Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bumpus founder bringing the soul with new band, Dance Floor Plans


James Johnston is a soul man.

After forming beloved Chicago funk jazz band Bumpus in the late '90s, Johnston has a new band, Dance Floor Plans, that is all about the soul with a healthy dose of funk.

Dance Floor Plans,, will perform its first show opening for Nikka Costa on Aug. 21 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago.The new band features members of Bumpus, Terrible Spaceship, Clip Art and Mars to Maridia.

DJRC is also on the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $17, $20 at the door, available at

I had the chance to talk to Johnston about his latest project.

Q - Dance Floor Plans will play its first live show opening for Nikka Costa. Do you think that's a good gig to introduce the band?

I actually can't think of a better first real gig than opening for Nikka Costa. She's got the funk and soul, but her music is not completely retro. She brings something modern and we're trying to do the same thing.

Q - What was the idea in forming Dance Floor Plans? How would you describe the band's sound?

Well, as you know, I've lead Bumpus for years. Bumpus was a collective of high school friends who fell in love with funky music.

We didn't really know much about making that kind of music and literally started picking up instruments from scratch and trying to figure it out. We had guys who never touched stringed instruments playing bass and other people who had never played saxophone just picking it up and giving it a go.

Somehow, it worked, but there were always these limitations. Time passed and some of the members dropped off and were replaced by different folks. The sound changed and kept changing.

One day, I realized that we were all different people than what Bumpus started out as and the music was different too. I also thought about what I wanted to be different. Shorter songs, more focused, less clutter, stripped down, not overly retro, but funky and grooving. That's what Dance Floor Plans aims to be.

Q - The band's website is pretty sparse right now, but does give people the ability to get the band's two songs. Was it important to get the music out to people?

I actually like it that way. I'm sure we'll add more to the site in the future, but I prefer that people just react to the music itself.

Q - How do you think the dimension of the new band is different from Bumpus? How do you think the members of Dance Floor Plans blend together?

The dimension of Bumpus was six songwriters bashing songs together and trying to figure out how to play them. The dimension of Dance Floor Plans is a bit different. You have me and Tina (self-taught) writing the core of the songs and Andy (Clip Art) helping to arrange them.

Then you have some serious players (DePaul grads, Berklee grads) adding their own creative spin on the top.

Q - Will Bumpus continue to be as active now that you've formed Dance Floor Plans?

I don't know. I'm making it up as I go. I don't really think about this band vs. that band when it comes to the songs themselves. A the end of the day, I'm chasing the songs and I'll catch them however I can and then look up and see where I am. This is a new adventure.

Q - Are you also going to be continuing with your other bands, Clip Art and Terrible Spaceship? It seems like you are always looking to new musical horizons.

Yes. I love being a part of Clip Art and Spaceship because it's not mine. I am a worker bee. I try to help Andy and Travis respectively capture their songs instead of chasing my own.