Interview: FAT FREDDY’S DROP

SoulCulture interviews Fat Freddy’s Drop

Written by: Richard ‘The Hobbit’ Bamford

“Pacific dub pioneers” Fat Freddy’s Drop, formed four years ago in Wellington New Zealand. FFD were conceived by Chris Faiumu; known by the rest of the band as Mu or under his Fat Freddy’s alias (dj) Fitchie. The other members of this seven-man line-up includes vocalist and songwriter Dallas Tamaira aka Joe Dukie, keyboard player Iain Gordon (also in a band called The Ebb) known in FFD as Dobie Blaze, saxophonist Warryn Maxwell (also in Wellington’s famous Trinity Roots band) aka Fulla Flash, guitarist Tehimana Kerr (used to be in The Exponents) with an FFD handle of Jetlag Johnson, trombonist Joe Lyndsay otherwise known as Hopepa and trumpet player Tony Laing aka Clubber Laing or Sugar2Tone.

One thing’s for certain, these seven kiwis do anything but take themselves seriously. Take the band name for instance. Fat Freddy’s Drop isn’t a name you’d expect from your average electronic, reggae, dub, jazz, soul and funk outfit. Further research reveals that Fat Freddy was actually a cartoon cat character from a ’60s underground comic called The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. “A picture of that cat was stamped on some LSD that did the rounds a few years ago in New Zealand”, Mu divulges. One might wonder if this is perhaps a little more apparent to the band especially if you’ve been lucky enough to witness their epic live improvisations, but Mu is quick to brush aside this myth by adding, “Yeah it may’ve initially come from the LSD but we’ve moved on from that now. We did wanna change the name but it got very popular very quickly and then it was too late”.

The band is signed to German label Sonar Kollectiv as it is in Germany their rootsie dub is met with huge appreciation. “Oh bro”, Warren confirms, “Germany’s like our second fucking home. They fucking love us in Berlin bro, don’t get me wrong, we love you guys in England and of course in Wellington it’s on fire but in Berlin it’s on another level.” Though their first released single, the ear-drum looting Midnight Marauders helped them to gain more global recognition, Fat Freddy’s Drop are still surprisingly unsigned here in the uk. Something they’re hoping will change as they put the finishing touches to their eagerly awaited album.

With so few recorded tracks just how do they maintain such interesting live shows? “Every gig’s different” Dallas enthusiastically explains. “It’s all improvised and we get together and write new songs for each gig we do”. With Dallas writing most of the lyrics and Mu on the controls for the beats and programming it’s unsurprising to learn that a lot of their new material is written while performing up on stage. A task that doesn’t sound that easy but as Mu elucidates, “Sometimes we just go on stage with a four bar loop and jam over it. Three or four gigs later and it really starts to take shape. Dallas just writes his lyrics from what he draws from the tune and it really is that simple.” Dallas asserts that “the core of Fat Freddy’s is the MPC”. Adding that, “This is the place it all begins and it ends with the players. Mu controls every Freddy’s performance with his MPC and we all pretty much feed of him and the rhythm he lays down. It’s all about jamming and improvising until we find what is right.”

Another band fact that seems hard to swallow is that most of them are in other bands and the astonishing level of tightness and unity they possess, considering their toes maybe twitching in so many other boots. “We’re all Wellington born”, Mu simplifies “Which has quite a small but a strong, tight music scene. The problem is that to make a living in music you’re forced to play in other bands but as time has gone on each musicians focus is now for Fat Freddy’s Drop.”

With such cross-pollination in place, this is surely why FFD have a mixture of so many different musical seeds to their flower? “Definitely bro” Warren concludes, “The horn players have a very jazzy background, Mu comes from a dj background and used to be in a reggae sound system, while Dallas is very much on a soul tip. T [Tchimana] comes from a rock music background but he’s also into his house thing.” With all those genres in place it seems almost impossible to compartmentalize Freddy’s, especially to just reggae. But as Mu explains “We’re heavily influenced by reggae and dub but give it a very Pacific feel in the way in which the songs evolve. We’re never in a rush, which is probably why some of our jams go on for twenty minutes”.

Though in Wellington the scene is very much made up of reggae, hiphop and jazz, they’ve found it easier for their fellow New Zealanders to accept their mix of poly-everything than say the likes of the uk. Mu thinks that places like London are, “Very much into reggae or soul or funk and it’s taken them a while to know what to make of us which is good coz it helps us develop and keep fresh flavours and sounds”. Which if nothing proves they’re not afraid of reinvention. “I think that everything we’ve seen and heard and done will all come out in the next album,” Mu declares. “I think it can keep growing organically like this for a very long time”.

As part of an experiment, maybe to assist the band in their London conquering quest or maybe just to poke fun at Big Brother, the guys uk based manager Charlie Kirby-Welch (head of Kartel Creative management) decided to rent a house in the appropriately miscellaneous suburb of Tooting in south London for the band to crash during their grueling tour timetable. Though Mu recalls it more to be “A Big Brother idea but with more of a piss take edge. We were all shacked-up in this house in Mitcham or somewhere and there is loads of video footage of allsorts o’ stuff and it was a good laugh”. It doesn’t get much more comical than balancing the lounge door across a bay window to make a flat surface for various mixers, speakers and computers to create a temporary studio. Strange as it may seem they did actually manage to work on a good portion of the forthcoming album, which Mu describes as, “Tighter versions of the live stuff, with the same kinda genre mix but I guess it’d be fair to say half reggae and the other half soul and jazz.

In short, this virtual Big Brother house was a studio and three-bedroom flat which would house Mu, his partner and four-year-old (at the time) in one bedroom, the three married men shared another and the bachelors in the other. Though these conditions were not ideal, nothing seems to faze Fat Freddy’s Drop or to dent their skill and they continue to strive for their all important goals, which are? “We wanna sell records and make a living out of it; ya-know, get paid and get heard. Getting paid for doing something you love”. Which to conclude makes them in fact, like the Six Million Dollar Man; they end up being better than they were before. And their live performances since that time propel a bionic, sonic sparkle which affirms these boys as much more than wandering stars. With luminaries such as Gilles Peterson and Nightmares on Wax gracing their compilations with Fat Freddy’s Drop, the future is certainly looking hopeful for this, a new generation of reggae music.

Visit www.fatfreddysdrop.com for information on the bands tour dates (they really are THAT good live), some hilarious animation and the usual cyberspace joviality.