Interview with Absolutely Free
Written by Lanny Lieu on December 11, 2014
Last week, Absolutely Free was in Portland, Oregon opening for Alvvays at the Doug Fir. The band consists of Toronto natives: Moshe Rozenberg (drums, synth), Matt King (vocals, guitar, synth), and Mike Claxton (bass, synth). They put out their self-titled album earlier this October. Before the show, I got a chance to chat with them about a number of things!
How did all of you guys meet?
Mike: I met both of these guys when they recorded at my house when I was 20.
Matt: His band played in my parents’ basement with my band when we were just out of high school in 2001. Moshe and I had known each other from a few years being in a band together. We, then, eventually picked up Mike.
You guys then later formed DD/MM/YYYY?
Matt: Yeah, we were in DD/MM/YYYY from 2003 to 2011.
How would you describe your songwriting approach as Absolutely Free versus DD/MM/YYYY?
Matt: Definitely different. More patient. It’s a completely perspective. We’re thinking about music and how it sounds as opposed to how it feels.
Moshe: There’s a lot more emphasis placed on our ears than our hands as Absolutely Free.
Since you guys have known each other for a while now, does song writing get easier?
Matt: There’s definitely that. We know how each other plays. It’s nice to know what someone’s parameters are so you can either work with them or try to challenge them. We’re all pretty intuitive and try to listen to what each other is doing.
Moshe: It’s easier to make music that we like because we’ve known each other for so long and we have that comfort level with each other. We speak our minds and we each craft each other’s parts and play through one another. It’s a lot easier than not liking something and not wanting to stir the pot. We’ve known each other for so long we’re like a family. We can tell what one another is thinking but we’re still cordial.
Mike: We’re like a 10 year married couple. We still fight but not about stupid stuff.
Matt: We’ve hit our stride.
After DD/MM/YYYY broke up, how’d you guys reunite?
Mike: We didn’t want to begin with but it was obvious we couldn’t do it like that anymore. So we were like, obviously we’re gonna do something else so we did it pretty quickly. Our first show was six days after our last DD/MM/YYYY show. There was never any doubt. We were just gonna keep going.
Matt: As one slowed down, the other one ramped up.
Since you guys shifted so quickly to Absolutely Free, did your audience or crowd ever take it the wrong way?
Matt: Not really. From a “business perspective,” there were some changes just because DD/MM/YYYY was something and no one had heard of Absolutely Free. But in terms of fans and friends, everyone has been genuinely positive.
Moshe: I think a lot of the people who were following us then and still following us now as Absolutely Free are able to appreciate the music we’re making within the context because they know where it’s coming from. They have a gauge of who we are as artists. They probably hear a little bit of DD/MM/YYYY burrowed deep within an Absolutely Free groove.
Mike: Especially in the beginning. It was a slow transition. Our first round of songs were not DD/MM/YYYY songs but they were close.
Matt: I mean, I sang in DD/MM/YYYY and I sing in Absolutely Free so there is a lot of stylistic stuff didn’t change. It’s more the approach and feel.
I know you guys recently released your self-titled album so congratulations on that.
Matt: Thanks and thank you, Lefse Records!
I just have to ask about your album art. It’s very interesting and rather minimalistic.
Matt: This is our third release. There are some themes that I started in the last two releases that I wanted to advance on and zoom out on. The first two releases were very close up images and this is a photograph of a room with these vaguely symbolic imagery. Basically, giving some stuff to the listener to contemplate what it means. In a context, making it look like an art gallery. It’s actually my art – some visual art that I made. Just trying to create a real space that has slightly weird perceptual things. Like a two dimensional object made to look three dimensional and a photograph with a digital element on top of it. It’s just some subtle technical things.
Moshe: I feel like it captures the sound we are going for too. It’s kind of trippy, but in a more subtle way. Like our music, we don’t use wah wah pedals or crazy phaser. We try for more subtle psychedelia. I think the cover really captures it.
As you guys know, this album has received a lot of positive feedback. Did you have any ideas of what you wanted to aim for before the album was finished?
Mike: we wanted it to be focused, not too eclectic. A good representation of what we do and what we’re into. I think we achieved that really well.
Matt: We’ve been getting a lot of comparisons and I guess that’s good. A lot of the people we’ve been compared to we highly respect. When someone throws out The Beatles, Caribou, or Temples, it’s great that people get where the music is coming from. We thought this music very DD/MM/YYYY but we ended up getting tons of references.
Moshe: I think it’s a feat that people are even to place our music somewhere. We come from a background of not thinking about that kind of stuff – Obviously being a genre defying musicians. I think that if people can place your music, there’s a comfort in that and they can enjoy it more. I know people didn’t really know what to call DD/MM/YYYY. It was schizophrenic art-punk or whatever. So it’s interesting that people are able to place our music. I’m just happy that it’s a whole-heartedly listenable album. Something that you can immerse yourself in.
Personally, what was the most difficult song for you guys to write on this album?
Mike: We were working with the producer, Mike, from Fucked Up. It wasn’t hard but it was the most work. It was like, “just tear these apart and re-write them.” So we did that a few times. The songs were Spiral Jetty and Blurred Lens.
Moshe: Music isn’t generally hard, but there is heartache because we grow attached to certain things but we had a lot of respect for Mike so in some cases, there was some letting go of certain things. We’re hoping to maybe bring those into a live atmosphere some day but it was fun. It was a great exercise. It helped us grow a lot.
Do you ever keep the material that you don’t use for future songs?
Matt: Sometimes, we rip off the best parts of a certain song… for example, Beneath the Air was a completely different song.
Moshe: It was called Rolling Thunder.
Matt: It was so different. We made a couple different versions of the song. One night, I wrote lyrics and put it to the music and it became what it was. From that point, we were pounding heads to this Rolling Thunder when eventually Beneath the Air happened.
Moshe: We were like, these are both great songs!
Mike: But Beneath the Air eclipsed it. It just took the limelight.
You guys are currently on tour with Alvvays. I have to ask every band I meet this question (thanks to MisterWives): have you temporarily lost a band member yet?
Matt: We almost left Mike yesterday. Moshe started driving and I was just like, “Moshe, you noticed we’re missing something?”
Mike: It’s revenge. We literally left Moshe at a grocery store in Buffalo once.
Moshe: I ran after them. I saw them get on the highway and I didn’t have a cellphone at the time. I had to ask the grocery store to use their office phone.
Mike: I get a call from a New York number and it’s like “hello Mike.”
Moshe: I believe it was more like, “hello Michael. Did you realize I’m NOT in the van?” I could just hear him dropping the phone and yelling in the background to have the van turned around.
Was that during this tour?
Mike: No, it was last year. Never again.