Jank Setup joins ranks of Tulane-founded funk bands

Sexual Thunder, one of the most popular bands to come out of Tulane, was born in a small house in the shadows of the old Café Freret. A new band called Jank Setup, however, has recently taken up residence in the home, which continues to be a pillar of the funk band tradition.

The band got its name for its “janky” mix of musicians and circumstances, composed of students who had never played music together. The band consists of senior Ethan May on drums, junior Adam Somolsky on bass, sophomore Luis Carlos Villaseñor on guitar, sophomore Alex Fagre on baritone sax, freshman Derrick Butler on piano and Tulane graduate Nick Ferreirae – the infamous “boombox guy” – on tenor sax.

Walking up to the house, one can hear beats radiating through the walls and sound pulsing through the floor. Upon entry, the musical presence is immediately felt, as visitors are greeted by a drum set and other pieces of musical equipment. Previously housing other bands, it has made the natural progression into a recording studio.

A funk-fusion band with a New Orleans jazz influence, Jank Setup cites musical inspirations like John Coltrane, Vulfpeck and Anderson Paak. Both Villaseñor and May appreciate the fun energy of Vulfpeck’s music, something the band aspires to emulate.

“Our gigs are the best parties in town,” May said.  

The band was first formed in August 2016 as The Tweakin’ Seagulls, and it made a name for itself by performing at some of Tulane’s most popular venues, including The Boot and The Palms (RIP). Last spring, the loss of two graduating members left The Tweakin’ Seagulls with few members and no writers. Around this time, May overheard Villaseñor playing guitar and asked him to be part of the band.

“I’d seen the way he expresses the music, and I was like, ‘I feel great about this kid,'” May said.

In fact, the riff that May had heard Villaseñor playing soon became “Slick McGee,” one of three new songs set to be released on their EP next month.

“I give [Ethan May] my Lego pieces, and he just builds the music,” Villaseñor said.

Villaseñor, who is originally from Guatemala, eventually took over as the band’s main writer, in addition to playing guitar.

“Not just a regular Lego piece, a Luis Villaseñor Lego piece,” May said.

Villaseñor’s Guatemalan roots provide the funk-fusion band with a unique musical twist that many in New Orleans have not heard before. Since about half of the music he listens to is in Spanish, he brings different rhythms and chord progressions to the band’s sound.

“I always break strings … because music in Guatemala is very rhythmic,” Villaseñor said.

This is not just a hobby for members of Jank Setup. Music is constantly on their minds as they carefully listen to and analyze the work of artists, working to create rhythms for new material. At one point, Villaseñor paused the interview to turn up the volume on the speakers and point out a catchy rhythm. He and May began humming and tapping their feet to the music.

While Jank Setup has yet to post its music on any streaming sites, it does plan to in the near future. In the meantime, the best way to hear the band is by going to its gigs. Like all live performances in New Orleans, it isn’t just about the music but also the experience, and Jank Setup likes to keep it “fresh” for its fans by never repeating a set.

Jank Setup continues the tradition funk bands like Sexual Thunder and Miss Mojo have established to take New Orleans musical influences and bring them to the Tulane community.

“I think some things are just meant to happen,” May said. “Other things, you gotta make them happen.”

Though May will graduate this spring, he plans to stay in New Orleans to continue developing the band.

Jank Setup will perform Sunday, March 11, at Hi-Ho Lounge, alongside several bands from Chicago passing through New Orleans on their way to Austin’s music and media festival, South by Southwest. Fans will be able to celebrate the release of the band’s new EP on Friday, April 6 at The Willow.

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