Freelance Whales’ Killer Year
Published December 16, 2010
PHOTO COURTESY OF FREELANCE WHALES
Freelance Whales hail from Queens, which has always been a haven for freelancers and may or may not be the new capital of fun folk-pop. Their debut album, released earlier this year, features the lyrical work of frontman Judah Dadone, known for his trademark sweaters, random rapping skills (“Hannah”) and his multi-instrumentalist bandmates. Their collage of sound is compiled onto their Mom + Pop/Frenchkiss debut LP Weatheyrvanes, which lyrically embodies a combination of ghost stories and a dream journal.
This was a big year for Freelance Whales, as they brought their eccentric performances from the subways to the stage after three years of performing together. The band just finished a nine-month stint of touring, with their last performance being in their home state at Webster Hall on December 15. With some time off to contemplate their next step, the band will be heading back into the recording studio to produce a sophomore album. Freelance Whales’ creativity cannot be ignored—their songs are filled with kooky details like glockenspiel, water phone and banjo melodies.
When we spoke to Dadone this week, he was performing at his second-to-last show on the band’s U.S. and Canadian tour.
ILANA KAPLAN: Did you primarily write the songs for Weathervanes, or was the songwriting done by everyone in the band?
JUDAH DADONE: The songs on that record, I wrote them. Then the band got together around those songs. We started playing them, and the band started putting their own inflection onto the songs. It really works, because everyone has sort of like a varied skill set. When it comes down to making the second record, and when it comes time to writing, we’re harvesting everyone’s different strengths.KAPLAN: Your debut album was based on dreams journals and ghost stories—will the new one follow up on similar themes?
DADONE: You can think of it as being an architect or an archaeologist. We’re more like archaeologists, because we’re digging up something that already exists, as opposed to sort of very deliberately creating something. We don’t know what’s going to be down there when we start digging, which is really exciting. Once we figure out what the songs are all about and what kind of themes we’re going to be playing with, where the record’s trying to go emotionally, it’ll probably become a lot more clear what sort of feelings we’re trying to evoke with instrumentation.
KAPLAN: What is your favorite song to perform and why?
DADONE: It totally changes from tour to tour, and from even within the tour it changes. I feel like I’m usually pulling for an underdog, so whichever song we’re having the hardest time with. It’s always shifting. Right now, at this very moment, the one that I’m enjoying playing the most every night is “The Great Estates,” which is the last song on the record.
KAPLAN: You guys recently released the song “Enzymes” through Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sounds. How did that come about?
DADONE: Well, they contacted us and asked us if we had any new songs that we were interested in putting out, and Chuck was working on a couple of songs that we were really intrigued by. At first, we were a little skeptical about working with a big corporation, but then we started going on their site and started checking it out and looking at all the other bands that they have worked with, like Neon Indian, Wavves, Matt and Kim, and Chromeo. It became very clear to us that they were putting out very awesome singles for bands, and what they are offering the band was very artist-friendly. Kind of like, in the spirit of what just putting out a piece of art for the world to consume is.
KAPLAN: How did Freelance Whales’ name originate?
DADONE: The name originated from this anecdote from my early youth, which was sort of like a near-drowning experience that I had in Israel in the Sea of Galilee. I had aspirated a lot of water, so I was getting helped. There was this old gentleman who was sitting nearby and kind of observing the whole thing and he had called me something in Hebrew, like a “freedom whale” or a “liberty whale.”
I had sort of forgotten about it for a really long time, and then when I was revisiting that memory in the last few years, I remembered that he said something like that, and I sort of translated it in my head as Freelance Whales. We really kind of liked the way the words looked written down, and we liked the way they sound. We always kind of like urge people to not take the band name too literally—or actually, we urge people not to take anything we do literally, because it’s all veiled in metaphor a little bit.
KAPLAN: What do the words “freelance whales” mean to you?
DADONE: “Freelance” is a word that implies this kind of autonomous, self-reliant, free-wielding kind of vibe. I guess we were kind of transfixed with whales because they represent a paradox: they’re really these very, very large mammals. And that’s how we kind of think about the music and think about the songs. Sometimes they feel like it’s taking place in an auditorium, and then sometimes it feels like it’s happening in a tiny closet.
KAPLAN: Are there any new tracks that you’ve debuted on this tour?
DADONE: We’ve been playing some new songs that have been recorded, and we’ve been playing some new ones that have not been recorded. We have been playing this new song called “Footprints.” At some of the shows we’ve played this song called “Day Off,” which is another song that’s going to be eventually released through Green Label Sound. We’ve been playing “Enzymes” quite a bit, and then this song that we wrote a while ago called “Rise and Shine.” We’re just really excited to get a new record done so that when we play shows like there is just a huge diversity of different ways the show can go.
KAPLAN: After the tour ends, what are your plans?
DADONE: Essentially, as this tour ends; we’re going have six weeks and in that time period we’re going to be writing a lot of music and you know, from that, then we’re going to start rehearsing them all. Then we’ll start recording and all that good stuff.
KAPLAN: So do you have a New Year’s resolution for Freelance Whales?
DADONE: I feel like we’re doing so much better, but there are certain things we can do even better than we already are. It would probably be to just to keep in mind—whenever we’re working, whether it’s touring or recording—that we care about one other and that we’re doing this because we have a common aim and a common goal in life.