“We’re more sure of ourselves, just letting those moments exist for what they are” – a chat with Fat Freddy’s Drop

Ahead of their new album Bays, we had the pleasure of speaking to Chopper, saxophonist from the soulful New Zealand band Fat Freddy’s Drop. Combining live instruments with electronics and smooth vocals, the seven-piece is as much grounded in reggae as it is in jazz, soul and dub. With sixteen years of collaboration between them, they aren’t slowing down in any way, shape or form. Freddy’s has an Australian tour coming next February, and are at the cusp of releasing their refined new album, officially coming out on the 23rd of October.

We speak to Chopper about recording their latest album, the live music scene in Wellington, and what it is like to tour the world for ten years consecutively whilst raising a family.


I had the chance to listen to Bays this week, and it’s so good! To me it seems to have a different vibe to your previous albums. Did you have a specific direction when you started making it?

I don’t think we did, it was really just a case of following some sounds that we’ve been exploring for a few years in the live shows, and they sort of spilled over into the studio. Having the time to concentrate on writing songs they just followed that trajectory quite naturally.

Because I know that you did record this album mostly in the studio, whereas in the past it was more about sort of jamming and testing stuff out live, was that a big difference?

Yeah that’s a huge difference for us. It’s a bit of an indulgence really, from a working band perspective; because you know when you’re in the studio you aren’t earning any money (laughs). So normally we have to break up our writing and recording schedules with chores and shows, and we love doing that, but it’s also a bit of a distraction. So this was nice being able to concentrate on the task at hand. It was a bit of an unusual scenario.

Yeah to just sit down and have the whole day to focus on it must be good.

Yeah, to have days in a row and then weeks in a row and then months in a row. For a band that, you know, we’re not being supported by advances from record labels or anything like that so… It’s quite a commitment on our behalf, but one that we definitely wanted to make. Everything’s been heading towards this for the last five or six years so it was great that we could finally pull it off.

Is there any apprehension in not having had the affirmation from a live audience, and only really being able to go off each other listening to what you’re doing?

To be honest it’s actually quite exciting. Because it means the shows are going to be fresh, not only for us, because we’ll be playing the songs for the very first time live. But also for the audience as well, because they won’t go ‘oh yeah I remember the first version of that and now listening to the recorded version it’s got this extra section, or its missed out this bit that I really liked.’ You know quite often in the trajectory of a song for Freddy’s it gets burst, for want of a better word, and then it has a half life and then becomes recorded and then has the second part of its life. Whereas the recording process is really the very, very beginning of that life for these songs. So it’s going to bring a different sort of energy to how they are reinterpreted and performed I think, which is something that I’m looking forward to.

Yeah that’s so true. Do you think you rework songs on the new album as much as on previous albums, knowing that they’re quite refined in some ways?

That’s a good description of them actually, because we often feel that in previous processes, we’ve been able to drastically change direction or shift gear in the live performance. That sort of approach has sort of translated into the studio as well. So these songs kind of unfolded in a really natural, well conceived way. To me it feels like there are sections that could be extended further or that we could delve into deeper or whatever. But I think it’s going to be a real pleasure for us to play them out.

I found that compared to some of your older songs like Wandering Eye and Breakthrough and stuff like that, they’re almost minimal in some ways. They build up but then they die back down again, it really changed the tone of the album for me.

Yeah yeah, I think part of it is that in the past we’d throw in the kitchen sink into almost every song. So you’ll have a kicked back song, but somewhere in the middle of it there’ll be some random ska moment or a blues note or whatever, and we’ve not moved a million miles away from that. But we’re much happier for it just to be a country song, or that section be the country section or the brass band section, and this song can be the techno song. I think we’re a lot more sure of ourselves, just letting those moments exist for what they are, and not trying to clever them up too much.

Did you, being in a studio, have more of a focus on the kind of electronic and digital side of things compared to previous albums?

It wasn’t really a conscious thing. We’d be recording away, and I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the clips of the band in the studio, you know it’s very rare that we’re actually sitting there playing the instruments that we play on the stage. So it’s quite natural for the horn players to end up playing bass or keyboards or something like that. And we just felt like that selection of sound was the freshest to us. At the same time, it makes sense, because we all had our feet in the club scene in Wellington in the 90s. There was a huge house and hip hop and techno undercurrent, so it just feels like, as I said, like we’ve let some of the other things out. The keyboard solo has always been part of the Freddy sound, it’s just that we’ve always doubled them up with a horn part or an electric bass or something. We’ve just been happy to lay it bare a bit more, I think.

Yeah so I’m hearing sounds that maybe were masked or hidden by other instruments?

Yeah it feels like that to me, which is kind of being just happier for them to be the main event, rather than a multi-layered part.

Yeah. I did read that you guys were obviously influenced by the live music scene in Wellington, do you still see a lot of live music now?

