The industry will never find me. Here among the trees My footsteps will be, will be all that I leave. The Raft, Fat Freddy’s Drop
With sophomore album ‘Dr Boondigga & The Big BW’ out of the lab, soul powerhouse Fat Freddy’s Drop is shaking down music culture worldwide.
Freddy’s independent attitude and indefinable music has won a legion of fans and respect since forming at the end of last century in Wellington, New Zealand. From launching their jam force in clubs around the Capital City, the band has stuck to an independent ethos through The Drop their artist-operated label.
The Drop is partners with Rough Trade, !K7, Inertia and Rhythmethod for record distribution across Europe, United States, Australia and New Zealand. At the same time, the band have launched a new direct FFD Dealer model enabling indie record stores worldwide to order exclusive product directly from the band's website at wholesale prices.
Playing live is at the heart of Freddy’s voodoo power, no two shows are the same, and the best of the soulful slow burns and electro house jams find their way back to the lab at The Drop studio where fine tuning and sonic beat reduction happens in Freddy’s Island Time.
Freddy’s has toured around the world a dozen times since they first went to Europe in 2003, when ‘Midnight Marauders’ (Joe Dukie & DJ Fichie) was released as a 12” on the Best 7 imprint of Jazzanova’s label Sonar Kollektiv. Fat Freddy’s Drop have sold out gigs purely through word of mouth and played at the likes of The Roundhouse, London Le Zenith in Paris, Brixton Academy, Columbiahalle, Berlin, Sonar Festival in Barcelona, Glastonbury, WOMAD and the Detroit Music Festival.
Dr Boondigga was two years in the making and four years since their debut album ‘Based On A True Story’ rewrote musical history at home and abroad. That album was recorded in Lyall Bay in the Drop’s first studio, an old bathhouse beneath sea level. The current studio is located by Lyall Bay Beach in the ballroom of one of Wellington’s first millionaire residences.
Fat Freddy’s Drop stars Fitchie aka MU aka Chris Faiumu on MPC, Joe Dukie aka Dallas Tamaira on vocals and lyrics, Dobie Blaze aka Iain Gordon on Keys & Synth, Jetlag Johnson aka Tehimana Kerr on Guitar and the horn section of Tony Chang aka Toby Laing on trumpet with fellow jazz school graduates Hopepa aka Joe Lindsay on Trombone and Chopper Reedz aka Scott Towers on Saxophone.
“We’ve absorbed a few influences along the way – Berlin bashment, Portuguese top forty, Tooting Bhangra Beat, Montmartre TV shop Techno Hi-Life says trumpet player Tony Chang aka Toby Laing about ‘Dr Boondigga & The Big BW’.
“Our songs took a very natural path from the live stage to the studio. We had the chance to try separate versions of various songs and really settle into our recording process. In each song the performances are layered up, so there are sounds from different time periods, years apart. I’m happy with the album, it sounds well ‘marinated’ to me”
It’s been worth the wait with the results being described as ‘the bugged out love child of Isaac Hayes and Lee Scratch Perry’ by Garth Trinidad at Radio KCRW Los Angeles, U.S
FAT FREDDY’S DROP ACHIEVEMENTS OF NOTE
• Dr Boondigga and The Big BW ships Gold on release in New Zealand in May 2009, debuting at #1 on the NZ Music Charts and shipping Platinum in four days
• Fat Freddy’s Drop awarded Best Producer for Dr Boondigga and The Big BW New Zealand Music Awards 2009 in technical awards category. Also nominated was Otis Frizzell for Best Album Cover and Fitchie for Best Engineer and Fat Freddy's Drop for Best Producer.
