’s a place called Sweet in Dallas that’s handled beautifully, it’s an amazing club, I love that one. Tomorrow we’re at Blonde in Kansas City, another place we’ve been playing at a long time…I mean that club could be anywhere, Chicago, New York.

SJ: Sure.

SR: And most of these people accept it as, like, their taste of the big city. In Kansas City for example they have the $2 beer sports bar thing where I’m gonna get drunk for $22 and, you know, I’m gonna go home with this girl and maybe get laid, maybe not. Then this new place comes in and it’s $12 for a drink, $400 for a $20 bottle of booze…and people aren’t scared of it. They feel like they’re getting their fix of the New York’s, the LA’s, the Miami’s of the world.

SJ: You’re originally from Queens, right?

SR: Yes.

SJ: So you grew up here in New York?

SR: I moved when I was 13. Most of my family moved out west and my mom was like, “let’s ship out.” Which was kind of a bummer to me, but you know, it is what it is.

SJ: Fair enough. I was about to ask you what parties you were into here in New York when you were growing up. But unless you were, like, full-on Larry Clark’s Kids…

in the studio
StoneRokk (right) giving Graham Funke (left) what for.

SR: No, I was definitely not allowed to leave the house, as much as I would have liked to.

SJ: Okay. What would you guys be doing now if you weren’t DJs?

SR: When I started college I was pre-med, and then I realized two semesters in that I didn’t want to be a doctor so I went into school for Business Finance/Business Administration to get into real estate development. So that’s probably what I would be doing. Or I’d marry rich.

GF: I went to college at The University of San Francisco, graduated in Marketing and Mass Media, went to grad school at UCLA for screenwriting…so I still write. All of the stuff that I wanted to do, you might say I’m still doing it. I still write for magazines, when I have time I do screenwriting, and I’ve done a ton of acting. I don’t have a lot of time for that right now but I have three commercials still running on TV.

SJ: You also wrote a song for a Citibank commercial, right?

GF: The Citibank one was from a few years ago. There’s this whole myth associated with it. Everyone wants to know what the song was. At the time I had record labels contacting me… “What else do you have, is there a record here?” I had just done the commercial; I played ukulele did the song, and that was the commercial.

SJ: But it was big exposure.

GF: Oh yeah, it was great. People still ask about the song. You can type in Citibank and ukulele (online) and find message boards, you know, “What song is it? Oh, it’s an old ancient song from the 1800’s…” It’s not! I wrote it in 1997 with my girlfriend. If I had more time I would like to do more acting. Another option is to marry rich, like he said. That sounds very appealing to me.

SR: I was just kidding.

GF: I’m not kidding. Listen, I’m an enterprising young man. I’m an interesting, talented man. I just don’t want to work so hard.

SJ: For the record: Stone – kidding, Graham – not kidding.

SR: Yes.

SJ: Okay. Graham, your father was a famous cinematographer. Were you exposed to Hollywood glitz at an early age?

GF: He does special effects. Oscar winner. Three time Oscar winner.

SJ: Really. Which movies?

GF: Total Recall was the first one, and then the second and third Lord of the Rings movies. One thing, my father is a genius but he’s also an eccentric and a recluse, so he never really got into the social scene. He’d rather stay home and read a book. So I wasn’t really exposed to that. Plus that side of the business isn’t the glitzy side, it’s more the workingman’s side, you know? While he’s renowned for what he does he doesn’t mingle with tom Cruise. Growing up, the biggest star I met was William Katt, the star of The Greatest American Hero, when my dad was doing that.

SJ: But you were a kid and he was on TV, so…

GF: Oh, I was thrilled, trust me.

SJ: Back to the music – what popular dance floor song needs to be retired right now.

SR: I could go on and on. There are so many.

GF: The ones that I want to go away inevitably go away because they don’t make music to have any legs anymore. It’s popular for a while then it really goes away. I didn’t think that “Yeah” by Usher would ever go away…but it’s a dead song now, it gets no response. They don’t make songs that are classy anymore. When I play “Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC it has the same effect as the hottest song you can play right now. And that song came out almost 30 years ago.

SR: And the audience that we play for wasn’t even alive, so they don’t even know the impact that the song had back then. Not that I did either, I was a half a year old.

GF: So to name a song that needs to go away? I don’t even need to pinpoint the song because I already know it’s going to go away. There’s a certain song that was big last year that sold over three million ringtones. And it’s a horrendous song to me, but I don’t need to give it any more shine by saying the name of it because it’s gonna be gone soon enough.

