The story goes that Freelance Whales made their debut performance of debut LP ‘Weathervanes’ at a ramshackle abandoned farm colony on the New York borough of Statten Island – home of Wu Tang Clan – before a hushed crowd of onlookers. Witnesses are yet to confirm or deny the story, which sounds suspiciously like a romantic affectation created by record label spin doctors but, regardless, the story of their inaugural performance traveled fast enough to get the band serious attention on American college radio, the extended blogosphere (including getting namechecked as a ‘Band To Watch’ by Stereogum), and land them support gigs alongside Shout Out Louds, Cymbals Eat Guitars and Tokyo Police Club.
Since then the Queens based quintet have taken their folk-tinged indie pop (or their self-coined description “collage pop”) from college dorm rooms to ears all around the world – including your own. Right here right now on Pedestrian you can stream the entirety of ‘Weathervanes’ – an Australian premiere.
Freelance Whales founding member and multi-instrumentalist, Judah Dadone, recently had a chat to Pedestrian about the thrill of getting remixed, the band’s comparisons to Sufjan Stevens, how to form a band online, and our mutual love of Ryan Gosling…
Hey Judah. First up I just wanted to get a bit of history on you guys. So I read that it all started cos of an online ad you posted? I didn’t post that personally but I think what happened was everyone then was looking online for different musical projects and everyone there had posted different recording on MySpace pages, so there were all these projects out there and then people were there was diff post on like creggs list for people who were trying to put together a collection of musicians. So the three of us found one another through Craigslist and we started throwing ideas together and I was showing the rest of them some of the demos I put together and we started working out of a rehearsal space and just messing around with synthesisers and electric guitars and harmonium and banjo and 0ovre the next few months we really started to get some songs together and then two more people had really wanted to be part of it so we settled at five people and then started getting all our tunes together to play for people in New York.
Cool so did it start off as something you wanted to do as a hobby, or were you dead set “this is something I want to do with my career”? I think it was probably somewhere between those two concepts. I think If I personally had thought of it as a career that would have probably been a bit stifling. I think calling it a hobby would have been a little bit of an understatement. I think the kind of headspace I was in, I had saved up, I was working in a restaurant you know just like serving tables and I had saved up enough just to take 5 months off where I could just work on music. So I consciously made a decision that I could just work on music and do things that I thought would be nourishing to a creative lifestyle and kind of became very single minded it wasn’t really thinking clear, thinking I’m gonna take this first step and if that goes right ill take a third. And at some point when I realised it could become a career then that was really really incredible. You know musicians work their whole lives and never get to a place where they can live off things, it’s a huge point of pride.
Speaking of pride, not a lot of people in Australia have heard your sound, so can you describe it for those folks who haven’t had a chance to hear your stuff? Yeah its kinda collage pop you know, its definitely drawing for a lot of diff types of music I think what I would first do would be describe the instrumentation to people, so we have the traditional drums, electric bass type thing but there’s also a lot of synthesisers, guitar, acoustic guitars, banjo, harmonium, other weirder strange sounds coming out of water phones and loop pedals and stuff. So yeah it’s this ‘collage pop’ and its sort of like a energetic stage feel.
So you’ve had a lot of mixed reviews in regards to your album, ‘Weathervanes’, how do you take on any praise or criticism, how do you respond to it? I think that it’s never the job of a band to please everyone you know? I think if you can find people that enjoy your music like that is enough itself it’s a huge success. I think we’re a band that up to this point we’ve done very well, playing tours, meeting people at shows, playing in the tree and subway in NYC and making really genuine connections with people and I think that especially in the realm of blogosoghere whether or not some has a pos or neg view of your band its just about where they’re coming from as a listener. Its tough you know, you always wanna have people look back at you and say yeah that’s right, but you know, its tough.
