Interview – Freeland
July 14, 2009 § 1 Comment
Published: The Vine, July 14, 2009.
A shape-shifting DJ, producer and label-head, Adam Freeland has built a reputation on moulding the break-beat and techno parlance into some of its more unusual and interesting shapes. In a career that has spanned the best part of a decade-and-a-half, the UK impresario has delivered some of dance music’s most highly regarded mixes (including 1996’s groundbreaking Coastal Breaks and 2000’s celebrated Tectonics), not to mention his countless remix projects (think Orbital, The Orb, Headrillaz and Deejay Punk Roc), famed DJ sets and full-length solo production debut as Freeland, 2003’s Now & Them.
But having moved to Los Angeles a couple of years back, the producer has changed his tune somewhat. Enlisting the help of front man Kurt Baumann, Joey Santiago (the Pixies), Brody Dalle (The Distillers), Jerry Casale (Devo), Twiggy Ramirez (Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails) and certified celebrity whore Tommy Lee, Freeland the solo artist has now become Freeland the fully-fledged electro-Kraut-prog-drone-something-rock band.
We spoke to the man himself about new album Cope, his adopted hometown, the wonders of drones and flying in private jets with Tommy Lee.
Hey, how you doing Adam?
Hi, what’s going on?
Cold, cold, cold, in Melbourne…
I’m sorry to hear about that.
Thanks man. How is LA treating you?
I like it pretty much a lot really.
How long have you been living there for now?
A couple of years, but you know what it’s like. I’m all over the place really. But the bills have been sent here for a couple of years.
While everyone has that preconception of LA, there seems to be a real sense of revitalisation there at the moment, artistically speaking anyway. A lot of really interesting stuff is coming out of the city at the moment.
Oh, it’s amazing actually. Yeah, I mean New York used to be the place where culture and music thrived, but that sort of died in the arse in some ways and it all shifted over here. Well, I won’t say ‘all’ (laughs); there are other cultural cities in America. But it’s a hub and there’s a lot going on here at the moment. I’ve never lived anywhere where there are so many options of things to go and see and do every night of the week.
I guess people kind of forget that a city’s ease of living and rental prices and stuff have such an impact on a city’s artistic viability. The thing with New York is that it’s too freaking expensive to actually operate as an artist unless you’re relatively established…
Yeah, for sure, and also the sun shines here, which can only be a good thing.
Hey, I just got the new record over the weekend and it’s got a real prog-like kind of aesthetic in parts.
Well you know, I think it’s definitely a record that needs a few listens. A few friends and journalists who I’ve given it to really haven’t got it at first and then come back to me later and gone ‘Oh dude, I get it far more now’. It really takes a few listens to get a good hold of it; it really doesn’t seem to be an instant thing. I don’t know if you’ve had much of a chance to listen to it (laughs)?
It definitely starts to take more shape the more you listen to it. I guess you take certain expectations into records. It has a real band dynamic, which was the surprise. I was automatically thinking it was going to be more break oriented.
Yeah, we were trying to create a proper album – not just a few singles and a few fillers. I grew up on the culture where you would record two albums onto a C-90 tape and listen to it from start to end and still like that. We have a front man, Kurt Baumann, who gives a real continuity to it all and while there are collaborators on there, the idea is more about trying to make an artist album. So I’m pretty happy with how it shapes. It’s not just dance stuff or club stuff or whatever; it’s stuff for emotion or reflection and kind of performs a whole lot of different functions.
I’d love to hear a little about how you guys operate in terms of composing and writing the material. Tell me about the level of collaboration and where these songs kind of take their initial impetus? Are they still essentially your songs?
Well, I guess a traditional songwriter would sort of sit down with a joint, a bottle of wine and a guitar and start strumming away, and that’s not how we work. I start by just writing beats and I’m really into drones and just getting crazy, distorted feedback sounds and turning them into sort of harmonic textures. I guess some people think of lyrics, some people think of melody, and I can do those things, but the first thing that excites me about a record is really the sound and the texture. So that’s kind of how I start building stuff, kind of coming up with soundscapes and sonic textures and beats and then I start messing around with them and they evolve into songs, rather than starting with a song and producing it.
