Introducing the debut ep "...and you are?" by Frieda's Boss
But wait, I've jumped ahead... let's start at the beginning:
Frieda's Boss begun life as a 3 piece with rhythm section featuring Dman on bass and backing vocals, Maximus on drums and Freight Train on Keyboards and lead vocals.
Dman and 'Train had played in a number reggae and r'n'b outfits during the nineties in sunny Perth, the most isolated capital city on the face of the planet. A town where Train could and did lay claim to being a full time musician and in so doing kept the rigorous regimen that came to be accepted among this rare breed: up at the crack of noon, do stuff, play music, hit the hay, repeat...alot.
Room mate, gainfully employed contributor to society, blues guitarist and Dutchman (but in a good way) Dman answered the call to duty when the bass man in Train's band became unavailable. Tired of trying to revive and inspire an ex-metal bassist who, due to circumstances beyond your control, felt compelled to hock everything including his bass strap on a weekly basis required Train and co to gaffa-tape his bass to his body, the decision was made to... not tell him where the next gig was...ever again! Locked in a room with Bob Marley's Legend album for 3 days with no sustenance or explanation offered to his former employers, Dman emerged, at last, a reggae bass player. Bo!
Fast forward 10 years and Train has since moved cross country to the sub-tropical, eastern metropolis of Sydney with the law of diminishing returns hot on his trail. It looked all over for Train as he clocked up year after year of gainful employment with only and handful of gigs and a musical directorship at pentecostal Church to punctuate the vast and convoluted Dickensian sentence that was the working man's life in gridlock city New South Wales. A reunion of sorts followed as Dman, seeking to avoid extradition on a number of trumped up parking tickets charges, settled in Sydney town, bass in hand. Somehow, they both got hired for gigs in the same band and were introduced to the surly but industrious Sting/Copeland worshiper and rhythmic magician behind the drums, Maximus.
All good things come to an end and so do mediocre things and with that, the soon to be Frieda's Boss pioneers met a certain Steve Shaw who, for wont of a more accurate term, sponsored the trio by providing top end studio space replete with mixing desk, psychadelic lighting and a sea of sofas lapping at the stands of their fold back speakers. Nice.
Covering magic from artists such as Damien Marley, Steel Pulse, UB40, the Wailers and Jacob Miller, Frieda's Boss auditioned a host of musicians from a variety of backgrounds and eventually settled on the current line-up featuring:
Dman: Bass, guitars, backing vocals, piss-taking, representing the Netherlands
Maximus: Drums, cowbell, more cowbell, pushing buttons, representing Australia
Freight Train: Lead vocals, keyboards, songwriting, indecipherable, stirring the pot, representing Jamaica
Cisco: an array of guitars, irreverent vocal outbursts, stylish...maybe, representing Spain
Vstylee: Vocals, pointing, stunning footwear, used to be famous, representing Australia/ Russia
Tamlin T Kirk: Guitar (just the one), vocals, new guy trying to fit in, producer, mixer, representing... um... tbc
Stanwah: Trumpets, frequent flyer miles, snide remarks where appropriate, representing Germany/Australia
Introducing the debut ep "...and you are?" by Frieda's Boss
Track 1 Before you walk away
Cathartic, like awesome, is a word that is overused these days but having said that, I did expunge latent feelings of guilt and morbid, “sliding doors” curiosity while penning the lyrics to “Before walk away”. Curiosity, because I wanted to play out the scenario that may well have taken place had I stayed on the path I was headed down as a youth with ambitions to “run tings” coupled with a typical boyhood penchant for guns and old testament justice. Guilt because I carried around with me a measure of regret that I hadn’t done more for my brother once legitimately established in accepted social circles, whatever that was at the time.
A semi autobiographical, cautionary tale is how I would describe “Before you walk away”. Scenarios based on situations in which I found myself within spitting distance were sharpened and lent colour and license in order to complete the didactic extrapolations. It’s a tragedy with biblical undertones drawn from the last letter my own father wrote to me which closed: remember son, As you sow, so also shall you reap. From there a chorus was born and with it verses chronicling the wide path to destruction, grief and a coronial footnote.
The musical genesis of this track spans almost 2 decades, a love of South African township rhythms and a musical stubbornness that surely must have infuriated Dman and Maximus (bassist and drummer respectively), members of the Frieda’s Boss rhythm section.
As a younger man, I became enamoured with the seamless melodic sojourns of the fretless bass. Remembering a bass line I had written that deliberately spanned a range of 10 notes to show off the uniqueness of the fretless, I set about grafting it into the fabric of the chorus as we arrived at the relative major. Add tasty harmonious chants from Vstylee to the urgent, staccato main line and a polar opposite of the darker, minor key narrative of the verse had found its muse.
