On blowing up via video games and their belated album release at the Sinclair
When it comes to music, sometimes it’s well worth the wait. After dealing with COVID-19 for nearly a year and a half, that’s definitely the case for many musicians, bands, venues, and fans.
Calling it an “Extremely Belated Album Release Party” for their latest project, Fantasizer, that came out last fall, electropop act Freezepop have back-to-back shows going down at the Sinclair in Cambridge on August 13 and 14. Both events have diverse lineups for a sonic smorgasbord, making for much more than just a celebration of one of the best local albums of 2020.
I recently spoke with vocalist Liz Enthusiasm and synthesizer and programmer Sean Drinkwater about the band making their first album in 10 years, getting nearly all of it done before the pandemic, video games, mixing things up.
Going back to the making of Fantasizer, it was the first album you put out in 10 years when it was released last October. What made the experience of making this record different from your previous releases?
Liz: First and foremost, this is the first one that we did a Kickstarter for, so that was a learning experience. It was really great just to get that support from our fans, I think over the years the mentality has changed where people are recognizing that it’s impossible for musicians to make any real money from streaming and if they want to support the bands they have to pony up in some way or another. The support we got from that, the general goodwill and everything has been really great.
Sean: What the Kickstarter really did was that it brought this album into sort of a classic a&r style where we had a lot of time and we had a big budget. Basically during the first year or so that we were working on it we didn’t really love any of the material. In the past, we would have had to go with that but this time we had the time and the budget that we could really get it right. It’s rare for a small band these days to be able to keep going if the album isn’t coming out how you want, so the fans really afforded us an incredible opportunity to fine tune it to have it be what we wanted it to be.
With crowdfunding, one thing I love as a music fan about it is that it enables the band to give unique gifts to their fans on a metered system of how much they donate. It can be an autographed copy of the record or they’ll get a poster and other things, so what were you able to do with that aspect of the Kickstarter?
Liz: That was really the fun part, coming up with different rewards and stuff. We did the basic CDs, t-shirts, and vinyl, but then we started getting a little weirder so people bought a sandwich, we did custom comic strips and custom songs. People could commission cover songs from us so we kind of went crazy with it, that was fun for us.
Was all the recording for Fantasizer done before COVID-19 hit? Or did you have to do any remote sessions because of the pandemic?
Liz: Sean and I live together so that obviously made it easier, we didn’t have to quarantine away from each other or anything.
Sean: I would say 95% of it was done before lockdown. We tweaked a few things at the end and we were going into the mastering stage in early April and once we heard the first master we did a few tweaks, but I would say that it was nearly finished right around lockdown. The last mixes we did were at the end of February.
Liz: It did make it trickier in terms of shooting videos, doing photoshoots and things like that. We had to get creative about it.
Sean: Creatively not being together in other words.
Liz: A lot of green screen kind of stuff but we made it work.
Sean: Yeah, it was pretty challenging. Trying to promote the record was a nightmare but I’m happy to be at least partially on the other side of that.
Liz, outside of music you have an extensive graphic design portfolio that includes work on Freezepop’s website and album covers. How did you get into that field and do you feel that the band’s music has an effect on your artistic vision when it comes to design?
Liz: It’s certainly all inter-related. My personal aesthetic is all kind of one big tangled knot of ’80s neon synthesizer happiness. I was a designer before I even joined the band or anything, I just joined up because it sounded like fun and then it became a good outlet for me to do album design and t-shirt design. To me, that’s some of the fun stuff about being in a band with getting to do these fun projects on the side.
One thing that separates Freezpop from a lot of other bands is how your music is in a bunch of video games including Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Dance Revolution, to name a few. How did this start for the band with video games, is it through a partnership with the local video game development company Harmonix or something else?
Sean: When we formed in 1999 we were a three piece and the other guy who was in the band, Kasson Crooker, was doing some freelance work for Harmonix back in the day.
Liz: He was an audio guy.
Sean: They were running out of music to put in their first rhythm game and he gave them a couple Freezepop songs and other stuff.
Liz: Harmonix has always been supportive of their employees’ bands because most of their employees are in bands and everything.
Sean: When they put out the first Guitar Hero, we had an old song from the late ’90s or early 2000s with fake guitar sounds on it and it’s very corny sounding. I think it was almost as a joke that he had them put the song into the game because it was so blatantly corny but they went for it. Ever since then I think they felt cursed if they didn’t include a Freezepop song, so that’s kind of how it got started and then he got hired there full-time and he came up through the ranks. In fact, when he left the band in 2009 Harmonix was really cranking out games like Beatles Rock Band and all this other stuff was going on. He kept on getting promoted and promoted and promoted so he really couldn’t do the band anymore.
I discovered Freezepop through Guitar Hero.
Sean: I’m pretty sure that’s how a lot of people discovered us.
Liz: It was a really great opportunity just in terms of how the rhythm games were so new back then and the major labels hadn’t encroached on it yet. Even a couple years later it would have been impossible for an unknown band to get on these games.
Sean: I was originally against it, I thought we were selling out. Now I’m thankful that I got outvoted on that one, I’m always wrong about this stuff.
These upcoming back-to-back shows at The Sinclair are fairly diverse with glam punks Linnea’s Garden and hip-hop artist Brandie Blaze performing on the 13th and metal band Worshipper and the glam rock act Sidewalk Driver performing on the following night with The Glitter Boys DJing both nights. How do you plan on preparing for both shows? Can we expect any surprises?
Liz: We plan on mixing it up somewhat.
Sean: For months now we’ve been rehearsing the Saturday set and it’s come along to the point where we’re not going to screwdriver it too much for Friday but we’ll pop in a few other classics for one show that we won’t do for the other. If you go both nights you’ll hear a few songs one night that you didn’t hear the other night. It’s not going to be dramatically different, the main body of the set is going to be the same. The other night we were talking about which songs to throw into each set and we’re still kind of tweaking it so we’ll see what happens.
Liz: We do want to play a representative sample of the new album since it is a belated album release party. We’re also really excited about the very diverse bands, we did it by design to give people a variety of sounds.
Sean: We’ve played with a lot of electronic acts but for these shows we really wanted to do something drastically different. When Worshipper agreed to the first night we knew that we were onto something interesting that could be really cool. We love their band and we love them as people so when that first came together it gave us the possibility to do a Boston showcase rather than some more electronic bands. We’ll do that in the future but since nobody had been playing for so long it seemed like a good time to bring everybody together.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Brooklyn Rail, The Providence Journal, The Newport Daily News, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, New Noise Magazine, Flood Magazine and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.