Fat Freddy’s Drop are one of those bands I heard about long before I ever actually heard them, and it’s easy to see why. Their live show is what set tongues wagging across the world all those years ago and since then the band have played shows the world over – whilst becoming one of the most successful bands to come out of New Zealand in the past ten years.
With a thriving Aussie fanbase just a quick jump over the Tasman, Fat Freddy’s Drop are a common fixture of Australia’s live music scene and it would seem they’re intent on keeping it that way as they head to our shores for the third time this year to showcase their new album Dr Boondigga and The Big BW.
So as all of us here at Music Feeds are big fans of The Drop, we pounced on the opportunity to harangue the band’s founder Chris “Mu” Faiumu about all things Fat Freddy’s.
Music Feeds: Since I’m speaking to the founder I wanted to ask about the band’s foundation. It seemed to happen quite organically.
Mu: It was born out of me missing my DJ sets really. It was in the early days of experimenting with DJs and musicians together, getting some vocalists and a trumpet player coming along and jamming over the top of it. That’s how it happened really, just me singing, the trumpet player doing it over my club sets.
MF: You switched from the turntables to an MPC later on. What made you want to do that? More control, more original beats?
Mu: Yeah both of those really. When you’re improvising you find a lot of records aren’t long enough. People are jumping on stuff they’ve never heard before so it might take a little while to develop a melody that suits. So if you can imagine it, you’re there jamming away, you finally get it and before you know it the song’s over. So we started writing our own bass lines and our own beats and we realised we could actually extend these and look at turning them into our own original songs.
MF: So you guys have been playing together for a very long time. It feels to me like you guys ride something out through playing it before putting it down on a record. What is it about that process that works for you guys?
Mu: You discover all that magic when you’re jumping on it in a jamming environment. It happens through the collaboration of two or more musicians playing together. It leads it somewhere which is really cool. Then it’s just sifting out the rubbish and sorting out the good stuff.
MF: You guys are coming back to Australia for the 2nd or 3rd time this year. What keeps bringing you back here?
Mu: When we first took off it was actually more Europe and the UK that we were known. It wasn’t until three or four years ago that we discovered there was a big market in Australia, which was a hell of a lot closer. So in recent years we’ve decided to throw a lot more energy into coming to Australia, now we know there’s an audience there for us.
MF: What do you think it is about NZ that produces so much good dub and reggae?
Mu: I think stylistically reggae is a good foundation for a lot of NZ artists. Reggae has always been strong here. People in NZ have found parallels with themselves and people like Marley and Peter Tosh. Lyrically finding parallels with the struggles – Jamaican people, there’s definitely similarities with Maori people here. Also the laid-backness of the music fits in well with our culture, the life here is a bit more laid back, a bit more like island life.
MF: That laidback nature seems to carry over into the band. Is there ever any butting of heads or is it always that nice vibe?
Mu: No, it’s not nice at all at times. I think we just manage to get along enough to recognise when we’re starting to piss each other off and also we’re a bit older so we’re just mature enough to deal with it. A typical songwriter scenario, where you get a songwriter who does all the writing, and has a band who does the back stuff and get paid differently, there’s always that underlying unequal vibe that exists with that setup. With us we’re straight down the middle so I think that breeds a bit more respect for each other. We definitely battle, but we know how to move on and keep our eyes on the big prize.
MF: The new album is quite a different direction from previous stuff. What inspired the more soulful style?
Mu: It was nothing deliberate; we didn’t set out to write a specific sort of album. We picked up on what we were listening to at the time. We picked up some advice from people we were playing with in Europe as well, our writers in the band are trying to keep things fresh while respecting the types of music that we love, soul and reggae. But we have to keep things fresh.
MF: How do you do that? Find new things in old things?
Mu: I’m still buying a lot of records, so we’ve got a lot of fresh stuff to listen to. It keeps us from being stuck in older production formats, keeps us from being stuck in general.
MF: With these upcoming shows are we going to hear anything of the next album in the works?
Mu: Yeah we’ve been producing some new stuff in the last two weeks. Some new beats and rhythms so I think the new show will be a lot of Dr Boondigga, some old ones of course and two or three new ones too.
MF: We always seem to hear something new from you guys when you come out.
Mu: Our format for playing these songs live is to get the structure of the song out early in the jam and then move it in to an extended jam, jam it out and see where they go. You can tell on stage whether it’s working or not. If it feels like it’s stumbling, someone will usually step in there to finish it off.
MF: So you were in a band called Bongmaster and we’ve all heard the story the name Fat Freddy’s Drop comes from a notoriously strong batch of acid tabs, would you say that your experiences with drugs inspired or directed your music at all?
Mu: Totally. Not so much these days, but back in the Bongmaster days. We’re certainly not saints. Our name was one of those silly names that came from one of these drug experiences. We were actually looking to, at some point, change the name but it just sort of stuck.
MF: I hear that a lot, people saying their name just stuck. Do you think that’s a good sign, that you got popular very quickly and didn’t have the time for something as mundane as a name change?
Mu: Yeah, exactly. Initially Freddy’s was this live jam musical release for a lot of the other guys who have other projects – studios or bands or whatever. This was actually a really relaxed, no-frills get together. Then we sort of started to realise that this was the horse we should be backing.
Be sure to catch Fat Freddy’s on Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th of October at The Forum and check out myspace.com/fatfreddysdropnz for more information