The Future Is Bright and Uncertain: Freelance Whales Look Forward to Growing Up Together

Of all the bands I’ve run across in the past year, few have made as huge an impression as Brooklynites Freelance Whales. I went into the band’s debut album, Weathervanes, totally blind, expecting throwaway Pitchfork-friendly pop, but the music stopped me dead in my tracks.

Freelance Whales’ fuzzy-edged, candy-sweet updating of Northwestern indie-pop stripped away all that cynicism, bringing an involuntary grin to my face and making my head bob like a dashboard figurine’s. The band takes Gibbard-esque electronics-tinged pop goodness and grafts on a warm, rural, folky feel, complete with quirky indie-folk instrumentation like banjo, cello, and, um, glockenspiel.

Through it all, frontman/lyricist Judah Dadone croons and swoons like the shy boy in class, the one who dreams grand, luminous dreams and sings them after dark in the darkness of his bedroom. His voice and wistful, charming lyrics flutter over the plucked strings and burbling synths, pulling you gently along into a hipsterized, urban-cool love story.

If any of this sounds familiar, by the by, that might be because it’s crept stealthily into your ear by way of TV commercials or the show Chuck. Despite their relative youth, the band’s skipping steadily upwards, getting noticed more and more by the day.

Before their show here in town, Freelance Whales multi-instrumentalist Kevin Read was kind enough to chat with SCR about how things are going and what’s ahead.

SCR: Are you guys driving right now, I’m assuming?
Kevin Read: Yeah — we’re near…Beaumont? I think?

Okay, not too far. You’re almost down in our neck of the woods, here.
Yeah. Actually, a really close friend of mine is from Beaumont. Grew up, there, so…

Gotta be a far cry from Brooklyn, I’m guessing.
Well, y’know, when we got down to Georgia we noticed the temperature was so much better. Right now apparently it’s really cold and kind of rainy in New York.

Ah, yeah. Here, this is pretty much what fall is like — it doesn’t get cold here ’til like, February or so. Sometimes December. We had snow last Christmas, but it was nothing like what you guys get.
Last year, we were driving through this snowstorm; I guess it was like the biggest snowstorm to hit Texas in years, or something like that?

It was on the way up to Dallas, I think?

Yeah, that was the most snow we’ve had in a long time. That was pretty crazy. My daughter got really excited — we got to build a mud-snowman in the backyard.
Oh, that’s nice! That’s kind of like every winter for me, so it’s really great it happened for her… It was blinding snow, for us; we had to go 20 miles an hour on the highway.

That had to make things a little difficult…
Yeah, it made things kind of difficult.

Y’all actually were here not that long ago, right? I think back in the spring sometime?
Yeah, in the springtime. We were there…I believe it was March, maybe? We were on the Cymbals Eat Guitars and Bear in Heaven tour.

That’s right — Cymbals Eat Guitars was playing. I didn’t make it to the show, I’m afraid; do you remember what it was like last time?
Yeah! It was fun — it was cool, ’cause we’d been on tour with Bear in Heaven once before, and it was really short, like four dates. So we got meet all of them. And it was still kind of early on in the Cymbals tour, probably like the second week, a week-and-a-half into the tour. So we were still getting to know the guys from Cymbals. That was kind of like a… ‘Cause the room was small, we all had to share a tiny stage, we kind of got to know them a bit better, started talking a bit more.

But it was a good show. I think it was packed-out.

I think it was Mango’s?
Yeah, Mango’s.
That place is pretty tiny. But the shows there are fun…

It’s kind of odd, because a lot of bands tend to skip us these days — it’s cool to see a band come through twice in one year.
Oh, no way…that’s a bummer.
Well, we’re not really on the tour routes, apparently. Everybody goes up through Austin.
That’s sort of like — my parents live down in Florida, so we never get to play shows near them. The only time we did was that same tour.

And my parents had to go up, ’cause my sister was giving birth — I’m originally from Pennsylvania, and my sister still lives there. They had to go up there, and they missed the show. They were going to head to the show, and they were just like, my sister went into labor, so they just flew up. The only show we’ve ever played in Florida, and my parents missed it; I was a little bummed about that. We never hit up Florida. A rare occurrence, to my understanding.

I mean, the whole having-a-grandkid thing kind of trumps that, I’m afraid…
[laughs] Yeah, yeah, totally.

How’s this tour been going so far?
So far, pretty good. We’ve been lucky with some of the shows — we played Hoboken first, and that was a sold-out crowd, which, y’know, it’s kind of near New York, so I was thinking it could possibly happen. And then we went down to DC to play at The Black Cat, which is a 700-person room, y’know? And it sold out, also, and I was really kind of shocked.
That’s awesome.
The last couple of shows have been pretty close to the same, so… Really happy about that.

