Fat Freddy's Drop Special Edition album coverWith the release of Fat Freddy’s Drop’s wonderfully dynamic Special Edition Part 1, STACK spoke to saxophonist Chopper Reeds about the beloved NZ dub-soul group’s endlessly inventive vision.

In the provided press release, songs on this album are clearly delineated into ones written in-studio, and ones honed over the course of their lives on stage, around the world. When you’re writing, do you consider all tracks open to amendments or evolution, over time?

I think it really has come down to what works best for the individual songs. In the early days of the band, [the improvisation] was driven partly because that’s how the band was created, a bit of a [jam band] – but we also didn’t really have that much material. So, to play for a couple of hours required things to be constantly elongated and changed and moved around. Now, one, we’ve got more material, but two, we’re also more comfortable just having a period in a live show in particular where songs are just the songs. I think it’s quite nice for the audience to hear three, four, five songs quite quickly, one after the other, where they know how they’re going to go. Then as the evening rolls on, the songs themselves can be stretched out and changed. The funny thing is though, that depending on how we write the set, which songs stay in their original form and which songs get stretched out and mucked around with might change from night to night. So it’s really just a night-by-night, event-by-event basis. But when we record, we’re just trying to make a really good bit of music. And then after that, they have their second life.

Are your favourite moments live the ones where you can lock into a groove or a trance, or the ones where you improvise?

I personally like the ones where we stretch out a little bit further. I find that quite exciting, that sort of energy of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen. I mean, I really like watching people sing along and knowing when the horn parts drop or where the bass lines come in, which is what you get when things are a little bit more settled. That’s got a certain type of energy. But, where it gets a bit loose and we don’t know quite what’s going to happen and the audience definitely doesn’t know what’s going to happen, that’s got a whole other crazy energy, and that’s kind of the stuff I like.

Which bandmembers are coming up with the mad ideas about when to improvise and when to keep it solid?

Those ideas come from everyone all the time, to be honest. That’s one of the good things about the band: there’s no shortage of ideas in terms of how to keep the performances fresh and how to keep the music fresh. It’s funny because we haven’t put out that many records but we’ve definitely got material to burn in our brains and in our memory banks.

Is there a way to practise improvisation?

I actually went to music school and studied jazz, [so] I guess I’ve been improvising since I was a student. And, yeah, you do practice it. An analogy would be to come up with a sentence of words or whatever, and then try to say the same sentence using the same words in lots of different ways, and then changing one or two words and try to morph it around a little bit. As a band, we’ve spend hundreds and thousands of hours improvising together. So, we have a bit of sense of when someone’s really on fire and when you should follow them, or when someone’s running a bit cold and perhaps you should be looking somewhere else for ideas. It’s just a collective history – musical history, which comes to bear on that sort of thing.

How do you understand the way that that shared musical history emerged?

Every musician has their own collection of phrases that they use, much like an author does, you know, where they have a literary style. Bands end up with a musical language too. Freddy’s has got quite a strong musical language because we’ve been involved in these conversational style of performances for such a long time. We just sort of have an ability now to read where each other are going. Even by looking at someone sometimes you can get a sense that, right, he’s about to hit off on one here: watch him and follow along. It’s always an evolving thing.

Special Edition Part 1 by Fast Freddy’s Drop is out now via The Drop/Remote Control.

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