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words Ali Raymond
A decade strong and larger then ever Fat Freddy’s Drop are the seven-headed soul powerhouse we all turn to in our hour of need. Their rise to worldwide fame has been a uniquely democratic and slow burning one, with the journey emphasis on pin point reputation and word of mouth rather then stumbling over hype.
Architects of the super chilled producing mellow and often upbeat music generally based in ‘old school’ reggae, Pacific soul and jazz rambles, FFD always come with a strong undertow of electronica too. The diverse makeup of the group – which boasts Maori, Samoan and Pakeha members from a wide range of musical backgrounds – means they each hold a collection of musical tastes which often overflows a pot brimming with unique Kiwi flavour.
The paths that many find FFD are often parallel ones too. In a digital age it’s still this all but extinct idea of human recommendation joined with an exhausting touring schedule that has recruited the army of worldwide fans.
“I’ve always said if you’ve not gonna have a good time on stage how do you expect the audience to? It’s important to become their excuse to have a go crazy.” Joe Lindsay, or as we all know him ‘Ho Pepa’, points out.
The humble boogie ‘n’ ’bone man and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire has a lot to say about the reason for the groups success.
“If people come to you then they actually want to be there. They become more loyal and I love that feeling of discovering something myself, or being recommended something by a friend. It’s a great way to discover music!”
“I mean we get a couple of months off. We have to catch up with our house keeping and babysit and make up with our ladies, haha. But we try and keep it balanced. We all got families and try to keep that important. Touring is the way to make money and its pretty much the only thing left for musicians.”
It was on this very tip I was introduced myself to the band from Wellington, New Zealand. One late night during my hazy student days, a Wednesday I think, a friend took me to see the group live while they toured their recent debut Based On A True Story. Immediately I was thrown into helpless oar.
Listening to wonders like ‘The Room’, ‘Wandering Eye’ or the head nodding ‘Roady’ teased me to leave a dull degree behind for warm pacific breezes.
“We don’t do 3 minute pop tunes and we don’t do the MTV videos with the booty girls. It isn’t our style.” Joe points out in a cheeky accent. “So we have to get to people somehow. Doing gig’s and building a true vibe, is our way – ya know”
“It’s just really a great way to make new fans and friends more then anything. This year we’ve played a whole bunch of festivals. And I love doing festivals in the way that you play to a bunch of people who may never have heard you music and hopefully they become new fans.”
Anyone who has breathed the embracing air of a FFD gig, deep with unifying emotion, will be able to relate to my rambles of mass appeal. But the live tours serve another unconventional purpose too. They formed the musical foundations to both of their studio albums and much of their songs. Producer and arranger Chris Faiumu, AKA Mu to the crowd, has always been open about the way they make music. Starting with bass lines, beats and sound effects through his MPC, the group’s music is built of long improvised jam sessions. Lengthy and slow building the addition of lead singer Dallas ‘Dukie’ Tamaira’s uplifting looping harmonies unify a formula for success.
“In terms of developing material, touring is the best way to connect.” says Joe. “I think people that come to see us play get to understand the CD a bit more and get a better grasp on where we are coming from. I just love writing and jamming stuff organically.”
Their debut studio album Based On A True Story (2005) has sold over 200,000 copies and the follow-up Dr. Boondigga & The Big BW has shifted over 80,000 since its release in 2009. Both more impressively were issued on their own independent label, The Drop again reminding us that independent music can still reach major success while staying to true to it’s creativity.
“We had a great time experimenting and with Bondigaa, you can hear all the different kind of influences and styles coming through” Joe remembers. “We all got a lot more involved in production. I was sort of crowding over Chris’ shoulder – giving my 50 cent, haha”
“I think this last album is way more representative of the overall flavours of the band too.”
A band that rarely collaborates with other artists, Dr Boondigga & The Big BW with the infectious ‘Camel’ featuring UK soul legend Alice Russell those illustrate however what happens when they do.
“That was just an opportunity really. She is amazing and she just jammed with us at Hammersmith palace. Her vocals on that are so sweat!”
The latest live album, Live at The Roundhouse London injects that deliciously laid back, unhurried ambience of their live shows straight to your personal space. Combining a mixture of their best songs like the ‘Raft’ and ‘Pull The Catch’ across both studio albums it’s a very different and brilliant way to enjoy the intimate experience.
“The idea of ‘Raft’ comes from a painting called The Raft of the Medusa.” Joe enthusiastically explains. “A famous New Zealand painter called Charles Frederick Goldie who did a representation of the painting with it’s own raft full of people and New Zealand in the distant. So it’s like; you know they are cold tired and hungry and waiting, looking at this undiscovered land. It’s about appreciating home and appreciating what you got.”
“That’s the thing I like about Dallas’ lyrics, you can interpret a lot out of them. He’s not overly specific. It often gets me deep thinking like most people.”
The democracy within the group to always split their earnings equally amongst all the members is another mirror of what the band are all about. And highlights again the deep routed friendship they all share.
“We all live within 5 min from each other and the water. Iain (Gorden) spends a lot of time diving for seafood ha. It’s definitely a kind of island lifestyle although it’s not an island paradise, more of a wind swept crazy island” He pauses before laughing “It’s actually kind of like Scotland.”
As I leave Joe and his famous pop belly to get back to the band ahead of their Glasgow gig. I ask him what he plans to wear to finish the tour in London, knowing full well his eye for the flashy. He leaves me a special image to look forward to.
“I’ve recently really got into these flash tailored suits, but I’ll properly be down to my old white wife beater by the end mate”
For tour dates and to buy music hit up Fat Freddy’s Drop Website
Photos are taken from Red Bull music academy live sessions