With four NZ music awards to their name, a killer debut album and more soul than you can poke a stick at, Fat Freddy’s Drop represent a lot of what music has lost, passion.
Toby Laing, aka trumpet maestro, takes time out of his busy schedule to talk about the Freddy’s crew and their recent success, which has seen their debut album go five times platinum in NZ.
How did you get together?
The band formed out of informal improvised sessions organised by Mu from about 2000. Fat Freddy’s accumulated members gradually, adding to the original partnership of Mu and Dallas. All the members of the band were already aware of each other and in most cases had jammed in various combinations around Wellington. Fat Freddy’s brought everyone together and gave a focus to the music.
How would you personally describe your music?
The music of Freddy’s is a bit hard to explain. The influences range from soul and reggae to jazz and electronic styles. So the music incorporates all these. . . it’s the Freddy’s practice of keeping the music simple, that allows us to draw on these influences and create an individual sound. Most of the time we play Pacific soul, but occasionally we go techno ska jazz.
When and how did your love for music start?
Speaking for myself, I became hooked on music listening to Sade and Grace Jones on my boombox at the age of seven. After this I was into Delta Blues and around the age of 12 started liking Jazz. Then I picked up the trumpet and started the lifelong struggle to learn how to play it. Mu tells a story, about when he was a kid going to see George Benson at Athletic Park. He also used to rock the side drum in the Scot’s College Pipe Band.
How do you perceive yourselves as a band?
The band has transformed from a loose, unstructured series of performances into a tight unit. Over the years each member of the band has come to consider Fat Freddy’s Drop as their main musical priority. Saying that, the looseness remains in many ways. Our approach to composition is organic and despite having tight arrangements to fall back on, the songs are actually never the same twice. There’s a good balance in the group between being well prepared and cooperative and also being irresponsible and careless.
Your music isn’t traditionally mainstream, how did you initially tackle the problem of not fitting into the commercial protocol and getting your music heard?
Vinyl releases have played a really important part in the promotion of our music. ‘Midnight Marauders’ fell into the hands of various DJs in New Zealand and around the world and by including the song in their sets, knowledge of our music and our group started to spread. In New Zealand, the support of the B Net was really strong as well. Probably the most important factor for the success of any band would be word of mouth from the gig-goers and album-buyers – people telling their friends and passing it on.
What is the best thing about playing live?
Live performance is the most natural state for music, so I feel lucky to have the chance to do it. Having an audience can really influence the music for the better and the energy of the crowd can take the roof off.
What were you wanting to achieve with your album?
‘Based on a True Story’ includes songs that have been around since shortly after the band started and also newer material. The album is a good snap shot of the first phase of our music’s development. For our first studio album, we really wanted to make something we all liked and something that would be a good listen for all the people who have followed the band for a while.
How did the recording process go?
The process was long. We spent just under two years on the project. It was necessary to take some time to experiment and get the sound we were after. As the months rolled by we got a lot quicker and got the process streamlined.
What do you think is your greatest achievement as a group?
Our greatest achievement so far has been completing this album.
If you weren’t musicians what would you be doing?
Between the band members there are range of skills, carpentry, fine cuisine, fishing, diving, illustration, printing, jingle-writing… the list goes on.
Do you prefer overseas or home-based gigs?
It’s great to go overseas to a place like Poland or Italy and play to audiences that don’t know much about New Zealand or the band. But playing at home in Wellington or elsewhere around the country is the best. Fat Freddy’s music definitely comes out of this particular place so we find it easier to play close to the source.
If you were choosing acts for a music festival which five bands would you include?
An early evening set by ‘Fly My Pretties’ then the ‘Illphonics’. DLT and Asterix. I would finally close the show with ‘The Feelstyle’ and ‘Scribes of Ra’.
Want to find out more about the band? Head to fatfreddysdrop.com.