“Music Man” Miles Tackett along with his main associate, Mixmaster Wolf, lead a rotating cast of musicians called Breakestra. The musicians perform a blend of Hip Hop, soul and funk-tinged arrangements and have done so for a decade-plus. Tackett’s “Funk Orchestra” was an integral part of LA’s underground music scene in the 1990s and has been a training ground for newer musicians too—past members have gone on to write and produce for artists like Macy Gray and The Black Eyed Peas.
Tackett was also the bandleader at LA’s now-famous “Root Down” parties (heralded events known for “Sound Clash”, beat battles that featured top DJs and producers, many of whom are now quite established). Through the years, they’ve released many works including side-projects, a slew of singles and EPs, mixtapes and a couple LPs. From funk covers to original compositions, Breakestra continually pedals their take on funk-fusion to rhythm addicts all over.
DAVID MA recently spoke with “Music Man” Miles Tackett shortly before Breakestra hit the road to promote their new project, Dusk Till Dawn. The album features 15 tracks of drum breaks, horns, thick bass, and tight grooves. Guests include Chali 2NA and Afrodyete, as well as the late DJ Dusk; a now storied figure in LA’s music scene. Miles spins records throughout LA as well, but is mostly celebrated for his work with Breakestra. Here, we talk about those legendary Root Down parties, the working process between Miles and Mixmaster Wolf, the legacy left by DJ Dusk, and what records have deeply affected Breakestra’s own musical output.
Talk about the latest album, Dusk Till Dawn. What artists, events, and overall happenings inspired the songs?
There were no specific artists other than the panorama of funk sounds especially from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Over the last four years, I heard a lot of psychedelic funk sounds from around the world that affected some of my production choices, especially West African funk sounds from that era. I also have an unshakable influence from late ’80s early ’90s Hip Hop, especially the sample arrangements that were used.
Who are some of these Hip Hop artists that have inspired your own work?
Main Source, Public Enemy, Dre, Pete Rock, Prince Paul, Native Tongues, all those guys.
Of all the instruments you play, which are you most comfortable with?
Probably guitar because it is the most expressive for me.
What song on the new album do you feel best represents Breakestra?
It’s really just me and Mixmaster Wolf’s funky, musical fantasies manifested onto tape. But I’d probably say “Need A Little Love” best represents our collaborative vision and energy, especially on the lyrical side.
The late DJ Dusk has a brief appearance on the album. Let folks know about him, his importance, what he did, and what his legacy is to you?
Dusk was LA’s musical pied piper and, in many ways, the glue of LA’s underground hip-hop and dance music culture. He always represented LA and definitely set the example of what a well rounded DJ could do, seamlessly spinning hip-hop, funk, disco, boogie, Latin, afrobeat and Jamaican sounds in the course of a single set. Dusk mentored me as a DJ and most others who worked with him, but most significantly, he helped at risk youth for many years and used his musical experience to show young heads a wider, brighter world. Dusk’s work as a freedom fighter and truth seeker will always be inspirational for me, and the others he touched. He always wanted us to stay true to our belief in a world of evolved freedom, justice, equality & spirituality.
How did you two meet? What about him struck you?
He was at a weekly event I was promoting called “The Breaks” where Breakestra was the house band and he was taking photos. I remember him being reserved, which would change very much after he found his stride as the main man behind the microphone at those Root Down events.
Explain for people what Root Down was and what those Sound Clash events entailed.
They were events we organized to show our network of musicians and what they were doing. We were very excited but unsure about how everything would go down. The first one had Cut Chemist and Madlib, and once it went down, we knew it was something LA needed to experience.
It was also a beat battle, correct? What were the rules? Tell people how everything went down.
Each beat maker had 5 rounds of running a beat, or beats, for about 3 minutes to exhibit how they bring certain sounds and samples out. They could play drum patterns live on a drum machine, scratch vocals and sounds over the track, or just play keys live along with beats. Everyone has their own technique but I encouraged bringing actual drum machines instead of just a laptop. There was no winner announced, though the witnesses usually have a pretty clear opinion as to who they thought brought it hardest.
What’s the working process like between you and Mixmaster Wolf?
