Scanning the mid-morning crowd at the Rookwood Commons Starbucks, it should be a cinch to spot Freekbass. Cowboy hat, fur vest, feather boa, red leather chaps; he’ll stand out in this laptop-and-latte aggregation like a mercury light in a mineshaft. Imagine my surprise when Freekbass introduces himself, sporting a down parka vest and woolen cap.
“I got rid of that guy a while ago,” he eventually explains.
These days, Freekbass’ outrage is contextualized by his formidable musical skills, particularly on bass, the instrument that has earned him global attention. His local back story is well documented — befriended by Bootsy Collins, band gigs with Sleep Theatre and SHAG, a burgeoning solo career, sessions and tours with the likes of Buckethead, Bootsy and countless others — but his most recent project might raise his profile to previously unimagined heights.
Assembled early in 2009, Headtronics is a revolving quasi-supergroup featuring renowned turntablist DJ Logic and Particle keyboardist Steve Molitz. The trio began with a push from Phish bassist Mike Gordon, who guested on Freekbass’ last album and, sensing a creative kinship between Freekbass and Logic, suggested they collaborate.
“We were playing festivals together and there was one in Pennsylvania called the Church of Universal Music and Love,” Freekbass says. “We played right before Logic and he said, ‘Hey, man, why don’t you come up and jam?’ When you do something like that, it’s maybe a song, five to 10 minutes tops. Logic had already had Steve up doing a couple of jams, then they brought me up and, not to sound cliché or cheesy, but the audience really connected with us and we connected, and what was supposed to be five or 10 minutes ended up being an hour and a half. It was one of those magical moments.”
Capitalizing on that chemistry, Freekbass, Logic and Molitz remained in touch and finally decided to do some shows together.
“It’s kind of a logistical nightmare,” Freekbass says. “All three of us have our own booking agents and management, so getting everybody together is tough. The silver lining is that Headtronics has become almost a collective.”
And what a collective it is. In a short span, Headtronics has attracted a stellar array of blazing second stringers when the primary players are overbooked.
“We did a festival in New York last summer with myself, Steve Molitz, Scott Metzger, who’s one of Moby’s guitarists, and a different Electronic drummer,” Freekbass says.
“Then we played Moogfest a few months ago, and Steve couldn’t make it, so we got Bernie Worrell — he plays with us a lot when Steve can’t do it — and it turned out Logic wasn’t able to make it either, so we got DJ Spooky, who’s an incredible DJ.”
Beyond the fact that Headtronics has a bench deeper than the Yankees in a championship season, the fascinating aspect of the band is the sum of its sonic equation, as it deftly combine the icy cool of Electronica with the smoldering heat of improvisational Rock.
“Every show is 100 percent improv,” Freekbass says. “When bands say, ‘Come out, every show will be different,’ with us it’s for real. When we step onstage, we have no idea where it’s going to go. A song could be five minutes long or 30 minutes long. As crazy as I get with my own group, I might not be jumping around quite as much with Headtronics, but I’m spent by the end of a show because you’re always having to think a step ahead. It’s a good kind of drain.”
Equally fascinating is Headtronics’ acceptance by a hybridized (and growing) audience that loves the band’s evocative genre mash-up.
“There’s even a tag word for it now, 'Jamtronica,' ” Freekbass says. “It’s this total hodgepodge of DJs and live musicians. When we played Moogfest, every single band, whether it was a straight-up Rock band or straight-up Electronica, had a laptop onstage. It just feels like a total revolution in music.”
At some point in 2011, when schedules planetarily align, Headtronics will hit the studio to document its magic. Considering that its stage and studio methodology is essentially the same, the trio might also utilize some live recordings.
“With the Jam community, there’s always tapers; when we did the Denver shows, it showed up on the Internet Archive by the time I got back to the hotel,” Freekbass says, laughing. “And they’re good recordings, too. So we’ll probably do a combination of live and studio.”
For the upcoming Headtronics show, the group will be adhering to its ethic of playing in spite of scheduling conflicts. Logic is unable to attend the Cincinnati show, so adjustments will be made; in this case, the shifts will have a local flavor.
“Tobotius from (championship turntable collective) Animal Crackers will be the DJ that night,” Freekbass says. “We’ll probably have some other guests from Animal Crackers, and some other people in town.”
As Freekbass’ fortunes rise with Headtronics, the bassist has no intention of shunting his solo career to a subordinate position. He’s already knee-deep in his next album, which will feature contributions from Pretty Lights drummer Adam Deitch, Sonic Spank keyboardist Ian MacGuire as well as local heroes You, You’re Awesome and the Skeetones. With a little scheduling luck, he’s hoping to have it ready by March.
“It’s basically going to be an Electronica/Funk record,” Freekbass says. “Every track, I’m collaborating with a different DJ or producer. And we’ll give it away; we’ll put it up on the Web site, you write in your e-mail and you download everything for free.”
In addition to all that, Freekbass and DJ Logic will be putting together a lesson plan for Bootsy Collins’ new on-line teaching tool, Funk University. He’s gigged with Ivan Neville’s Dumpster Funk and Primus side project the Dead Kenny Gs, and he’s also touring in a duo with DJ Tobotius. It’s getting to the point where Freekbass has to schedule time to work on scheduling his time.
Without a molecule of irony, Freekbass states the obvious.
“I’m jumping all over the place right now,” he says. “Just kind of riding the wave.”
HEADTRONICS performs Saturday at Play By Play Cafe in Silverton. For more info, visit the Freekbass Facebook page here and/or the Headtronics one here. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.