• Fat Freddy’s Drop nominated for Album of The Year, Best Group, Best Aotearoa Roots Album and People's Choice Award for the NZ Music Awards to be announced October 2009
• Based on A True Story x8 Platinum sales in New Zealand. First independent release to ship Gold and debut at #1 on the New Zealand Music Charts
• Live At The Matterhorn, released 2001 x1 Platinum sales in New Zealand
• Ray Ray - Winner Best International Music Video, New York Independent Film and Video Festival 2007. Directed by Armahgn Ballentyne & Jon Baxter
• Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence, b-Net NZ Music Awards 2006
• Fat Freddy’s Drop nominated for BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards 2006, representing the Asia/Pacific region
• Based On A True Story winner Highest Selling Album, Wandering Eye wins Best Video for Director Mark Williams aka Slave, and Freddy’s win People’s Choice Award, NZ Music Awards 2006
• Hopepa scores ‘Male Fox’ at the B-Net NZ Music Awards 2006
• Based On A True Story voted Worldwide Album Of The Year at the Radio 1 Gilles Peterson Worldwide Music Awards 2005
• Based On A True Story winner Album of the Year, Best Aotearoa Roots Album, Best Group and People’s Choice Award, NZ Music Awards, 2005
• Joe Dukie Awarded Best Vocalist at the b-Net NZ Music Awards 2005
• Fat Freddy’s Drop wins Best Live Act at the b-Net NZ Music Awards 2004
• DJ Fitchie, Best Producer and Most Outstanding Musician at the b-Net NZ Music Awards 2005, and Best Producer at the b-Nets, 2003
FAT FREDDY’S DROP HISTORY
The genesis of Fat Freddy’s Drop on the club floors in hometown Wellington in the late 90s started with Fitchie DJing and Joe Dukie and Chang jamming over top. When Fitchie switched to an MPC drum machine and sequencer the heartbeat for Freddy’s extended jams kicked in.
The band’s name was inspired from Fat Freddy’s Cat, a fictional feline in The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers underground comic strip drawn by American cartoonist Gilbert Shelton in the seventies, though the expression was also apparently slang for a strong batch of LSD popular in Wellington in the nineties. “There were parallels with the cartoon characters, not just the way we looked,” Fitchie says.
In 1999, Freddy’s began contributing tracks to various compilations and their reputation grew with the release of the ‘Live At The Matterhorn’ album in 2001 that hit Platinum nationwide purely through word of mouth.
Then came the release of ‘Midnight Marauders’ – credited to Fitchie and Joe Dukie – in 2002. Recloose a Detroit DJ and producer living downunder personally dropped the 12” vinyl to Radio One’s Gilles Peterson and Berlin’s Sonar Kollektiv. The European tastemakers caught on to Freddy’s voodoo.
Along with original sax player Fulla Flash aka Warryn Maxwell, Freddy’s released debut studio album ‘Based On A True Story’ in 2005. The rest is history as the independent release set on a bed of mystic dub, soul and reggae broke records at home and collected ‘Worldwide Album of The Year’ from Gilles Petterson.
With soulful cuts like the insidiously infectious ‘Cay’s Crays’, the chilled-out ‘Ray Ray’, hit tune ‘Wandering Eye’ and the epic ‘Hope’, BOATS has gone on to sell over 200,000 copies, and made Freddy’s firm favourites with audiences everywhere.
With a solid running time of seventy minutes ‘Dr Boondigga & The Big BW’ features nine tracks: ‘Big BW’, ‘Shiverman’, ‘Boondigga’, ‘The Raft’, ‘Pull The Catch’, ‘The Camel’, ‘The Nod’, ‘Wild Wind’ and ‘Breakthrough’.
Written, produced & performed by Fat Freddy’s Drop, guest players on Dr Boondigga include Alice Russell, MC Slave, Rio Hemopo. Julian Dyne, Chip Matthews, Dan Yeabsley, Kemara Fuimaono, Will Rickets & Rikki Gooch.
The album’s original Art & Design by Otis Frizzell is a comic take on Freddy’s album title inspiration - Dr Boondigga, an evil scientist, who with his sidekick robot, Big BW Boondigga allegedly abducted Freddys and took them back to his laboratory where terrible experiments were conducted on the band to capture their music. It remains unclear as to what BW stands for.
“The style is somewhere between old English Whizzer & Chips comics and those crappy sorta pulp Thriller/ horror comics. All f***** up like they've been in your folks garage for fifteen years and you've just gone to collect them 'cause your Mum threatened to burn your shit if you don’t" explains the award winning Frizzell.
Chopper says “Most of the songs you hear on the album have been part of our live set when we've toured Europe over the past 2-3 years, and invariably things get changed up as part of a live show so the recording process was partly a distilling those live performances down to their best bits and partly exploring the feeling and vibe that the songs needed to really represent the bands ambitions. One of my favourites is the track ‘Boondigga’, which has a Southern soul ala a Willie Mitchell production, but it's also got a Sly Stone edge and then this deep, deep outro... man, you should hear Jetlag wailing over that live.
