They’re running a “slick operation” Chopper Reedz (Scott Towers) of Fat Freddy’s Drop tells Rip Nicholson, breaking from routine for their new album Bays to promote the same boundless live music they’re been doing for 17 years.
FAT FREDDY’S DROP interviewed January 27, 2016
For Street Press Australia [VIEW HERE]
“We’ve got a pretty slick operation now in terms of understanding how to put on our shows and how to record and write,” says Towers when asked if it gets any easier being in a seven-piece band. “It’s taken us a long time. We’ve tried a few different ways of doing things and in the last three or four years in particular we have really found a good way to run a sustainable band. So we’ve found a way to make it work and it seems like we could go for a little while longer using the same sort of model.”
Off the back of their 2013 Blackbirds LP, the New Zealand act have changed their creative process for their latest album Bays, released late last year. The tracks had been “road-tested”, said their most recent presser, and Towers breaks it down: “We actually locked ourselves away in the studio — it’s quite an unusual scenario for us — and part of the reason why it has taken us so long to record in the past is that we’re a working band first and foremost,” he says. He’s explaining the process in which the audience’s reaction was an integral part of a track’s development when played live. “Our normal process would be to release the record, do some shows then have a bit of a break, and then start writing some new music. But then [we would] go do some more shows of the album that came out and then have a bit of break then write a bit more. Some of those songs might make it into the live set, so it’s a bit of a moving feast for our writing process and repertoire.
“Normally, we would be playing songs in a semi-written state in our live set and reacting to how the audience responded to it.”
“It would be more exciting for us and the audience if we came back next time with a whole raft of new material. So that was one of the main impedances of doing that, and I guess what we meant by that was we wrote those songs on Bays in an almost audience-free vacuum. Normally, we would be playing songs in a semi-written state in our live set and reacting to how the audience responded to it — crafting the song a little bit in the live environment. So if something really hits from the audience you tend to follow that musical thread.”
This is pretty different to the way many bands craft a track, but Fat Freddy’s approach to their fourth album is more traditional.
“This time around, we trusted our own instincts — because we’ve been doing it for a long time now — so we trusted our own instincts, so I guess that’s been the main difference to this record.”
A signature of Fat Freddy’s Drop has been to package their live routine into a zipped bag album of jams too elaborate for radio, something Towers insists has always been their way.
“Exactly. The album’s really a calling-card for the live shows and to give people a chance to get familiar with the new songs, which I think are great in their own way, but they are also a way of presenting these themes that are going to be explored more fully in the live show.”
Q & A with CHOPPER REEDZ
What’s been going down, new album’s been out for a minute. This must be the exciting part for you guys, taking it out on live tour?
It’s been a bit of a funny year for us because we cancelled a few shows in the middle of the year, our European run just to finish this record and, it’s great to back on the road and playing again it’s where we have the most fun and it’s our natural environment. Good to get some new tunes really.
This will be your 17th year together as a band. Does it get easier as the years peel back?
Actually, it does. We’ve got a pretty slick operation now in terms of understanding how to put on our shows and how to record and write and all that sort of stuff. It’s taken us a long, long time. You know, we’ve tried a few different ways of doing things and in the last three or four years in particular we have really found a good way to run a sustainable band. And by that, I mean we all have families we all have outside interests, we all have relationships we need to keep in tack and we have a band we need to keep in tack as well so we’ve found a way to make it work and it seems like we could go for a little while longer using the same sort of model so, yeah it’s good.
In your presser, Joe Dukie said: “It’s been a more creative process writing this album in the studio rather than recording songs which have been well road-tested”. What did he mean by this?
Yeah, like I said, we actually locked ourselves away in the studio and it’s quite an unusual scenario for us and part of the reason why it has taken us so long to record in the past, is we’re a working band, first and foremost, so once you put a record out it generates about 18 months of work and pretty much uninterrupted if you want it to work like that. Then if you start to take time out to write and record, you know, that 18 month thing gets spread over two years or two-and-a-half years or three years so our normal process would be to release the record, do some shows then have a bit of a break and then start writing some new music but then go do some more shows of the album that came out and then have a bit of break then write a bit more. Some of those songs might make it into the live set so it’s a bit of a moving feast our writing process and repertoire. We haven’t sort of written songs since Blackbird and then said we’re not going to play any more songs off it or that’s the end of that album’s life. It’s more that we realised that we’d played those songs live, we knew what we were doing, the audience was expecting to hear those songs. It would be more exciting for us and the audience if we came back next time with a whole raft of new material. So that was one of the main impedances of doing that and I guess from Joe what it meant by that was we wrote those songs on Bays in an almost audience-free vacuum, for want of a better term. Normally we would be playing songs in a semi-written state in our live set and reacting to how the audience responded to it. Crafting the song a little bit in the live environment.
That’s a little different to how most bands who share your level of instrumentation would approach the process, almost the opposite. But I can see how that would really work.
Yeah, exactly. So if something really hits from the audience you tend to follow that musical thread whereas this time around we trusted our own instincts because we’ve been doing it for a long time now so we trusted our own instincts, we trusted the audience that came along to check it out for the very first time when we came round to releasing this record so I guess that’s been the main different to this record.
