Weapon of Choice:
By Andy KaufmannBack In The Day
Once upon a blue moon, George Clinton blended the earthy soul of James Brown's funk with the psychedelic guitar-focused rock of Jimi Hendrix and sprinkled it with UFOs, wild costumes and high energy, all the while placing an emphasis on loopy lyrics, positive sexuality and a sense of radical individuality. Clinton's revolutionary style, dubbed P-Funk, became the definition of cool; while it ran beneath the popular media's radar and its preoccupation with washed-out disco and lightweight pop, the Parliament / Funkadelic sound made a lasting impression on the world of modern music.
Eventually, the dynasty ran its course and what little notoriety Clinton's P-Funk had acquired all but vanished from the popular consciousness. As African-Americans turned to rap and hip-hop, it felt at times as though straight funk had never existed. But psychedelic funk would once again rise to popularity when Clinton involved himself with a radical new group called the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Though the Peppers wouldn't truly succeed until 1991 with their Rick Rubin-produced Blood Sugar Sex Majik, the tattooed hooligans brought back attention to the neglected genre, setting the wheels in motion for funk's resurgence to popularity.
Choose Your Weapon
The story of Weapon of Choice begins with a young bass player named Lonnie Marshall. As a kid, Marshall, a.k.a. Meganut, had the chance to witness the grand experiments of Parliament / Funkadelic first hand. Lonnie's friendship with a classmate whose father worked with P-Funk granted him and his brothers, Mario and Arik, backstage access, allowing them to witness the antics of their funky idols up close and personal.
Fast forward a decade or so. Lonnie formed his first band, Marshall Law, with his brother, guitarist Arik Marshall. It wasn't long before they had a development deal with a record label. Unfortunately, their eclectic sound failed to please the industry executives, so the band officially broke up and the label interest mutated into a solo deal.
Subsequently, Arik left to play with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Lonnie redubbed the group Weapon of Choice. One of the band's greatest strengths has always been its live presence and their performances developed a notable buzz; enough to warrant the filming of a video for their song "Uppity Yuppity", which was directed by Jeff Moore, his directorial debut. Once Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam got a hold of their video, it became apparent that, if he didn't sign the multi-cultural collective to his Sony-backed Loosegroove label soon, somebody else would snatch them away.
The Nut Is Cracked
It was in Seattle that they recorded their debut album, Nutmeg Sez "Bozo the Town". The line-up, which featured Lonnie on vocals and bass, Keefus Ciancia on keyboards, Finn Hammer on guitar, Tom-bone Ralls on trombone and Scott Garrett on drums, also included vocals by Audra Cunningham and a dancer named Jellybean. Released in 1994, Nutmeg astounded listeners with a sound they called "nutmeg," a catchall phrase for their funked-up stew of free-mindeded freakstyles. Sporting a giant marijuana leaf on the back, the album assaulted audiences with messages as heavy as their music, criticizing materialism ("Slavedriver"), the superficiality of Thanksgiving ("Mark of the Feast"), and the importance of self-reliance ("U Owe It To You").
It was only a year later when they recorded Hyperspice, their second release on Loosegroove. Arguably their best and most popular album, their sophomore attempt is also their most eclectic. What began as an informal jam session eventually crystallized into a melting pot of ideas that resulted in some of their signature songs. The ambitious experiment moved from reggae ("Just Cuz She Was Nice"), to rap ("Glo In Da Dark"), to rollerboogie ("I Like Your Body") to straight ahead funk 'n roll ("Let The Shit Hit The Fan"). Despite the stellar quality of each track, the wild diversity of the album's offerings hinted at growing pains.
Except for the replacement of drummer Scott Garrett with Derek "D-Rek" Pierce, the original line-up remained. In addition, however, were a number of enticing guests, including Arik Marshall, vocalists Mary Harris (Spearhead) and Vicki Calhoun, P-Funk visual artist Overton Lloyd and violinist Lili Hayden. Most notable were the appearances from Fishbone members Norwood Fisher, Angelo Moore and drummer Fish; as early supporters of the band, Fishbone adopted the term "nutmeg" to describe their own wild, funky and diverse style. With that kind of support, success seemed inevitable; they had carved their own niche and were prepared to take their performance to the next level.
Law of Averages
Just at the moment that Weapon of Choice seemed ready to conquer the world, they dropped out of sight. Except for their third release, Nutmeg Phantasy (1998), a benefit album that amounted to little more than a ten-track "best of" with a couple of previously unreleased tracks thrown in, it seemed that the band had disappeared forever. With their contract up and the dissolution of Loosegroove, the band was now a free agent.
A Nutter Chance
It wasn't until 2002 that Weapon of Choice made a new joint available to their patiently waiting fans. Illuminutty, originally recorded in 1997, was quietly released on Fishbone's independent Nuttsactor5 label. More than ever, the group's roster has changed. Returning members Mark Cross, Mary Harris, Finn Hammer, Arik Marshall and, of course, Meganut, are joined by, among others, James Gray, Zack Najors and Trevor Lawrence each on drums, Todd Simon on trumpet and Tracy Wannomae on flute.
Without benefit of proper distribution, this album is currently available only through special order. This time around, the band has mellowed their sound, focusing on a funky, accessible style that remains exciting but also feels more consistent, possibly to the credit of producer Sarah Traeger. Songs like "Soda Pop" suggest the concept that they never left their fans; they simply have been victims of the music industry's fickle nature.
Weapon of Choice has always worked outside the bounds of convention. And since the popular media have shirked them, despite their exceptional fan base, the band's members have been forced to utilize other forums for their music.
One way they have done this is by simply performing under unique line-ups and names, a number of which have included One Nut Stand, Nutropolis and the Traveling Dingal Berries. As members of Norwood Fisher's funk collective Trulio Disgracias, Weapon's members have had the opportunity to perform alongside the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction, Fishbone, Spearhead and the P-Funk All Stars.
Another way they stay active is by performing on other people's albums. Arik Marshall has worked with Macy Gray and Sting, among others. Marc Cross has collaborated with Kenny Loggins and Audra Cunningham has recorded with Caffeine; also, both Cross and Cunningham formed their own act, Optik Nerve. Keefus recently played with Jade Vincent. Tom-Bone relocated to Germany after a stint with the Gap Band and Jellybean reportedly packed her bags for Hawaii.
Lonnie Marshall has been by far the most active, laying down tracks with everyone from Porno for Pyros, to Tone Loc and Ice Cube, to Fishbone, to Dion Farris and Joe Strummer of The Clash. Current recording projects include the duo Love Balm, an album with Stone Gossard featuring drummer Matt Chamberlain and the new Les Claypool album. In addition, Mr. Meganut has backed Snoop Dog on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, will appear in the new Matrix film and irregularly produces and performs on his own cable access television show, Late Nutt Snack, which features performances, interviews, video clips and anything else he and his associates wish to contribute. As if all that weren't enough, Lonnie also teaches bass at Silverlake Conservatory.
Despite their reputation and rabid fan base, Weapon of Choice has remained in the shadows of popular music, casualties of the changing music industry. Now, with the launching of their official website, weaponofchoice.net, a new album and a DVD project in the works, the time is ripe for the rise of nutmeg.
Also see an interview with Nutmeg of Weapon of Choice
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