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TAS in Session: Freelance Whales


Freelance Whales are not your everyday buzz band. Building their story while busking on the streets and subways of Brooklyn, the Queens-born band has gained a strong following over the last eight months or so. Their sound is blend of harmony, melody and instrumentation with a heavy nod to that last part. To suggest that they are simply a five-piece is more than underselling them. Each member - Judah Dadone, Doris Cellar, Chuck Criss, Kevin Read and Jacob Hyman - may play five different instruments per song! Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but only slightly.

Freelance Whales will rerelease their exceptional debut Weathervanes on Frenchkiss/Mom + Pop Records on April 13. They play Music Hall of Williamsburg this Friday with Cymbals Eat Guitars and Bear In Heaven.

Russ Borris Congratulations on the album Weathervanes. One of the things that comes out on first or second listen of the record is the instrumentation. Clearly you guys have a love of different instruments?

Judah Dahone: I think part of the reason we like to have a lot of different instruments around is having that control over hearing a lot of textures at once. I know for me, when I started putting together some of the songs on Weathervanes, one of the things I was kind of sick of was sitting down at a piano and feeling like I had to express the whole harmonic thrust of song with one instrument and and the idea of writing smaller parts that interacted together in rhythmic, polyrhythmic or textural ways was part of the reason why we got into having a bunch of things around. And it's just fun. It's fun to treat songwriting in this way. You just have a bunch of things around and you can kind of walk over to whatever you feel might work for the song you're trying to work on.

Russ: And that's constantly evolving during the songwriting process.

Judah: Yes absolutely. If you're doing some kind of session like this or in a different studio to try to reinterpret it by doing a part with a different instrument. Trying to keep the songs evolving.

Doris Cellar: Most of us are songwriters and we all record our own music so I think. I've been singing since the third grade but I think I've been playing multi-instruments since I was sixteen and Chuck has as well. He's been playing banjo and guitar.

Chuck Criss: Banjo was actually my first instrument in high school and I was into bluegrass at the time. I still am.

Russ: That's not a common thing, for a teenage kid to be into bluegrass. What appealed to you?

Chuck: I think I was drawn to it because it was unconventional and I like different instrumentation. It's refreshing. I think it's why I was drawn to this band; we all had that love of doing things a little different. We love music.

Judah: Part of there being a lot of instruments around isn't to master them necessarily. It's to be able to harvest little bits from them. So I think that's why a lot of parts on the album are simple. We could probably teach you to play part of one of the tunes because they're all pretty remedial but when they come together, hopefully, it's locked in. We all mess around with a lot of instruments but we don't feel the need to be masters of them. But Jake spent most of his life playing drums and Kevin, guitars.

Kevin: I do feel the need to mess with instruments.

Russ: I think one of the things I hear on the record, everything seems open, but meticulous.

Judah: Yeah, it's all pretty painstainkingly composed. We thought about every part and how it rubbed up against other parts, but it's fun to deconstruct it and reinterpret it. Sometimes it's mistakes that people make on stage and they turn out to be happy accidents. Or ideas that we have by playing [the songs] with acoustic instruments as opposed to electronic. And sometimes we'll send things around on emails.

Russ: The music interludes, the one-minute pieces. There's actually something on here that sounds like a music box.

Doris: Yeah, yeah. I bought it as a gift for my friend. I played it and sang happy birthday over it (laughs). And then said, hey, do you mind if I keep it (laughs). I brought it to rehearsal and kept slowing and speeding it up and thought it sounded really cool.

Judah: We thought it sounded a little deranged. It's supposed to sound bright and happy but we put some other things on the track which made it sound a little darker.

Russ: The record is something you've had out on your own for a while and it's just been picked up by Frenchkiss. So it's been something you've lived with for a while, and you've grown your fan base slowly. How has that gone so far?

Judah: It's been fast.

Chuck: Extremely fast.

Doris: We finished a few tours. We toured with Fanfarlo. We weren't on a label then but somehow got on the tour. And the we went out with Bear In Heaven. Now we're going on tour with Cymbals Eat Guitars and Bear In Heaven. So it's going pretty fast but when we get back hopefully we'll have time to relax. But then we're going to jump on tour again.

Russ: You still busk every now and then. You just did it recently.

Doris: I don't consider it busking so much anymore. We just did it for the fans.

Judah: It was the first time we ever announced it. We wanted to let people know we were leaving town again which is something we do before we go on tour. Play some sort of show. But it was also for people who found us in that capacity because we [busked] quite a bit. It was a good way of letting people we were doing it.

Russ: Worst busking experience?

Chuck: It's mostly the competing volumes of crazy people.

Kevin: Crazy people and trains.

Chuck: Like Crazy Legs McGee. If you ever go to Bedford Avenue in Wiliamsburg, everyone knows who he is because he's the really tall, preacher-esque, gangly and loud guy.

Kevin: Long grey hair. He's at least 6'4, so he's really tall.

Judah: He spouts political and religious dogma and directs it at specific individuals.

Chuck: Like us.

Russ: So you'd be trying to play a song ....

Chuck: And he'd yell over the song.

Kevin: Sometimes we wouldn't even begin to set up. He'd just notice that we had gear with us an spout on about practicing.

Chuck: [He'd yell] 'Great bands don't practice!' So we called him Crazy Legs McGee because his legs are kind of crazy, but it spread to his brain.

Judah: That was our diagnosis.

Freelance Whales tour dates with Cymbals Eat Guitars and Bear In Heaven*

4/6 – El Mocambo Club – Toronto, ON

4/7 – Il Motore – Montreal, QB

4/8 – The Middle East – Boston, MA

4/9 - Music Hall Of Williamsburg - New York, NY

*remaining dates