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Fat Freddy’s Drop on balance, kids, dogs and jazz

 “You can’t just disappear for months at a time and expect your home relationship to be in good shape. We’ve learned some tough lessons over the years about how that all works.”

We used to froth over the legendary lineup on cult label Flying Nun’s roster, until Fat Freddy’s Drop replaced the likes of Chris Knox and the Straight Jacket Fits when it came to tip-of-the-tongue New Zealand bands. Since that time, the seven-piece dub-reggae-soul-roots-funk explosion have stormed the globe with four-feted studio albums, including their 2013 gem Blackbird, and their fabled live sets have pushed them further into the collective conscious than their antipodean antecedents.
 
Previously, with so many members – most of whom are dads – it was a logistical feat to pin FFD down for the purpose of recording. Since they’ve acquired their own studio in Wellington, FFD’s sax player Scott Towers, AKA Chopper Reedz, has described the band’s recording and writing process as a pretty slick operation. “Everything’s plugged in, multi-tracked and recording the whole time, so whenever we get into the studio, everything’s being captured, so a good idea is there for eternity and can be used,” he says. “It’s not so much that it’s flash: it’s more that it’s very immediate.
 
“That’s quite a departure from the previous set up for the band, where we had bedroom studios and getting ready to record was always quite a process. Even sitting everyone in the same room at the same time was an issue, whereas in the base studio we’ve got plenty of room, we’re super comfortable and all of our gear is there.
 
“It goes from being a discussion and a seed of an idea to an actual recording very quickly.” All of which bodes well for the next album: in fact, the band’s laying down new tunes as we speak and plan to go into hibernation after the forthcoming tour to complete the platter.
 
FFD has also found a way, through trial and error, to be more sustainable as a band. “It’s all about balance,” Towers explains. “We’ve all got youngish families. I think the oldest Freddy’s kid is now just finishing high school this year, so 17, 18, and the youngest would be three or four, so there’s quite an age spread there. But they’re all our dependents, and you can’t just disappear for months at a time and expect your home relationship to be in good shape. We’ve learned some tough lessons over the years about how that all works.”
 
The band’s also more mindful these days of what they’re capable of sustaining in terms of energy, interest and performance levels. “It’s funny because when you say, ‘We’re going off on tour,’ everyone says, ‘Wow, where are you going?’ and you say, ‘We’re off to Berlin and Paris and Tokyo and Sydney,’ and everybody goes, ‘That must be amazing.’ But it’s business time for us,” Towers says.
 
“There’s not a lot of downtime. There’s a lot of pressure and the travel’s exhausting. We’ve worked out that we can play three or four nights in a row and then we need a couple of days relaxing, even if it’s travelling, and then we can do another three or four nights.”      
 
In a Ronnie Wood kinda way, Towers is still the new kid on the FFD block: he’s been with the band for over ten years now, but is still the most recent addition to the permanent lineup – the origins of which started with DJ Fitchie pulling together mates from other local bands for extended jams at his gaff at the end of the ‘90s. “When I first started I was quite nervous,” Towers admits. “There was a lot of talk amongst our mutual peers saying, ‘Oh man, you’re joining the Freddy’s, the pressure is going to be on, you’ve got big shoes to fill.’ I felt that for a little while.
 
“It took a long time to get comfortable in the role and the band. I didn’t even know what the songs were called. I knew the songs because I’d played with the boys a few times over the years, filling in for them, but they’d write a set list out, and it’d have all of these song names on it and I’d be looking at it going, ‘I have no idea what I’m supposed to play. I don’t have a clue. You’ve just written ‘Ernie’ down or ‘Roadie’. I don’t know what the first note of that song is.’ I’d be on the stage in front of several thousand people about to start the song, and be in this panicked mode. Once they started I’d be fine, I’d be like, ‘Right, it’s that song.’”
 
Then they’d mess him up all over again by playing a different version at the next show. “Coming from a jazz background it was interesting,” Towers muses. “I still think Freddy’s is probably more jazz and improvisational than lots and lots of the jazz method I played, which was much more structured, organised and formulaic in terms of what happened and in what order. With the Freddy’s it’s really freewheeling. It took me quite a while to get my head around that.”
That said, by the time FFD got around to their next record, Blackbird, the position had changed significantly. “By the time it got to that, I felt like I was a core member of the band. It’d cycled around to the point it was new material and I was involved in writing and arranging it.”  
 
Notwithstanding the fact that the band’s methodology is now smoother and Towers is part of the furniture, his personal life sounds incredibly hectic. Ahead of FFD’s headliner at this year’s Pleasure Garden, Towers is juggling kids, dogs and holiday plans. A dog barks and Towers starts laughing.
 
“Hang on, just bear with me: it’s slightly chaotic. We’ve got people turning up to play and all sorts of things and my dog’s trying to break the door down. I can’t even open the door. Are you there? It’s all mental.” 

Fat Freddy’s Drop will headline The Pleasure Garden, taking over St Kilda’s Catani Gardens on Saturday December 9. The lineup also features Opiuo, Montaigne, Remi, L-Fresh The Lion, and more.