Buckle yourselves in: Fat Freddy’s Drop are in town for WOMADelaide and a bunch of headline dates this March. The Kiwi collective returned in mid-2018 with the single, ‘Trickle Down’, their first release since 2015’s Bays LP. Atop a pulsing electronic groove, ‘Trickle Down’ laments corporate greed and prevailing economic imbalances. Band founder, beatmaster and producer, DJ Fitchie aka Chris Faiumu, tells us there’s more new stuff coming in 2019.
“At the conclusion of this upcoming Australian tour our rough plan is to race back [to New Zealand] and finish this album that we’re currently working on in two or three months,” he says. “A lot of work’s been done already. A good three months of solid work and we should arrive at a new album. And then we’ll start touring it in Europe in November.”
Proud inhabitants of Wellington, New Zealand, Fat Freddy’s Drop introduced their dub reggae sound on 2001’s Live at the Matterhorn recording. The septet’s studio debut, Based On a True Story, appeared in 2005 via their own label, The Drop. That album set the standard for each subsequent release by debuting at number one in NZ and staying on the charts for several months.
The band’s four-album catalogue represents a willingness to experiment and keep pushing into new ground. Bays, for example, encompasses a broad range of influences, from the house influenced ‘Cortina Motors’, to the deep reggae of ‘Slings & Arrows’ and the seaside soul number ‘Makkan’.
“Bays was a bit of a change of direction for us and one that I’m fully up for,” says Faiumu. “It had more of a deeper electronic vibe, still maintaining a lot of the similar instruments that we have but also introducing [new elements].”
Along with remaining a completely independent entity, the band run their own studio in Wellington. Access to this space has a crucial impact on the creative process.
“It’s not a commercial studio, but it’s got a lot of very good gear that’s in many ways of commercial quality,” Faiumu says. “I don’t really do any other work for anyone else; it’s just really having a bunch of nice toys to write with. To me it’s always been about maintaining the studio and filling the studio with more things – staying up to date with the technology in music production and recording.”
Faiumu’s utilisation of the iconic Akai MPC2000XL plays a major role in generating Fat Freddy’s Drop’s distinctive sound. He runs two MPCs during live shows, one providing the primary drum beat and the other adding extra percussion and melodic samples. The MPC significantly features in the creative process too, along with a mixture of analogue and digital recording gear.
“We record into Pro Tools, but a lot of the audio that’s hidden into Pro Tools is analogue,” Faiumu says. “I’ve got a nice old Trident mixing console, so I mix outside of Pro Tools in a more analogue work flow. But we’re not silly about it. We use whatever’s necessary to get the job done. Sometimes that does involve a lot of digital gear.”
The band’s upcoming fifth album will delve deeper into the electronic sphere, thanks in part to the acquisition of some shiny new toys.
“Where the gear is at the moment, a lot of stuff has been re-released and re-issued at affordable prices,” Faiumu says. “Moog is coming out with a whole bunch of gear. Roland has just recently reissued most of their initial drum machines and synthesisers in what’s called a Boutique series. They’re much smaller than the original but it’s almost just as good.
“A few of us in the band can’t get enough of analogue synths. So they’re playing a big part on the palette and the writing and the music.”
There was a lengthy gap between the first three Fat Freddy’s albums – Based On a True Story, Dr Boondigga (2009) and Blackbird (2013) – but just two years separated Blackbird and Bays. But while the band members share an intuitive bond, the songwriting process remains an exercise in patience.
“There isn’t really one way that we’ll kick things off, but often it is an idea or a sample or a combination of a few chords and putting them into a sampler and then launching off from that. Our writing process at the moment really is to set up in the studio all together, play for hours and then go through the painstaking process of going through the hard drive after that and trying to find some gold.
“Most of the time it’s pretty obvious what is the gold. It is just the hard work of a few having to sift through and listen to and accumulate the good bits and then put them aside, chuck them in the sampler and kick off again with another session.”