Fat Freddy’s Drop: Surf dudes with attitude
Scott Towers, aka Chopper Reedz of Fat Freddy’s Drop, discusses the secret of the multi-genre Kiwi septet’s longevity ahead of their Sea Sessions jaunt
Midnight Marauders: Fat Dreddy's Drop
Fat Freddy’s Drop have been together for 14 years – what’s the key to keeping a seven-piece band happy?
Keeping our sense of humour intact and having good long breaks from one another on a regular basis. That, and respecting each other’s ideas and approaches.
The band’s sound is hugely eclectic, from dub to reggae to techno and funk, but what sort of music did you listen to growing up?
I started playing saxophone when I was about 12, so spent a lot of time raiding my parents’ record collection for music with horns on it. That led me to jazz artists like Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk from dad, and soul singers like Bill Withers, Phoebe Snow and Roberta Flack from mum. I still listen to all of those albums, but my taste has broadened and deepened hugely since then.
Given your mish-mash of styles, it can be hard to pin down your sound to one genre. In that respect, who do you consider to be your peers, musically?
We came up during a very fertile time in New Zealand music, so all the bands that were developing their sound then are our friends, regardless of style or scene.
You have a reputation as a band that loves to improvise – does that make it more difficult to pin down a song?
Songs generally start with a small seed of an idea – often just a two- or four-bar bassline or lyrical fragment. Then we play around with that idea in long jam sessions and see what it develops into naturally. It can be a long and sometimes slow process, yeah, but it means those ideas have lots of layers to them.
Considering much of your work comprises improvisational melodies before coalescing into a song, how long does it take for a song you’re happy to record to come together?
Normally those songs have a half-life as a live version before they are recorded – that can be anything up to a couple of years. The bass line to Soldier, on the new record, is nearly seven years old, for example.
Your new album Blackbird saw your sound change slightly – it seems like there was more of an emphasis placed on drums and rhythm than on your previous two albums.
Yeah, we had some new drum machines to play with, and that really was the reason we started focusing on those sounds. But we come from a DJ and soundsystem background, so it’s very natural for us to head in that direction, anyway.
You first gained a fanbase in Europe after your song Midnight Marauders became a hit 10 years ago . . .
Time has flown, but the general state of physical disrepair we find ourselves in definitely marks the passing of all those years (laughs). We’ve changed hugely; we have families now, for one thing, and that’s had a massive influence on how we look at things. But as a band, I think we’re making some of our best music now.
You’re well known as a great live band. Is it difficult to distil that energy into something vibrant when you’re in the comparatively clinical atmosphere of a studio?
We play with machines all the time, so that’s actually something we love. We built our own rehearsal space/studio in an old warehouse, so we really could take as much time as we needed. Delivering studio versions of songs we’ve played live for some time can be hard, but we’ve learnt that they’re two different beasts so approach the process accordingly.
You’ve remained an independent band all the way through your career, despite major label attention. Why is it so important to you to retain control in that way?
Why cut someone in on your business when they don’t understand your position and wouldn’t bring anything new to the table? We know how to produce, market and perform our music already. It’d be pointless to bring someone else on board to do it for us.
The name Fat Freddy’s comes from an LSD popular in Wellington in the 1990s. Other factors relating to you have certain, ahem, connotations. As you’ve all grown older, are such “recreational habits” as important?
Perhaps more important to some band members than others . . . we’ll leave it at that. (laughs)
You’re playing the Sea Sessions next month and always draw a big crowd to your Irish gigs. Do any of the band have Irish blood?
Yeah, MC Slave, our hype man, has Irish blood. The first time we played there he got off the plane and bent to kiss the ground.
The waves in Donegal are world-famous, so I trust you’ll be partaking in some surfing?
None of us can claim to be particularly capable on a surfboard, but we love getting in the sea – so yeah, probably!
What sort of show can Irish crowds expect, now you’ve finally released Blackbird?
We’ll be playing lots of material off the new record, as well as some reworked classics and perhaps some new “works in progress”. That sounds like a pretty typical Freddy’s show. It’s gonna be a good one.