Is there ever the consideration when you are building a complexity of instrumentation behind a new track of how it’s going to translate live?
Yeah, definitely. Sometimes you have to just let it go, like that’s bit complex, we can’t do this live and the opposite is true too where some stuff we do on the live show that won’t make it to the record. There were good markers that were up on the grid to be considered alongside everything else but we felt, OK we need to move this section along a little bit further, let’s take that bit out of the record but put it in for the live show. So we kinda see the two as very interlinked but not restrictive of one another. The song exists in the studio and god, the number of instruments for some of those songs is insane. When you see the tracklists that’s been mixed down you think, ‘oh my god! 65 tracks how are we going to do this live with just seven of us on stage?’ you almost have to forget about it for a second and work out a way to deliver the same energy or essence of the idea of the live environment but it’s the way we’ve been doing it for a long time and people would have heard the album versions of the songs and then heard the live versions of the song and heard how different they are and it’s one of the things we’ve always been quite comfortable with it being like that. And our audience is quite comfortable with that, too. They don’t want a facsimile of the record we are releasing at the live show.
Big hits off the new album Wairunga Blues and Slings and Arrows have been broadly selling you guys to a new audience. How important is it for you guys to reach new ears? As opposed to maintaining a faithful core?
I think one of the things is that, recorded music has faded into the background in such a huge way in terms of how people, yes people still hear your recordings on a radio show or a blog or stream, or heaven forbid if they actually go buy the record or CD, but um, people have such an appetite for live music now. I’m amazed at how much music is available to consumers all over the world and New Zealand is right down the arse end of the Earth really when you think about it but the number of people that come through here of all sorts of styles and sizes of fanbases of little acts and emerging acts and really obscure things so there’s a music-hungry audience there you’ve got to keep reinventing yourself a little bit so to draw in some of those people I think. There is no way of getting around it you know, we’ve been going at it for a long time now from our audiences have gone from their 20s when we started who are now in their 40s with children and jobs and mortgages and all that. As are we! They’re not going to be coming quite as often as they did in the past but there’s a whole new generation of music fans who are into going out and seeing something new. So, we don’t consciously think ‘OK, this is aimed at the 25 year-olds in poster ads or anything like that. But we’re happy to see those people there when it comes to showtime. I think the last record Blackbirds went some ways of doing that for us, too. The first two albums they kind of spoke to the same audience and it felt like those two records represented the first half of our fans’ life or whatever and now the next records have come along and they’ve introduced a slightly different edge, a more contemporary and a sonic edge instrumentation and all those sorts of things providing a more diverse palette I guess. And that’s helped us reach younger people, too.
I can see you guys haven’t tried to package anything for radio with half of your tracks off the new album running at up to eight to 10 minutes long. So you can see you’re definitely live-first.
Exactly. The album’s really a calling-card for the live shows and to give people a chance to get familiar with the new songs which I think are great in their own way but they are also a way of presenting these themes that are going to be explored more fully in the live show, you know?
No guests through the album, was this a purposeful move?
I think that would be just because we would be a pain-in-the-arse for most of them. We tried a few times, we’ve had a few guests in the past. But we were working in such an intense way over such a long period of time we were never really in the position where we could say, ‘right! here’s the finished track, here’s the three verses for you to fill up. Away you go,’ you know? Some of the songs we had felt like we’d finished first we came back to and revisited it in the last couple of weeks before signed the record off, you know? There were still changes to be made and massive one like big chunks, bridges added in, taken out, new intros added in, whatever. So I think it’s more impractical we are. Let’s just say we’ve got our thing going on.
What’s the deal with the track title Cortina Motors?
All our songs have the most ridiculous working titles to them. The track Roadies, based on a true story, if you listen to those lyrics it’s got nothing to do with being a roadie or being on the road or anything. It was the sample at the start of that track was from a Rhodes piano and when we went down to save the first version of the piece we were searching around for something, ‘what are we gonna call it?’ and so someone just went ‘Roadie’ you know, so I think the last track on bass was called about five different things. I think it was called Serb then to Djokovic then we finally settled on Novak, you know. I mean what’s that got to do with anything, really? Cortina Motors was much the same, you know? It was just a fun frivolous album title that kinda stuck in the end.
I heard at the Auckland gig late last year your trombone player Joe Lindsay stripped down to his undies during a song. Any further hi-jinx you want to warn punter of before you partake in your Australian tour?
I would say I personally won’t be stripping down to my underwear but with Joe anything and everything likely to happen when he is around. he manages to get himself in these positions.
How much of the new album would you be focusing on?
Ooh good question. I would say more than half of the album.
Definitely better be Fish in the Sea.
Yeah. I think there really is probably only one or two that we haven’t quite figured out how to carry them off in the live environment and I mean, it’s just part of songwriting too. One of my favourite songs that I have ever recorded with the band which is Big BW we tried playing that a couple of times and we couldn’t make it work the sound wasn’t right for the live environment or it didn’t sit right with the audience. It’s still one of my favourite songs ever that we’ve done but we never play it. Unfortunately that’s just the vagaries of live music.
Photos courtesy of Fatfreddysdrop.com