SJ: You mentioned AC/DC. One thing you’re both good at is bringing unexpected songs – often rock songs – into the mix and making them danceable. For example, StoneRokk, you have a mix of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” that I heard online today that was really incredible. And Graham, you have Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” worked into a mix on your MySpace page.

GF: That song was made up of Nirvana, Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” and also “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult, and that’s a song that I play for myself because most of the people that are either a) listening or b) think they know what’s up – they don’t know Johnny Cash did a version of “Hurt,” they don’t know who Blue Oyster Cult is, and maybe they recognize the Nirvana song, if you’re lucky. So that’s for me to listen to; once in a while you’ve gotta do that.

SJ: So how do you guys know when a rock song can be made danceable? Are there certain criteria that have to be met or is it more of a gut feeling?

GF: Any one of ‘em can be used, you just have to do it right.

SR: At this point technology allows anyone to have any song at any moment – you don’t have to find the record anymore. DJing has turned into execution more than the record you’re playing. It used to be if you had “Wonderwall” by Oasis on vinyl you were the only one who had it. Now you just Google search the lyrics and then download it, and then you can be like, “Oh, okay, now I’m going to play this tonight.” If there’s no method to the madness then (the result) will just fall short of amusing.

GF: Yeah, it used to be execution and the vinyl collection, where so much of it is rare.

SJ: Right, like DJ Shadow, who is said to have over 30,000 vinyl records.

GF: I still have all of my vinyl records and (StoneRokk) is still buying records. So now with MP3’s you can get the song that I had in my collection and was once a coveted item. So now it’s all about the execution. You have to know where to put the song or you have to put a beat under it or whatever…you can’t just play the song and hope it works. That’s a big mistake people make.

SJ: You guys just put out a mix CD, Trabajo. Are there any copyright issues when you bring all of these songs into the mix? How does that work?

GF: Basically, there’s a whole lot of controversy over mix tapes right now. And that’s focused on people who are selling mix tapes, on people who are using other people’s songs and making a profit. We’re not getting any of that. We’ve never taken a dollar for (the CD). Everything was done out of our own pockets, even. And all of the songs in there have been manipulated the way we might do it in a club, so it’s not like, “Oh, let me make this mix tape for you and then you’ll have all the songs.” You won’t, because it’s a collage of what we’ve done, you know what I mean? It’s potpourri. We haven’t taken any money for it. It’s all out of pocket, 100%.

SJ: You two are often called celebrity DJs because you are well known and also because you often play celebrities’ private events. But that term could also be used to describe a person who is famous for doing something else – acting, say – and wants to be famous for DJing too by using this newly accessible technology. Are any of these guys any good?

SR: Who wants it, you or me?

GF: Well his standpoint – and I agree – is there’s no such thing as a celebrity DJ in terms of a DJ being a celebrity. It would be Johnny Depp going in and DJing.

SR: We’re professional disk jockeys, not celebrity disk jockeys. Just because we play this or that person’s party doesn’t mean we’re celebrities; we’re just good at what we do. You want Johnny Depp DJing your party? Fine…but at the end of the day it’s going to affect the party in a negative way. You’re not going to have a guy who plays records properly – you’re going to have a guy who plays a pirate really well pushing play on your iTunes. That’s not really conducive to having a good party. The term Celebrity DJ is bullshit and anyone who uses it should be shot.

GF: There’s a lot of them that try to come out and DJ, and I don’t want to name any names again but…well, let’s say I’m pursuing an acting career. Let’s say I’m an actor who was a regular on a TV show and was in a number of big movies. And then suddenly someone says, “I think we could sell you as a DJ,” and then all of a sudden you’re being hired out to do someone’s party. If I’m being taken seriously as an actor, the last thing I want is anybody thinking that I’m not 100% booked acting, people banging on my door trying to get me in a movie. To have all of this spare time flying around being a DJ seems lame to me.

SR: A common thing I see with celebrities turning DJ is, their show wrapped or they haven’t done a movie in a while and they need an attention fix: “So how am I going to get that fix? Oh, let me go and pretend to play records in a big club and everyone will cheer me on.”

