NXNE Preview: Freedom or Death
Freedom or Death seems ambiguous about categorizing their sound. One of the reasons may be that Sway and Fernandez each come from a different musical background. But listeners would never know, though, when they hear FOD's new EP EGO: It's a more than solid foundation for a local act whose future looks bright. With their NXNE show tonight, Fernandez took a moment to speak about the band's creative process, the current state of the music industry and their EP.
What is the message Freedom or Death try to get across in their music?
I don't think there is one kind of message that is being put forth when we write music, but there is an inherent intent in all the lyrics and motivation for making music - and that is to be as honest with the feelings that we are bringing to the table when we create songs in general. Hence why each song is so different in ideas, genre and sometimes, meaning.
How would you guys describe the song-writing process when only one person performs?
Song-writing and on-stage performance are two distinct operations for any artist so I don't see them connected in our case. When we are writing songs we only worry that Sway can carry out the performance of the lead lines, which generally he can do given he is the one recording vocals in studio. The challenge is the nine-part harmonies that have to be sung by the remaining two singers in the band. We obviously at this point don't have the budget to hire choirs for performances! The song-writing process is split fifty-fifty - both Sway and I contribute to the lyric and music writing, as well as production. Some songs are more Sway and some more me, but it all comes out a wash in the end.
EGO dives into many different genres. But if you had to narrow it down, where would you place the sound of FOD?
The sound is lost swimming between folk and electronic music. I don't think we realized it when we made the songs, but looking back both genres are passions of ours and hence make their presence felt. We're currently recording the record over as all acoustic songs as we wanted to try different clothes on our songs and put forth the strength of the music in terms of the song-writing.
"Human" stands out structurally and lyrically. The track uses modern melodies with a vintage twist (New Order-ish). Can you talk about this song?
That song started as an acoustic guitar idea, no words but a guitar and a melody. It then headed to being more of a club dance song when it was being laid out. I can remember us talking about JJ Fad and the thick kicks they used. We thought it would be interesting to have a song with very deep lyrics and fun production. It then morphed into an electronic song with an acoustic breakdown in the centre. It's weird to think of how it started and where it ended up!
Atmospherics seem important in many of the songs on this record, like the instrumental or sound bites in "Virginia Woolf" or the near-seven-minute silence in the acoustic version of "This Crowded Room". What other art forms influence EGO?
Thinking outside the box are ideas we play with - the fact that you may think we like atmospherics makes me think we have to try to be different again. The acoustic version of "This Crowded Room" was an exercise in using no instrumentation besides a guitar and vocal - that is what you hear in that version. We thought to use Sway's voice as a synth or texture in lieu of instrumentation. I think it's because we learned how to use some new music production plug-ins, and we are experimenting with those kinds of sounds right now but that will change when we get bored of the idea.
What are the challenges of playing these songs live?
The challenge is how to reinterpret them with only four guys on stage, keeping the energy, feel, and enormity of some songs. Sway and I have arguments of how songs should be played live. If it were his way everything would be live with no backing tracks while I am a firm believer of backing tracks to try and get across some of the eighty different instruments and voices used in each song. It's a fine balance and we are starting to get comfortable with being somewhere in between our two opinions. We definitely don't worry about how we have to play songs when we produce them. However, we are definitely envious of bands we look up to like Gorillaz who have twenty-four people on stage when they tour. I remember watching their latest show in Toronto six months back and saying to Sway, "One day we will be able to afford it, one day!"
How do you guys feel about music in the digital age - music sharing and social networking?
I am proud given our former music industry backgrounds that we aren't jaded and think about music sales and the challenges in selling one's music at this point in our careers. When we budget and try to think of how we are going to fund FOD, we don't take into consideration music sales as we believe our music has to be free given the relationship between music and technology. It's a hard question of how I feel about it. I feel ripped off that I did not live in an era (pre-2000) where you could make a living selling your art in music. It sucks that there is so much competition for people's attention to listen to music and it sometimes feels like we have no shot in hell of getting that attention. But it's also liberating that we can put our art out for the world to hear and not have to worry about anybody getting in the way of our thoughts. The power is virtually back in the hands of the artist again, unfortunately there are a lot of artists vying for attention and clogging up the system for a lot of great music that goes unheard.
What's the reception been like for EGO? And what new directions are in store for fans of Freedom or Death?
I think the reception has been great. I think being a new group/artist we don't hear many bad reviews. We're too young a band to "trash" yet but my ego is getting ready for those reviews in the future. I was actually upset when we received a couple average reviews thus far - I have a lot to learn. Internationally, being picked as a top band to watch by France's NME and the Wall Street Journal is nice but I just like it that my son smiles when he hears our music. It's a lot to compete with Elmo these days and if we are getting his attention then we are doing just fine.
In terms of direction, we are recording the acoustic version of EGO called ALTER-EGO which will be given away free hopefully mid-summer. We are always writing and have started plans for the next record, touring in Europe in August and trying to make as many inroads into North America as we can.
Download: Freedom or Death - "This Crowded Room" (MP3)
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