Someone told me that it is essential to establish the mood or tone of the song without delay and we tried to do this by having Dman mimic an arrhythmic heartbeat on the bass. Falling in line are the kick and guitar sounds with the hope being that the listener would experience a feeling of foreboding as one would when vision of a small, peaceful village is juxtaposed against a mismatched musical backdrop featuring minor chords and disjointed syncopation.
This track was certainly the most challenging from a vocal standpoint, both performance and arrangement-wise. Sad to say, that the chorus challenged my upper range and Vstylee and I spent hours working through phrasing and long minutes glaring at the piano. Years earlier I had played with a draft of this song and a good friend listened to it and simply said, "you've got a good voice and it sounds great when you put your self into it. This just sounds too ...bleccch, (vanilla)". That hurt, but it was true. Hard to swallow, Now it felt like I had bitten of more than I could chew to raas!
“Before you walk away”: a confession to and an admonition from my father!
Track 2 No Such Dub
Track 3 No Such Thing
I was taught about racial stereotypes from an early age.
My mother and I moved to England while the (in)famous “Love thy neighbour” aired on primetime television, a show in which blacks were openly referred to as sambos and nig-nogs etc. For these and other reasons we eventually moved to Western Australia where, for the next few years and beyond, I was the only West Indian anyone in my district had ever encountered. I was watched closely so that stereotypes, myths and theories could beconfirmed or exploded.
Fast forward to the 90s and I found myself playing keyboards in a reggae band and it was in this environment that, in many minds, the idea of a typical Jamaican crystalised: yardees on the scene had long dreadlocks, smoked ganja, said “yah man”, smoked, sang, smoked and that was it. The assumption was that Jamaicans were all the spitting image of the Wailers. Interestingly, when I told people that I was Jamaican, they would fix me with a quizzical stare broken by phrases such as, “you don’t have long dreadlocks”, “why don’t you smoke pot?” and “Oh, say something Jamaican, like yuh mon”. No doubt, some of these descriptions accurately portray some of the Jamaican people some of the time but I thinks that’s as far as it goes.
I felt compelled to let people know that there was “no such thing as a typical Jamaican, they only exist on the screen”.
"No Such Thing" is another song that started from a bass line, this time born from some rhythmic doodling among the lower octaves of the family piano based on the blues scale. I had just purchased an old PS390 Yamaha keyboard from a ramshackle hockshop in Perth which recorded 8 tracks per song: the ideal instrument for overlaying drum rhythms with bass and a variety of skanks.
I trialled this song with a number of bands but when Frieda’s Boss bass player Dman got the solo nod, he took his time and rendered a spacious, exploration of bass clef psychadelia and brought it home with a killer rundown. Bo! Not to be left out of the fun, Maximus and Franco on drums and guitar respectively jumped aboard the crescendo-train to crazytown.
Great fun working on this track. As with most dub tracks, the thought was that No Such Thing could be taken to another level but there would have to be some demolition. Leaving the chorus melody, chords and lyrics untouched it was time to rearrange the bass line, mess with the rhythm and vocals.
On “No Such Thing”, Vstylee supported the melody with her trademark, sweet-enough-to-eat harmonies. On the dub plate Vstylee put her best foot forward and led us down the musical rabbit hole. Stanwah, the itinerant trumpet player blasted out the signature musical call to arms and from then on the often-used, step-down bass line (JacobMiller’s “Baby I Love So” is a great example of what seems to be a standard practice among Bass warriors of the fret) anchors a carnival of drop-outs, delayed skanks, reverbed organ shuffles all caught in rhythmic peak hour traffic with Tamlin T. Kirk at the controls… kind of!
In hindsight, we should have included the frighteningly convoluted dubextravaganza that Tamlin originally mixed after almost two uninterrupted days at the controls, nourished with off-milk and cookies… We call it “NoSuch Dub: the Captain Ahab ver-SHUN”. A trusted friend in K-dub emergedfrom the listening room sweating profusely, while musical muse Cabans hesitated at the prospect of listening to it with the lights off. Maybe a separate release at a later DAAATE!!!
Track 4 Easy to Say
I love this song more for a guide to looking at my song writing process than for anything else. This is the first song that I recorded in its entirety on the voice recorder of my mobile phone. I listen back to it and hear a very tentative whisper laid over what would eventually be the main horn riff. A couple of weeks later, track four, “Easy to Say”.