GF: To any venues out there who are considering hiring any of these fake DJs, remember that their knowledge is limited. So what tends to happen is that someone with some knowledge takes them aside and says, “Okay, here’s these 20 songs and now you’re set.” And it turns out to be just the top 20 songs of the time, and usually they’re opening and it ruins the entire night. Because they’ll go on at 10:30 or 11:00, burn through all of the current hits, done poorly, and then those songs are spent for the rest of the night. So to any club owners reading this –you’re just fucking yourself when you hire these people…because even if you get more people in the door initially, they won’t be staying and drinking because it sucks so bad. Like , you wanna have a good movie, don’t hire StoneRokk to act in it because it’s gonna suck. Hire me, and it’s gonna be good.

SR:
I can do the rap part.

GF: Yeah, have him be the rapper.

SJ: Fair enough. Do you guys have any experience in bands, making music with traditional instruments?

GF: I can play a number of instruments and I do some production, like with the Citibank commercial. Me and my brother did all of the instruments on that and I wrote the song and I sang the song. I can carry a tune, I like to do some karaoke. If I had more time I would definitely spend more time in the studio workin’ on music. But yeah, I like to tinkle the keys and serenade women, that’s one of my favorite things.

SJ: Of course. How about yourself?

SR: Well, I…

GF:
He plays the dick a lot.

SR: That’s so weird. I’m not even supposed to be DJing right now. I never played any instruments…

GF:
Not even the Bonerphone?

SR: I don’t even know how to play the Bonerphone.

GF: I play the Female Organ.

SR:
No, I don’t do anything but play records, that’s it. And I don’t even aspire to do anything else in music, unless Graham and I do our cover album and that’s just going to be singing, anyways.

SJ: Alright, cool. Graham, you’ve played for the troops overseas, right? What was that like?

GF: I was a guinea pig to see if (DJs playing for the troops) could work, so they sent me to Asia first. That included, Guam, Korea, and all of Japan – Tokyo, Okinowa, Osaka, Nagasaki, Mt. Fuji – all over Japan. And it was a successful tour and then they said, “Alright, we’re going to send you to the Middle East now.” That involves Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan. So I figured that there was no other way I was going to see this stuff. At that particular time things were getting serious in the Green Zone so I didn’t end up going. It’s funny, we were just talking about the next tour – we’re both going to go on the next tour – but, uh, we’re pushing for Europe. We’ll see what happens. It was eye-opening, in Asia. These aren’t guys who live in Japan, these are guys who are training on bases in Japan who are about to be deployed to Iraq. They’re not chilling out on Japanese beaches, most of them are eighteen year old kids who are, like, “I have to fulfill my tour of duty.” One of these guys was an aspiring DJ who had to go do a year in Iraq but said that he wanted to DJ when he got home. And I was like, “I hope you do get back, you know? Hit me up and let me know.”

SJ:
That’s serious. One last question: What were your favorite concerts of all time?

GF: Quite a few come to mind – I always see Rush when they come to town. But the best was probably Air with the LA Philharmonic. That was an amazing show; Stereolab opened for them. I remember seeing Erykah Badu and Common at Universal, Hall and Oates was a great show. Oh, and the greatest concert of all time…

SR:
How quickly you forget!

GF: The greatest ever was Christopher Cross at The Gold Coast in Vegas. Oh, my goodness! I was driving to work and I saw on the Marquee that Christopher Cross was coming so I called StoneRokk, “Hey, Christopher Cross is on Friday, you wanna go?” There was no question.

SR: I don’t think it was even phrased as a question, I think the text message was “Christopher Cross is playing at the Gold Coast” and I said, “Okay, I’ll get the tickets.” There wasn’t even a question involved.

SJ: Awesome. You mentioned Hall and Oates – that was my very first rock concert ever, back in 1983. I was 9 years old.

GF: That’s a good one.

SJ: It was fantastic.

SR:
I was watching the VH1 Behind the Music on Hall and Oates and they showed footage of one of their older concerts, and it showed these older African-American ladies who said, “I didn’t know these guys were white!”

GF: When I saw them a few years ago they were playing with Michael McDonald and the Average White Band, and it was half and half in the audience – half black and half white.

SJ: Someone I used to work with back in Rochester (What’s up, Marty?) told me that when he was a teenager in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Journey always got a lot of respect in the black community.

GF: At one point, Journey’s bass player was Randy Jackson, of American Idol fame. So I can see that. Basically any music that’s well-put together, well-designed and well-orchestrated is going to appeal across any color lines.

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