Kind of a reverse of the usual process…
Yeah, it’s the most logical one to me because I was never a kind of singer-songwriter type, you know. I don’t play the guitar very well.
Ah, that’s where the drones come in!
(Laughs) It’s just one note, I can do that!
Where did that interest begin for you? The whole drone thing is kind of unusual in the context of more upbeat, dance-orientated music. You would usually thing of drone stuff in terms of ambient guys like Fennesz and Oren Ambarchi.
Well, I mean, beyond just drones, it’s always been texture that really excites me about music and production. Even as a kid, like, I was the first kid out of anyone who got a really dope stereo. I would go out and do my paper round and work my arse off so I could buy myself some really cool speakers. I was always really into sound quality and production and I’d totally get off on really well produced records as a teenager.
But as far as the drones go, I think there are obviously influences from my DJing, clubbing background, but also, I have a life outside of that world and I spend a lot of time listening to Spacemen 3 and My Bloody Valentine and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Velvet Underground, and then to more ambient stuff like Eno and David Sylvian and Talk Talk. There’s something about the sort of ‘om’ of a drone that just appeals to me – it’s so powerful. I used to sort of see that world as something different to the music that I make. It was something that I appreciated but didn’t necessarily make. Then I sort of realised that, other than preconceptions about what you’re supposed to me doing, there’s no reason why I can’t combine those things.
If I sit down in front of a computer or I’m messing around, it’s just what I naturally gravitate towards, you know, making fat, drone noises (laughs). Then it’s like, ‘How the hell do I make this into a song?’
I guess the more a note is drawn out or repeated, the more you can appreciate the tonal and textural qualities of it.
It’s just the harmonics as well. A lot of those drones are really distorted and harmonic frequencies start popping out – all these overtones and stuff. I just find that really rich to the ear and something that I can just listen to. People say things like ‘Oh, how much diversity can there be to a Western scale? There’s only so many melodic concoctions that can make a song’ and you know what? I could do a whole song using just one note. Melody is great and I love it, but texture is such an important aspect that people overlook. It’s not necessarily what the riff is playing but how it is sounding.
On another note, I should ask you about some of the contributors to Cope. To tell you the truth, despite my early Motley Crue cassettes, I’d kind of forgotten that Tommy Lee even played the drums. The size of his personality tends shadows his music.
(Laughs) No, no, he plays the drums a lot actually.
What made you want to work with him?
Um, he approached me at Coachella four or five years ago and he was standing in the wings, going crazy during one of my DJ sets. And it turned out that he had all my mix CDs and was a fan and really into electronic music. So he came up to me after the show – and I had never really paid any attention to Motley Crue – and I didn’t actually know who he was when we first met. He just looked like a serious rock star dude. And so we got talking and he’s just got this really infectious energy about him; he’s a really fun guy to be around. He’s pretty much made a life out of suspending being 17 (laughs). He’s got the best job out of anyone I’ve ever met.
We just became friends and ended up having bizarre experiences flying around America on private jets and having good times, and when it actually came to recording my record, he was actually the only drummer I knew (laughs). So I was just like ‘Do you want to do some beats on this record?’ and he was like ‘I’d love to’. So it was just like asking your mate who plays drums to have a bash. It’s just because he is who he is that it’s a bit weird. But I’m a fan of him as a human being, not of Motley Crue, and I don’t think having Tommy Lee on your record is necessarily going to bring you more fans.
It could be a double-edged sword…
Yeah, but he is a fucking good drummer. He hits the drums hard and it really is amazing watching him do it. And believe it or not, despite the celebrity culture we live in, Motley Crue still do tour a lot and he drums a lot.
And it was kind of like that for the rest of the collaborations. I moved to the States for a girl and as soon as I got here I knew I had to get my head down and get on with this record. Twiggy was a guy I’d met on a few different trips over here and I was just like ‘Dude, I need a bass player, can you come and do some parts?’ and we just jammed it out and came up with the stuff we did. Joey was a friend of my manager… But the one I was most stoked about finding was Kurt, because I didn’t want it to be some producer project with various random guests. I really wanted a front man to really bring the band together and finding Kurt was really key to that.
Cope is out through Marine Parade/Inertia