We’re renting a van, because we have a 15-person passenger van that we’ve done most of our tours in — actually, all of our touring — and we decided we kinda wanted to do an upgrade, so we got a Sprinter. It’s really comfortable, so everyone’s kind of relaxing, taking it easy, not cramped. Not sitting on gear, for the most part, all our equipment and stuff like that.

I imagine that would get kind of cramped after a while, if you’ve got all the gear in there with you.
The first couple, the first two tours, you get kinda used to it. And then further along, you’re used to it, but you’re not happy about it. You’re like, “oh, well, whatever.”

It seems like everwhere I go these days, I’m running into you guys’ music. I was wondering if maybe that was bringing people out a lot of the time, or what. I’ve heard y’all in a lot of commercials, and TV shows, it seems, a lot lately. What’s that been like?
Well, at least for me, I think it’s amazing — it’s a new experience for me, at the same time, though, so I don’t really know how to react to it. Just like, “oh, wow, cool!” Y’know? That’s pretty cool, playing during the World Series, that’s pretty awesome. I haven’t really seen any of ’em, actually, live — I saw them afterwards — so I already knew that I was going to watch what it was.

I think, honestly, that could be a big reason why there is more attention. I know the Twitter commercial that we did was awesome; I had a lot of friends calling me up or texting me, saying that they saw the Twitter commercial and they couldn’t believe it. They were so excited to see that.

I have to admit, it was kinda cool. There’s some commercial with this lady driving around, looking into people’s windows or something, and there’s music playing in the background, and I’m sitting there watching it, and it’s like, “oh, my God — I know that band! That’s Freelance Whales!” And my wife’s like, “who?” That’s awesome…
A friend of mine was like, “man, you’ve made it, now.” [laughs]
“You’re done.”
“You’re done, you can go home.” It’s like, “what are you trying to prove, man?” [laughs]

I know you’re touring pretty much still on Weathervanes, right? I thought I saw something about a new EP? I don’t know what that was, though.
Well, we got asked by Green Label Sound, which is I guess kind of run underneath Mountain Dew, to release a single. So we talked about it, and we thought it’d be a good idea. Previous bands had done it before, like Neon Indian had done it before, and we actually decided to do it, and then they asked us if we could do two tracks, A-side and B-side.

So we put out two songs — “Enzymes” is the A-side, and “Day Off” is the B-side — and that’s released through Green Label Sound. And we’re also in the process of making a music video for it, for the A-side. It’s more like singles, A-side/B-side singles, y’know? It’s nothing with our record label but Weathervanes, but it’s been a starting point to start writing more, kind of putting more stuff out there.

Are y’all already looking forward to the second album?
Yeah! I think we’re kind of coming up with ideas and working on things, and kind of just tinkering, really. I don’t think there’s been any huge, major discussions about ideas or direction, just kind of fooling around. A couple of jams we did before this tour created some interesting ideas we could possibly use. Just stuff like that.

We haven’t completely set our feet down on an idea yet, but are just looking forward to it and coming up with ideas.

Do you all write the songs together, or…?
It kind of changes from song to song. Some songs, there’s more interaction within the band, and some songs, one person has the idea and everyone else tries to apply ideas into the specific idea. It changes from song to song, like songwriting changes from song to song. There’s similarities; there’s also differences. Whatever happens, happens.

I was just curious, because when I first listened to Weathervanes, I thought it was all one guy. I thought it was just sort of this one-man-band, Postal Service kind of thing. The songs really flow together like they’re written by one person, all one thought process.
Well, yeah — a lot of the album, especially, Weathervanes, a lot of it was written by Judah. A lot of the ideas were written by Judah, and then we went into the studio and kind of laid other ideas down to see where they fit. But the majority of it was written by one person, so…

Where do you see everything headed for you guys? Do you have any grand dreams for the future of the band, y’know, playing concerts on the Moon or something?
Nah. That’d be cool — I think that’d be pretty awesome. I dunno… The only problem about playing on the Moon would be the lack of fans that’d be there.
Well, that’s true. Everybody on Earth would have to clap really hard.
[laughs] Yeah… I guess right now we’re just trying to still be creative. I know we’re just taking it one step at a time. I couldn’t say where we’re heading, because really, we’re so young, y’know? We’ve only been touring for a year, and we haven’t really grown up together, I guess you could say.

A little unsure, but I hope we just keep making great music; I hope we succeed at that. END

[Freelance Whales are playing 11/10/10 at Fitzgerald’s, along with Miniature Tigers.]

Interview by . Interview posted Wednesday, November 10th, 2010. Filed under Features, Interviews.

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