There is a very particular bit of artist-centric evidence that determines the ostensible success of an album. Everybody’s Feelin’ Real, the new release from Cincinnati Funktronica legend Freekbass, is packed like a Kardashian’s overstuffed suitcase with that specific proof.
“I’ve been listening to the album,” Freek says over coffee. “I rarely listen to my albums after I’ve finished them, because I’ve already listened to them a lot by the time they’re done. I’m really enjoying this one. I like the idea of the shorter songs. I feel real good about it.”
Freekbass’ catalog to date has been warmly embraced by the Electronic and Jam communities, and with good reason. In genres where repetition is not only accepted but also celebrated and improvisation is little more than noodle-headed flights of variational fancy, Freekbass has infused his contributions with originality, intensity and intrigue.
But on Everybody’s Feelin’ Real, Freekbass, his band (drummers Big Bamn and Chip Wilson, keyboardist Joel “Razor Sharp” Johnson and saxophonist Skerik) and a few musical guests have combined to craft one of the most Pop-driven albums in the bass icon’s long career.
“I’m obviously a huge Funkedelic fan, and Sly and the Family Stone, and Bootsy, that era,” Freek says. “I’ve always wanted to do an album like those albums; There’s a Riot Goin’ On or Fresh by Sly or Maggot Brain by Funkadelic. Not an album that tries to sound like that, but (that captures) the same kind of feeling I had when I heard those albums.”
It’s safe to assume that the range of Freekbass’ recent musical experiences, along with his avowed influences, have informed the songs and outcome of Everybody’s Feelin’ Real, which was mastered by Aloha multi-instrumentalist T.J. Lipple. After Electronic excursions with DJ Tobotius (as Freekbot) and with Particle’s Steve Molitz and DJ Logic (as Headtronics), Freek released the free-download solo album Concentrate, and then joined the inimitable Blues Rock singer/guitarist Kelly Richey as her bassist, an almost uncharacteristically normal Freekbass gig.
“Over the past couple of years, I’ve been kind of planning for this album,” Freek says.
“Toby and I did the Freekbot thing, and I did Headtronics; I just wanted to explore that Electronic stuff and I kind of went down that route. When I got with Kelly last year, originally I was just going to do her album, and that went well, so I was like, ‘I’m going to tour with her.’ In terms of me playing more Blues Rock stuff over the last year, I’m sure there’s some bass lines that I’m writing that I wouldn’t have written before.”
In a bit of serendipity, Richey recorded her album Sweet Spirit at Shangri-La Studio in Louisville, Ky., with producer Duane Lundy. Freek was so taken with the producer and the studio that he decided that he would record his next album with Lundy at Shangri-La. And his touring commitment with Richey allowed him the luxury of not having to adhere to a tight planning schedule.
“There was no timetable; usually it’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to have it done by this date,’ ” Freek says. “This one, it was, ‘It’ll get done when it gets done.’ It was recorded over a period of four to five months. As it got closer, we started getting more intensive on it.”
After Freek explained to Lundy what he was after, the producer detailed how they could get the exact vibe he wanted by the simplest means imaginable — record just like his heroes did five decades ago.
“When we did the album, for all the initial bed tracks, everything was done live,” Freek says. “If we got two-thirds of the way through a song and one person made a mistake, we went back and recut it all together as a trio. No overdubs or anything. Later, there was some overdubbed vocals, but the bed tracks were all live.”
Just as importantly, Freek and his band played in one room in the studio rather than being sequestered in isolation booths. Everybody’s Feelin’ Real definitely benefits from the energy generated by the players’ proximity.
“The drums were like right there, and my bass amp was cranked,” Freek says. “You know, a lot of times when the drummer moves, I move, and that will make me play a little bit different. The amp was as loud as I am live, and so that’s the way we did it. If there was some bleed from another amp, that’s just the way it was. The very first session we had with Duane, it was like, ‘Whoa, this is really going to be something special.’ And Shangri-La has almost like a Muscle Shoals vibe. Not to sound cheesy, but there’s a magical thing in the room.”
At least part of Shangri-La’s magic involved Freek’s songwriting process. After putting in a full day’s work with Lundy and the band, Freek had the run of the studio until the next morning, and he put the time to very good use.
“At 7 a.m. the next morning, I’d be sitting in this weird studio writing lyrics,” Freek says with a laugh. “It was very inspirational, and it was like an album I’ve never done before. I told Duane I plan on producing albums with him from now until eternity.”
Another quirky element of Everybody’s Feelin’ Real is a subtle nod to Frank Zappa and his circle of friends, notably the late George Duke. Freek cheerfully acknowledges the comparison as high praise and admits to a connection.
“One of the things that was always my biggest influence with Zappa was his lyric writing,” Freek notes. “Lyrics are always such a weird thing. Just like you learn to play an instrument, you’re learning to be a better lyricist as well. Another reason I feel good about this record is the lyrics and the Zappa-esque analogies and the pictures I’m painting are that kind of vibe. The lyrics are so original and that’s where that comes through, for sure.” ©
FREEKBASS & THE BUMP ASSEMBLY play at 8 p.m. Friday, June 13 at Southgate House Revival. Tickets/more info here.