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Freese Trio Interview with Jemma Freese

Ben sat down with Jemma Freese, leader of triphop, electronica grunge band Freese Trio, back in December discussing the new album The Beast in the Blueprint that was self-released back on 13th September.

Already having debut album Thought Noise in the bag from 2017, Jemma talks about everything from her upbringing in Sheffield, her life in the Leeds scene, the importance of talking about mental health issues, and how a man eating a donut inspired the new album's title.

In December, they released their debut music video for their single 'Pleasure Island' (check out below) with funding provided from Jazz North. The trio have their next gig on 21st January in Manchester at Matt & Phred's.

You all met at LCOM (Leeds College of Music) in 2014, was that through different bands or did you all wanted to make the same kinda music?

We met in first year so I didn't really know what Chris and Theo were like as musicians but I knew Theo as a friend so he was basically the only drummer I knew. So then we played together almost just like an experiment, and then he recommended Chris as a bass player so it wasn't really like I was looking specifically for people. It was more like I wanted to try it out because I'd never been in a band before. Everything I'd done before had always been solo.

What kind of music were you doing then before you started the trio?

I was doing kinda blues jazz stuff and started off doing loads of covers of Tom Waits and Ray Charles as they were my favourites then I started writing my own music which was inspired by that and since then I've moved very far away.

Do you think you would've imagined your music to be like it is in the triphop, dark jazz electronica vibe from how you have developed your sound from when you were younger?

I think so because of the music I grew up with as I just mentioned but also the music my Dad listened to was Massive Attack, Portishead, Goldfrapp and just experimental, electronic music which I bonded with my Dad over. My Mum liked Motown music which I didn't really like so since 10 or 11, I was listening to that experimental music and the sound is nostalgic to me so it is embedded in me and will never go away.

When I was younger, one of the main things I had was the fact that I didn't like people hearing me play or sing because I was so shy and I was extremely anxious, and I do still have problems with anxiety. I used to play as quietly as possible and play with the piano lid on my hands so if someone came in I'd pretend I wasn't playing. When I was really into Tom Waits around the age of 13, he had a song 'The Piano Has Been Drinking Again' so I used to get a bit of wine and loads of ribena in a cup and pretend to be Tom Waits. I feel like that memory sums up the person I am.

When listening to your first album Thought Noise, it felt slightly more soulful and the new album The Beast in the Blueprint feels more introspective about the topics you talk about. Do you feel like you've noticed a difference in the writing process of this album compared to your last one?

Definitely there's a massive difference. The first album has bits of quirkiness and is nice to listen to but most of it feels quite safe so as a listener there's nothing too unexpected. With The Beast in the Blueprint, it's very much got lots of quirks and is more daring. I didn't want to do anything that felt too safe, I wanted each part to be something interesting so nothing was there really for the sake of it.

Is there any songs in particular where you feel happy with what you've got out of the song?

I think it's hard because when I write all the music and then jam it with Chris and Theo, whatever idea I came up will change when they add their parts to the song and it shifts around so how they sound now, and especially after the producer Jack had an input into effects and stuff, none of it sounds like how it did in my head originally but I'm super happy about pretty much all of them.

I think 'Black Gravity' was definitely the hardest song to shape and when it was sorted I was like "Thank God" because it was getting to a point where something's not right, so I'm proud of that one because of how hard it was to get to the right point. I'm really happy with 'Finally', the final track on the album, because the song is slightly different as it is a bit lighter. You have to think of an album like a story or a movie; I wanted it to end in a safe way because the topic is so dark and could be difficult for people to listen to and I wanted to end it on a positive note so people don't go away feeling shit about it.

How important is it to talk about mental health issues through music? Reading the album review from Local Sound Focus, it was nice to see how the review had spoken to someone on such a personal level. How did you feel when you read that?

When Frank emailed the review to me, the email I sent him back was just this massive wow because it felt like a genuine exchange had happened and a genuine experience, and it was really personal as he really listened to it. If you don't talk about that stuff then who will, every one is a role model to the people around them and you can influence these people. If you don't talk about it, they won't know what you're experiencing so sharing will help people want to talk about it. It's not like I'm going around being like "boohoo I'm so sad", it's more the lyrics have more mystery and intrigue to them because I'm not just unloading feelings, I'm actually thinking about them and reflecting on my life and trying to become a person I wanted to be.

