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Fat Freddy's Drop: Kiwi 7-piece chat about 'Blackbird'

Fat Freddy's Drop have been plying their trade for well over ten years of regular touring, including a memorable headline show at Glastonbury in 2007. Their inimitable horn-led sound, which brings together soul, dub, reggae among other diverse influences, is one of the most recognisable in modern roots music. Although the band don't have a drummer, the organic nature of the melody and lyricism has struck a chord with roots fans in all six continents. Impressively, they have remained independent of the larger music industry throughout their history, gaining the distinction of being the first band to hit number one in their native New Zealand with an independently produced record. 2005’s Based On A True Story catapulted the group towards worldwide recognition. Their follow-up in 2009, Dr Boondigga and the Big BW, was no less successful, remain atop the Kiwi music charts for no less than five weeks and earning stellar reviews throughout the world. After a gap of four years, we are finally ready to be treated to another album, Blackbird, the fifth in their discography. Sax player Chopper Reedz, aka Scott Towers, told us more. It's been four years since the last record. How did Blackbird come about? We mucked around for two years touring. Then we built a studio and spent six months working out how to use the space effectively and writing new songs. Then we spent 18 months finishing and recording those songs. What was the recording process like? Which songs are you most pleased with? Once we’d worked out how to capture the various sounds we were after, it really was just a matter of successfully recording a group performance that we use as the backbone of the songs. We were all in the room together, much like an old Motown session might be conducted. I think we really pulled it off on ‘Blackbird’, ‘Clean The House’ and ‘Soldier’, but funnily enough I really like the songs that are a little more produced, like ‘Mother, Mother’ and ‘Never Moving’. Do songs always come out of jamming or do you have specific songwriters? All the songs start from either a jam session or someone writing a bassline or beat on the MPC. Then we work them up collectively. But at a certain point one or more people will start to take the lead on how the song should develop, and of course we need to be aware of Dukie’s vocals and how they’ll fit with the music. How do you think your sound has evolved since you started out in 1999? We’re better song writers now, and better musicians too, so we can push ourselves further musically. Fitchie has a much better studio now too, so actually capturing the sound is much improved. The band is highly acclaimed for its live performances. Do you see that as the best way for people to experience your music? It’s probably the most ‘authentic’ Freddy’s experience. That said, we’re really proud of the new record so hopefully that will be the start of the journey for some new fans. How much to you deviate from the recorded versions of songs when playing live? It really does vary from performance to performance. Sometimes we stick to the script, because we have limited time or the song is early in the set and we haven’t quite hit that spot in the show where stretching out feels natural. You have toured extensively for many years now. Are there any particular gigs that stand out? Often it’s playing somewhere for the first time that stays with you – Glastonbury (closing the World Stage in 2007), Zurich (2012), Lisbon (The Coliseum in 2010), Christchurch (our first show there since the city was devastated by two earthquakes). How would you describe the New Zealand reggae and dub scene? Has it changed since you first got involved? There are always new bands coming through with their own twist on things, so that makes it healthy I think. I do think that the best new local music has a more electronic edge to it though, so perhaps it’s moving away from a traditional reggae approach. Historically, a lot of the band has been involved in numerous projects alongside FFD. Is this still the case? Everyone has their fingers in some other pies – it can get a bit insular and claustrophobic if you don’t. Keep an eye out for a solo record from Joe Dukie, and our guitarist Jetlag Johnson has some glitch hip-hop coming out too. What has excited you in music lately? Afro-techno. Is that a genre? Things like the Owiny Sigoma Band and the stuff released on the Jiaolong label. The industry has changed a lot since the band's inception. Would you describe the modern music industry as healthy? I don’t know that the recorded music business is that healthy. It’s really just a fraction of what it once was. But the flip side of that is that touring and performing is the central focus for everyone now, so there are some amazing shows out there to be seen and heard. Hopefully that trend continues. The band has managed to stay independent throughout, releasing your music yourselves on your own imprint, The Drop. How important is this independence to what the band does? It’s really the only option for us. We don’t, and never have, fitted into a commercial format – three-minute songs, videos, putting our name to energy drinks. Being independent means we can stick to our guns and make the music we really feel, which in turn has built an audience that is still supporting us for doing exactly that. )

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