After a period this summer where I’ve not really been able to post too much, I’m back now for the autumn with a whole host of (hopefully) interesting posts, articles and interviews for your reading pleasure. I’m starting that with an interview with a new band that is worth your time catching up with.
Talk Show Host: 049
Freak Dream on amodelofcontrol.com
Tuesday Ten: 339: Tracks of the Month (Jul 2018)
Talk Show Host: 2018
That band are Freak Dream, a Vancouver-based duo that are somewhere between the realms of noise-rock, electronics, industrial, funk and a few other things – marking that ever-more present trend of bands going for something that can’t be pigeonholed.
Sure, it means that it is really bloody hard as a writer to accurately describe them, but that’s my problem, not theirs. But what is really interesting with this kind of band is that their wide and varied musical interests make for fascinating discussion and some insights into how and what they do.
Anyway, meet Freak Dream.
amodelofcontrol.com on Facebook
amodelofcontrol.com: Freak Dream, hello. You’ve just signed with Artoffact Records to release your debut album Into The Sun this week. How’s things going?
Elliot (Freak Dream): It’s goin’ great! I just woke up and we’ve got our album release show tonight in Vancouver so I am really stoked and slightly nervous cuz it feels like a big show! I’ve been riding my bike around the city putting up posters a bunch in the past week so yeah, feels like more pressure than a usual show as it will be our biggest local gig for the year, but I’m sure it’s gonna be rad. We’ve practiced a lot and I think it’s gonna be killer. And we’re playing with three other really sweet local bands too (Rinse Dream, Primp, Rong) so yeah, in a good mood right now!
amodelofcontrol.com: One of the big trends of recent times has been to ignore so-called genre boundaries, and it is obvious from this album that you’ve very much done so here. Do you feel that the creation of style/genre boundaries hampers creativity?
Elliot (Freak Dream): Yes, or at least I think a lot of my favorite music goes across genres. While I like bands like CCR or Minor Threat which are pretty stuck in one genre, I love bands like Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Fugazi or Deerhoof that blur genre lines. Especially in this day in age where everyone has tremendous access to a wide variety of music, I think it’d be boring to only listen to one genre and only make music that fits within that genre boundary. On the other hand, there are genres I do enjoy when they’re played well. I used to play bass in a punk band The Rebel Spell that played pretty straight ahead punk, and playing punk shows with that band was a lot of fun. But generally as a listener and a music-maker I’m more interested in stuff that throws a bunch of influences into a musical-blender in an attempt to create new sounds. I think there’s kind of an irony too that certain genres that are supposed to be counter-cultural or subversive (eg. punk) can often be pretty musically conservative. At the same time I understand why genres exist: a metal fan doesn’t necessarily want to go to a gig if a band is going to play folk. People need to describe music with words and so genres are created.
amodelofcontrol.com: There genuinely is an extraordinary variety to your sound. I picked up stoner rock in the guitars, nods to HEALTH and other “noise rock” bands, industrial hardcore/punk and drum’n’bass (8 Billion) even an influence of Hanin Elias (Atari Teenage Riot) in the vocals. Was there a particular sound you were aiming for, or did you just let the chips fall?
Elliot (Freak Dream): Thanks for the compliment! I only actually started listening to Atari Teenage Riot recently, but I think I must have listened to bands that were influenced by them. Discovering them felt like I’d found a missing link! I love HEALTH and they were certainly an influence. Stoner rock, noise rock and punk are all definitely influences, I think of myself primarily as a guitarist and those are all genres I’ve messed around with. And drum’n’bass is something I’ve always enjoyed hearing when I go out, though it’s rare these days in Canada for a DJ to play.
Anyhow I don’t think there was a particular sound we were aiming for, I’m a fan of everything you mentioned. On our previous EP, I felt a few of the songs were too similar and I wanted to broaden our sound. I think different songs were more centered around different influences, for example Into The Sun started wanting to use a drum beat with a lot of toms in it (inspired by HEALTH actually), whereas 8 Billion was based around the idea of mixing hardcore-punk with Venetian Snares inspired break-core, as they’re both around the same fast tempo but I hadn’t heard a song that mixed the two. So I guess I was aiming for different sounds or ideas on different songs.
And I like musical contrast. I remember reading an interview in a guitar magazine with Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath where he explained that the riff in the verse of War Pigs was so heavy because there’s so much silence in it (BAH-DAH “generals gathered in their masses” BAH-DAH…) I try to have a lot of contrast, so I take inspiration from contrasting genres of music.
amodelofcontrol.com: It was a surprise to me to find that the shadow of Prince looms large on this album. Do U Now is obviously a nod to the Purple One, and then the guitar solo and shrieking that closes out Headphones (Fade Out) immediately brings to mind a legendary, er, Purple set closer from Prince. Presumably he was an influence on what you do?
Elliot (Freak Dream): Yes, I love Prince haha. Do U Now was me trying to do Housequake and Headphones is definitely influenced by his ballads in general. I could go on about Prince forever, because he’s an influence and source of inspiration in a bunch of ways. First off, I think many people think of Prince as a singer and performer and don’t necessarily realize what a monster musician he was. He played every instrument many of his records, going back to his first record which was recorded and produced when he was 18 or 19. To listen to an early track of his like Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad or I Wanna Be Your Lover and to think this is just a kid recording and playing all these instruments and doing all those vocal harmonies is pretty amazing. He’s an astonishing guitar, bass and keyboard player. Then as a songwriter and producer he’s incredibly prolific. He released his first album in 1978 and pretty much released an album every year until his death. As a singer, his range is obviously astounding. I love his teasing falsetto and I love how he just loses it when he screams and I also like when his voice gets all low and seducing. I think someone in some magazine once called him a shrieking sex-obsessed elf haha. Then there’s the whole aspect of his blurring of sexuality and gender, he’s intriguing in those ways. Plus I mean come on, how can you not love so many of his songs [Ed: don’t worry, you’re preaching to the converted here]? 1999, Raspberry Beret, Kiss, etc. just some of the best pop songs ever in my opinion!