When I perform and I'm on stage I'm not nervous at all but it's everything before and after that which will make me feel anxious. I also can't take compliments so when someone does I don't want to them to think I'm cocky so I just have to say something otherwise they'll think I'm rude. I still have a lot of problems with anxiety and mental health problems but music has really helped me gained my confidence.

Do you think those topics, mental health and PTSD, are becoming more into the mainstream of music or do you think it's got a long way to go?

I think it's definitely rising to the mainstream but the problem we're gonna have is that when something isn't talked abut, it then is talked about way too much so it flips onto the other side and I feel like it's starting to happen like that and everyone is talking about it a lot so it needs to balance itself back again, and that happens with everything especially with genres and scenes going on.

How do you feel about the Leeds scene, and jazz in particular seeing that you've come through that route, being underrepresented in the UK scene? A lot of it is skewed towards London and that goes for a lot of parts of the music industry - do you find that a frustrating thing or not?

I'm kind of at peace with it because even though I agree with that statement, everyone in Leeds we're so great that we all support each other and it's so nice so I'd definitely rather be here than London. I'd definitely rather be in a nicer place but we're keeping the scene alive and keeping it going and we're the ones in control so it is annoying but I'm just happy to be making music in such a good music scene.

What do you enjoy and what do you not enjoy about being involved in the music industry?

I like music! Whoever you work with, you learn a lot about people quickly because everyone is vulnerable when you express yourself. So you create bonds with people over that. What I don't like is that there is competitiveness or jealousy, and I het like that I get jealous from other people and I try hard not to do that because it's such a horrible feeling. Leeds is a small scene, everyone's doing music and all my friends are so everyone's encouraging each other and you can't get away from that as you're constantly surrounded by that. So sometimes you need a break from that and not to talk about music because it can get claustrophobic in that way.

You mentioned Jack added some effects in production of the songs, are there any songs from your albums where you thought I want to hear some effects here and other things you wanted to explore through different recording techniques?

It was very much a communicative dialogue because he knows a lot more stuff about that than me, all I can express is the atmosphere I wanted. We used a lot of tape delay using a real tape machine which was really fun even though it kept breaking and was really hard to restart. I had a lot of percussion ideas so Theo played a fire extinguisher once which was cool. For 'Finally', we recorded the vocals in a warehouse on the chorus so we could get a big reverb. It was nice doing it there because 'Finally' is a song about breaking free and it was nice just going for it and getting the nice big reverb effect on it.

It makes you play or sing differently. For the first album I was singing through this tube and did some different mic placements. With the keyboard we used a real Rhodes and out it through different amps. We obviously have time against us in the studio but we're going down that route of being more experimental.

What have the benefits of being involved in the mjf Hothouse and Jazz North Northern Line schemes?

For Hothouse, it's talent development so it's for developing your sound, your new music, your new project and so we've had a mentor to help out with that and that has obviously helped us make some good contacts out of it too. For Jazz North that's more a touring scheme so we played at Lancaster Jazz Festival this September so they videoed it. With them, you also get a pot of funding with them that you want so I wanted to do a music video which we did for 'Pleasure Island' and we filmed it at Abbeydale Picture House in Sheffield, which is about five minutes away from where I'm from.

How do you find the difference between Leeds and Sheffield music scenes?

It's hard because I wasn't that involved in the Sheffield scene as I am in Leeds but I think I prefer Leeds because there's the college of music so there are more people my age in their 20s doing experimental jazz so there's a really rich, diverse scene from that.

What other influences did you find when you were writing your own music?

I'd been doing classical piano so I had all the techniques but I was never really taught theory so I was just taught what I actually had to play. So when I started writing music I had no idea what I was writing really. So the stuff I was writing was very fresh and wasn't restricted to following any rules. Now I know a lot of theory but I still feel like I write like how I have done before.

You play piano and synths, if there was any instrument you could start from fresh and get into what would it be?

Probably drums. I love rhythm. I always feel really connected to it. All the songs I write I always feel they are rhythmical and not as melodic so I'm really interested in drums for that.

