Freezepop, a synth-pop group most commonly known for their fan-favorite contributions to several music-genre games such as Rock Band, Guitar Hero, FreQuency, Dance Dance Revolution (and others) were kind enough to take a few minutes out of their day to talk with me in support of their most recent full-length CD release, Future Future Future Perfect.
For those not familiar with the band, Freezepop consists of Jussi Gamache (aka Liz Enthusiasm, vocals), Kasson Crooker (aka the Duke of Pannekoeken, vocals, synths) and Sean Drinkwater (aka The Other Sean T. Drinkwater, vocals, synths).
To start off the interview I'd like to ask a question that usually comes at the end… is there any one thing you'd like people to know about Freezepop right now?
J: We are awesome.
S: We are so awesome.
J: Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
Well I'm a big fan of your music, so no argument on my end.
S: We are only being somewhat facetious.
How did you originally get together? How and when? Did you all just to bump into each other at the mall? What's the story there?
K: That's exactly what happened; we were all at Spencer gifts.
S: I was helping some of the girls at Rave, and we all sort of looked at each other and definitely decided we should form a band. (laughter) No, actually I think Kasson was looking for a singer and he had asked one of our friends about it. I answered the phone when he was making the call, and that's how I got into the band. Well I mean, Jussi and I were roommates at the time and Kasson and I had known each other from being the keyboard nerds in our respective bands before that, so we struck up the conversation and I was like, "it sounds like a really fun idea", so Kasson had the idea to form a band around the little QY70 (a Yamaha keyboard) with a female singer, and I sort of tagged along.
So what were you all doing at that point? Was it '98 or '99? Did you all have part time jobs or wha?
J: It was '99 so this is our 10 year anniversary, kind of crazy.
S: We were all in other bands.
J: Well I wasn't really, but we had a little record label though.
S: Kasson and I were both on bands that were ostensibly on the same label based in Boston, so we were all a little bit connected anyway
Where did you get the name "Freezepop"? Where did that come from?
S: Depends on who you ask. My version of the story is that Kasson wanted to call it Rocketpop and then I suggested Freezepop, but there is some disparity on that.
K: I do remember liking that name, but definitely Freezepop is a much better name.
Jussi, did you have your own version of that story?
J: Well the whole Freezepop thing came around because my house had a fourth of July party and we were like "Oh, we got freeze pops." We had like 500 of them, we put them in the freezer overnight and we thought that would be enough time for them all to freeze. Only like 10% of them froze, so basically the rest of the summer we were stuck with a freezer overflowing with freeze pops. So anyway, that was the freeze pop summer and Sean basically lived on them.
Kasson, I know you call yourself the Duke of Pannekoeken, so are you from Minnesota or of Dutch descent somehow?
K: I actually don't really know. I tried to figure out the derivative of my name, and I’m descended from the pilgrims somehow. Some of the pilgrims were either Dutch or English, but I think it's more that I have an affinity for their pancakes, so I changed my name to that at some point.
What was it before?
K: It started off as the Duke of Candied Apples, and then when we were in Belgium I switched it to the duke of Belgian Waffles. A year or so later we were in Amsterdam, and clearly I found my breakfast food of choice, so I settled on that and it has been that ever since.
Are you eventually going to make your way through other breakfast foods? Perhaps blintzes or crepes, or something like that?
K: I'll never say never, but I've stuck with this one for awhile.
S: The Duke of Turkey Bacon? Perhaps veggie sausages.
I usually do a lot of game reviews (and that's how the person from your label found me originally) so forgive my ignorance but I was going to ask: what programs or instruments are you using these days? How much is PC work in front of your keyboard to get your songs together, and how much is in a more traditional studio setting?
S: Kasson and I both have studios that are somewhat similar. We're using a lot of the same software. Some of the same hardware we have, like analog synthesizers. We both like a lot of hardware, and we're kind of a getting into a neat process of working now… But we're never in a traditional studio as such, at least I don't think.
So when you guys are recording your tracks, are you together or apart?
S: It's been totally all over the map. The normal process is Jussi will send some lyrics over to Kasson, and he'll lay down some tracks and match up the lyrics to the melodies. Then she'll go over to his place and do the vocals.
Do you always come up with the lyrics first, or do you start with a melody in mind?
J: I come up with most of the lyrics and hand them off to the boys, and then they do their thing with it and kind of match it up to the song they already have going or write a song around it. There's a lot of back and forth, too. We don't have one typical way of writing.
