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Wednesday November 26th 2014

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Freelance Whales—The Interview

By: Sarah McCartan

Freelance Whales began their whale of a journey on an abandoned farm colony. From here, their voices grew louder and they formally introduced themselves with the release of “Weathervanes,” their upbeat and otherworldly debut album.

After busking on the subway platforms of their home turf, Queens, N.Y., Freelance Whales took to performing on a broader front. Since riding out the initial appeal of their debut album, the group has grown up, grown out, and poured their heartfelt efforts into the making of their sophomore full-length album “Diluvia,” released Oct. 2012 on Mom & Pop and Frenchkiss record labels.

Despite their growth, there remains something remarkably down to earth and approachable that resonates through their efforts. Freelance Whales has managed to hold onto their early whimsical charm, and direct it in a well-articulated fashion.

Whereas “Weathervanes” was openly tied to the idea of a dream—a fascination with a ghost—Freelance Whales has taken the supernatural and turned it science fiction, resulting in “Diluvia.” While the new album embodies a more indirect dream-like approach, it remains fantastical at heart.

The term “Diluvia” refers to a glacier shift as the result of a great flood. Throughout the entirety of the album there exists a sense of this movement, a shifting in space with mystical elements and environmental influences. “Diluvia” also carries a healthy mix of banjo and synth, supported by orchestrated arrangements and crowned with constant soothing vocals.

The IN caught up with mult-instrumentalist, band member Chuck Criss, who provided insight into the inspirations behind the new album, and the progression of Freelance Whales.

IN: Did the meaning of the word diluvia set the stage for the atmospheric sound your sophomore album takes on, or was the title decided after the album was complete?
CRISS: We had a lot of different album ideas floating around that all centered around the idea of floods, whether it meant a literal flood or a flood of ideas. Our actual original album title was “Codec Diluvia.” We liked the idea of combining a very ancient word with a very modern computer term, and it made sense in terms of what our musical mindset was. We eventually shortened it since we were worried it might be a mouthful to some. However, if you look closely at our album cover, you can still see the word “Codec” faded in the background.

IN: Would you consider this album to be the next step in the progression for Freelance Whales—a more refined or “grown up” sound?
CRISS: The new album definitely reflects a band that spent two years doing over 10 tours around the U.S. and briefly abroad. When we made our first record, it was a home recording project with no sense of scale as to how other people would react to it. The mindset for this album was with more of a live show in mind, so everything is more performed, less composed on a computer grid.

IN: The making of this album has been noted as a collaborative development. Did you go into the two-month recording process for “Diluvia” with a clear-cut idea about how you hoped everything would play out? If so, did it play out that way?
CRISS: We made the jump from having one primary songwriter to having five. Our goal was to throw all of our song ideas into a gigantic pot, no matter how different they seemed to be. We spent that two months molding and reshaping them so that musically and lyrically they would all fit together. We didn’t know how it would turn out, but that’s part of the excitement of the creative process. If you know exactly what’s going to happen, your work will end up stale and antiseptic.

IN: You credit “The NeverEnding Story” as an inspiration for the album?
CRISS: The song “The Nothing” is kind of an indirect reference. We drew a lot from science fiction and magical realism for this record. We were watching a lot of Battlestar Gallactica, Ancient Aliens, and things like that. None of these things are referenced too obviously, but in all of those stories, there’s a lot of basic human storytelling and universal truths that we really latched on to.

IN: Are there any specific musical influences that you cite as inspiration for the further development of your sound?
CRISS: Musically, we wanted to continue to be inspired by all the different instruments we had at arm’s length. We wanted to keep exploring the way our banjos and harmonium could mesh with different synthesizer textures. We also had just gotten a bunch of new synths, which inspired a bunch of new songs.

IN: What was it like starting out in such a massive playing field like NYC—in the subways? Do you ever return to play on your home turf?
CRISS: We love playing N.Y., but we haven’t played in the subway in a few years. We don’t feel above it, but we’re also hyperaware of it coming across as gimmicky or a publicity stunt. Maybe one day we’ll go down in disguise and not tell anyone and try out some new songs.

IN: You seem to maintain a humble and genuine presence through your sound—does this humble and genuine feel sum up your overall mentality toward making music?
CRISS: I don’t think you can be a musician in 2013 and not be humble. You have to take what you can get. We started making music with no sense of what would happen and you just have to continue that mindset. We’re just happy to be in the position to make music and have someone who cares enough to encourage us to keep doing it.

IN: What do you see on the horizon for Freelance Whales?
CRISS: We’re already starting to write our third album. It’s early, but we look forward to just continuing on and making records.

Be sure to catch Freelance Whales performing tonight (Friday 1/25/13) at Vinyl Music Hall. They will be joined by Florida band Hundred Waters and post-punk Il Abanico. Each act offers its own authentic appeal, making for a welcomed, melodious addition to the first Gallery Night of the New Year.

FREELANCE WHALES
WHAT: Freelance Whales with Hundred Waters and Il Abanico
WHEN: 8:00 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25
WHERE: Vinyl Music Hall, 2 S. Palafox
COST: $13 – $15; advance tickets available
DETAILS: vinylmusichall.com