Kiwi seven-piece Fat Freddy’s Drop originated from jam sessions at parties in the late ’90s and has a name inspired by both a comic strip and a type of acid popular at the time.
Humble and slightly crazy beginnings, perhaps, but the band has been on an upward trajectory ever since. Their highly original, genre-busting sound and fondness for innovation and experimentation has helped them to notch up more than half-a-million album sales and secure gigs all over the globe – including an appearance at the 2014 WOMADelaide.
Saxophonist Chopper Reedz (aka Scott Towers) says the members are now “older and more sensible” than in those very early days on the Wellington underground scene. However, they still take a free-spirited approach to making their music, which traverses everything from dub and reggae, to funk, blues, soul and techno.
“We tend not to try and put too many genre tags to it and when we’re pushed we come up with crazy things like swamp blues and desert techno … they sound quite silly, but speak a bit to the truth of what we feel we sound like,” Reedz tells InDaily of the band’s sound.
“We draw our influences from pretty much anywhere.”
Fat Freddy’s debut studio album, Based On a True Story, was released in 2005 and became the first independently distributed album to hit number one on the New Zealand charts, going on to sell nine-times platinum and win Album of the Year at the NZ Music Awards. They released follow-up Dr Boondigga and the Big W in 2009, followed by last year’s Blackbird, which has a more electronic, dancey feel than the earlier releases.
The band says it adopts a “slow-food technique” in its approach to writing and recording, throwing in a smorgasbord of ingredients – reggae, hip-hop, techno, whatever – to see what works.
“We have this rough vision, but how you get from one mountain to the next can change – sometimes you take a direct route and sometimes you wander through the forest,” says Reedz.
“The band’s always been about pushing itself and stretching the songs and finding inspiration and excitement.”
The resulting sound clearly resonates with music fans, with Fat Freddy’s Drop playing more than 800 shows in their career, including 412 gigs in Europe and appearances at music festivals all over the world – from the Graphic Festival at Sydney Opera House and Bluesfest at Byron Bay, to Glastonbury in the UK, Pitch Festival in Amsterdam, Outlook in Croatia and Sonar in Barcelona.
The band played gigs in Australia last year on the back of the Blackbird release, and their WOMADelaide performance in Botanic Park on March 7 will be part of their 28th Australian tour.
Reedz believes one of the reasons the band’s sound is so distinct is that they are a long way from the bigger music scenes and therefore somewhat immune to the pressure that dictates what musicians feel they can and can’t do with genres such as dub and soul.
“The biggest impact of being in New Zealand is that it gives us the freedom to experiment with these sorts of things.
“The other thing would be that New Zealand is quite a gentle place – like everywhere, it has its issues, but it’s a pretty relaxed, happy place and I guess that has an influence.”
Given their success and multiple Australian performances, it’s a wonder Australia hasn’t yet claimed the Kiwi act as its own.
“Perhaps we’re still a little rough around the edges,” laughs Reedz.
Fat Freddy’s drop will perform at WOMADelaide in Botanic Park on March 7.