Since the early days of movie projection, prior to the advent of “Talkies,” music has been irrevocably fused with film. Some soundtracks have served to move us more brightly than others, as is the case with the James Bond franchise, and its accompanying music that has spanned six decades and counting. With such a bountiful collection of themes and title tracks, it only took a little inspiration to send self-described James Bond junkie and bassist extraordinaire, Freekbass, off running with a project solely dedicated to recreating and expanding upon the James Bond musical universe. The Band is Bond, a brand new ensemble, aims to harmoniously transport us into the secret agents world with a dash of thrill, intrigue, and improvisation.
For their inaugural show at the Brooklyn Bowl on February 16th, Freekbass has assembled a stellar troupe of players that are uniquely inclined to tackle the Bond catalog with vigor and grit. The genre spanning group largely resides near Freek’s home base of Cincinnati, and with the core of the group bounded by geography, these purveyors of song have put rehearsal on the front burner, tackling the vast Bond catalog whenever time will allow. This attention to detail will make for a confident showing as The Band Is Bond hits the storied Brooklyn Bowl stage mid-February.
Freek’s first recruit was Jennifer Hartswick, who serves as a beyond perfect fit, chiming in on those female heavy vocal leads that are the signature to many a Bond theme, while providing that essential brass boost on trumpet. Next Freekbass called upon Razor Sharp Johnson, of Bootsy’s Rubberband, and P-Funk fame, to man the keys. The Band rounds out with one of Freek’s friends and collaborators, Jyn Yates on drums, Nicholas Gerlach (Turbo Suit) playing the Tenor Sax, and TSLY, occasional Freekbass coconspirator, on guitar. The Band Is Bond’s spiritual player, is Ken “Big Bamn” Smith, Freekbass’ longtime drummer and confidante, who tragically passed away in an automobile accident earlier this year. Bamn provided direction for The Band at its inception and was slated as the original drummer. Surely he will be on everyone’s mind at the BK Bowl performance.
Prior to this first show, Freekbass was kind enough to take some time to talk The Band Is Bond, the inspiration behind its name, and losing Bamn. After reading the interview, make sure to click the link at the bottom, and get your tickets to The Band Is Bond at the Brooklyn Bowl on February 16th. And don’t forget to “dress to kill” as Bond themed regalia is highly recommended!
Russ Glowatz (RG): First off, let me offer my condolences to you over the loss of Big Bamn.
Freekbass: It was a shocker man. I’m starting to finally get my head a little bit above water. We’re on the road traveling in dangerous conditions all the time, so the most ironic part is it happened when we were home. He was such an amazing cat. As tight as we were onstage, we were offstage, so I really appreciate your sentiments.
RG: This past month has really been something else in respect to the passing of legendary musicians.
Freekbass: Oh yeah I know man. 2016, especially January. I’m glad it’s February, hoping this month is a bit better.
RG: You’ve previously mentioned that you considered Bamn a brother. How did that tight relationship reflect upon the music you both made together?
Freekbass: Bass players and drummers always have that special relationship anyway, because of the fact that we’re kind of in the rhythm world together, but him and I especially. Our families would hang out together off the road. I grew up as an only child, and as musicians we have a tendency to put walls around ourselves a little bit, and as an only child that adds to it. And Bamn was one of the first people that I fully fully trusted. He was one-hundred percent real.
When someone’s really close, and you go on the road with them for a little while, once in a while you start to see a little chink in the armor, and you’re like “oh, okay.” But everything about [Bamn] was so genuine, and I feel like I could really trust him with anything, my whole life. Even when I sit here and talk about it, it almost gets me choked up, because in some ways I don’t let myself get too close to people, and he was one of these people I did.
He pushed me too a lot. He pushed me to be better, and look higher, and anytime I’d say to him “that we’re gonna do this, this year,” he’d want to take it to a higher level. He’s a real special person, and David Bowie’s got one heck of a drummer up there in heaven right now.
RG: Without a doubt. And I’m sure you’re going to take with you the sentiment of “What would Bamn do” as you go forward.
Freekbass: That’s it! Even as I’m putting together my new band right now, he’s totally in my mind, that I’m really gonna take it to another level with him in mind.
RG: Focusing on the new project, it’s really heartening to see you push forward with the Brooklyn Bowl show that’s coming up on February 16th. I imagine Bamn wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. So with that, what was the spark that inspired the creation of The Band Is Bond?
Freekbass: I’ve always been a huge James Bond fan since I’ve been a kid. I’ve always been enchanted by the the gadgets, the storylines, and the music. Especially the older James Bond movies, the ones from the sixties. That first time period, that whole kind of Mad Men, skinny ties, and Art Deco looking era. And what kind of spawned it, I was actually listening to Pandora and a James Bond tune came on, and I thought “man, it’d be really cool to redo these songs.”
And with the James Bond thing too, my mom likes James Bond, my grandma likes James Bond, kids that are fifteen, sixteen years old like James Bond, so it really spans so many generations. It’s not just in a timeframe. I think the first James Bond movie came out in ’63, and they just had a brand new one that came out this year, and I think that’s because of the timeless aspect of it. You have such a timeless character, and the music is so timeless as well, so I thought it’d be a really cool idea to interpret those songs.
