George Clinton: 'We Never Minded Them Sampling'

How arguably the most-sampled musician ever finds his fountain of youth in the recording studio.

George Clinton
© Marv Watson/Red Bull Media House

George Clinton doesn't give many interviews, so when we heard he'd be dropping into the Red Bull Studio LA to work on some tracks with Soul Clap, we gathered some thoughts together and stood patiently by the studio door for three hours, until he emerged, grinning, for a -- quick -- break. In the 1970s, Clinton founded the groups Parliament and Funkadelic -- P-Funk for short -- which inspired pretty much everything that came after them: funk, R&B, rap -- booty-shaking, in general. These days, Clinton is keeping his ears sharp by working with young artists, which was the focus of our conversation.

How are you today?

I’m fine, fine really fine. Having a good time in there. Back in the studio, it reminds me of United Sound. So I’m getting some real inspiration from back then. We are here at Red Bull Studio, that’s a surprise.

We are in Red Bull Studio with Soul Clap, a young, funk-influenced house duo, and you are recording some brand new music with them, is that correct?

Yes. Shit sounds good back there, too.

George Clinton
George Clinton at Red Bull Studio LA© Marv Watson/Red Bull Media House

A lot of people might not know this about you, but back at your home studio in Tallahassee, you have local musicians in all the rooms, young people. You have been fostering young musicians for many, many years. What is it about your connection to youth and music?

Well, that’s where the new shit comes from. It always comes from the ones that get on your nerves. With the new shit changing, that stuff makes you feel old. But you got to keep them around. The minute I hear someone say, “That ain't music” -- some old musicians say, “That ain’t music” -- that’s the shit I want to hear, that’s the shit that I like, that’s the shit that I like! I like that kind of shit -- the shit that get on your nerves. That’s what I want to hear, because that’s always going to be the new music. You just have to endure it, let it run its course, and you will soak into it. Don’t hate it out of existence. If you hate it, it really can hurt your feelings, but if you can be a part of it, you can get down with whatever goes down. I want to be down with whatever goes down.

And that’s where Soul Clap has come into play: young guys who really looked up to P-Funk and your sound. How was it working with these particular young artists who are such big fans?

We are trading off on the experience. What they are doing right now is straight up electronic music. You can dance to it, which means it has funk in it. So we get to learn where they are coming from, and they get to learn where we’ve been. It’s always good to have those blends, where you blend with somebody new. It opens their fans' horizons and vice versa. It takes our fans to new places to shake their ass, and I’m glad to be working with somebody else who has so many people shaking their ass worldwide!

George Clinton
George Clinton at Red Bull Studio LA© Marv Watson/Red Bull Media House
George Clinton
George Clinton at Red Bull Studio LA© Marv Watson/Red Bull Media House

You have had a long and storied career, been in it since the beginning of rock 'n' roll, and all those phases of music. You were one of the first musicians to actively encourage sampling, and you famously championed artists using your tunes even if they did it for free.

Most times, it wasn’t free. Most of the artists paid for their samples, but it wasn’t us that received that money. They paid the record companies, they paid their publishers, BMI, and we began to find out that we never got the money. We never minded them sampling, or covering a song. There’s a small amount that you're supposed to pay, but you're not supposed to get sued all over the place for doing it. We’d rather do it together. But the people that stole our shit is suing people all over the world and almost killing the concept of sampling, which is important for a lot of music. But we still are out there fighting for that right.

Audiences nowadays have so many ways to find music. How do you feel an artist can break out in this crowded field?

YouTube is where I see the best new shit. I don’t see the record labels relinquishing their grip on the regular channels, putting records out and the radio stations. They just looking at the few high profile artists they have, and it’s gonna be worse than it ever was. It used to be bad with top 40, but now it’s looking like just a top five or six. But you will find all the new creative shit on YouTube. Different stations and new realities for us to choose music from.

You just started a record label called C Kunspyruhzy, and you'll be releasing old and new music, right?

We will be putting out a bunch of new music, stuff that we are recording today. We just put out something we recorded eight months ago called 'Nuclear Dog.' It’s a Funkadelic tune with a Black Bird McKnight solo. We also just released 'The Naz' with Sly Stone doing one of the things he used to do on the radio, but it’s new music.

Is there a strategy you have for your label to counter the modern record business and do things differently?

What we are doing right now: Internet, guerilla warfare on the web. We're promoting records that way, doing whatever it takes to communicate with the media and the people. That’s what the new thing is, and I plan to be up on it. We gonna make music no matter what happens. People are still gonna want to see us at shows 'cause we still run the stage now. We will always take it to the stage, but other than that, we gonna keep making good music, videos and whatever else we can to use the Internet wisely. We gonna be there no matter what ― whatever there is going on, we gonna be up on it.

For more on emerging artists, check out Red Bull Sound Select. Follow Jeremiah Alexis and Red Bull Studio LA on Twitter for more updates.