Music News & Reviews

Summer is for reggae

Local band Still Time will also appear at Sunday’s festival in Avila Beach.
Local band Still Time will also appear at Sunday’s festival in Avila Beach. COURTESY PHOTO

New Zealander Joe Lindsay is excited to see San Luis Obispo for one reason — the Madonna Inn.

After doing some research online, he can’t wait to see the famous hotel, which he’ll experience when his band, Fat Freddy’s Drop, stays there in preparation for its performance at the Summer Solstice Reggae Festival on Sunday.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Lindsay said of his research. “So much pink. I’m looking forward to it.”

His band, which mixes, reggae, dub, jazz and soul, comes from Wellington, the capital of New Zealand and a shooting location for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Known for its improvised live shows, the band is one of the most successful contemporary bands in New Zealand, having recorded the highest-selling album by a national artist in the island nation 1,200 miles southeast of Australia.

They will appear in Avila Beach with the Dirty Heads, Alborosie, Top Shelf and local band Still Time. Lindsay, one of seven Fat Freddy’s members, spoke to us by phone from New Zealand.

Q: I know you play trombone. But you play tuba also?

A: Yeah, I’m looking for one actually in the states. I can’t travel with the one I’ve got, so I’m frantically searching for one online. Hopefully, I can pick one up by the time I get there. Maybe I can pick up a battered old one that’s been with a high school band or something.

Q: I want to know why there aren’t more popular songs with tuba in them.

A: It’s pretty hard to play. And I think it probably got a bad rap. I don’t know why. It kind of got put in there with the banjo. But I love it. A lot of my favorite stuff’s got tuba in it. It’s just a great tonality to have in the music. That low brass makes everything so fat and warm.

Q: I saw that New Zealand was ranked No. 1 in the Global Peace Index. (The U.S. was ranked No. 85.) What is it that makes you guys so peaceful?

A: I think we’ve probably got enough room to live, in a way. We’re not a huge population. We’ve got our problems, of course — it’s like anywhere. I also think we’re a young country as well. There’s not the same history of persecution or injustice. Although there are historical injustices from the early days, the indigenous people in New Zealand — the Maori— have been quite welcoming.

Q: You guys are kind of known for that laid-back lifestyle. How does that fit in with reggae vibe?

A: I guess that unharried vibe comes from the fact that it’s a pretty good standard of living and it’s a great place to live. It’s not like you’re struggling to live in New York City and constantly dealing with traffic and people and all that type of stuff — the rush to survive. The California vibe is really similar. I think that’s why on our trips to the States, we’re like, “Let’s concentrate on California — they seem to get it.” The lifestyle is more relaxed.

Q: I was going to ask — is there any place in the U.S. that kind of reminds you of home?

A: Yeah, well, San Fran is sort of like a much, much, much, much bigger Wellington. It’s a harbor city, hills everywhere. It’s got cable cars and trolley buses and has a similar counterculture as well.

Q: I know you have a history of crafting your songs from the live shows. Do you guys ever sit in the studio and write stuff or is it always from the stage?

A: I’ve got a big warehouse space not far from our main studio here, and we set up in a circle and jam for five days and pick bits out of those jams that work. We record it all and listen back and we chop it up and find out which bits work, and then we’ll take that song idea and the beat we’ve developed around that and the horn lines that we’ve come up with and then take it to a gig and see where it goes. And over the process of a couple of tours, the song will slowly coalesce into a structure that we’ll turn around and record.

Q: How does Fat Freddy’s Cat and LSD ( “dropping acid”) play into the band name?

A: The Gilbert Shelton cartoons (Fat Freddy’s Cat), that’s kind of where the name came from — and that whole counterculture thing. I wouldn’t read too much into the acid thing, but it’s kind of there in terms of a slightly psychedelic thing that we do.

Q: Does the band actually do acid, though?

A: No, not anymore.

Q: You’re not under oath.

A: Yeah. (laughs) We can’t really keep up with that stuff. It kind of fries your brain after too long.

Q: Some of The Beatles’ best stuff was under acid.

A: It definitely opens up different pathways, that’s for sure, and lets other ideas in.

Q: So if you’re eating a sandwich out in public there, does somebody recognize you?

A: Yeah, yeah. It got pretty crazy for a while. It’s kind of calmed down —we’re probably no longer the flavor of the month. People still really like our stuff and buy our albums, but we’ve been around for about eight years. And in Wellington, no one really cares about whether you’re a celebrity. I think we’re a bit too cool for school down here. They know who you are — they’ll just pretend they don’t know who you are.

Q: Do you have a favorite “Lord of the Rings” movie?

A: I actually worked on them as an armor and weapons technician specializing in blood and goop and mud. I’d sit on a bucket in, like, a safari suit with my hands in a warm bucket of mud. And the soldiers would walk past me, and I’d throw mud at them, make them look like they’d been marching for days.

Q: So you worked on all the movies?

A: Yeah, I started out like halfway through the first movie. It was such a long process. There’d be people coming and going, relationships developed, babies born, people growing old. It was just a way of life for six or seven years.

Q: Were you doing music then?

A: I was moonlighting at that stage. And every so often Freddy’s would go and play a wrap party or a crew party. We did probably five or six different crew parties. One time we played for all the crew at lunchtime on set.

Q: Do you ever introduce any weapons or other props to a Fat Freddy’s show?

A: I did at one gig, but it was for a different band. It was more of a free-jazz band, where I had this choreographed sword fight with the lead singer, where I’d rigged myself with blood.

Q: How did the crowd react to that?

A: They were shocked. I was, like, writhing around on the ground with blood spurting out of me.

Q: You’ve got to do that here.

A: (laughs) It doesn’t really go with the music.

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.

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