Freelance Whales talk to eGigs

frontman Judah Dadone on the forthcoming tour, new material, festivals, and more on Monday 17 January 2011

eGigs phoned Freelance Whales' frontman Judah Dadone for a quick chat, it's early in the morning Stateside and Judah is still waking up after a late night up until 5am.

Following the release of their debut album 'Weathervanes' in August 2010 Freelance Whales have announced they'll be returning to Europe for a co-headline tour with 4AD recording artists Broken Records in early 2011 (full dates below).

Having formed in late 2008 in the Queens district of NYC, Freelance Whales burst into the public consciousness this summer, with the album and the accompanying singles 'Generator 1st Floor' and 'Hannah'. The Summer also saw the band tour throughout the US, and Europe with headline shows and key festival slots including the Reading & Leeds Festivals and a sold out headline tour in the UK.

You're about to start a co-headlining tour in the UK with Broken Records, how well do you know them?
Not really all that well as people, but we've been checking out their music, and we're really big fans of a few people on that label (4AD). I think I first heard of them a few months ago, what I've heard of them I absolutely love, they sound really big. It's very like a stable sound. It actually reminds me a little bit of The National, I really like them.

When you play live, you all change instruments quite often, how do you decide who does what?
It's sort of based a few different things. Some of it has to do with the fact that everyone has different skill sets, that we want to access and take the best of what everyone can do, and sometimes it has to do with things like if someone is singing a certain vocal part, it might be more convenient for them to play a different type of instrument that's easier for them to play while they deliver the vocal part, something like that. The main thing is that it keeps us on our toes on stage.

Do you always play the same parts for each song when you play them live?
I'd say most of the time we're playing the same parts from night to night. It wouldn't be a very good idea for us to add even more uncertainty to the whole thing because it's kind of a house of cards as it is.

How do you go about writing the songs does each person contribute a different part to the music?
Usually it's totally in flux, because when the band first got together I was putting the songs together, and I was doing that as a sort of very home studio, piecemeal process of just laying down one track and then do over it for a little bit, and then just throw down whatever else comes to mind, and that's how we got the arrangements together.

But now we're moving forward, and now that everyone has been in this band for a long time, and we're all much more in touch with what our strengths are, we're all trying to write for each other.

That has to do with what we're doing right now, we're all sending around little bits of music to each other, and then at some point after this UK and Europe we’re going to get together and take some of those little feelings and ideas and form them into full arrangements, and at some point we’ll have songs and we'll all go into a proper studio again.

So there will be a follow up to 'Weathervanes' not too far off?
Yeah, I think we're just really just starting that process, but I think by late 2011 we'll probably have another.

You say you've been together a long time but it's only been a couple of years hasn't it?
Really it's only been a couple of weeks (laughs). Yeah, you're right it's not been that long, but we've been really going for it for around two, two and a half years. You're right that's not that long in the grand scheme of things, but, it's almost as though you can compress so much effort into such a small amount of time that it ends up feeling like a miniature lifetime or something.

Your sound is quite developed, were you all in other bands before Freelance Whales?
Yes, for sure, a lot of us were in other bands. Like Doris (Cellar) was in some punk band, an all girl punk band called The Doxies, she played drums in that band when she was a teenager and it must have been such a strange image that I wish I'd been there to see it. In High School she had had her jaw wired shut because she had an underbite and these dental issue, and she was playing drums in this all girl punk band, and the two front girls, who were much older – I think Doris was 16 at the time, and they were 21 – would play the bass and guitar topless. It just sounds like such a spectacle.

I played in a band when I was in college, with a couple of my buddies and we gigged a little bit in Washington DC but it wasn't very serious. Jake (Hyman) and Kevin (Read) played in a lot of jam, jazz and blues bands. We're coming from all over the place and it's hard to imagine how things so disparate managed to settle on any one sound. Well we didn't really, our band's gone in a lot of different directions, and I think we'll continue to go to different places.

I saw you twice last summer at festivals, and I thought both shows were terrific, what did you think of playing UK festivals?
Well I loved the whole UK festival scene, it's got a very, very different feel to the American festival circuit, and I feel confident saying that now., as we played a few American ones and then we played a whole slew of English ones. The English festivals, having done Reading, Leeds, End Of The Road, Jersey Live, and Electric Picnic in Ireland, I feel the UK, and European festivals feel very curated and established. They feel as though they have been around for a long time. One of things that struck me most was playing End Of The Road in Dorset and it was amazing, and we got to play a few slots before Modest Mouse. But, one of the things that struck me, and one of the things I loved was how curated it was, there was this big library of books out in the woods, and all these things for people to interactive with and look at, like all these beautiful old structures and houses, and stuff like that, really lovely.