In 'Pleasure Island' you play in 5/4, how often do you want to explore different time signatures?

It wasn't a conscious thing for that song, it was just built from the rhythm I had. So that comes back from me thinking through rhythms and I just experiment with what I'm feeling and only after that I will realise if it's in that time signature. In 'Finally' it goes from 4/4 to 3/4, and in the new material that we're working on there's even more time changes!

Do these songs ever come from lyrics you've written?

Not really, I tend to do everything separately so sitting down and writing loads of lyrics or poetry or melodies or do chord piano writing. It's whatever mood I'm in. Then I can see if one poem links in with a melody really well. There is a song that we're working on now where the lyrics were written in all one go and that's not usual for me so that song feels special to me.

How do you find touring around outside of Leeds, and are there any favourite places you've played or would like to play?

I really enjoy it but it's different with each band. With Freese Trio, Theo drives so that helps but with the singing I do, it's the hardest vocals I do so I have to spend the whole day practicing and warming up. With J Frisco, none of us drive so all this gear we carry on trains is harder so there are different difficulties with each band.

I really love Hyde Park Book Club here in Leeds because I live here. Freese Trio had a really good gig at Small Seeds in Huddersfield as the audience was really good. I just like it when we have a good experience and I can talk with the audience. We had a really good gig in Sheffield at Yellow Arch as it was packed and a part of Future Jazz event so that was really good too.

Would you ever want to move back to Sheffield or stay in the Leeds music scene?

It's hard because you don't want to be surrounded by the nostalgia all the time. When I go back I reminded of the person I used to be, but I don't want to be reminded by those new memories all the time because I want to make new memories. In Leeds, I don't feel tied down and worry about stuff because when I first released music when I came to Leeds, some people commented on the music being like this isn't what you used to do. And it just shows I've grown and developed in what I want to do. I think it's important to push yourself all the time and not become stagnant and change to move on and try new things because you change as people so you should always do that I think.

What kind of themes are you exploring with the new music, and is there a big difference with how you record and how you prepare for a live performance?

It's more electronic but with the same setup. It'll be two keyboards more on the new stuff this time. With recording the last album, we did it all live rather than multi track so that helps us feel like how it would be live. The new album, lyrically it is a bit more related to The Beast in the Blueprint and talks about the after effects on topics I've written about.

How come you called the album The Beast in the Blueprint?

We were all sat in Temple, the coffee donut shop, and we were having a meeting about the album and were getting down track names and album names. There was a guy eating a blue donut and it was all over his beard and one of my album title ideas was something about blueprint or beasts and I didn't know how it could link but then I saw the donut and put those together!

What other projects are you involved in?

Aside from Freese Trio, I'm in DOMI, J Frisco, Eva Eik, No Fixed Identity, Archi-Frisco (Archipelago and J Frisco super band), and Maximo Park.

If you weren't involved in the music industry as your job, what do you think you'd be doing?

I'd want to be a councillor. I looked at doing courses related to that when I decided I wanted to go to university but then I had a light bulb moment when I realised I wanted to do music. But otherwise I would've wanted to become a councillor. It's something I'm really interested in.

If there was no time constraints or money constraints, what kind of music project would you want to do?

I'd probably do something with each of the projects I'm in currently. And working on something which is totally solo, with synths and vocals. And also would want to help my niece, who's really interested in singing so doing something with her.

Are there any artists you're really enjoying in the Leeds scene at the moment?

I really like Yaatri, they have really good rhythmic stuff with their contemporary jazz sound.

When are your next live shows and plans for the future with releasing the new music?

So we're just writing the new material at the moment and we need some funds to help record so that will probably take a year. But thanks to Music:Leeds Launchpad we have some funding. We have some gigs coming up and potentially doing a Ukraine Sofar Sounds which is still in the works through a friend I know. We're working with an agent to get more gigs in Bristol and London and that'd be the next big step to get more gigs down south.


You can listen to The Beast in the Blueprint here:

And the first album Thought Noise here:

You can buy The Beast in the Blueprint here:

You can keep up to date with Freese Trio here:

There next gig is at Matt & Phred's on 21st January in Manchester:


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