Call Her Thumpahlenah: An Interview with Nik West

Nik West

Modern funk queen Nik West has worked with a who’s who of funk music, including Prince, Bootsy Collins, and George Clinton. Her newest single continues that tradition with the Godfather of slap bass.

“Thumpahlenah” features the bass and vocals of Sly and the Family Stone alumnus Larry Graham. In fact, the bass icon co-wrote the song with her. The song has a throwback feel with thick, funky bass lines that will give you stank face.

After catching some of the amazing in-studio clips of the two working together, we absolutely had to find out more about the track.

“Thumpahlenah” is streaming now on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon MP3, and more.

“Thumpahlenah” originally appeared on the 2020 album Moody, which appears to have been taken down from streaming services. Could you explain what happened there?

We remixed it and shortened it for radio as the UK really wanted to play it on the airwaves, which ended up being a great thing because now this masterpiece gets to have its own shine. When we released the album, we had a tour booked to go along with it, but then the pandemic lockdown news broke, and it got lost in the shuffle.

Larry Graham and Nik West

How did “Thumpahlenah” come about? Did Larry reach out to you first?

Larry did reach out to me. I’d been asking Prince to introduce us in 2015. Every time I was at Paisley Park, he’d call Larry (with no answer), and every time he’d call back, I’d be gone. Larry is a tough one to reach, but I knew it would happen because I’m ridiculously optimistic. After Prince passed (long story short), Larry texted me while I was in Jamaica and told me to call him when I was done with my vacation. I called him right then!

He told me all the best places to go in Jamaica since he’d lived there. Then he told me he wanted to work with me. I couldn’t believe it! He said, “So many musicians have a ton of notes under their fingers, but when you play, I can feel your entire soul. It’s the sound and the feeling. You have something inside of you that I recognize”… (I saved all his texts because I had no idea if I’d ever get a chance to talk to him again). A couple of months later, I was in Minneapolis writing “Thumpahlenah” with him.

Your Instagram clips of working on the song with Larry are incredible. What was that process like for you?

That process was the BEST thing that’s ever happened to me in my career. I was so nervous that I wore an oversized t-shirt so that if I started sweating, no one would see it lol!!!! When I met him and talked to him in person, all of that nervousness went away. He felt like he was my godfather or something.

He told me that I was the next “funk hero.” I was flattered but then had some doubts hoping my fingers and voice would not fail me that day. He played me the beat and sang the lyrics he wrote for me and told me that all I had to do was write the verses and play my bass solo. We ended up working on every single aspect of it together: vocals, bass lines, and guitar editing. (Guitars were played by the legendary KAT Dyson and Tyrone Chase).

Even though I constructed my whole bass solo, he told me to tune my bass to C so they’d sound more like rubber bands. We worked together for two days on “Thumpahlenah,” and it came out just like he imagined it to be. He said he was so proud and that I exceeded every idea he had when I played my solo. I can’t even take the compliments because I’m just so in awe of his musicianship and warm personality.

Did you learn any playing or recording tricks during the making of the track?

MANNNNNN!!! His pedals!!!! He has had these pedals for decades, and you can’t really find those anywhere! I got myself a Danelectro, but it wasn’t exactly the same. His bass sounds like LARRY GRAHAM. He uses light gauge strings. Prince would go over to his house and borrow his bass because that thing has its own SOUND!

Also, I learned that he just plays everything through in one long take. No punch-ins. I had to do that, too, while recording with him. Jumping on and off the pedals as if everything is live on stage. He doesn’t think… he just plays and feels it.

What is your favorite Larry Graham track, and why?

Well, I guess it’s considered Sly and the Family Stone, but it just SLAPS no matter how many times I hear it is “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)”. And ”Ain’t No Fun To Me” because Prince had me learn it. I know why, and it’s a really fun song to play on the bass. Larry sings and plays it at the same time (try that one).

What’s coming next for you?

“Hair” 2.0… Larry wrote me last week and said, “You should redo ‘Hair.’ It fits you perfectly” I died for a quick second. That’s what’s next, so look out for that. And catch me on tour all summer and fall.

Nik West 2023 Tour Dates:

Jun 16Stockholm, SwedenFasching
Jun 17Stockholm, SwedenFasching
Jun 22London, United KingdomThe Jazz Cafe
Jun 23Klaipeda, LithuaniaKlaipeda Jazz Festival
Jun 24Lucca, ItalyTBA
Jun 27Galesburg, ILThe Orpheum Theatre
Jun 29Victoria, BCVictoria Jazz Festival
Jun 30Edmonton, ABEdmonton Jazz Festival
Jul 02Portland, ORWaterfront Blues Festival 2023
Jul 02Portland, ORThe Jack London Revue
Jul 04Nashville, TNCity Winery Nashville
Jul 05Chicago, ILCity Winery Chicago
Jul 06Atlanta, GACity Winery Atlanta
Jul 12Sion, SwitzerlandSion Sous Les Etoiles 2023
Jul 20Canary Islands, SpainCanarias Jazz and Mas
Jul 21Tenerife, SpainCanarias Jazz and Mas
Jul 22Saint-Julien-en-Genevois, FranceGuitare en Scene Festival
Jul 27London, UKKOKO
Jul 28Rome, ItalyJazz & Image
Jul 29Rome, ItalyJazz & Image
Aug 03Paloznak, HungaryPaloznaki Jazzpiknik
Oct 14Newport News, VADowning-Gross Cultural Arts Center
Oct 18Bologna, ItalyBravo Caffé
Oct 19Bologna, ItalyBravo Caffé
Nov 02Belgrade, SerbiaBitef Art Cafe Summer Stage
Nov 04Paris, FranceNew Morning

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  1. Top photograph- Kimberly Metz Photographer