A Perfect Circle Interview
Josh Freese of A Perfect Circle is more than just that leading band’s drummer; he is one of the most respected studio drummers in the music industry as well. Josh Freese is likely not a household word to some folks, yet you have likely never lived a day of your life in the twenty-first century without at least hearing one song from an album he’s drummed on somewhere. As I write this three of the top twenty-five songs on the Alternative chart (A Perfect Circle, 3 Doors Down and Evanescence) contain his handiwork. He is as talented as he is talkative and he has plenty to say.
Music Frisk’s Dave Dalka: Let’s start out by asking what bands are you a member of currently besides A Perfect Circle?
Josh Freese: Currently, really only A Perfect Circle and the Vandals. The Vandals is a low key enough situation, old punk rock friends of mine when I was a teenager, we kinda still make records and do well around the world consistently on a smaller level. We go to Japan, as well as Italy and Australia as well a Hawaii and play for a thousand kids a night. Which, when you have little or no overhead and stuff, you are actually making money and having fun, kinda dicking around. You’re not worried about singles on the radio or videos being played or what is going on at the big, evil, ya know, record label that has six billion employees with expense accounts! You can see where all your money goes, you sell a few records and you actually seem?like (smacks hands). But like I said everyone in the Vandals kinda has their quote unquote real job and my real job is playing with A Perfect Circle and doing the studio work, I do a lot of records with other bands. If I was a member of more bands and having to tour more, then I wouldn’t be able to stay at home and do so much work and be able to sleep around with as many different artists, so to speak. I would say I’m a member of Devo, but Devo rarely, rarely plays. But I love working with those guys, I’ve been a fan of them since I was a kid. Basically, A Perfect Circle and the Vandals, everything is like a bunch of like one night stands.
MF: What was it like providing back up vocals on the song “Pet”? Is that something you’d like to do more of?
Josh Freese: That was literally, that was sitting at Billy’s house one day and Maynard’s like go down there and sing, we need some more voices on there. I told the person on my cell phone that I’d call them back in ten minutes and I was done. It wasn’t a big deal at all. It was so OK, ran down there, put the headphones on, sing an octave higher, sing unison, did like three or four passes, it was really not much thought behind it. Sure I’d do it some more, but it’s not like I prepared or went to vocal classes before or anything.
MF: What is your favorite song on “The Thirteenth Step, and why?
Josh Freese: Probably the song “Vanishing”, either “The Package” the first song, which was an interesting kind of epic, mellow and then really heavy and bizarre at the end of the song. It takes a harsh, knee-jerk left turn just when your eyes are shut and you are tapping your foot, that is kind of fun. The song “Vanishing” is just kind of dreamy sexy sounding, trancy song, that is a very bizarre in the arrangement aspect of it too, with vocals at the top and then there is no vocals for awhile and then the vocals kind of come in at the end and it’s done. It’s this weird piece of music.
MF: What single do you personally prefer to be next?
Josh Freese: The Outsider. The Outsider would be my vote.
MF: Let’s talk about that voting process, how does the group work currently?
Josh Freese: Sometimes, it works democratically and sometimes not, ya know? To be honest. We try to be democratic about stuff, but a lot of times it will come down to the singer’s(Maynard’s) decision or Billy and Maynard and then other times not. Other times it is democratic, it is kind of different depending on the situation. If it’s not important at all, we all have a say in it! (laughs)
MF: Were any songs on the album that originated from a drum pattern you created, and then developed from there? What is your role in the writing process?
Josh Freese: There’s certain songs I didn’t help write like “The Package” and “Gravity”. I think that I’m a good second or third ear to where Billy or Maynard will come in and Billy will present and idea and I’ll help him kind of hone in on it. Arrangements, I’m good with arrangements, I have a lot to do with that sometimes. Sometimes, Billy will play a song and I’ll play a drum beat or something and it will inspire him to take it a step further or change like, “Oh, man I had these chords but now that you are playing this drum beat I should totally go here with it because it sounds like it needs to now.” The balancing of ideas off each other kind helps you inspire one another where to one up where to go next or how to re-approach the song.