Did you see any good bands while you were playing festivals?
We saw some great bands, we saw our buddies in Local Natives play in Reading, I got to see Jonsi perform who I'd seen several times with Sigur Ros, but this was his solo performances, one of those stars that I'm really very fond of. I saw Modest Mouse, saw the Arcade Fire, and we got to see our buddies in Darwin Deez. We've been really lucky going to festivals and having time to hang out. It's a dream, I never knew I was going to be able to go to so many festivals, it's great. A couple of years ago I would have shelled out premium.

Who is the best band you've ever shelled out to see?
One of the best bands I've ever paid money to see is The Frames from Ireland, they’re really excellent. I went to see The National a lot when I was in college. I used to love always going to see Cursive, who are on the same label (Saddle Creek) as Bright Eyes, and I used to go and see Bright Eyes a lot too.

Do you have any plans to come back this summer for the festival season?
Not that I know of. Not beyond the very immediate plan of coming back and play in early February.

What are your musical influences?
I grew up being played folk music quite a bit, like listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and I guess a little bit of Bob Dylan, and then my mum was playing Van Morrison in the car all the time when I was a really young kid. Then as I was learning to discover music myself, in High School especially I got turned on to Bright Eyes who was a really big one for me, and Neutral Milk Hotel. I got really into Will Oldham, and some other new folk artists. I think when it comes to music, especially contemporary music I've been trying to take music the way we take vitamins, and trying to draw as much nutrition as possible from as many different sources as possible.

Most recently I've been listening to a lot of traditional ethnic music, like music from feudal Japan era, a lot of East Asian music, Brazilian tribal music, Indian tabla music, and Qawwali singing from Pakistan, and I'm just trying to learn a little more about the world, history, and stuff like that.

Do you think that will permeate into your music?
It could, I'm not going to really force it in there. I think the idea is to consume it and then have faith in it crystallizing somewhere inside of you, and it's going to find some meaningful way of coming back out of you at some point.

The songs from 'Weathervanes' are about childhood memories, how long ago did you write them?
The memories and the dreams that the songs are based on is all stuff that happened long time ago, but the writing and recording of the songs happened in a span of four months, during the time we made the record in late 2008. Essentially we wrote the songs then and were able to actually get the record out the door midway through 2009 and we released it ourselves, and then a few months later in 2010 we were able to get it released on a label (Frenchkiss and Mum + Pop – USA, Mum + Pop and Columbia – UK).

It was a cool process, we demoed up songs at home, and just waited until there was something substantial and then when they were fully formed and ready for the studio we would just book one day on the weekend. We'd just spend one day doing one song, and did that fifteen songs and then it was all done.

Would you do that again for the next album?
It's kind of like a weekend warrior way of doing it, and it's definitely very efficient in terms of saving money and that sort of thing, but frankly there's probably a better way of doing it in terms of just being just inundated in the music you're doing and not being distracted. This time around, right now, we're in the first step, of a three or four step process. The first step just being free creative thought and just getting any ideas going, and then at some point we want to isolate ourselves in a more meaningful way and just a little bit cut off from the daily distractions that we have. In that space, if we're very beholding to this and there's nothing else to do, it would be a really good space to be in because once ideas really get moving they kind of keep moving and they build up inertia. Then we'll start moving into proper tracking and stuff like that.

What's been the most memorable gig you've played?
There's been a few, a few in the States that held some sort of nostalgia for me. Whether it was going to the 9:30 Club all the time in college to see all the bands I absolutely loved and then getting to play at the 9:30 Club with the Shout Out Louds, that was definitely one them, earlier last year. Then I think in England getting to play at the Reading Festival with it being such big historic festival that was kind of insane for us. There's also this place in Chicago that we're really, really fond of called Schubas Tavern. It's kind of a small place, and since then we've gone on to playing bigger rooms over there. But it's one venue that's such a good hang out for people looking for new music, and we've played there three or four times, and the first time we got to headline there was certainly a really, really proud moment for us. That place certainly holds a lot of significance for us.

What do you like most about playing live?
I think I enjoy the delicateness of it, in that at any moment things can kind of go awry. Our stuff is all layered, textured and polyrhytmic, and there are a lot of moments that just sound completely right for us on stage, and then other moments that don't kind of necessarily, and it's great because there's always something at stake at every moment. That's my favourite thing about it, trying to find those moments that really do glow, and trying to extend them outwards into whole songs, and then whole sets, and then whole tours. It's never happened but we're getting close.

Thanks for your time, hope the tour goes well.
Yeah, come to the shows.

Freelance Whales's UK show dates are as follows:

Sun 30 January Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh
Tue 01 February Crawdaddy, Dublin
Wed 02 February XOYO, London
Thu 03 February Deaf Institute, Manchester
Fri 04 February Brudenell, Leeds
Sat 05 February Audio, Brighton

To buy tickets, where available, click here.

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article by: Scott Williams

published: 17/01/2011 13:58

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