Not twenty minutes later I called up Jennifer Hartswick. She was really into it. And especially to have a female singer, since so much of the soundtrack has female vocals for a good chunk of the music, she was the first person I thought of, because she’s one that can handle those kind of vocals. And that’s how everything kind of started, and then we started putting musicians together, and here we are today.RG: While delving into the different decades and eras of Bond, I’ve noticed that the music always has this contemporary appeal, yet it simultaneously is paying homage to a sound that’s completely authentic to the James Bond universe. The sound is wholly unique, and whether the music came from the 60’s or the modern era, it’s being tapped into. How would you characterize that sound?
Freekbass: Right. And that goes back to the timeless thing I was talking about when the idea of the band came together, because whether it’s the song that Adele does in Skyfall, or going all the way back to Goldfinger with Shirley Bassey in 1964, you could almost replace those songs in either era and they would work. There’s harmonic things that show up in every era. You know the original James Bond theme, from Dr. No, which is the one everybody knows about, has a kind of treble-ized guitar sound. That kind of harmonic structure, you’ll hear it in all the songs, they kind of stick those into every theme song. That half-step, kind of semi-dissonant, definitely that early 1960’s spy movie mentality thing, even if you’re doing a ballad, or more of a rock tune, they kind of have that sensibility about them. And again, just like you said, there’s this bridge between times.
There’s a few exceptions that stand out. There’s one of the songs we’re doing from The Spy Who Loved Me by Carly Simon, and that’s almost like a seventies soft rock song, which is different. But the majority of the sound [fits that sensibility], even “Live And Let Die” by Paul McCartney, that’s another one we’ll be doing, I think, at the Brooklyn Bowl, is such a sick song, and a lot of people don’t think that’s a James Bond theme song. Everyone knows that’s a Paul McCartney song, but it’s actually a theme song from the movie.
So ideally what we’d like to do is get a bunch of shows under our belt, do some festival dates, and then put out an album of original songs influenced by the James Bond soundtrack. And a pie in the sky thought is to have The Band Is Bond actually do the theme for one of the James Bond movies in the future. That would be a long long term goal. You never know what happens when you put something out in the universe.
RG: That’s a wonderful goal. You guys are reaching for the stars on that one, and based upon your collective abilities, it’s totally possible.
Freekbass: I’m sure there’s a lot of politics and stuff involved with that kind of thing, but in paying homage to such a great library of music, hopefully some people that are involved in that world might like what we’re doing.
RG: There can be a fine line between replication and reinvention. In covering songs from the Bond canon, how will you skirt that line going forward. I’ve listened to “You Only Live Twice,” your rendition of Nancy Sinatra’s original, and while it seems The Band Is Bond stayed more or less true to form with that song, I imagine you may let loose on other things.
Freekbass: Definitely. We’re kinda walking that tight rope with that too because with a song like “You Only Live Twice” we kind of played with some ideas in the studio, but that one felt so conducive to just represent it similar to the way it was. But for a good chunk of these songs, when we’re rehearsing they’re already taking on a new personality with all the players we have involved. We thought about getting in the studio immediately and trying to do a bunch of tracks at once, but then we thought, “hey, let’s get some shows under our belt first…like six months from now, these songs may have a whole different sound.” Definitely the idea is to stretch these songs out and try to let everybody give their personality to them, there’s no doubt about that. You’re gonna see a lot of that on the debut night at the Brooklyn Bowl.
RG: Looking forward to it. I will be there will bells on! I don’t know if I’m going to have a Bond costume though. I gotta think about that.
Freekbass: Yeah! That’s another cool thing about that show. It’s not just for the band, but we’ll be able to create this whole world for the audience too.
RG: Audience involvement absolutely gets that whole synchronous vibe going, having everyone show up in their favorite Bond getup. Now, to round this out, what’s your favorite Bond movie, if you could name one?
Freekbass: Up until last year I would’ve said Goldfinger hands down. Sean Connery. But man, Skyfall was so good. That rivaled. I was a little nervous when they hired Daniel Craig as the new Bond, but I’ll tell you what, he has really taken it to another level. It’s almost like how when they redid the Batman series over the last few years and went a darker route with it. Because James Bond, he’s essentially an assassin, and Daniel Craig really plays up that side of it, and the writing of Skyfall was so good. So if you held me down I’d say Goldfinger, but man, Skyfall is a darn near close second, if not a tie.
RG: Lastly, unrelated to James Bond, what makes you tick? What’s that driving force that gets you out of bed each morning to do what you do, and to do it so well?
Freekbass: Without sounding cliché, just the music. Whatever projects I’m involved with, whether it be The Band Is Bond, my own group, or others. I have a side group with DJ Logic, and Steve Molitz called Headtronics that we do sometimes, and it’s always about that. That’s definitely the inspiration to get up and do it. Because you have good shows, and bad shows, you have a lot of traveling. The stage part looks glamorous, but half the time your at gas stations drinking bad coffee. The music is the one stabilizing force that will get you through each day and get you to the next gig for sure.
RG: Thanks so much for your time Freek! Super psyched about the Brooklyn Bowl show on 2/16, and for everything you and The Band Is Bond does down the line as well!
>>>Follow this link to grab your tickets to The Band Is Bond‘s inaugural live performance at the Brooklyn Bowl on Tuesday, February 16th.<<<
>>To keep up with The Band Is Bond (news, tour dates, media, etc.) head to their Facebook page here.<<
>Stay tuned on all of Freekbass’ projects at his website.<
Introduction & Questions by Russell S. Glowatz