K: For me, I am usually most inspired programming some drum sounds on synthesizers, and then I end up with a pattern or two that I really like that has a chord progression and some interesting sounds. For me that's the starting point. That's what I feel I do most naturally, but we've done other things where we have a full set of lyrics and have written a bed for it.
How much do you guys tour, and how much time do you spend doing other things? I mean, are you full-time musicians now? Kasson, I know you work for Harmonix (the developers behind several music games such as Rock Band) but do you other two have game industry jobs?
J: Sean and I work freelance so we have a schedule that's flexible. I'm a graphic designer and Sean does all sorts of audio composition stuff. Generally when we tour, Kasson can't usually come with us so we have another sort-of member (a stand-in member for him) and the three of us tour. We've been touring kind of a lot the last couple of years. We try and go out for two weeks at a time and then come back for a couple of weeks, so that we can continue on with our actual day jobs.
S: That's so we can recharge our batteries. Going on tour for two months at a time is very draining, so we'll go out for three weeks, come back for a month, go out for twenty days, then come back for thirty days. By the end of the year we've been on tour for a couple of months, but not all in a row—we don't want to hate each other and not want to be in a band together again.
How much is domestic versus international? Do you find you have a bigger fan base outside of the U.S., or do you know what the breakdown is?
J: It used to be true [that more fans were international] but since the whole video game thing happened, it's definitely evened things out a bit more.
So you feel that most of our domestic fans are from your exposure in games?
J: Oh yeah, definitely.
In relation to that, do you find you sell most of your music through electronic channels, or how are CDs doing for you? What's the breakdown?
K: It's actually been surprising. Our back catalog sells a lot more digitally than I think we do in CDs, but for our most recent CD with Cordless (their label) we actually sold more physical copies. The hard thing to gauge, though, is that a lot of people who buy the music online don't buy the full album—they just buy individual songs. It is a little bit harder to gauge traditional album sales versus individual tracks. From a revenue point of view, we make more money from selling music online than CDs, but I think at this point it's pretty much split, I think. A few years ago I thought we would be doing tons and tons of digital sales and less CD sales.
While we're on the topic, what do you guys think of copy protection for MP3s? Now that restrictions seem to be easing a bit, do you have feelings either way?
S: Not really
K: I used to struggle with the whole DRM issue and I'm actually happy that most of the industry is going non-DRM. The downside that there are still a fair amount of problems. Artists are writing songs and getting exploited, so it's hard to sell music. Fortunately for us, it's not like we're living off the music and stuff. If I was trying to live off my music, my feelings might be a little bit different on IP protection and DRM. At this point I really don't care. The thing about tour fans is that when they buy our music, they know they're supporting us and that the money isn't being fed into a giant corporation. We actually have a really good deal with our record label, where it is very beneficial to us in terms of the master recordings and stuff. I've met many people over the years who have said they've found our music online, and now they're buying our CDs. In the past sometimes, they would just PayPal us money for the MP3s they had gotten over the years, so it's pretty cool having fans like that.
So you guys feel like you have a pretty tight connection with your fans?
K: Yeah totally, we use our website and MySpace, and now FaceBook and LiveJournal to be able to connect with the fans. One thing we're dabbling with is a premium service where people can sign up and get access to exclusive content that they wouldn't normally get, so we're kind of seeing how that goes and if people are interested and that kind of thing.
J: Yeah our fans are pretty hardcore and it's awesome, it's really great. I think we are just underground enough, when they find out about us it's exciting.
You mean you're not in the ‘oversold, not cool anymore phase'?
J: Yeah, exactly.
Just to lighten it up a little bit, out of your catalog, what do you find is the most popular, or most requested song when you play concerts? Along with that, what are your own personal favorites? Do you each have a favorite song that you do?
S: There are a few, I would say.
J: There are a couple that are pretty standard ones.
S: Kind of the perennial favorites… Stakeout, Less Talk More Rokk from Guitar Hero II, which is obviously one of our most popular songs.
J: I would say those.
S: I really like Harebrained Scheme.
K: Harebrained Scheme continues to be one of my favorite early songs. I have an affinity for Vangelis, and I really like Outer Space too.
Are there any songs where you think "Oh my god, I wish I could have done that over" or "we totally screwed this one up"?
