It’s often rare these days for any band to endure a decade in the music industry without either breaking up, making drastic line-up changes or going on hiatus. In an industry that has become so venal, where music has become a case of mass production rather than creation and even bands free from the major label system seem intent on posturing to trends and lowering themselves to the infantile expectation of audiences so indoctrinated by the corporate industrial complex, longevity is hard to come by. Fat Freddy’s Drop, however, have built a career over the past 11 years, a career marked not only by great music, but by patience and a focus on doing things their way.
While being an independent musician nowadays often means little more than you haven’t been able to be signed yet, Fat Freddy’s Drop are a band who have truly embraced the work ethic of true independence, keeping an eye on all aspects of their work and running it as much like a small business as it is a creative pursuit. Like with most ventures in life, this approach of hard work and a blue collar attitude toward getting things done has paid off where a less dedicated and more precious approach of deserving recognition due to artistic merit would have failed.
Free from any of the bullshit mythology that props up so many of today’s so called artists, the band have been able to flourish, having just recently released a live album, Live At The Roundhouse, and touring to our fair shores this month in support of it. Having long been supporters of the band here at Music Feeds, we spoke to the band’s sax man Scott Towers to discuss their unique approach to the music industry, as well as performance and writing.
Music Feeds: So hi Scott, what’s been going on?
Scott Towers: We’ve just got back from a European tour, so we’ve just been getting back mowing the lawns, planting some tomato trees, getting domestic and getting back in the good books with the family.
MF: Nice. I imagine it’s easy to get some time off considering your independent and run things yourselves rather than being at the beck and call of a label or whatever.
ST: Yeah, we’ve all got families now and everyone understands we have other things going on in our lives – families and wives and girlfriends – and so we sort of get together and see what everyone wants to do. We run ourselves sort of how a small business would; we have a little company meeting, work out what we want to do and agree on it, and we do it the way we want to do it, which is a really nice position to be in.
MF: Definitely, I’m sure there are many bands out there who envy you. It seems to really work though; your passion for your own music seems to fit well with being in control of what you do in a way where some outsider treating you like a figure in a spreadsheet might not.
ST: I’d have to agree. You sort of take responsibility for things as well; it’s really down to us whether it flies or not and I think if we were with a major they wouldn’t have been able to deal with the prospect of dealing with seven or eight people and their families. We’re able to do things at our own speed and in our own way. I don’t think you could replicate it with a major, we just don’t fit their blueprint.
MF: You mentioned the families again and it’s something I’ve always noticed about the band, that there is this real communal vibe to it, you know, with the kids on stage playing with you guys and stuff.
ST: Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s great too that now Hopepa’s son is starting to make a name for himself in his own right, and it’s kind of nice to see the baton being passed onto the next generation.
MF: It’s got a bit of a Fela Kuti vibe, like when Femi was playing in the band.
ST: That’s absolutely true, although we don’t have our own compound, although that’s something we could do in the future. I shouldn’t really draw a comparison though, really.
MF: Don’t worry I made it, not you. Anyway, moving on. With your current level of success, if a major came along and offered you a deal, you know offered you the world, would you take it?
ST: To be honest, I don’t think so. We’ve sort of worked for a long time now to get to this point and to work out what works for us and what doesn’t. It’s such a streamlined machine now that we’ve sort of worked out what makes it viable to continue, to make it commercially viable as well as musically, and I don’t think someone coming in almost cold to the whole scenario would be able to work with us. We might sell the back catalogue at some point in the future but we’ll see.
MF: Yeah, I mean you’ve proved that if you’re determined and hard working and pay close attention to your work, you can work on a worldwide scale without the support of a major label, which is something I think a lot of bands fail to recognise.
ST: Of course, I mean we can go over to Europe and operate on a bigger scale over there than we can in New Zealand. But, I mean, we’re lucky in that we work very closely with the people who do distribution for us and we’ve made it our business to know their business and how they operate and who they are as people. So we work with some like-minded independent operators themselves.
MF: There seems very much to be a sort of shared passion amongst everyone who works with you guys, I mean the people over at Niche love you and what you do, it doesn’t seem like anyone treats the band like a chore, even though you do treat it like a job as well as a passion.
ST: We all totally understand it’s difficult business to continually go out there on the road and keep working and we work very much toward keeping it fun. I’m sure we could be out there doing much more work than we do, but we want to keep this fun and we want to keep this manageable and we want to keep doing it. There’s no point in us going at it like a bull out of the gates and quitting.
If you look at where the band’s at, we haven’t stopped for the last ten years, which is a rarity these days. Most bands are done and dusted after four or five, so we kind of understand what’s required to make it all the way through.
MF: Have there ever been points where you thought of stopping?
ST: There have certainly been times where we’ve had to ask ourselves if we want to keep doing it, and we’ve put it out to the band and that way we know where everyone in the band stands. We approach it almost on a year-by-year basis and by doing that we avoid this sense of feeling like it’s Groundhog Day or anything. We’re sort of setting ourselves challenges, you know, we want to be recording in a different way, we want to be playing new materials, and doing that keeps it fresh for us.
MF: Yeah, well I mean the way you guys play, involving a lot of improvisation and what not, every show is unique and that must really help keep things from getting stale. I mean you must have a near telepathic sense of what each other are doing.
ST: We’re really lucky in that we’ve got a really good sense of what the other guys are going to do. But at the same time, we’re all kind of focussed on freshening it up and improvising and as a result we’re constantly surprising each other. Sometimes someone will just pull something out of the bag and you’ll just be like ‘oh my god where did that come from, that’s just so fresh,’ and I love getting up and doing live gigs cos you never quite now what’s going to happen and I really respect the other musicians. So it’s pretty easy for me to turn up to work.
MF: Would you ever think of taking that focus on improvisation with you into the studio, doing some Mies Davis, Bitches Brew style improvised albums?
ST: I don’t think it will ever be fully improvised, I think what we’re trying to get towards with this next bit of recording is to really kind of merge the live album vibe we have with the Live At The Roundhouse album that’s just come out, with Dr Boondigga, which was a massive studio effort where everything was multi tracked and re-recorded and rearranged. So finding some sort of middle ground where a little of both aspects is present is where we’re trying to get to.