So when you hear people talk about your band they make a lot of comparisons with different artists, Sufjan Stevens for example, how does that make you feel? I think it depends where its coming from, I think for someone to really put themselves out there and say this artist sounds so much like Sufjan Stevens I think someone people might kind of over blow that sensation a bit, but if people can sense hints of that then I think that’s constructive. I think the fact of the matter is that people who compare us to Sufjan Stevens may be just clinging on to the fact that there’s a banjo on stage. Other than that if you look at the songs with banjo it doesn’t sound very much like him. I personally think he’s incredible, I love him, but I understand music and in many ways I see that our music is hugely dissimilar.
You’ve been referenced and compared to a lot of other indie bands out there. How to you set yourself apart? We play all our own songs that exist and the songs we have written for our first record are hugely independent, dependent on one another but independent of other. So if people are willing to look a little closer I think people will be able to invite themselves to that world of music.
Outside of music what are your influences and inspirations and how are they reflected? There’s a lot of literary references, there’s a song called “Broken Horse” which is inspired by two different stories, one is the The Horse Dealers Daughter by DH Lawrence and the other is The Dead by James Joyce. There’s also cinematic stuff we draw from whether its like Michelle Gaudreau or even someone like Sigmund Freud, cos I think that our first record is based off a lot of dreamscapes and dreamlogging, different dream texts, whether they’re specific texts of short stories.
Your music video for “Generator Second Floor” I really like because it has quite a macabre feel to it but is still kind of endearing. It reminded me kind of, of Dead Man’s Bones, have you seen any of their videos? No is this a band?
Do you know the actor Ryan Gosling? Yeah I love him.
Have you ever listened to any of his music? No I didn’t know he was a musician..
Yeah he’s in this band with this other actor and they recorded an album last year with this children’s choir and its got this real kind of dark brooding voice and they’ve got these really dark songs and their clips are like that… So what was the idea behind your clip? Yeah well we wanted to touch on a couple of different themes in the record, one of them had to do with the record being really transfixed on death but just different cycles of energy moving from one place to another and certainly with that comes a lot of diff transportation and in this case a kind of re-animation. So in short the video has to do with this Mexican death march, which is a certain type of death ritual with the band reanimating a body by plugging cables into it and playing music into it. So yeah it was our first video and we shot it in Pennsylvania, very close to where I grew up, for a very small amount of money, and we just shot another one the other day?
Can you share some details? Yeah its more of an urban setting, it looks more urban with a lot more acting in it, more action and some interesting surreal performance images.
When’s that due out? Yeah we’re still working on it but it should be out soon. It was just a really fun creative project with a really top-notch director.
Are you planning to collaborate with other bands or artists? No I think so far we haven’t really found the right way to collaborate with other artists, we are getting into the realms of remixing, other bands are remixing our songs which is really great – like The Antlers, they did like a really thoughtful remix of not just one but three of our songs and recomposed them into one sound collage and then one with Ian, which is one of the members from Passion Pit, so we’ve had those two remixes so far which are sort of collaborations in a way and now were thinking about remixes ourselves.
Is there anyone specific you would like to work with in the future? Yeah well I mean there’s like bands we’d like to work with, its hard to say, you kinda just have to let it unfold.
Tell me about a usual rehearsal sessions, in terms of experimentation how does it all unfold, I read on your twitter that you ‘hashed out a new song in rehearsal’… Yeah well I think we have a million different ways, if we had only one I think I songs would all sort of end up sounding the same. But sometimes it comes from people mocking up songs at home, or just coming up with a guitar or synth line. Playing with acoustic instruments and then other times its just setting ourselves up and messing around with whatever’s in their hand. At one point really early on it become really clear to me that there needed to be a recorder on at all times cos often people would come up with brilliant things that would be forgotten, so now we have a little portable audio which we can always com back to, so once we have lots of things harvested, we get together and we spend the day trying to work things out. Its really great now that we have our first record done, and we’ve been touring the states so much we have a bit of time just to go to a studio and practice and try new things, its like a really comfortable kind of foil to what we’ve been doing recently.
Does Freelance Whales have plans to head to down under soon? We have a very strong desire to but we don’t actually have dates set out yet but its absolutely on our to do list were really really lucky and happy and as soon as we can were gonna get ourselves over there.
Hanging with the Temper Trap:
All Images Provided by Freelance Whales