Wed 25th Aug, 2010 in Features
Any band that features a lot of multi-instrumentalists, and a lot of instrument-swapping multi-instrumentalists at that runs the risk of being called gimmicky, but Freelance Whales are anything but. A five piece from New York, the band use a variety of (mostly stringed) instruments to create lush soundscapes, perfectly suiting frontman Judah Dadone’s charming croon.
With debut album Weathervanes in stores now, Dadone spoke to FasterLouder about how the band works, the recording of the album, and why you shouldn’t shoot filmclips in the snow.
Weathervanes features a wide variety of instruments, including banjo, theramin, glockenspiel, watering can, and more, and the band reproduce it live. Dadone states he’s not afraid to mix it up a little. “We each do certain things on certain songs – sometimes I’ll play guitar, bass or banjo. We’re not afraid to move around, as it’s just based on what feels natural and logical to us. Everyone has a lot of different micro talents, so we want to take advantage of that, and make sure that everyone’s identity within the band is fluid. I think some people who see it really enjoy it, and think that it’s part of the band’s narrative, but for us it’s more just about keeping ourselves engaged, and keeping it interesting and dynamic.”
Hailing from the vast cultural melting pot that is New York City, it would seem logical to think that the city would have some effect on the band’s music, but according to Dadone, not as much as you might think. “I don’t think the city channeled itself into our music, necessarily, although it is possible that it was us reacting to our urban landscape. But I do think it influenced what we did to get our music to people.” By that, he means playing on subway stations, which is what they did prior to the album’s release. “It was a way of promoting what we were doing in and around the city.”
Another way the band defies expectations is that, instead of writing the lyrics and music seperately, or lyrics first and then the music, as so many bands do, it was the music which gave birth to the lyrics. “We were doing lots of little demos, loops and layering of instrumentation, and we would do all these little things at home, because we each basically have these little home studios. Basically each song got finished in this home recording scenario, and I would put in some scratch vocals, just gibberish. Then we would take it round to Alan Labiner’s place, and he has a home studio, but it’s a real, professional studio, and that’s where we’d put the finishing touches. And along the way, as part of the process, we would figure out what each song was about, and what it meant to us, and that would feed into the lyrics.”
And the process is something that Dadone thinks about a lot – it’s dominating his thoughts about their next recording sessions. “I did a lot of the songwriting for this record. But there are lots of other people in the band, and so after Weathervanes, I took a break from writing, to really reflect on the process. Something I learned pretty quickly is that the process really does affect the outcome, for example, writing and recording at home, rather than playing as a band as a form of writing. We want to try as many different approaches as possible.”
“But in the meantime, everyone else in the band has been writing, so there’s definitely no dearth of new material. But I’m pretty adamant that we’re not thinking about a record necessarily, we’re just writing a lot of music.”
The filmclip for the first single from the album, Generator 2nd Floor finds the band crunching their way through snow, playing instruments. But at least they are rugged up – spare a thought for actress friend Aleesa who was clothed only in a nightie. “Yeah, we were a bit worried about her, she was playing a corpse, and sometimes she started to look a little too much like it. We’d be out there for 8-9 hours a day, so we’d make sure to do something warm each night when we came in. But it was still a lot of fun, and it was our first video too.” Luckily for next single Hannah they’ve done something a little warmer. “Yeah we filmed the clip for that just a little while ago. It’s set in New York, at night, so it was still cool, but definitely warmer than the first one.”
The band are beginning to play the big festivals in the US, coming off recent spots at Lollapalooza and Sasquatch festivals. “There’s definitely a different vibe to festival sets. But we’ve also been really lucky because we’ve always managed to schedule it so we get to just hang out in the crowd and see other bands, and of course, we’re all big music fans, so we love the festival vibe.”
“And of course, the actual process of getting up on stage is different as well. There’s no soundcheck. You almost feel like there’s this weird kind of throw-and-go, everything-at-the-wall approach, which is wierd, because festivals can be the most important shows you’re ever going to play, but they can also be the most haphazard.”
And is there any chance of an Australian visit in the near future? “I hope so. It’s so sad, because that’s a good question, but I’m not even the right person to ask. I know the record just came out over there, and I hope people find it well. I do know this – if we were offered the opportunity, every one of us would be there in a heartbeat.”
Weathervanes is out now through Dew Process.