The compositions that ended up on Based on a True Story, the debut full-length from New Zealand's Fat Freddy's Drop, will be almost four years old when they find a place on American record-store shelves. It's fitting. Most of the eclectic, genuine sentiments on Based on a True Story — which has already sold more than 110,000 copies in New Zealand — were developed over time onstage. In what's nimbly cloaked in a jam session, the members of Fat Freddy's Drop are molding and perfecting their jazzy, dubbed-out tunes, hoping that they'll see the light of day before everyone's old and withered.
“Most often, the music will come from very basic inspiration on my [Akai MPC] sampler,” says FFD's DJ Fitchie (aka Chris Faiumu) of the writing process. “It's usually a 4-bar loop that could be samples of some nice chords found on a record or a riff of our own lifted from a recorded jam in the studio. Then, it's just having the courage to take it onstage and have a jam. From there, the good ones stick, and the rest just eventually make it to the trash. Our vocalist will usually take the mood and vibe of the music and develop lyric ideas.”
Based on a True Story (Kartel/Quango, 2007) is defined by the buttery, coffee-house-styled vocals of Dallas Tamaira (stage name Joe Dukie) and the dub and reggae sensibility of the album's backing tracks. Woozy, echoing dub sonics from this well-loved seven-piece outfit characterize Based's 10 distinctive entries, peaking often in uptempo party-type numbers like “Roady,” which bounces with brass, organ bits and wah-treated guitar.
“The Freddy's thing started with decks and microphone, Joe Dukie, Tony Chang (trumpet) and myself,” Fitchie says. “They would come down and have a jam with me when I was doing DJ sets. About the same time, I first came across an MPC. It was a natural progression to develop this idea using my MPC. It was easy to jam for much longer, and best of all, we were now jamming over our own original beats.”
In what Fitchie calls a “small-but-solid” music scene, improvisation goes a long way with Fat Freddy's Drop, and it's clear that technology plays just as big a part in the band's Pro Tools-centered recording methods. Fitchie commandeered Based's sessions over 18 months at his Wellington, New Zealand beachside studio amid a Genelec Active Monitoring system, the Empirical Labs Distressor, Lexicon and TC Electronic digital effects, digital plug-ins, spring reverbs and tape delays. In a smoky soul number called “Del Fuego,” click sounds and occasional woodwind flourishes play out alongside the reverberating, distant percussion. While Fitchie usually likes to fatten up most tracks with the meaty options provided by the group's Korg Trident — “the best synth in the world”, he says — “Del Fuego” boasts a humble acoustic-guitar base, and the effects came last, in the song's mixdown process.
“Del Fuego” is an almost entirely beatless piece, until Fitchie's MPC knocks intermittently behind the brassy, lethargic exiting moments. Fitchie is opinionated about what equipment is used to construct the grounded, sometimes soothing pieces on the album, but in a place like New Zealand, where reggae and dub are among the most popular musical genres, a band like Fat Freddy's Drop has to stand out in the crowd. Having tried out both software and hardware samplers, Fitchie feels his MPC is what makes the band's live show most exciting.
“I explored other software options but have always stuck with the simplicity and mobility of the MPC,” he says. “Sonically, I love it. Most of all, MPCs aren't as fast as [their] software equivalents and don't offer as many features, but it's this fact that is the magic. It keeps you real and focused on the feel and the important things. A lot of the new software sequencers and editing packages are just making it too easy. I believe there must be sweat, pain and tears to achieve something that's just a little more special than what else is out there.”