Loading icon

A Moment of Frankness with Freelance Whales

Arts & Culture | April 8, 2010

Explain your name (please!)

The name stems from an experience that Judah had as a child while spending time with his father in Israel. His father lived near the Sea of Galilee, and the kids all used to have diving competitions to see who could go the deepest. One day, Judah dove to the bottom of the sea, attempting to come back to the surface with a rock to prove his feat. The rock was too heavy, and a lifeguard noticed his plight, diving in after him. As he was pulled from the water, an old man who was sitting on the beach called him – in Hebrew – a “freedom whale.” Over time, the name evolved into Freelance Whales, which is fatefully fitting given that when we all came to New York a few years ago, we freelanced in music while doing other jobs. So it was born of a very strange experience, but actually functions on a second, much less interesting level.

Any song on the record that you have a soft spot for? Any song you particularly like to play live?

My favorite song on the record is “Broken Horse.” I just find it so dark and deep and beautiful. I think the idea of taking blame for things that we don’t normally take blame for, taking responsibility for things that may or may not even be our fault, is such a resonant one with me. It’s always something I’ve struggled with in my own life, and to hear it come through in Judah’s lyrics so vividly and eloquently is a magical experience every time.

In our performances, my favorite song to play is “Location,” which is not surprisingly another of the darker and more mysterious song on the record. The beat is so steady and so simple, but it is integral to the tone of the song. And the vocal harmonies – particularly the choral chant in the chorus – are some of the most striking and original in the performance, as well as my favorite to perform.

How did you guys emerge from the Queens scene? What is the Queens scene like?  Did you ever look longingly across the BQE at Brooklyn?

We used to meet twice a week in Queens to practice in a studio under the Bakeway in Astoria. It was about six months before we had the cojones to step outside of our basement practice space and take to the other areas of New York accessible via BQE. The scene in Queens isn’t as vibrant as it is in the more venue-heavy Manhattan and Brooklyn, but there are loads of spaces in which musicians meet and play and practice. There are an endless number of people to meet and create music with in New York as a whole, and this certainly includes Queens.

When we first decided to venture outside the Bakeway, I wouldn’t say that we looked longingly at the BQE, so much as excitedly. Once we were ready to play shows, both electrically and acoustically, I don’t think we much cared if it was in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Timbuktu. I think we were just longing to play music for people.

Top 5 songs on your iPods right now. Go.

- Fleet Foxes – “Blue Ridge Mountain”

Neil Young – “Unknown Legend”

The Antlers – “Sylvia”

The Beatles – “Long, Long, Long”

Bon Iver – “Creature Fear”

Do you guys have a favorite venue or city? Any venue that you hope to play one day?

As we speak we are driving through Pigeon Forge, TN, and I can safely say it is the most fascinating place I’ve ever seen. There is a bear petting zoo! And an upside down mansion! And Dollywood! It’s hard to believe it even exists.

The Bell House in Brooklyn, NY is definitely our favorite venue – so much so that we stole their sound guy, Jeff Neuberger, for our current tour. Their sound system is top notch, Jeff was incredibly positive and attentive behind the board, and there are “Asian Dogs” (my favorite is a hot dog in a toasted bun topped with cucumber, barbeque sauce, and pork belly) sold in the lobby of the venue.

As for venue-related goals, I can only speak for myself, but I’ve always wanted to play at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., an opportunity that we’ll have when we’re on tour with Shout Out Louds in May. Judah and I both went to college at GWU and saw dozens of shows there throughout our four years of school. It is definitely my favorite venue in the country, and I can’t wait to play there on our next tour.

What do you think of the Boston scene vis-à-vis the scene in New York or any other US cities?

I may be biased, but it’s hard to compare the scene in New York to the scene anywhere else. It has been so influential and full of life on and off for so long, and I think it’s fairly unique in those respects. That’s not to take away from the scene in Boston at all, which has been growing pretty fruitfully over the past few years if Passion Pit is any indication. In that way, I think my impression of the scene in Boston is much like that of the scenes in many other cities: nurturing and organic, with a rich history. And every once in a while a band breaks out, bringing some more credence to that scene with it.

That being said, Boston has always been really good to us. We played only our second non-NY show there at Great Scott with The Temper Trap back in October, and got back in December and January amidst our next two tours. We’re really looking forward to playing at a bigger space – Middle East – with Bear in Heaven and Cymbals Eat Guitars in April.

Anything else you want to add?

The chocolate in the U.K. and the rest of Europe is much better than the chocolate here in the U.S. I think that’s unbelievably unfair.