Somewhat by their own doing, Freelance Whales seem to have quite the mythologized background. They were assembled, not formed, as if destiny brought its members together. They played in subways and abandoned farm colonies to build a fanbase, emerging from both figurative and literal depths to make a name for themselves. The result has been one of the more captivating albums of the past 18 months.
Weathervanes are made up of two pieces. A rod is the steady base, and an attached pointer freely rotates to indicate the direction the wind is blowing. It’s a rather apt metaphor for the music contained on Freelance Whales’ debut LP Weathervanes. Judah Dadone’s unfinished demos and dream-journal lyrical musings provided stability, and all five members spun around that base to create pieces that would fit together to create affecting tunes like “Generator First Floor” and “Broken Horse,” among others.
I latched on to Freelance Whales after hearing Weathervanes just once. Subsequent listens continue to reveal intriguing details and new emotional reactions. On Friday, I’ll see them live for the first time when they play live at The Basement in Columbus. Based on what I’ve read about their live shows, I am preparing to be moved by a special experience.
Freelance Whales’ guitarist Kevin Read was nice enough to take a few minutes from his band preparing to play a sold out Lincoln Theatre in Chicago to speak with The Wounded Jukebox. What follows are some of his answers, and some of the band’s tunes to enjoy.
It’s been written that Freelance Whales formed via ads on craigslist.com. Is that true? How did that work?
It’s true. It was actually a mixture of two things, really. One member was a friend of a friend — Jake (Hyman) went to the same school as Judah (George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.). Everyone else was through Craigslist. I put out an ad looking for a band because I’d spent about a year away from playing music and I wanted to get back into it. I put out the ad, and the next day I saw an email from Judah and he said ‘I think we have a lot of the same interests, would you want to form this band with me.’ We met the next day and just talked for about an hour and a half, played a little bit of music together. So I was the first one, and that’s how I joined.
What kind of projects was everyone else working on before joining the band?
Doris (Cellar) was always kind of working on her electronic pop stuff, and Chuck (Criss) was doing folk stuff in a different band also. I had taken that time off because my job didn’t really allow me much time to play. I was doing a lot of rock and pop before that, and Judah was kind of doing the same thing — blues, jam-bandish, pop music.
Your first performance was in an abandoned farm colony, and you’ve performed on subway platforms. What did those sites offer you guys as a band early on?
The reason that we did it was because we wanted to get our name out there in a way that wasn’t handing out flyers. You know, you do that and sometimes people just look at the flyer and throw it away. We were kind of looking to expand our listenership. We’d play shows and ask all of our friends to come out, and they would. But then when they couldn’t make it for a second, third time, we’d go from playing for 150 people to like, six people. So we were kind of like, there’s got to be a better way of going about this than just playing in front of friends.
We decided to go down to all the subways and some sites on the Lower East Side where people passed us by while we played. If they were interested, they could stop and listen, and if they wanted to just leave, they could. The people who enjoyed it stayed, and it really helped us get people to our shows and find people who liked the music.
The byproduct of doing that was that we started to get used to performing with one another. And another result of it was that we all became better musicians, I think. We all became better performers. All in all, it was a really good thing.
Every inch of Weathervanes is drenched in sound in one form or another — with all the instruments you guys play, was it a conscious choice to add in all the nuance you possibly could?
I think that was kind of a result of writing songs in a studio environment. There’s kind of every opportunity to put everything you want in there. A lot of times the songs would have more pieces of music going on than the amount of people that were people in the band. I think that happens with a lot of music. We assembled a lot of different textures and layers. I think the hardest part about that is trying to translate it to playing live. You have to say ‘Okay, what can we keep and what should we drop? Can someone play two instruments at the same time or can we play that part differently.’ We only use, I think, two loops in our show, and I think that makes the songs feel more alive. It helps interpret what we did in the studio to the way we play it live.
Under “sounds like” on the band’s MySpace page, you guys list the phrase “Somebody wired their heart to a synthesizer” Can you elaborate on what that means to you guys?
We do use a lot of synthesizer (laughs). I think it’s a better way of saying something cliched like “our music comes from the heart.”
You guys have toured with a lot of great indie acts (Shout Out Louds, Bear In Heaven, Tokyo Police Club, Cymbals Eat Guitars). Have you learned anything from being on tour with them?
Every time we go on tour we learn something from the other bands. That’s such a neat part of the whole process. You can learn how to perform better just by watching them perform. It’s kind of like football players studying film. It’s that same concept — you see the way they perform a part on drums, or a guitar part or how they play the keys — and you learn what you like and sort of bring in your own thing. When someone’s really super good at something, you can learn a lot from watching them.
Did you envision you guys would have the kind of success and notoriety you’re receiving now when you started?
I didn’t really think about it. Even now I don’t really think about it too much. I just felt like if we kept playing and playing and working really hard, we’d eventually have success. That’s what I think about now: just working hard and trying to be creative.
This song is not on Weathervanes, and it’s a little different. But enjoy it nonetheless!