IMAGE COURTESY OF CHARLIE GROSS
It's been a while since you could find Freelance Whales playing on subway platforms in New York (see YouTube for evidence), since the band made such a splash with their debut album Weathervanes back in 2009. But after a dozen tours, Freelance Whales were eager to get back into the studio; and now they're back with their first album in a year and a half (plus, new tour dates).
Band members Judah Dadone, Doris Cellar, Chuck Criss, Jacob Hyman, and Kevin Read have created a sophomore album that branches out into dream-pop territory more than their debut did, with more solo vocals from Cellar. Fans will find plenty to love: Diluvia features the beautiful multi-part harmonies, strings, synthesizers, and horns familiar from Weathervanes. But this time around, the band's album seems much more contemplative—while still holding onto the adorable quirkiness that makes the band's music so easy to enjoy in the first place.
We spoke with singer Judah Dadone (nearly two years after our first interview with him) about dream-like states, choosing an unlikely first single, and creating a safe musical bridge for people to walk on.
ILANA KAPLAN: I interviewed you almost two years ago! So, I'm really excited to do the follow-up for the new album.
JUDAH DADONE: Have you listened to the new album yet?
KAPLAN: I heard your new songs at Governor's Ball, and I just got the link today. I love it!
DADONE: Thanks so much! That's so sweet.
KAPLAN: It's been a little while since you guys put out anything new. What were you doing in the time you haven't been touring?
DADONE: We stopped touring in May 2011. We finished up this tour with Foals. We decided that was going to be the last tour we did for Weathervanes, our first record. At that point, I didn't know that bands toured that much for one record. I just grew up with the notion that you put out a record, and you tour it two or three times, and you get to go home and start putting out another one. By that time, we had toured 11 or 12 times. We were just A) exhausted, and B) really, really chomping at the bit to start working on new material. As soon as we got off of that tour, we went and spent some time in upstate New York in a house in the Catskills. It was extremely remote. If we needed groceries or Internet, we had to drive 30 minutes or something like that. It was this really beautiful house.
KAPLAN: How did you guys spend your days while you were there?
DADONE: We spent like six weeks up there working on new songs. Working on music a lot, but really decompressing and trying to, not necessarily mentally process everything we'd been through, but physically process it; all of the bands we played with, all of the people we had met and all of the things we had learned as musicians since then. We just started working, recording little bits and recording with new techniques. We came out with all of these little seedlings of ideas. That was last summer. We came back to New York and rented a nice rehearsal space. We started playing, playing, and playing until songs emerged.
At a certain time, we also started getting in contact with producers. One of the first guys we got in contact with was Shane Stoneback. He does so many records that are so vastly different, but all hold so much value. We knew he was the guy for us because there's no ego; there's just a complete lack of it. He's completely serving the music. He can take it in so many different directions. It's all about the options. We just knew he was the guy for us. We started developing all of our songs with him. We tracked all of the songs in January, February of this year. Then we spent a lot of time playing with them and re-doing all of the parts, bringing people in and talking to people about what they liked. It was a lot of fun. It's definitely the most collaborative thing we've ever done. With the first record, it was largely just sort of me putting parts together in my bedroom and trying to find other musicians to rally around them. This was a huge collaboration with a ton of people, who all really, really love music, involved. In that way it was hugely different and really exciting.
KAPLAN: Where did the name Diluvia come from?
DADONE: I can tell you what it means first. Diluvia is this old Latin plural for floods. Diluvium sort of refers to the strata and sediment deposits left after a flood. The reason that the word popped into our mental periphery (and I guess the first place we saw it), there were these Chilean animators who were kind enough to do all of this beautiful artwork in our packaging, doing these charcoal illustrations for each song on the record. We decided early on, instead of having lyrics in the booklet, have illustrations for each song. They sort of gave a scene for each song. Their animation company is called Diluvio Gallery. We love that so much. Diluvio sounds like the masculine version of Diluvia; there was something really beautiful about that word. I started looking up what the word meant. It oddly fell in line with a lot of different notions that were coming through on the record.
KAPLAN: When I saw you at Governor's Ball, you guys have a new band member, right?
DADONE: Yeah, we do! It's our buddy Tim Cronin. He's the one that we've known for a while now. He tours with a lot of bands. He plays with Los Campesinos! and Bombay Bicycle Club. When we first met him, he was playing with Fanfarlo, and he said, "Hey if you guys ever need someone to play trumpet, let me know." It turned out that we did, and we needed someone who could not only play trumpet, but a whole slew of other things. So, we've created this big Sudoku for ourselves—this big puzzle—of trying to figure out who is trying to do what. He's a great dude. He's got a strong penchant for puns. He likes to do a lot of punning, and I appreciate that.
KAPLAN: When I heard you guys play your new songs, it sounded different than Weathervanes. I really liked that it got more ethereal and dreamier. What kind of responses have you been getting from fans?
DADONE: Well, it's interesting. Our new stuff does sound dream-poppy. To be frank, the old stuff was also described as dream-pop. I think we're at two different ends of that same sensation. Part of being a band is trying to describe things as ethereal or to describe dream-like states. Some of our favorite artists in any medium, it's all about describing the sensation of dreaming, whether it's James Joyce or Michel Gondry or anyone across any number of media. I think we always strive for that. As far as whether or not fans can get into the new aesthetic, there's really no way of knowing; except for the fact that we've already released one song, and it seems like everyone that we talked to that listened to it really, really loved it.
KAPLAN: "Locked Out" was a great choice for a first single.
DADONE: Thank you! I didn't even think it would be a good first listen, but I think a lot of people really like it, so that's awesome. You know the thing I've learned so far in this whole weird business of making what you love and putting it out and being dependent on how other people feel about it? People's brains are extremely malleable. People want to make new neuro-connections. They want to be led in a different direction. I don't think people have as static notions of their favorite bands as we think they do. I love it. I love it when people are willing to go with you in whichever direction you decide to go. You need to create a safe bridge for people to walk across. I think this bridge is pretty sturdy, so I think people can walk across it.
FREELANCE WHALES' SOPHOMORE ALBUM, DILUVIA, IS OUT NOW. TO STREAM THE ALBUM, AND FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.