Freekbot features Freekbass (a.k.a. bassist/singer Chris Sherman of Funk crew Freekbass) and Tobotius (a.k.a. Tobe Donohue, producer and founder of world-renowned turntable crew Animal Crackers) in an Electronica/Dance/Groove duo configuration.Freekbot makes its Cincy debut at The Mad Frog in Corryville this Saturday. Showtime is 9 p.m. and admission is $10. MC/DJ Firecat 451 opens the show and famed keyboardist Razor Sharp Johnson (P-Funk, Bootsy’s Rubberband) will sit in with the duo.
We recently chatted with Sherman via email about what fans can expect from Freekbot and what the duo has in store for the future.
CityBeat: When did you and Tobe first meet? When did you decide to put together Freekbot?
Freekbass: Tobe and I knew of each other from the Cincy scene for a bit, but we actually met and started working together through Bootsy. Tobe was engineering a track for Bootsy, which was a remix of the James Brown track "Living In America." He asked me to come over to his studio where the Animal Crackers would rehearse and record to play bass on the track. We connected pretty quickly because we both kind of came from the same world of recording. We were both Akai MPC2000 kids, and spoke that same language.
As we kept doing more recording projects together, I asked Tobe if he would co-produce and engineer the Freekbass album, Junkyard Waltz. When it got released he started coming out and sitting in with the full band at shows. Eventually, through osmosis, he became a full time member of the band.
During the live set we would have a section in the middle of the show where Chip (drummer) and then T-Sly (guitarist before John Gentry joined the band) would leave the stage and just the two of us would do a few tunes. It started becoming a highlight of the set, so we said "Hey, maybe we should go out and do some full shows like this," and that eventually became Freekbot.
CB: I've been noticing that you have been doing a lot of touring dates as Freekbot. What's the status of Freekbass, the band, at the moment? Do you consider that band your primary outlet still or do they all share equal status in your mind?
FB: Freekbot has been the focal point as of late, but the band is still happening for sure. As an artist, I always a key to try and keep it fresh and explore new places. DJ/Dance/Electronic or whatever you want to call it, is a world I have always felt comfortable im and as a bassist and songwriter; it is exciting. With that said, I like both my food and music organic, so always gotta bang it funky garage style too.
CB: You're known for you great live show with Freekbass. Did you make an effort to make the Freekbot show as energetic and flamboyant? Is it challenging when there are only two people on the stage? Does the "Freek" persona come out like he does in Freekbass or is he a little more of a subdued dude?
FB: Thank you. It's weird because as crazy or over-the-top as maybe the show seemed at times, I never thought or really tried to make it that way. It just felt natural. Growing up watching Bowie, Talking Heads, P-Funk, etc., I just thought that is the way things worked live. I am definitely still "freeking" on stage with Freekbot. The challenge for both Tobe and I is balancing two-three things in every song between playing, working loops, changing scenes and grooves. There is always plenty to freek on and with, which is what makes it such a fun ride.
CB: With the actual music, how do you and Tobe work creatively when it comes to composing? Is it like the old garage band formula of getting in a room together and jamming it out or is it more high-tech, trading files back and forth?
FB: Pretty much like any other band would write a song. Tobe or I come in with a basic groove or idea and we start to build off of it.We do a little email/file sharing, but 99 percent of it happens when we are in a room together bangin' it out old school.
CB: From the clips I have seen of you performing live with Freekbot, it seems like you leave things somewhat open ended so that you can improvise on the fly and stretch out. Is that true, or is everything pretty much written in stone when you hit the stage?
FB: About (half) of our set is very arranged, and "to the point" songs and the other half we can go as long or short as we are feeling. That is another exciting thing about the livetronica medium; it always feels more like an event or party, and everyone, including the audience, is part of the music. They are dictating the set as much as we are.
CB: How is working with Tobe as opposed to a "traditional" musician, like a drummer or guitarist? He's one of those DJs who really shows the musicality of being a turntablist (I imagine his drumming background might have something to do with that). And he seems to have a great intuitiveness on his instrument.
FB: Tobe is such a talented cat and I feel very lucky to be working with him. His name should be "radar" because he always knows what you are thinking about before you say or play it. We both started off as drummers, so we look at rhythm in a very similar way. I have been lucky to have played with a good amount of DJs, and everyone has their own feel, pocket and sense of harmony, just like any other musician. And, yeah, he is hands down one of the baddest scratchers/turntablist out there today.
CB: Obviously the Freekbot stuff has elements of Funk and Hip Hop. What other styles of music influence the project? I know you are a big Dubstep fan — do you incorporate inspiration from that and/or other Electronic and Dance music sub genres?
FB: A lot of movie soundtrack sounds in the John Carpenter and sci-fi mold seem to get us going. I think Giorgio Moroder is an influence on our sound as well. Got lotsa hillbilly in me, so some Country and Western seems to be slipping in there too.
CB: Do you have any plans for a Freekbot record?
FB: We kind of already started releasing Freekbot material. The current Freekbass album, Concentrate (which you can download for free, by the way, at freekbass.bandcamp.com) contains a good chunk of songs we do live and is produced by Freekbot. Next, the other half comes out within this month, I Tobot, which will be Tobe's version with songs we do live. We are kind of doing it almost OutKast style — a double release, just … spreading it out a bit. After those run for a bit, we will work on a new Freekbot album which we already have a good amount of material for. Some we are playing now in the live set.
CB: Is the trio with DJ Logic and Steve Molitz still active?
FB: Headtronics … is still going strong, too. Our bulk of shows happen during festival (spring/summer/early fall) season. Steve is currently on the road in Europe with Rich Robinson from The Black Crowes. Also, I am in a new project with saxophonist Skerik (Les Claypool, Garage A Trois, Dead Kenny G's) called Throb. We did a duo silent-disco set at Bear Creek Music Festival in November, which clicked, so we are going to be doing some more live shows coming up soon. Tobe has been touring with Bootsy as part of his live band as well … Razor Sharp Johnson, keyboardist from Bootsy's Rubberband and George Clinton & P-Funk, will be sitting in with us on keys for this Cincinnati show. He came out to our (New Year's Eve) gig and it was some sickness, so we asked him if he could do it again and Cincy seemed like the right place to make it happen.
CB: So here's one last question, a silly one that I thought of over the summer and thought it would be funny to ask you.
If Bootsy had called you early on in your career and instead of telling you your nickname should be Freakbass (later Freekbass), he instead said your nickname was to be something really lame, like "Ol Spaghetti Arms McGee," would you have accepted it? Or would you have been able to say, "Nah, keep trying, Boots"?
FB: Ha! That is a good question … hmmmm. I think Ol Spaghetti Arms McGee would work! Most folks shorten Freekbass and just call me "Freek" so maybe that would would be just Spag. Kind of sounds like Shag, huh?