Most of the time, I have rough music ideas with arrangements that I lay on him. He then he comes up with his lyrics or we build and develop the lyrics together. I’ll turn to Wolf for questions on production or arrangements as I’m working on a track.
Talk about the LA riots and how that affected LA’s musicians and artists.
There was a sorrow of seeing our society fail to treat each other justly. Also, the strong urge to resist any retreat into a narrow, fearful mindset was also another reaction.
So what turned things it around?
That resistance is what helped groups like Ozomatli, who are a true LA hybrid cultural music act, push forward to show people their potential.
What was your personal experience like?
My only personal, negative experience was getting caught up at the wrong place, wrong time and catching a beat down by some angry Bloods on the edge of south LA.
In the past, I’ve talked to Todd Simon, a studio musician who’s also connected to Breakestra. What’s the history between Todd and the group?
Todd is definitely the homie. When he was barely able to get into clubs, he was playing trumpet with a band that my old band did shows with. When I first organized those “The Breaks” parties, he was top of my list to play in the house band; firstly, because I didn’t know any other trumpet players and also cause he was always cool as a breeze. Todd played in the first live incarnation of Breakestra before he broke out East & hooked up with the Daptone family. He played on the very first Breakestra 7″ on Stones Throw, “Getcho Soul Togetha” , and trombone on my “Ja style” remake of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” & some songs on our first LP, Hit The Floor.
You have many different musicians that make up your songs. Is it ever hard to orchestrate all these people?
Aside from the earlier stuff, the recordings are really myself on different instruments and vocals. Wolf, of course, is on vocals too. We also have a couple of my favorite LA drummers, horn players and other vocal guests like Afrodyete and Chali 2NA. I write the music and some of the lyrics. Wolf writes the lyrics on tracks he sings to, though sometimes we collaborate on each other’s lyrics to bring forth other dynamics. For the live show it is a lot of folks.
Could name 5 essential albums that have been important to your own progression as a musician? Elaborate on each for us, this way, people can get a sense of what inspires your own work with Breakestra.
This is very difficult since my experience listening to records goes back almost 40 years, but…
Marvin Gaye‘s What’s Going On has to be one of them. It was played pretty often in the house around its release due to my pops. It was a pretty complex emotional energy for a 4-year-old to take in, but ultimately, the mood and rhythmic pulse became engrained in me; especially James Jamerson’s bass playing, though I had no idea he was the man on that until years later.
Little Feat‘s Dixie Chicken is another one. It was another constant play in the house since my father was a musician who was close friends with Little Feat’s bandleader, Lowell George. He also wrote a track on this record called “Fool Yourself” which was later sampled for its drum break on A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebum”. More importantly, as a kid, this was my first real introduction to the hybrid style sound that is really where I am when it comes to my natural music world. Country, blues, rock, and funk all mixed together to make something never heard before.
I would also have to say The Meters‘ self-titled album. It was my first introduction to proper, straight-up instrumental funk. It’s one of the 4 pillars of funk along with James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, and early ’70s Kool & The Gang. The Meters’ first record is beyond funky and is absolute harmonic ecstasy, along with simple but masterful playing from the then teenage musicians. They were straight from straight out of New Orleans too, the birthplace of Funk. I think I first heard a Meters’ record when it was sampled by Ultramagnetic MCs on “Ease Back”, but had no idea where the sample came from ’til a little while later.
De La Soul‘s 3 Feet High & Rising is another one for me. I already had begun to really love the hip hop coming out from New York, but this one completely appealed to my progressive music leanings. It really flipped my wig with the layering and arranging of samples as well as the nonconformist message and lyrical style. Prince Paul and company hit a vein of genius and led me to the Jungle Brothers, which really turned me onto what original Bronx hip-hop was all about. Along with 45 King, 3 Feet High inspired me to want to sample records and make beats, which was an odd thing for a full fledged rock guitarist, singer and songwriter.
Any others you might be leaving out?
Oh yeah, the entire Beatles catalog on vinyl was at my disposal as a kid. So I would sit with headphones and indoctrinate myself for hours in that school of songwriting, production, and emotion.
Any final statements for Breakestra’s fans?
Thanks for all the support through the years. I’m just blessed to live in a city with many talented, funky cats that are willing to put their heads and hearts into it.