Interview: Fat Freddy’s Drop Talk New Album Bays & Upcoming Perth Show

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After the release of their fourth studio album in October last year, Fat Freddy’s Drop are ready to hit Perth’s Red Hill Auditorium, Saturday 13th February. Bringing a stronger and more focused strain of techno-infused rhythms, dark dub and soulful vibes to the mix, New Zealand’s internationally acclaimed 7-piece group have certainly hit the nail on the head with their latest collection of songs, Bays. JAYDE FERGUSON chats with saxophone player Scott Towers aka, CHOPPER REEDS.

Fat Freddy's Drop

Ask someone to name a band that defines the sound of New Zealand and chances are, they’ll say Fat Freddy’s Drop. What initially started out as a casual jam in the early ‘Noughties’ turned into an epic adventure of a band that’s truly conquered the world with their tasty musical flavours, broad experimentations and astonishing fusions of funk, electro, groove, reggae, R&B, jazz – you name it.

Still kicking on strong since the release of Blackbird just three years ago, the 2015 Bays is a quick follow up from their earlier success. Recorded in their own Wellington studio, Bays breathes a well-balanced flow to it, resembling the group’s renowned live performances near perfectly. Now; they’re ready to give Perth fans another taste of these pumping new tunes in the flesh.

“It’s been really great actually! As much fun as it is to be kicking around in the studio, playing live is really where it starts getting fun”, says Reeds. “Majority of the individual instruments we used in the album were tracked throughout the recording process in a full-band performance type scenario too, that’s how we bring that concert vibe into it”. 

Pushing new boundaries with their sound and incorporating some super fresh flavours, the album is drenched with big bass beats, tropical rhythms and illustrated complexity.

“We definitely had a lot of fun working on this one. Trying out new instrumentation, mics, studio techniques etc. As with any project, we had days when it felt like we were just going around in circles but thankfully they were few and far between. Our basic process goes something like this: Have a jam on a song / idea / beat / chord sequence / bass line for several hours. Listen back and grab the few ideas that really stand out – if there are any – and put them in the MPC to play with. Have some more jams along to the refined ideas. All of this is recorded by the way, just in case we get some gold in the session. Repeat the process for days, weeks or months until you’ve got something that flows nicely and has some interesting changes and dynamic shape to it…”

“…Then we give it to Dallas to start writing the lyrics. Start playing a full band version of it as a song – repeatedly. Record everything, all the time – just in case. Start locking in various parts – guitars, keys, bass, horns. Keep writing new beats for it – just in case. Record some guide vocals. Refine all the parts. Vocal parts are next. Pick up anything that is missing and then…start mixing! It’s not a quick process, but it works for us”. 

Whilst their recording process may seem a little complicated and lengthy, the way Fat Freddy’s go about it certainly works. Their approach to the music in all aspects – writing, recording and live performances – has ensured they’ve never struggled to pull a great crowd. And with 16 years of touring under their belt, it’s safe to say they’re doing something right. Coming back to Perth to seduce crowds once again with their new material, Reeds reflects on what it is they do to prep for the big festivals and tours.

“We’ve all got different things we like to do; fish, exercise, play golf, play poker, cook etc. But making sure you overdose on family time is crucial though. Ridiculously great sound, good songs and an up for it crowd are our essentials for a great live show”. 

“We know each other very well now, and have a good handle on when to leave each other alone on the road. We genuinely like playing music together too, so that helps!”

Whatever it is that makes these guys gel so well together in the studio and on stage, Bays could very well be their most listenable release yet. Blending heavy blues themes with reggae, dancehall, dark dub pulsations and alluring jazz and soul sensations, you can’t help but to admire and get lost in the effortless way Fat Freddy’s transition between the infinite layers of genres.

“We get the biggest influences from each other. Someone in the band is always pushing the rest of us to a great track, album or artist. It all goes into the melting pot of influences we draw on”. 

“In terms of our live performances, Salmonella Dub back in the day were a huge influence for us. They took us on our first trips to Australia and opened the door. We toured with Erykah Badu a few years back too – the performance, both hers and her band’s, really set the standard high, and we’ve aimed for that ourselves”.

Fat Freddy's Drop Interview - Chopper Reeds

[These days though] “I’m really digging Thundercat, Floating Points, Eddy Grant, Mr. Fingers, Andras Fox and Hiatus Kaiyote”, says Reeds as he thinks back on his favourite decades of music and first vinyl purchase “Can I have 10 years from 1976 – 1985!?”, he asks. “Prince’s Purple Rain was my first record I ever purchased and Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain is my guilty pleasure song!”. 

Their individual music motivations all adds to a very unique live experience once you’ve witnessed Fat Freddy’s magic in the flesh. Selling out shows regularly in Australia proves they have a consistent and steady engagement with their fans and the art that they create; something that can be fairly hard to pull when you’re constantly putting out live gigs.

“The truth is, we do 80% of our shows outside of NZ and have done for the past 5/6 years. It’s one the things we’re most proud of, that we have built solid audiences all around the world”.

“Vega in Copenhagen, AB in Brussels and Paradiso in Amsterdam have been the ultimate live concert experiences so far for us. They’re all beautiful buildings in their own right, filled with top of the line PA and lights so everything sounds and looks great!”

On discussing world tours, Reeds reminisces about Fat Freddy’s craziest story to date and who they’d like to tour with in the future.

“We had a mad bus ride once from Berlin to Bourdeaux (about 24 hours of driving) after spending a couple of nights ‘lost’ in Berlin’s infamous Bar 25, but the less said about that the better probably! Haha!”

“Prince, D’Angelo and Moodymann are on the top of the list of musicians to tour with too – and Kendrick Lamar – oh wait, we get to play a show with him in Auckland in March. Yes!!”

The party definitely doesn’t stop for this much loved Kiwi band! And despite coming from an admittedly small music scene in New Zealand, are more than prepared for another action packed year (or two!) ahead.

There’s going to be more awesome live shows, some amazing cooking, some above average golf and some poor choices in attire”. 

“The scene in NZ is small, but delivering some great artists at the moment. Some more mid-sized venues run by people who get it would be great though! And another 4 million people living here would help”. 

In between juggling touring, writing, recording and family; you got to wonder too how the musical influence is back home for the children of Fat Freddy’s.

“They actually don’t play any instruments at all! The list of preferred occupations amongst the Freddy’s offspring includes professional golfer, skater, inventor and microbiologist. Musician doesn’t get a look in, smart kids…!”

And Fat Freddy himself, who is he anyway? And is he any relation to Fat Freddy’s Cat – a cartoon character that’s very into his food, drugs, sex and stories?

“You got it in one! And yes, we like all those things too!”

Soul shakers Fat Freddy’s Drop will be performing at Red Hill Auditorium Saturday February 13th, with local group Koi Child and Thomas Oliver supporting. Don’t miss out on seeing these guys live! For more upcoming gigs, make sure to check out the Toward Music monthly gig guide.

Follow Jayde Walker (Ferguson):

Music Journalist + Senior Content Writer

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