This track frustrates me immensely as well because it’s the closest I have ever come to creating a song by numbers. First the beat, then horns, then some very “stream of conscious” lyric writing on the choice between corporate life versus a life lived on my own terms. There were no second thoughts about refining the lyrics or tune, just a one take wonder so to speak. Risky. Even as Frieda’s Boss started running through it at rehearsal, it felt underdone. Enter Dman, Cisco and Stanwah on bass, giant jazzy guitar and trumpets: problem solved. Bouncy staccato bass clef notes launched sporadic bursts of horn harmony with a persistent call and response guitar riff. Bo! Add Vstylee with yet more harmonies and by the time we hit the studio it seemed as if we may have gotten away with something.
Easy to say, not easy to do!
Track 5 Good eno’ (Yuh Look Good Oonuh)
So sitting outside the booth at RTR with my friend and then drummer of
local reggae outfit Ichinen, Sean “Drummie S” Wootton, I zoned out and
let the varied rhythms promoted on the “Jamdown Vershun” radio show
spirit me away from the realities of city living. Occasionally, I would
let a lazy gaze fall upon the RTR staffers as they came and went: “here
comes Trisha Wicked”, “there goes General Justice”. To be honest, after
an hour I was somewhere between asleep and almost asleep. Too chilled
and relaxed. Reggae will do that to you on a late summer Saturday
“Mi darlin’, love. You are mi ev’ryt’in. Mi fresh vegetable mi fruit…”
bawled one General Degree over a simple ensemble of rim shots, bass and
I had already sat bolt upright and nudging Drummie let out a short,
sharp “Bo!” What was this new song? None other than “Yuh Look Good
Oonuh”. I told Drummie that we would have to do this song one day but it
never really happened until I landed on the east coast of Australia and
joined a band. More than a decade later, “Good eno”, as we at Frieda’s
Boss call it, had become a regular on our set list and one that
routinely incites the liveliest response from audiences at small, cafe
gigs to packed out Uni shows.
When played lived, "Good Eno" features a lot of crowd interaction as we
accelerate from a funky one drop circa 95bpm to well past 130bpm during
a frenzied ska dance segue that leaves the audience, rhythm section and
guitar players absolutely f-f-fatigued!... and then we plunge straight
back in with an emphatic ragga reprise before heading for the home
stretch. This is without doubt the most physically demanding song I, we,
have played and you can check out some youtube footage of Frieda’s Boss
being put through there paces.
So how did we transfer all the energy, sweat and foot-stomping chaos of
the live show to the recording studio? We didn’t try, instead
preferring to render a measured nod to the original while still
preserving the anatomy of what we do onstage.
Listen to the track, then come and see the show.
Track 6 Lack of Trust
"She knew I was a musician/sports nut/ workaholic/petrol-head when we first got together... and now it's a problem?"
"She had a bad experience with a cheating ex so..."
These two commonly heard phrases prompted the writing of "Lack of Trust". A self-confessed people watcher and part time provocateur, I've seen the poisonous seeds of distrust sown with abandon over the years in loungerooms, bars and before and after buck's night. Inevitably the harvest offers forth wild accusations, baseless extrapolation and of course...the Spanish Inquisition which, I'm told, no-one ever expects (apologies to the Monty Python crew).
Ignoring hasty admissions in songs like "Easy to Say", about coins having two sides, I myopically and possibly ill-advisedly decided to write this song from the exasperated male muso point of view. I guess, "Lack of Trust" tries to capture and bottle the feelings of exasperation when subjected to the telling and retelling of stories about "people I know" who have broken up because of infidelity, real or imagined. Even worse, when the moral of such allegories are applied to the unsuspecting muso in question. Inevitably, charges are laid and that's when you realise that you should have kept that lawyer on retainer.
"Sometimes there's nothing more to see, than an innocent me behaving innocently" is the explanation offered in the bridge by our protagonist but it's all for nought because lack of trust has already darkened the heart. Oh well.
But it can't be all doom and gloom so enter the jovial key of "G", a wicked "split tempo" ska rhythm skilfully rendered by Dman and Maximus in the engine room. Ska is great for these sorts of themes because of the incessant, double time skank lending an insistant air of impatience/urgency to the piece and both Cisco and Tamlin T. Kirk revel in the genre. The one-drop sandwich featuring the ska-filling provides a metronomic narration to the argument, mimicking the pattern of rational discussion devolving into haughty agitation, vitriol, exasperation and desperation and finally resignation. To cement the happy vibe and paint over the cracks of discontent we constructed a full, harmonic vocal backing. Hopefully it didn't dilute the intent too much.
Plenty to think about or... simply focus on the rhythm and enjoy.