Not as much as I’d like to, to be honest. Part of it is because the music scene in venues in New Zealand has really changed in the last few years. Auckland has a bit more of a live scene. Wellington not so much, although it’s just a couple of venues. Also just the pressures of having a family, being out of the country a lot, all those sorts of things. It’s a detriment to getting out and doing what I’d like to. There’s some great, great music and great musicians going on in New Zealand at the moment so that’s always cool to keep tabs on.

Do you have a favourite live music scene in any other city or country, that you would always talk about as your go to?

Oh I think London’s always had an amazing array of artists coming through, and locals too. It’s such a great city from a music perspective, it feels like the music really gets a chance to develop. And it’s a transient city too, it’s really got an international bunch of people living there now. It really is an international city. So you can find little alcoves of, I don’t know, West African music or Brazilian, or Detroit guys, or grime, drum and bass, hip hop, it’s got everything covered from all over the world. There’s enough people there to sustain those things, I think that’s a really important part of things. We in New Zealand struggle a little bit, there’s just so few people living here that if you get a couple hundred people to a local live show, that’s a huge event.

Yeah, I guess in some ways kind of similar to Australia but on an even smaller scale than that. 

Oh yes definitely. Australia is the next step up in terms of population density and all the positive and negative that brings.

Did you guys always find it important in early years to kind of travel and tour other countries?

Yeah, we’ve been touring for eleven, twelve years. We understood really early on that the band was about live performance, and live performance is something that you have to be prepared to tour for. It’s not something that you can do occasionally. It’s an interesting thing actually, we’ve always gone on tours, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and a few other little places around the world regularly. A couple of times a year, I don’t know if it’s overkill or anything like that. But it’s just the idea that you’re in your audience’s mind the whole time. Our audience are incredibly loyal, and dedicated. They come to all these shows and they travel to see us. It amazes me sometimes, because you recognise these people too. You’ll be sitting there having a drink after the show, and someone will come up to you and you’ll recognise them and be like I don’t know how I know you and they’ll go ‘Oh I came to your show in LA six years ago and I talked to you then!’ And they’ll be in Barcelona having flown from somewhere like Paris, so they can see you. It’s a pretty humbling thing.

I know that a lot of you have children, was it ever had to maintain such a strong touring schedule with having a family at home?        

Oh yeah absolutely, it’s always hard. Every time you pack your bags it’s quite funny. Well, not funny, it’s kind of sad, the weeks beforehand you’re pretty much having nightmares and anxiety attacks about your family. Terrible dreams and stuff! Just because you’re away for a long time, and often. If you travel away from your family it’s a stressful time for everyone. But that’s the thing about our families and our kids, they’ve sort of grown up and our relationships have developed with the touring as a constant backdrop. So our families are incredibly resilient. They know now the handle it while we’re away and we know what to do while we’re away. And there’s the benefit, the rest of the time we get to hand out with them. Hanging out with our families for weeks at a time, it’s a pretty luxurious way to exist really.

Do you think your kids are as into music as you were when you were growing up?

I wasn’t into music that much when I was a kid. It came a little bit later for me. I was really into sports, as were a couple of other guys in the band. It wasn’t really an important thing that I really sort of developed a musical interest. But they’re all different in their own ways; my son’s just started playing the guitar and he’s got a fabulous ear, he can sing any tune at all. He’ll turn on the radio and start singing along and be perfectly in key, which is something to behold. I certainly wasn’t that musically advanced when I was a kid!

Did you let them come into the studio a lot, and did they see a lot of you performing?

Not so much the studio, though when we’re not recording the studio is almost like a clubhouse. It’s like a drop-in centre for musicians and their families. So we see other families and kids in there all the time. But definitely when we’re touring locally and performing locally they’re hanging out. The summer here’s a great time for tripping around as a family and going to shows, so that’s a pretty cool way to spend some time.

Well it would be hard not to develop some kind of ear for music growing up in that environment, I can imagine.

Yeah I think possibly just that exposure to it, and its extreme for some of these kids. They see an awful lot of interesting music, and not just Freddy. We’re at festivals with all sorts of great acts, they get exposed to an awful lot of stuff, so that can be a really good thing.


Fat Freddy’s Drop Tour Dates

Saturday 13TH February – Perth – Red Hill Auditorium WA
(tickets available here)

Sunday 14th February – Dunsborough – Clancy’s Fish Pub WA
(tickets available here )

Wednesday 17th February – Adelaide – Thebarton Theatre SA
(tickets available  here)

Friday 19th February – Melbourne – The Forum VIC
(tickets available here)

Saturday 20th February – Melbourne – The Forum VIC
(tickets available here)

Wednesday 24th February – Hobart – Odeon Theatre TAS
(tickets available here)

Friday 26th February – Sydney – Hordern Pavilion NSW
(tickets available here )

Saturday 27th February – Brisbane –  The Tivoli QLD
(tickets available here)