Student DJ presses album on vinyl

Gremel sits in his room in Beta Sigma Psi fraternity where he produces his music. Drawing from whatever he can find at record shops, Gremel samples and mixes to create his work.

Kyle Cravens

Two girls struggle to speak to one another over the loud beat coming from inside the house. The car’s sputtering engine doesn’t make the conversation any easier either.

The upperclassman, Jodi, leans in closer,

“There’s a big party tonight, should be really great. Do you want to come?”

The younger girl, Sabrina, replies with a smile.

“Yeah that would be fun.”

“Okay great,” Jodi said, “We’ll then pick you up around 8:30.”

Suddenly, a wave of sound crashes in. The beat from inside the house overpowers the conversation. There’s electronic, shimmering bubble noises before the groovy beat reaches its climax. This isn’t a movie you were watching, it’s the intro to a song. “Party at 2132 Sunset” is the first song on Funkmammoth’s 2017 album “Night Shift.”

“Night Shift” is available on most digital platforms, but what’s intriguing is that Funkmammoth collaborated with a German music label called Vinyl Digital to realize a physical version of his collection. A resurgence in vinyl collecting has caused emerging artists to release their music on vinyl, and Funkmammoth isn’t going to allow his music to be an outlier of this trend.

Funkmammoth is a randomly picked pseudonym for Joe Gremel, senior in supply chain management from Seward, Nebraska. His sample-driven instrumental hip-hop is produced out of his small fraternity room, but he has been advancing his musicianship for years.

“I started as a DJ my junior year in high school,” Gremel said. “I taught myself how to use a program called ‘Ableton Live’ and have used it as an outlet for my creativity. I started releasing music my freshman year in college on SoundCloud and people started to take notice and spread the word. I chose Iowa State because I really wanted to get out of Nebraska and I fell in love with the campus on my first visit.”

He may be a full-time student here, but Gremel does a good job of balancing his interests with schoolwork.

“Thankfully, I am great with time management. Music is a side hustle thing for me right now, its pretty much my college job,” Gremel said. “I would love to make music full-time, but I like to be realistic about things, so I’m not relying on it. I’ll pursue music as much as I can, working the nine-to-five only to rush home and work on music more.”

Funkmammoth is an instrumental hip-hop sampler, so there aren’t any lyrics from Gremel on the album. Instead, samplers select chord progressions or spoken words that are manipulated to enhance the original beat the artist creates.

The brief conversation between Jodi and Sabrina above is a scene ripped from the movie “Dazed and Confused,” which Gremel sampled as the intro to his album. Sampling has been around since the ’60s, but it’s mostly associated with hip-hop culture. One of Gremel’s main musical influences are The Avalanches, a group he has tried to replicate often.

“So basically, the process is I go to an old record store and dig through their old vinyl and see what catches my eye, usually pick out old soul records, easy listening type stuff,” Gremel said. “I take that home, record it with a turntable I have and then make giant files of samples. From there I choose which ones fit together and form a song.”

Today, Gremel’s main concern is distributing his new, sleek white-colored vinyl, “Night Shift,” to the masses. Being a hip-hop sampler with physical copies of their music is rare enough, but Gremel’s journey is particularly unique because a company an ocean away aided his career.

“I guess you could say the right people know me. I have a good network within the beat community due in part to SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube and Bandcamp,” Gremel said. “The German label contacted me out of the blue, but, for example, when people on SoundCloud repost my music, it is shared with even more people, so I think that’s how they discovered me.”

Gremel went on to explain why vinyl culture is important to him.

“Everyone’s coming out on vinyl again, and I think the fact mine is colored helps differentiate me from the past. It’s cooler to look at and cooler to collect,” Gremel said.

The album itself is a story about a typical night out on the town. Most of the songs on “Night Shift” put the funk in Funkmammoth, but a few are trippy, bubblegum daydreams. It’s hard not to tap a foot or nod a head, especially to stand out track “Told Ya.” Interestingly, it pays homage to Ames in numerous ways. “2132 Sunset Dr.” is the address of Beta Sigma Psi fraternity, of which Gremel is a member, and there’s even a track titled “Welch Ave.”

The cover of the album is original artwork by one of Gremel’s fraternity brothers, Brian Ornduff. Through discussions with Gremel and thorough analysis of the songs, Ornduff was able to identify what the theme of the album would look like on paper.

“I had listened to the demo version several times as I pondered the album’s cover artwork,” Ornduff said. “Me and [Gremel] settled on the look of a house party at night, but from the outside perspective.”

The house pictured on the cover is based on a house that a few of Gremel’s friends lived in on Knapp street.

Contrary to some other hip-hop projects, “Night Shift” contains very few features, relegated to only one contribution from St. Louis-based DJ Chris Burkart, under the moniker Bonus Points.

“… we have such similar tastes in samples and production styles which makes it easy to create some groovy songs,” said Burkart through Twitter. “He messaged me about two years ago to collab on a track and I loved his work, so we’ve been down to work with each other anytime either of us asks.”

Looking forward, Gremel is optimistic about his music. He has the support from his friends and family, and he even has a headlining gig in Philadelphia booked for April. He isn’t a music major and he’s never taken lessons, but Gremel is dedicated to a hobby. A hobby that has turned the small-town Nebraska native into a prolific musician.

“Hopefully this album is the first of many. I am always sitting on new beats,” Gremel said. “I think the best has yet to come.”