Nick Behnan knows how to funk things up.
The Detroit singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer concocts delectable doses of funk and soul on his latest “groovacious” instrumental album, Bad Sugar.
“Actually, a music publishing partner of mine in Germany called Sonoton Music had heard and liked a few of the funkier tracks on the Magic Trip album,” said Behnan, who regularly writes and records music for sync licensing opportunities.
“They asked how I felt about making a full album of pure funk, more like the songs, ‘Magic Trip’ and ‘Inner City Funk,’ and trying to keep it authentic as possible in tone and feel.”
Behnan brings a funky authenticity across 11 addictive Bad Sugar tracks, which feature soulful basslines, silky electric guitars, euphoric beats, intrepid drums and confident horns. Collectively, they provide the essential sonic swagger for a bad-ass hero in a gritty action flick.
Also a sticky successor to 2020’s Magic Trip, Bad Sugar’s tracks slowly emerged in Behnan’s home studio during the early days of the pandemic lockdown.
“I’d spend days just sitting alone with my guitar coming up with riffs and progressions and stuff. Then, I’d start recording a few … usually with a scratch guitar track just so I can really start working and focusing on the drum tones/grooves and bass,” he said.
“It’s currently being pitched for lots of film and TV placements, but that’s something that will take a bit of time before I start actually hearing the songs on shows. Music licensing is a really long, slow process. I always have to push myself to stay creative and move on to the next thing once I finish an album.”
Behnan demonstrates that enticing Bad Sugar creativity on “Dream Magic,” a bold funk anthem brimming with tenacious electric guitar, bombastic drums, zippy bass and fiery synth.
“‘Dream Magic’ was a looping riff I had in my head for a while, and I kept hearing a James Gang ‘Funk #49’-type thing,” Behnan said. “Rob Reinhart from WDET compared it to that song, too, when he played the track.”
After embracing a ‘70s-inspired groove on “Dream Magic,” Behnan shifts to a southern rock-funk landscape on the invigorating title track. Rolling acres of hypnotic electric guitar, buoyant bass, carefree drums, glistening cymbals and serene percussion extend into the horizon.
“I had been listening to a lot of bands – Alabama Shakes, Anderson .Paak, Raphael Saadiq and The Heavy – around that time and got inspired by the laid-back, in-the-pocket grooves from those bands,” he said. “I used minimal effects, clean guitars, dry drums … that bassline I came up with around the guitar sections was already there.”
Behnan also creates a spellbinding ‘80s-esque bassline on “Glue Factory” as energetic electric guitar, thumping drums, ticking cymbals and crystalline synth instantly beckon listeners to the dance floor.
“‘Glue Factory’ is one of my favorites on the album,” he said. “I wanted to have some songs that had some synth elements like Rick James, Prince and The Gap Band.”
The infectious dance floor vibes continue on “Mojo Love,” which swirls and sways with luminous electric guitar, humming bass, playful drums, whispery cymbals and quirky synth.
“‘Mojo Love’ is one I recorded when I was bringing every Michael Jackson, Rick James and Prince album into my vinyl collection. I soaked up a little of that picky, funky muted guitar thing, and there are lots of minor ninth chords in it, which are very common with all three of these artists,” Behnan said.
“That may have added to it, too, and the drums definitely had more of an ‘80s tone. The lead guitar was done with one of my favorite fuzz pedals called ZVEX Factory.”
Outside of his Bad Sugar realm, Behnan co-produced and co-arranged Nashville rock artist Danielle Bloom’s spirited rendition of Helen Reddy’s 1972 classic, “I Am Woman,” with Kid Rock bassist Aaron Julison. The track also features Robert Myers (drums), Jimmie Bones (B-3 organ) and Herschel Boone (vocal production).
A battalion of thunderous drums, smashing cymbals, fearless electric guitar, resilient B-3 organ and robust bass encircle Bloom as she sings, “You can bend but never break me/‘Cause it only serves to make me/More determined to achieve my final goal/And I come back even stronger/Not a novice any longer/‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul.”
“I actually played guitar for Danielle’s band when she lived in Detroit before moving to Nashville. When she decided to do a cover of ‘I Am Woman,’ she drove up to my house and had Aaron and me come up with a musical rock arrangement of the song,” said Behnan, who also mixed the track.
“We finished the main guitars, bass and vocals pretty quickly. I can’t remember if it was Aaron or Danielle who asked Jimmie Bones of Kid Rock to play B-3 on it, but I’m really thankful he did. Aaron reached out to Herschel during Kid Rock tour rehearsals to help do some tuning up of the vocals. Bobby Myers did an amazing job playing and recording his drums.”
In the meantime, Behnan plans to release an EP featuring Myers and is working with Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav on an upcoming live show.
“(The EP’s songs) are mostly big, punchy indie rock-type tracks with catchy vocal hooks, which have already started generating some licensing placements for me. The song, ‘Level Up,’ appears in season three of ‘Mayans M.C.’ We are putting the finishing touches on the EP and starting to come up with artwork so we can release it soon,” he said.
“I’m currently rehearsing with Flavor Flav and putting together a live show of his solo stuff and classic Public Enemy songs. We are hoping to do some touring this summer with him.”