(Standon Calling 2012 flavoured!) Interview: Tony Chang of Fat Freddy’s Drop

By on Wednesday, 11th July 2012 at 11:00 am
 

In the days of that internet they have now, international boundaries are irrelevant; pan-continental collaborations can happen online at the click of a mouse; genres meet, merge and split at a speed never before seen. However, the vibe and visceral power of a live show is impossible to replicate online. With live performance arguably the most important promotional tool in a band’s arsenal, there’s no alternative: flights must be taken, the miles have to pass under the tour bus wheels, to bring a live show to the audience. Which is all well and good for UK bands – even the continent is no more than a few hours’ drive away. But when Fat Freddy’s Drop decide to do a few European dates of a summer, it’s a somewhat more daunting eleven thousand miles betwixt home town and audience. No wonder such performances are prized indeed.

Having said that, 2012 sees a handful of European dates for the FFD Wellington dub machine, with Standon Calling their only UK festival date. In preparation for such a rare occurrence, TGTF sent a few questions all the way to New Zealand. Trumpeter and founding member Tony Chang (aka Toby Laing) sent us his upside-down pearls of funky wisdom.

For our readers who haven’t heard you before, give us a description of your sound, your band, your vibe.
Pacific soul with vocals from the inimitable Joe Dukie. Beats from DJ Fitchie – drawing upon the many flavors of the Fat Freddy Sound System – everything from “road house techno-blues” to “Country Bashment”. The band also includes the stomping rhythm section of Dobie Blaze and Jetlag Johnson as well as the Fat Freddy’s three-piece community orchestra horn section.

You’ve been going for 14 years now. Your geographic base and the band’s organic history paints you as a band of nomadic, fluid outsiders. With increasing recognition, do you aspire to become part of the musical firmament, or are you still keen to remain a respectful distance from outside influences?
The short answer to that question is yes. We like to perform. We like audiences. We like performing to audiences. We just do what we do and we are always happy when what we are doing works out okay! We are genuine outsiders, it’s not a conscious decision. As genuine outsiders we would love for our music to be heard everywhere – inside and out… We like playing outside at festivals and inside at clubs and theaters. If you are able to get us into the musical firmament please do!

Following on from that question, you are clearly fiercely independent as a band, having allegedly described the possibility of being signed to a major label as “evil”, and are still independently distributed after two successful albums. Has such a stance held back sales and been a logistic distraction from making music? If so, is that a price worth paying for principle?
I’m not sure about ‘evil’. Whichever of us said that – and it might have been me – was probably just exaggerating for extra effect. To be honest, we don’t know any other way and I’m not sure if it’s been a good business decision or not. Being independent suits us and suits the way we make music. We have received a lot of support from our international audience over the years – lots of people have taken it upon themselves to grow the awareness of the group by turning their friends onto it. Perhaps if we were with a major label, with the same marketing and media presence this support would never have materialized in the same way.

There seems to be a lot of cross-pollination between New Zealand bands (yourselves, The Black Seeds, TrinityRoots); does this explain the distinctively funky Kiwi sound that the bands share? Why do you think the sound has developed in such a way? What influences have led to its development?
There is a large and ever growing community of collaborating musicians all around NZ. We meet up at the summer festivals or get together to make up songs at random studio sessions. I wish I knew all the amazing collaborations that are certainly happening right now in Wellington alone. Wait a minute – that sounds like any music scene around the world. I guess NZ is just like any music scene around the world, except that due to the small distances and population, it seems to be a bit easier to get together than it is in some mega-tropolis.

Your most recent album, Dr. Boondigga, touched on a more dance-oriented sound, rather than the slow-burning dub songwriting of the debut ‘Based on a True Story’. How is your contemporary songwriting developing in style?
The albums are like a snapshot of what we’re doing at that particular time. Fat Freddy’s Drop is formed from a lot of different influences and we follow different sounds at different times. Maybe as we’ve got to play bigger shows the tunes have got a bit faster.

What can the lucky people with tickets to Standon Calling expect from your show?

We are really looking forward to it. Heard lots of good things about Standon Calling. We’ll be dropping our new songs and relishing the chance to mash them and wreck them beyond all recognition. The studio can be a bit dry – the festival stage should be quite the opposite.

My wife thinks the jelly-legged trombonist with the pork pie hat she saw playing with you guys at the Big Chill in 2005 one of the most inspiring musicians she’s watched. Could you pass on the message? Will he be there again at Standon?
Hopepa: the infamous bone man will certainly be there. All that stuff about mashing and wrecking, I was thinking specifically of his rambunctious carry-on.

Fat Freddy’s Drop headline this year’s Standon Calling on Sunday 5th August, and may even drop a new album later this year – keep an eye on www.fatfreddysdrop.com for breaking news.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

TGTF is edited by Mary Chang, who is based in Washington, DC. She is joined by writers in England, America and Ireland. It began as a UK music blog by Phil Singer in 2005.

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