MF: Did tension during the writing process provide you with better ideas or did you feel limited by the direction that any particular band member might have imposed?
Josh Freese: I think there is a little bit of both to be honest, depending on the song, each song is different, each song is approached different. I think there definitely both, there’s some songs where it inspires us to take it to another level, and there is other times, I won’t even mention names, but sometimes you’ll be in the studio where you’re like you know what I’d really love to do this or go here with that, but it ain’t gonna happen and F— him! (laughs) F— them! Or whatever! You end up feeling “weak and powerless” over the situation. It can get frustrating sometimes, just like anything, having a relationship or wife or girlfriend, parents or whatever – there are times when you have to take a backseat and get over it.
MF: Let’s shift gears to touring, how do opening bands get selected and how much say, if any, does the band have in that process? How did the Icarus Line get chosen?
Josh Freese: You know what, to be honest, I wasn’t really into them to be on this tour and none of us had, it’s like it was just kind of decided recently, it was brought up and someone is like I should take these guys out and it was like, “Oh, ya who is coming out with us?”
MF: It’s kind of an afterthought then?
Josh Freese: It was a total afterthought, to be honest. This summer we had Danny Carey, the drummer from Tool, we had his side project out, which was a lot of fun and was very pre-planned. But the tour before we did in 2001, like the same thing we had this band on the road with us and like “How did this band get out on the road with us?” You go, well, I guess I didn’t anybody give any suggestions. Someone at the end is like take this band out, “Oh yeah, we don’t have an opening band, oh, well”.
MF: I went to you show here in Chicago in August, there are all these restrictive tour policies, no smoking, no moshing, etc. that were read to the people waiting in line and listed on the web site. I actually enjoyed the environment personally. Who started this policy and what is its purpose?
Josh Freese: I didn’t know that stuff, it’s on the website?
MF: You never stand outside in line before your concert so you wouldn’t!
Josh Freese: (laughs) If it’s a smoking place and we ask you not to smoke that is nice, but can be weird for some people too. Most of the band is non-smokers, Maynard doesn’t smoke and he has to sing so maybe that has a lot to do with it?
MF: Did your parents, being musical themselves, influence you to begin drumming actively, or did they allow you to make your own choice to become a musician?
Josh Freese: I totally made my own choice about it. Music was always a big part of my household, but they didn’t steer me in any one direction or they didn’t push me toward the drums at all. If anything, most parents kinda like get a horrified look on their face when their kid says they want to play drums! Like, “Oh, god, no!” That was totally mine, I pushed them, but they were supportive and cool. I started around age eight.
MF: You’ve worked with an amazing number of different producers – what makes one producer much better to work with or make a better sounding album than another?
Josh Freese: I’ve worked with guys all over the map. Sometimes there’s ones who take a really long, long, time and are really specific and kinda anal retentive about things and maybe in the end the record sound great and maybe all the hard work and the stuff you were bitching and moaning about originally kind of paid off. And there is other guys who do the same thing, who drive you nuts or really like crack the whip on you and the end it’s not that big of a deal and you are like “God that was a waste of time.” And then there are guys that let you do exactly what you want to do and kind of sit back and try to get good performances out of you but leave it up to the band and kind of make it a fun situation, and sometimes that can make for great records depending on the dynamic of everyone in the band and the songs and the proficiency of everyone’s abilities. Sometimes a guy let’s a band do whatever it want and it ends up sucking. You say, “Man this guy should have given them more direction.” It’s all over the map, I don’t know have that tells you, but I guess that tells you it’s every possibility.
MF: Who are some of your favorite producers?
Josh Freese: Brendan O’Brien, is terrific, I really like working with him! Don Gilmore and Matt Wallace. Dave Sardy is great too.