‘Big BW’ is a personal favourite of Chang’s. “It’s more of a meditative piece. Somewhere in the middle is the irresistibly soulful ‘Boondigga’, with a yearning, plaintive vocal from Dallas and deep lyrics worthy of the late Curtis Mayfield. It certainly has a flavour all of its own. The song compliments the others on the album, but it’s unique.”
An upbeat outlook is reflected in the sunny, reggae-infused ‘Pull The Catch’.
According to Chang, ‘Pull The Catch’ was written a few years ago when the band was travelling in the South Island, staying near Dallas’ hometown Rakautara.
“One morning, a few of the band dragged themselves out of bed and went out before dawn on a fishing boat with Dallas’ uncle. When they came back from the ocean they were singing this song. We had a studio set up in a little house at the beach and we recorded the demo that very day.”
The New Orleans-flavoured ‘The Nod’ was inspired by Freddy’s convivial lifestyle. “The Nod’ is about a very specific subject: the parties that used to be held in a certain infamous flat in central Wellington about ten years ago,” says Chang. “It was a flat where various members of the band lived at various times. We would rehearse there occasionally. The humour in ‘The Nod’ comes from that party vibe where it’s all about good times and ridiculous entertainment. The Jazz break is pure ridiculous entertainment.”
Dobie Blaze tries to whip up dishes on the road as often as he can. “We have met some great people in the kitchen,” he reflects. “Our favourite thing is if a promoter organises a great local secret restaurant for us to sample the best typical local food. Getting the low down on the best places to eat is invaluable when touring.”
Also on the album is ‘The Camel’, featuring British singer Alice Russell, and inspired by the role the natural elements play. “It came about from Fitchie’s beat and an epic 20 minute guitar solo from Jetlag Johnson. We were working on the song at the beginning of winter. The day that Alice came to work with us, there was a storm raging outside. The waves were crashing over the wall into the backyard. I arrived at the studio and found Dallas and Alice working intensely in a small room with two heaters on full blast. There wasn’t much that I could add, so I sneaked away to the café. Later on, Hopepa and I added our Ethiopian horn arrangement,” recalls Chang.
Dobie Blaze explains more about the band’s kaupapa or philosophy. “We don't try to break taboo nor do we aim to sit outside a box, but part of our success has been in creating albums and playing concerts that cover a variety of styles. We all have very different musical pasts and it’s the mesh of these that is interesting to us, and its what we have fun trying to blend in the studio.”
Being based down in the South Pacific is part Freddy’s charm says Chopper Reedz. “There are worse places to be living the life of a musician. New Zealand has loads of space, clean beaches and air and a really collaborative attitude. Plenty of people live a great life by basing themselves and working on their music here and then taking it offshore for fame and fortune. Well, more fun than fame or fortune. As for label support... just do it yourself.”
DR BOONDIGGA & THE BIG BW REVIEW CLIPS
Blissfully epic jams
It’s impossible not to love Fat Freddy’s Drop. Classic of spirit and sound but still contempory, their loose-limbed upbeat jams of ska, soul, reggae, dub and electronic flourishes rise to the next level on this second LP. 4 1/2 Stars Allan McGrath, DJ Magazine, UK
The New Zealand soul collective became world-beaters on the back of their 2005 debut, Based on a True Story, and live shows lauded for their improvisation and intensity. This second album has the same infectious mix of retro-soul and dub reggae, heavy with brass and fronted by the silky falsetto of Dallas Tamaira. The default style remains the relaxed, loping groove, as on "Pull the Catch", but "Shiverman" is a 10-minute, trance-style thriller, and there are excursions into hip-hop and jazz on "The Nod", while the embattled positivism on "Wild Wind" casts them as an antipodean Massive Attack.
Neil Spencer, The Guardian, UK
The epic Shiverman is probably the most radical departure, driven by an organic, dubbed-up house beat, and featuring a fiery performance by lead singer Dallas Tamaira. Big BW airs another new direction, with its trippy broken beat/nu-soul feel rather reminiscent of D'Angelo, while Boondigga is an affectionate homage to producer Willie Mitchell's classic Memphis soul sound, best heard on Al Green's mid-70s albums…This is a satisfyingly roosty, late-summer soundtrack, which could make it onto many an end-of¬year list.
Jon Lusk, BBC, UK
It's an album that's beautifully cruisy, at times uplifting, and, if you're patient, it occasionally gives you the shivers, man. 4 Stars Scott Kara, New Zealand Herald, NZ