K: I've gone back and redone songs when I wasn't happy with the recording, which is not good. We re-released Freezepop Forever so we had to repress a bunch of CDs and get it remastered, so we took that opportunity to make a few minor tweaks—like to a few songs on the album where I wasn't happy with the mix. Some of our older songs, we're not super fond of the lyrics and we don't perform them anymore, like Robotron 2000. I think out of all the songs that I dislike and would want to go back and redo, I think the first one would be Shark Attack. We perform that live and it's lots of fun and has lots of energy, but when I listed to the album version of it, I'm bummed out.
I also wanted to ask, what's the story behind the one you did in Japanese, Tenisu no Boifurendo? How did that come about?
J: Um, I took one semester of Japanese and I basically learned enough to write that song. very very elementary Japanese and unfortunately I've forgotten most of everything else I learned, but I remember the lyrics to that song. It would be very hard for me to carry on a very simple conversation in Japanese now.
S: We are going to be really big in Japan though.
J: Oh let's hope so, I would love to tour there.
You covered the theme song to Jem... which one of you is the fan?
K: I'm a pretty big Jem fan.
Do you think she's truly outrageous?
K: Well, I have an MP3 collection of every single song from that series, and there's some cheese in there for sure.
S: The woman who created those songs wrote to us.
J: Yeah she really liked it. I thought that was really awesome—plus she wasn't suing us.
Along lawsuit lines, I saw you doing a Journey cover online. Do you have any plans to release that, or do a covers album?
(silence, followed by laughter)
K: We've done a few covers over the years. They tend to be obscure things like the Jem cover and we covered a Raymond Scott song. We've recorded two other more traditional covers—a Dépêche Mode track and a Sparks track. We tend to save the Journey and The Final Countdown stuff for our live shows because they tend to go over really well live.
Are you guys planning on playing PAX again this year?
J: If they'll have us back. I would love to, that was such a crazy experience both times. Those are by far the biggest shows we've ever played.
Changing gears a little bit, since I am going to be covering this on a game website I have to ask some game questions. So, I know you have a lot of fans from your exposure in music games, but do you guys actually play? What is your relationship with games?
K: I have Lego Star Wars. I play a fair amount of games, and we play all of the music games just to see what other people are doing. I'm particularly fond of PaRappa and Rez. I'm fond of other Japanese games like Loco Roco, and Katamari Damacy was really fun. I just finished Patapon and now I've just been getting the little iPhone games for my phone. I've been playing Rolando which is a total rip off of Loco Roco but it's still pretty fun.
J: Colecovision Smurfs. I'm actually really bad at video games but I enjoy watching people play them. Like, I can sit and watch someone play Guitar Hero forever. It's very mesmerizing.
Speaking of that, there's been some talk in the games industry about whether the music game genre has run its course. Do you guys have an opinion on that?
S: As long as there are innovations and products keep becoming more interesting…
K: I think if all the companies stop putting in resources and stop innovating, then they'll end up being just like the other franchise games like Madden or Tony Hawk. DDR is a really good example; it's a pretty good idea and it's fun, but 25 games later and it still looks kind of bad and still has a lot of cheesy music in it. The last thing we want to see in music games is for that kind of thing to happen. So far it's been pretty good.
S: If we get to Guitar Hero 9 with the glow-in-the-dark strap, you'll know that they ran out of ideas.
I just have one more question. It's kind of off-the-wall but I ask this one and I get some pretty interesting answers… So, let's say an alien lands and tells you that you have to pick between rice, wheat and corn—you can only pick one. The other two will vanish off the earth completely. Which one would you pick and why?
K: I'm going to have to go with rice because I love sushi.
J: But corn is so versatile.
S: And it feeds the most people. Is it personal taste, or are we trying to keep the species alive?
No, just you personally.
S: I would probably pick corn since I like corn chips so much. I love tortillas and I love nachos. I just think corn does amazing things.
J: You can do pretty much anything with corn.
S: There's corn in Coca Cola.
K: There's corn everywhere, that's for sure.
S: I would vote for rice if it was to keep the species alive, but my personal vote is for corn.
So what's the final decision?
J: I'm going to vote corn, but I would miss rice. I probably wouldn't miss wheat that much.
S: so it's rice, corn, and corn.
Well, I guess Freezepop has no love for wheat. Sorry, wheat.
Infinite thanks to the members of Freezepop for their time, and also to Pavla at Rykodisc/Cordless for helping to arrange it. For more information on the band or to check out some of their sounds, go to the Freezepop website, their MySpace page, and their PR contact page.
And if you like their music, you can check out other bands at their label, Cordless Recordings.
Read more at Drinking Coffeecola blog.