Group at Work: Freelance Whales
Click here to watch Freelance Whales perform in the Relix boiler room.
Photo by Charlie Gross
Freelance Whales’ sophomore album Diluvia is full of delicate arrangements, tight harmonies, light electronic flourishes and big sweeps of carefully constructed soundscapes. So it’s easy to forget that the Queens, N.Y.-bred indie-pop group first made their name busking through New York’s highly unpredictable subway system. “It was a friend’s idea,” says singer and multi-instrumentalist Doris Cellar, whose arsenal includes bass, harmonium, glockenspiel and synthesizer. “It helped us pay rent for a few months.”
The members first came together in 2008, mostly through friends of friends and the occasional Craigslist ad. While frontman Judah Dadone provided the band with most of their early songs, the fiercely intelligent 26 year old is the first to point out that they quickly developed into a band. “When we all got together, it just so happened that we gathered around some tunes that I wrote—but everyone in this band has great ideas,” he says.
Despite their humble roots and limited personnel, Freelance Whales looked to expansive bands like Arcade Fire for inspiration and honed in on their own brainy-but-groovy sound. “We’re trying to utilize our limbs in as many ways as possible onstage,” Dadone offers. “We want to make the sound of ten people.” (Presently, in addition to Dadone, Cellar, multi-instrumentalist Chuck Criss, drummer Jacob Hyman and guitarist Kevin Read, they’ve added a sixth touring member to help translate their songs live.)
Their 2009 debut Weathervanes struck a cord with both hipsters and music supervisors who placed the band’s music on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Skins. The combination helped the band jump from subway jam sessions to large-scale clubs. When the time came to work on their follow-up record, the group “wanted to harvest as many great ideas as possible,” Dadone says of the more collaborative approach. “That became our goal: to work everyone’s ideas into a framework where it all feels at home together. It is difficult to reconcile everyone’s ideas, but if you can, it can be really special.”
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