Chicago-based sextet The Heard brings funk into the modern age

By Dana Getz

Known for its deep pocket, authentic groove and explosive live shows that stretch late into the night, Chicago-based six-piece The Heard is bring legendary funk alive in the present day. The funk aficionados combine smooth horn, soulful keyboards, hard-hitting percussion and chicken-scratch rhythm guitar into groovy yet danceable beats, putting on a sweat-drenched show every Thursday at aliveOne.

Outside of their weekly residency, the group has backed former Galactic vocalist Theryl “Houseman” DeClouet and shared a stage with Dumpstaphunk, Dragon Smoke, The Mike Dillon Band, and Passafire, as well as supported three dates of Slightly Stoopid’s national tour. We had the chance to chat with guitarist Taras Horalewskyj, discussing what he loves about funk, the band’s songwriting process and the inspiration behind their name.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you guys met and when you started playing together as a band?

A couple years ago I called my friend Mike Starr—the bass player—and told him I wanted to start a funk band. From there we just kind of picked up a few more players that had the same style and took it from there.

Where does the name “The Heard” come from and what does it mean to you?

I kind of thought of it when I came back from New Orleans, where they were saying, “Ya heard?” all the time. So It was kind of a play on words.

Have you always been into the funk music?

Pretty much, yeah. I mean some of us have more jazz backgrounds but we’ve all had a relation to funk.

Do you think Chicago has a strong funk scene?

I think the funk scene is developing and getting a lot stronger, especially these last couple years.

Where are your favorite places to go see funk music in the city?

Well, there’s aliveOne that we play at every Thursday and they have a lot of funk. Other than that they just kind of play all around, I don’t know a straight funk venue.

Your sound gravitates toward more authentic soul-inspired funk music, despite the societal trend toward more digital tracks. What attracts you to that specific sound?

Just the raw energy of working together with your band. Developing a different pocket and feel—that’s what funk is all about.

Who have been some of your greatest influences and how do they inspire your sound?

We really love The Meters from New Orleans. There’s the old school guys like Fly and the Family Stone, Funkadelic, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, and some newer acts like Lettuce and Soulive.

What do you feel is the biggest different between legendary and modern funk?

I don’t know. We’re trying to go for that old school sound because they did it first and they did it right, but it’s just about going a different direction, like with our horn players being up front and at more of the melodic center.

Since you have a weekly residency at aliveOne, you must have to come up with new material constantly. What inspires your songwriting process?

We actually learn tunes for that kind of residency, but one of us will come up with the groove and then we’ll start playing all the way through and see if we can hash out a tune just at rehearsal.

What are you working on right now? Any upcoming albums?

Yeah, we’re gonna try to put out an EP soon and we’re gonna go on the road at the end of October down to New Orleans and Florida—the southeast.

What are your goals in the upcoming years?

Just to play those big summer festivals. This past year we played Jazz Fest which was a huge bucket list of ours, so we kind of just want to go on tour now.

Is there something you particularly like about festivals?

Just being able to play in the presence of all those other great musicians.