I saw Prince live twice and the contrast between the two shows was really interesting. The first show I saw was in a big stadium and he had a band with a dozen people in it and they mostly played his big 1980s hits. Then a couple years later I saw him again at a much smaller, thousand seat venue in Vancouver. He played with a new three piece band, Third Eye Girl and played pretty much all new music, much of it at that point I believe un-released. Much of the set was just him playing incredible guitar solos. Obviously he was tremendously successful and could have probably retired comfortably in the mid-80s, but he obviously had a tremendous drive to make new music and constantly refine his craft, which I find inspiring.
amodelofcontrol.com: How did you get to the point of Freak Dream? Did you have other musical involvements prior to this, and was there a particular artist or piece of music that flicked a switch in you?
Elliot (Freak Dream): I have been playing in bands since I was very young (check out Moonfich if you want to hear my band from when I was 12 years old). As an adult, the bands I’ve been involved with I might be known for are The Rebel Spell (punk), The SSRIs (post-hardcore/math-rock) and Sprïng (psychedelic rock/prog). In addition to that I’ve done a whole bunch of other things musically, I’ve played in jazz bands and musicals and cover bands, I’ve filled in for bands when they’re missing a bandmate, I’ve taught guitar lessons as employment… so yes my musical involvements are many!
When both The Rebel Spell and Sprïng ended in 2015 I found myself without a band and unsure of what to do musically next. A friend of mine suggested I should do something where I was the leader of the project, which was an intriguing idea to me but not something I’d really done seriously as an adult. I wanted to try being the lead singer and songwriter in a project to challenge myself and see if I could do it. On a pragmatic note, I also wanted a project I was in control of so I could decide how active we were, whether we were going to be busy or take time off, what musical direction we were going in, whether we were going to break-up or not, etc.
After being in bands with a bunch of creative and opinionated people butting heads and having to compromise often, I was curious what doing something that was mostly my own would look like, where I got to try and incorporate any and all of my musical ideas and influences. I should mention that in the past couple years the band has grown from being mostly my side project to being a collaboration with Ryan who plays drums live and on much of the album and has also designed visuals for our live show. Fortunately I think our skills are complimentary, I’m not itching to play drums and I don’t think he’s itching to sing or play guitar.
My favorite album as a teenager was The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails. I liked the idea that mostly one guy had created this whole world of varied sound, and mixed elements of rock music with electronic music in a series of really varied but complimentary songs. I liked that some of the tracks were so dense I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, what instruments I was hearing. And it always seemed like something I could maybe do myself, I definitely got to the point where I felt confident I could play that sort of guitar, but could I figure out synths and music production and songwriting and singing at that level? Freak Dream is me doing my best at those things.
amodelofcontrol.com: There are a whole lot of elements in every track on Into The Sun. What’s your composition process – where on earth do you start with some of these?
Elliot (Freak Dream): I told myself this time that I wasn’t going to start with the demos and just add more and more things until the recordings became so dense I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, but that’s exactly what I did! There’s dozens of tracks in a lot of the songs, at times it became difficult to remember what all I had recorded. I add tracks and tracks and tracks and then try and clean them up so they don’t sound like a mess haha.
I guess for Freak Dream I write more like an electronic music producer than like a rock band jamming in a room. I work in Logic on my laptop and program beats and then either play or program guitar riffs or basslines. Then I add instruments and juggle sections around until it feels like I have a song form that makes sense. Then I might add vocal ideas, maybe not with finished lyrics, but at least to figure out the rhythm or melody of vocals. Then the last stage is recording things, so I’ll rerecord things that were recorded messily initially, I’ll record Ryan or whoever’s drums and I’ll finish lyrics and do final vocal and instrumental takes. There was a lot of editing and revision though, some of the songs took months to get to their final stage! And I think each song’s process was a little different. I don’t want to write the same song twice and I want there to be a lot contrast to the songs so I try to switch up the process a bit each time.
We are playing live more now, so I think I had that a bit in mind writing. The songs needed to have guitar in them because I was going to play guitar live, and I want them to be dance-able. I try to keep the songs relatively simple too. My bands SSRIs and Sprïng had some really crazy math-rock parts in them and I try to avoid that in Freak Dream. There may be a handful sections in each song, but I try to avoid writing guitar riffs that are too complicated, and I try to stick mostly to danceable 4/4 beats. When I was in The Rebel Spell we always wrote with the audience reaction in mind, there were a lot of catchy melodies and builds that would pay off. Freak Dream is weirder but I try and keep a pop element hidden in there to make it fun and dance-y and relatable.
amodelofcontrol.com: I only came across your work once Artoffact Records signed you – and now I find out you’ve already been to the UK. Are there plans to return?
Elliot (Freak Dream): No plans yet but I certainly hope we will next year! Our first European tour was a bit of an experiment, but even as a totally unknown new band it went great and we had a ton of fun. So I hope we’ll get a chance to return! Focusing on Canada and the US for the next while though.
Into the Sun is out now on Artoffact Records