Fat Freddy’s Drop
Next Gig: Saturday (July 3), 7:30pm, Castle Theater, MACC, $25 advance/$30 door
Essential Tracks: “Rain,” “Shiverman,” “The Raft”
If a locale can be cartographied by the notes of its musicians, Fat Freddy’s Drop is a seven-headed band of rogue hydrographic surveyors. Hailing from Aotearoa—buried on the other side of the bend at 41°17´S 174°27´E—these musical seafarers have mapped the coasts of a Kiwi soundscape seen through an international spyglass.
“Because we’re isolated, I think we look out a lot,” says Mark Williams (aka MC Slave), who directed many of the band’s music videos, including “Boondigga,” the feature track off their latest studio album, Dr. Boondigga and the Big BW. “That’s an advantage, rather than a disadvantage,” he adds. “We’re lucky because we get to pick the best of many things [and] only really good things make it that far.”
“You’re left to your own devices, [so you] go about your business and make it the way you want it,” says Williams. Fat Freddy’s Drop seems to do nothing but. Even their art direction is color-saturated and often cartoonish, a reflection of what Williams calls “what’s funny and exciting at this moment in time.”
“[The band has] always got their necks widely spread—really searching, in efforts to find the best stuff,” Williams continues. As we speak on the phone I can hear, over and between his accented answers, the shouts and laughs of “the boys” and their entourage as they roll down Hollywood Boulevard en route to a sound check at the Henry Fonda Theater. (If they have any sort of pre-show ritual, Williams says, it’s just “a bit of pacing, vocal exercises, horn trills and uncapping of beers.”) After their California shakedown, the group takes to Hawaiian stages—including Saturday at the MACC’s Castle Theater—before heading back Down Under, and then off to close out the summer in Europe.
Natural navigators, the band has charted course through worldwide tours and “absorbed a few influences along the way: Berlin bashment, Portuguese top 40, Tooting Bhangra Beat and Montmartre TV shop Techno Hi-Life,” says trumpeter Tony Chang (aka Toby Laing). Fat Freddy’s Drop claims to draw “inspiration from almost every part of the black music lexicon,” and, indeed, their sound is decidedly soulful dub, replete with the spirit of jazz.
Their debut album, Based On A True Story (or B.O.A.T.S.) has gone platinum eight times since its release in 2005, and is the first independent release (under their own label, The Drop) ever to debut at number one on the New Zealand charts. Fans waited four years for Dr. Boondigga, which has already gone twice platinum, living up to its highly anticipated status.
Fat Freddy’s Drop has also released two live albums, Live at the Matterhorn (2001) and most recently, Live at The Roundhouse (2010). Recorded in London, Roundhouse dropped on June 14, and can be previewed on the band’s Web site, www.fatfreddysdrop.com Evidenced in these recordings is the band’s smooth stage styling—grooves like dark, rippled water, brightened with funk falling like backspray off of waves.
“You can’t get away with not having a live show experience as part of your act,” says Williams of the music industry in the digital age. “The live experience is the single best reason that the word of mouth spreads.” Despite their tight act, for the band, “songs get worked out live,” Williams says, with many ideas maturing as they progress.
When Fat Freddy’s Drop makes their way to Hawaiian turf, concert-goers can look forward to “a couple of old [songs] that the boys haven’t played in a long time… much older tracks that have been reinvented and reworked,” says Williams. Too, he says the band is excited to debut “a couple brand spanking new things going down straight at the moment,” with the overall set set-to-be “a good taste of old and fresh.”
Hawaii fans will likely sense between band members what New Zealand’s The Pulse calls a “whanau vibe” (a Maori word, akin to “hanai” in Hawaiian). With seven players on the roster, this kind of extended-family bond is essential. Resonating in the horn section are Chang, Hopepa (aka Joe Lindsay) on trombone and tuba and Chopper Reedz (aka Scott Towers) on saxophone. Fitchie (aka DJ Mu/Chris Faiumu) and Dobie Blaze (aka Iain Gordon) get technical on MPC and keys/synth, respectively, while Jetlag Johnson (aka Tehimana Kerr) and Joe Dukie (aka Dallas Tamaira) take to the six strings.
Dukie, also the band’s primary lyricist, puts the beveled vocal stamp on Fat Freddy’s Drop. On “The Raft,” he croons, “Oh lonely island, so rich and fair/we leave your shores for reasons unclear,” in a sultry South Pacific tone that will both shimmy your shoulders and break your heart.
Williams—who in his direction of the “Boondigga” video shows the band narrowly escaping a fat syringe of smoking green sludge, at the evil hand of Dr. Boondigga—clarifies somewhat, saying that since “the band has escaped the clutches of Dr. Boondigga, that’s why they’re on tour.” Freed, Fat Freddy’s spyglass sight is trained on the 808, and Mauians should prepare to greet—and enjoy—the envoy.