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Interview: Fat Freddy's Drop

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For ten years New Zealand reggae-soul behemoths Fat Freddy’s Drop have been spanning the globe with their infectious grooves and sunshine tunes.

Fat Freddys DropThey have two albums racking up almost half a million sales worldwide, over 800 shows (412 appearances in Europe, 27 in Australia and over 300 in their homeland). What’s more, they have done this all without major label support!

We are stood on the roof of Shoreditch’s Village Underground, where the band is serving seafood BBQ to friends and press to introduce them to their new (and third) album Blackbird.

“This is all about celebrating the new album, that is kinda why we are here doing a small gig, in a small intimate venue. We just wanted to put on a nice little event for the press, a little treat. We’re all foodies, especially our keyboard player, he’s a real hunter/gatherer. At our studio, back in New Zealand we have a big kitchen – you know food’s just a big part of our culture and what we’re about really”, explains Chris Faiumu (also known as DJ Fitchie) the band’s resident beat-maker and DJ.

The intimate gig at Village Underground follows a special, short set at Rough Trade East for fans who bought an advance copy of the record in the store the previous day. Despite its short length, the band whipped the crowd into an electric frenzy with improvised versions of their new songs.  

 “We love all the gigs, the big ones but we love the small ones because we started on a more improvised, jazzy tip and it was in rooms of 100/150 and we did that for years. And, not that we took advantage of it yesterday, we get to play songs we don’t always get to play. We can play the more intimate, mellower tunes that you just can’t play in a bigger venue,” says Faiumu.

Their love of gigs has seen their popularity rocket. Keeping on top of demand is a feat for a band with so many members and an international fan-base. But as Faiumu says, it’s not easy hitting venues for all their worldwide fans.

“I come to London all the time. I couldn’t live here, but I enjoy playing here. We love coming to Europe, because it’s pretty organised and we have our touring party down here.  We have hooked up with the right people. There isn’t the numbers in Australasia for us to make any money, so we have to come here.”

“America’s no good, it’s too big. And they make it hard for you to play in their country, they make it expensive. For us, to get 14 people into the States to do a tour, before we have even stepped off the plane it’s costing us something like $30,000 in visas.”

What is it about this band on stage that people love? Live, Fat Freddy’s extol togetherness, they move to the same groove, they’re a tight musical unit. But how do they know what they others are thinking, in order to make such improvisation so fluid?

“There’s a bit of telepathy going down on one level but I mean that comes with playing with the same guys for ten plus years. There’s an element of that, but some of the older songs are now more formulated and we do have a plan. Part of that plan is to get through the song with regards to lyrics and the form, in order to get that out of the way and leave the door open to move into other things at the end of the song. Have a little bit of jam at the end of it.”

Another heady mix of dub grooves, soulful vocals and reggae bounce infused with jazz-like improvisation, Blackbird should take Fat Freddy’s popularity to the next level.

“At the moment, to me, it feels like the best thing we’ve done. But I also felt that about the last album and around this point, I am very proud of what we have done. This album definitely came about differently in the fact that most of it was in the studio and there was a space that we all had ownership of it creatively, whereas in the past it’s been my studio we’ve done an album in, in my basement or the bottom half of my house.”

In essence a live band, they have now honed their craft as a studio group. Rather than working live jams into recorded cuts, the band have flipped it on its head with much of the latest release being built up in the studio, only then to worked out for the live arena. Blackbird is the realisation of Fat Freddy’s as the full-package, the masters of live performance and studio creativity.

“Stuff is definitely more formulated now than it was, say, five years ago. But the last track last night ‘You Are Moving’, the last track on the album, that was definitely a bit spur of the moment. We haven’t quite worked out how to deliver that song live yet because it was definitely one of the songs on the album that was created in the studio. It wasn’t based in a performance, where most of the tunes on the album were.  It was definitely a creation with a mouse and a computer and a whole bunch of studio tools.”

While the band have always had electronic undercurrents, Blackbird brings their techno influences further to the fore.

Blackbird is the sound of a band in love with itself and what it does, matched by a mastery of their art.

 

Catch the band on stage in the UK in October, and BlackBird is out now.

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