Parting Shots: Ivan Neville

Parting Shots: Ivan Neville

“I’m blessed to have come from such a cool musical background, and I’ve always felt a big responsibility to keep playing music and keep sharing it the best that I can,” Ivan Neville says of his family’s rich musical legacy. “Not long ago, one of my cousins wished my uncle Cyril a happy birthday on social media, and it occurred to me that I only have one uncle left. Him and my dad, Aaron Neville, are the only Neville Brothers left.”

For the past two decades, Ivan has played a key role in keeping that lineage alive with his always funky group, festival[1]favorites Dumpstaphunk. Just before Jazz Fest, he released Touch My Soul, his first solo album since 2004, via Mascot Label Group/The Funk Garage. Boasting appearances by a cross-generational cast that includes Bonnie Raitt, Michael McDonald, Theresa Anderson, Trombone Shorty, David Shaw, Ben Jaffe, Charlie Gabriel and Eric Bloom, as well as Cyril and Aaron Neville, the LP showcases Ivan’s more sensitive side, without totally eschewing the Mardi Gras spirit. “A lot of the album is about learning, growing up and being receptive to growth as a person,” he says. “It is about being receptive to new ideas—being grateful that you’re able to do what you’re doing.”

It has been close to 20 years since you’ve released an album under your own name. What inspired you to make a solo record?

It wasn’t a conscious decision. I got inspired to write this one song, “Hey All Together,” about four years ago. Through my young life, especially in New Orleans, you’d hear people greet each other, even strangers, on a daily basis. And I was thinking about how divided we all seem to be with our opinions now—whether it be religion, politics or whatever. Everybody’s in their own lane and we’re not as together as we should be. I started recording it and then I had the idea to get some other people on it, like my dad, Bonnie Raitt and Michael McDonald.

Bonnie and I have a very close relationship. I played with her in the ‘80s. She’s like a big sister, a mentor, but I had only played with Michael McDonald during those Last Waltz shows I did with Warren Haynes. And, obviously, my dad is my dad. I grew up with him—I got my start playing with my dad and my uncles in The Neville Brothers.

Dumpstaphunk had signed with a small label and, in that same conversation, they had talked about me doing a solo record. So I started writing and, during the pandemic and right after, I ended up having some time to work on it. There were also a few songs that were probably born out of the livestreams I did from my house after I got COVID in 2020.

Do you feel that releasing an album under your name, versus as part of a group, is inherently more vulnerable?

When you’re in the confines of a group, you have some limitations because you have other people’s opinions that are just as loud and important as yours. And that’s a good thing. This was different because my creative juices were more centered on what I wanted to say. But also, those guys played on a lot of it. I was able to utilize them in a way where they were accompanying me—rather than being in a group context, where we are collaborating together to form one sound.

The mindset of what I was expressing is also a little bit different from what I’m normally doing. People that have heard my piano sets or my solo sets on Jam Cruise have heard me do it before. When I sit by a piano, sometimes, you hear a more sensitive, mellow side of Ivan Neville. It’s more vulnerable and more personal. It was a lot about gratitude, remaining teachable and showing love to your fellow humans.

The one cover on the record is Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody).” Why did you chose to include that track?

I didn’t write a bazillion songs and then pick the best ones for the record. To tell you the truth, I got to where I had eight songs, and I needed two more. Randomly, I heard that song. When I think of Talking Heads, initially I think of “Burning Down The House” and “Once in a Lifetime.” But, I remembered how much I liked that song so I called Dumpstaphunk, and we recorded “This Must Be The Place” live at Trombone Shorty’s studio.

Still, I needed at least one more song, but nothing came to me. I read something recently that really caught my attention. It said, “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s just time to listen.” I started reworking a song from my solo record Banks, but even that wasn’t happening. And then “Pass It All Around” came to me in the sunroom where I did those livestreams from my house. I have a keyboard there—lots of family pictures all over the place. I guess I was listening. And that one kinda sums up where I was coming from with the message in these songs. I was like, “This is a gift from the ancestors—from a higher power, from God or somewhere.”

You delve into some weightier topics on the album, especially on “Beautiful Tears.”

“Beautiful Tears” was inspired by something awful that happened. And the same shit keeps happening— some kids were killed in a school. But the title is something that my grandmother said. My mom passed away in 2007, but my grandmother lived for another four years. She lived to be 92. And she told me: “Ivan, your mother died a beautiful death.” When my mom transitioned, my grandmother looked up to the sky when she left the hospital. It wasn’t a particularly cloudy day, but there was one big cloud and two little clouds that looked like stairs to her. And she could picture my mom going step-by[1]step up these clouds to wherever she was going—to heaven or whatever. And it hit me later what she was talking about. It made me think, “In life, you’re gonna have good times, you’re gonna have hard times. You’re gonna lose loved ones. You might get ill. You need to find beauty in the darkest of places.”

Dumpstaphunk celebrated its 20th anniversary with a big show, featuring some alumni during Jazz Fest this year. At what point did that band start feeling like your primary project?

We were a side project initially. Our first show was in 2003 during Jazz Fest. It was Raymond Weber, Nick Daniels, Tony Hall, Ian Neville, the Dirty Dozen, my little brother Aaron and a few other people. But I was still playing with the Brothers and Tony was about to tour with Dave Matthews & Friends. We didn’t truly become a full-time band until 2006—after Katrina. We did a late-night show at Bonnaroo, which was pretty epic. And that kinda sealed it. So Ian came up with the idea that, if we are gonna do a 20 years of Dumpsta show, we should feature all the drummers—Raymond, Nikki Glaspie, Alvin Ford, Jr., Deven Trusclair. We are gonna open up the songbook and play songs from each era. Deven, who plays with us now, is also on almost every track on my new album, except one, where we had Charley Drayton. He played with me in Keith Richards’ X-Pensive Winos. Charley missed the show we did last year at Love Rocks because he was on tour with Bob Dylan but, man, that was about the most fun 15-20 minutes I’ve had playing music in as long as I can remember. I hope we do it again.

Back to top