I recently caught up with Freelance Whales member Kevin Read to discuss the bands' groundbreaking album Weathervanes, viral videos and future plans....For more info on the NY band, and to purchase their latest release "The Benefit for Japan Ep" check out http://www.freelancewhales.com/
What have you guys been up to lately? Did you do SXSW this year?
Kevin: We actually didn't do SXSW this year. We have just been working on some new stuff. This last month, we were getting some stuff together and getting our energy back. Since last year, we have been on the road quite a bit, so it was nice to get a month and a half off. We didn't play SXSW, so I was kind of bummed because some of my friends would have been down there. We did last year and played about twelve shows.
So you are working on some new stuff right now?
Kevin: Yeah, we are kind of working on some new stuff, and also trying to work on the arrangements of the stuff that we do now. We have tried to be productive on the time off, but it is definitely hard to because when you get back from being on the road for a month and a half, you just want to go to your room and not leave your apartment for three or four days. We did that for a brief second, then we started getting back to work.
Your band is known for perfectly combining modern sounds with organic sounds, how did that develop that in the beginning?
Kevin: We all kind of like to try new things. This first album("Weathervanes"), was kind of all Judah with his ideas when he was starting the band. We came into the band with the form and structure already developed, which is easier at times and harder at other times. It's really just kind of a starting point where we can work from and come up with new ideas. When we were rehearsing, we would come up with ideas and say things like "oh, hey I wonder if this would work?" That's how the sound came together for the most part, but a lot of it came from the instrumentation that is used. There's a lot of glockenspiel, banjo and harmonium, which aren't typical instruments used.
What about the new stuff? With "Weathervanes" you stated that the structure was basically already set. Does the new music come together in more of a collaborative manner, as far as writing goes?
Kevin: Yeah, so far it has. We still have to sit back, put our heads to the grindstone and really try to push hard to come up with completed tunes. Right now, it is a bunch of different ideas being tossed around. I might say something like "hey, I came up with this synth line, what do you think?" Or Jake may say "I have a drum idea," and he will try to imitate it through electronic drums, or actual drums. Its difficult to do rehearsals on the road, so when we are done with this tour we are going to get a space and really trying to get around half or the record done within that the time frame that we have.
What can listeners or fans expect when they come see you guys live?
Kevin: Well, one thing that we try to do is perform the songs as close to the album, but we also try to change parts to make it more exciting live. We try to change something around on each tour, to try and make it sound better. Each song will sound familiar, but won't be exactly the same with different parts and different people playing different things. In some cases some of us have to play multiple instruments at the same time, which also changes things around. In some cases I think that it is better. So maybe you aren't getting the album live, but you are kind of getting an evolved version.
What song do you think has evolved the most?
Kevin: Maybe Great Estates, Generator 2nd floor or maybe even Generator 1st floor. On Generator 1st Floor we added a third verse to the song. Generator 2nd Floor has a different kind of ending. I would say that it is all relative to the amount of parts, to the amount of people playing. "Starring" is a little less changed around, but there are still some parts that are different. The beat changes around a little bit, and during the breakdown parts are added. When the songs start to get to be a little too much for five people, then we try to adapt and change it for the better. "Great Estates" is kind of like that, where I play mandolin instead of banjo in the live performance. It all depends on the song, but they all have a different feel to it.
Freelance Whales songs have be featured in a bunch of commercials, including the new Starbucks campaign. Have you ever had people come up and say that they found out about your guys via a commercial?
Kevin: I haven't had that conversation, but I do get a lot of people coming up an d talking about how they heard us at the subway. Or they say they heard about a band playing in the subway, so they went on YouTube and saw the videos. A good bit of people say that they heard us play with another band live, which is a great experience because we are surprising people enough to want to come back and see us live because they really like us. As far as getting recognized form commercials, the only people that have noticed are my friends. I had a friend that was at SXSW and called to tell me that he had just seen a huge billboard of you guys for Green Label Sound, and I did realize that they were even out there. I normally get those comments from my friends or my parents. That would be pretty amazing if people found out about us through commercials. I have tried to find the band playing in a commercials before and it's not very easy.
Yeah, I try to remember lyrics to google later...
Kevin: I've done that too. You have to go through six or seven pages before you find the band(laughs).
How did the "Subway" idea come together? Were you just looking for a challenge?
Kevin: In a way we were, but I don't think that it was the initial reason. When we had a rehearsal space in Queens, we had a friend who was a drummer that lived in the rehearsal space next to us. He said that we should try playing down by the subways, and that we could make a ton of money doing it. We thought about it for a minute, and decided that we could play two or three songs acoustically. Eventually we put together five or six songs that we could play acoustic, in the original set. Then we tried to do the whole album acoustically, which doesn't work very well because some of the songs don't translate very well. "Kilojoule" seems to be a little rough in its acoustic form, but it is always rough especially at the end of the song. Certain songs like "Starring," "Generator First Floor," "Generator Second Floor," and even "Hannah" have been difficult. Its still one of those things where it is difficult to take something that is almost all electricity (synths, guitars), and arrange it acoustically to make it sound as good. We don't want to play something if it isn't as good as the original. We then started doing it to promote shows, because our first couple of shows were a little bit rough. We thought it might be a good idea to get people interested or aware. The first two times we had a good response, with seven or eight people from the subway show coming to our set that night. We then started doing it a couple more times, instead of doing it just right before the show. We would do one a week before the show, then three days before the show, or even a day before the show. Those worked a lot better, and we would get a lot more people coming in. It became a great way for us to promote our shows. It worked for the most part, we had interesting experiences and it helped us lock in our vocal performances.
What were some of the interesting experiences?
Kevin: We've been told by the police that we had to stop playing and leave because the platform got so packed with people, and that a lady almost fell onto the rails and died. We moved to another part of the subway platform that wasn't as congested and everyone moved with us. We also had this guy that was definitely on some sort of drug, sitting inside of a trash can banging around while we were playing. All of these people were watching us play, baffled that there were these two strange experiences going on at the same time. Almost too much to handle(laughs).
What would be the biggest lesson that you have learned as a band, thus far that you would share with younger bands?
Kevin: The most important lesson that I have learned is even if you disagree with someone, talk with them first before it becomes a full-blown argument. Arguing can destroy a lot of stuff, and make working with someone difficult. That's something that we try to do, not get angry with each other and yell at each other. We always try to talk with each other. You always hear about bands fighting within the group, when the fighting probably began a small disagreements that turned into arguments. Then every time you have a disagreement, it turns into yelling, which is not healthy for a band. Also, practice as much as you can and try to learn from each other. If you feel like your not learning from the people you work with, then you will most likely become bored. If you don't have a bad that is challenging you in some way, then that's probably not the place or position for you.
Perfect day, windows down, driving in your car what are you listening to?
Kevin: Probably the Strokes or the Streets would be funny(laughs).