MF: What, in your opinion, do you think makes you likely the most sought after studio drummer on the market today?
Josh Freese: I’ve thought about the same thing, “Why do people wanna hire me or why do I get hired over and over?” I think it’s a combination of things. I think that once you are involved in music industry and worked on some big records and stuff, it really is a small world out there at the end of the day. Or it can be depending on the circles that you are running in. Word gets around fast. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, ya know? If I started showing up late three or four times, or hung over or was hard to work with, people talk, ya know, and people ask each other advice for this or that, I probably wouldn’t be getting hired. But I try to show up on time, I’m usually early or the first guy there and have a good attitude and be open to all kinds of suggestions and what they want to hear and how they want to approach it and a quick study as far as being able to go in and learn the music and stuff. I think sometimes to be able to get work done on short notice and fun while doing it and be able to do whatever they want you to do. Just be real flexible and be able to adapt. And the simple dumb thing is like I said, showing up on time and being cool to everyone in the room says a lot too.
MF: If you had to choose just being in a band or just a studio guy, which one would you do?
Josh Freese: Probably just being in a band, if I was able to afford the luxury of just being able to concentrate only on that band and really put all your energy, I put all my energy into everything and thoughts into whatever I doing, but it would be really great to go, “Wow, this year I don’t have to do anything but concentrate on this particular record and experiment with every different way of going about these songs and really fine tune them.” I don’t know, I do kind of get off on doing all these records and being able to work a lot of situations. It is always fresh and fun and new. Maybe god, if I was only in a band and didn’t do studio work maybe I would go crazy after a few years. I’ve never been able to afford the luxury of just being in a band because A Perfect Circle being a band that tours for a little bit and then has to take a couple of years off so that Maynard can do another round with Tool. I have to keep myself busy and I can’t just be in a Perfect Circle. I have to do other stuff, but I like doing other stuff. It would be interesting if I made a ton of money just being in a Perfect Circle and that’s all I had to do, that would be great.
MF: Have you ever witnessed another drummer playing something you did in the studio and how does that make you feel?
Josh Freese: It’s fine. I remember one time, when I was a lot younger, is one of the first times I saw this. It made me laugh kind of, I was almost flattered, but it was kind of funny too. I was watching the David Letterman show and a female artist Juliana Hatfield was on, she had to use the Letterman band, ya know? The song started off with this kind of a four bar big drum fill. This crazy like Keith Moon drum fill. It was really funny, I shouldn’t say necessarily funny, but just interesting. I was going, “Oh, Man there’s Anton Fig, trying to interpret that weird drum fill that I did!” I was sitting at home watching it. He kind of did it right, he kind of made it his own, he played it slightly differently. I mean I probably would have done the same thing, ya know, not learned every note, but gone OK, here’s the basic idea just do it. What was weird to me, one of the first times I made a record with a band I wasn’t in. I made a record with a band Suicidal Tendancies, a speed metal band or whatever, ten years ago. You see a video on MTV where it’s me playing but watching another drummer lip sync it, ya know? When you make a video you are not actually playing a song again live, you are using the version from the record and you film your video and you put your visuals to the actual recording. So watching a drummer bang his head and rock out two of his drumsticks, but you are hearing me. Now I’m used to it, I see it all the time with bands that I make records with and then they have to go out and find a drummer to go out and join the band. Now it’s kind of normal and not as interesting but that used to be funny, you’re watching that guy but hearing me?
MF: What other band or studio drummers do you currently admire today and why?
Josh Freese: Abe Laborio, Jr., he’s terrific, really, really good, young guy. Couple of years ago he was doing K.D. Lang and Seal and now he’s playing with Paul McCartney and Sting, it’s crazy, two huge artists. Not a lot of other young guys that are doing studio drumming right now?
MF: Maybe that’s why you are so popular!
Josh Freese: (laughs) Yeah! You either get a skinny white guy with pink hair or you get a big fat black guy. (laughs) No, Abe’s my buddy and he’s good…