I spoke with Absolutely Free not long before their set, and their eyes seemed glazed over from exhaustion. Maybe it was because they’d just made the eight-hour trek from Toronto to Brooklyn the same day in a stuffy van filled with equipment. But once they hit the stage last Saturday night at Rough Trade, none of that seemed to matter.
The Toronto-trio transported the crowd to a dream world as they performed a beautiful blend of indie, psychedelic-pop, rock, helping us all escape from the structure of every day.
The venue, an intimate record-shop turned music venue, paired up perfectly with the band’s personal sound as we were able to watch from an up-close view and see their love of music play out on stage.
Each one of the band members gets so absorbed in their music – playing each note, each beat with such intensity. Drummer, Moshe Rozenberg, kept fidgeting in and out of his seat – unable to physically contain his enthusiasm. The crowd was deep in a trance, but even the band seemed under their own spell — lost in their own minds, someplace far away.
It felt as if we were watching them perform in their basement – when they were just kids making music together, discovering this particular combination of sounds together for the very first time. With some bands, their live shows can feel calculated to the point where you feel no personal connection with the members. But with “Absolutely Free,” they’re completely genuine. They have a deep connection to their music and they share that with their audience.
Their songs all flow together seamlessly, yet at the same time there’s also this unpredictability – surprising us with random drum breakdowns, electric guitar solos and synth sounds. With each song, you’re constantly on your toes; unsure of where it’s headed next. One minute, you’re swaying along to the slow, down-to-earth tempo — deep in thought — letting the music ease you into a calming trance when suddenly you’re pulled out of it; the next minute, tapping your foot uncontrollably in an attempt to keep up with the sudden build up. Their songs don’t follow any set rules. Instead, the band stays true to their motto of “music without limits” and they take you along on a journey to wherever they want to go.
It was a short set, but it was absolutely sweet. The trio transported us to this magical place and none of us quite know how we got there by the end. You could tell the crowd wasn’t quite ready to let them go as they exited the stage. I know I certainly wasn’t.
We had the chance to sit down with Absolutely Free before the show and talk with Moshe Rozenberg (drums/synths), Matt King (vocals/guitar/drums) and Mike Claxton (synths/bass). They just released their self-titled full-length debut album and now they’re embarking on their first full U.S. tour as the band Absolutely Free. When it comes to playing music that’s limitless or crossing the border to tour in the U.S. Absolutely Free breaks it down for us.
P+W: Why the name “Absolutely Free?” Because when you first hear that you think money-wise.
Moshe: Yeah, it’s weird…people’s first association with the word free is [that it] stems from money. Us naming our band Absolutely Free isn’t a comment on that. It’s just that since doing so we’ve realized everybody thinks of money, but personally, when I think of free, especially if it’s tying in with art, I think of expression. Just art that is without boundaries and art that is without formula.
Matt: And Moshe just realized that today it’s a really good name for when we cross the border into the United States. “What’s the name of your band?” “Absolutely Free!” It’s like so patriotic.
P+W: Do you guys normally have trouble going over the border?
Matt: They searched our van because I keep my passport in the same drawer as where I have an old bottle of Patchouli. Ha so the border guy was like…
Mike: …you guys are gonna go inside.
Moshe: He flagged us as hippies, I guess.
Matt: He was like do you guys play in uh.,…he mentioned the Grateful Dead.
Mike: He’s like, “You don’t play music, like the Grateful Dead?” We’re like, “No, no, no! More like the Beatles! Beatles, pre-drugs!”
Moshe: Border control always wants to know what kind of music you play and you never want to explain it to them because what are you going to do ask them if they’ve heard of Kraftwerk. You just have to say, “It’s like rock music.”
P+W: Are you staying in hotels or crashing on couches because you guys posted on Facebook asking for places to stay?
Mike: It’s a night-by-night basis.
P+W: Have you slept over at a fan’s place before?
Moshe: Not as Absolutely Free because it’s our first full U.S. tour, but in our lives we have crashed on many of weird floors and met many, many weird people that we’ve learned a lot from. One guy had a gun.
Mike: But the bullets were in a different box, which helped.
Matt: He also did force us at gunpoint to drink a beer.
Moshe: And he forced [Mike] to use a pillow. He was like, “Or I’ll slap you with it.”
Mike: Yeah, he was like do you want this pillow? I was like, “Oh no I’m cool, man.” “You want this pillow or I will hit you with it.”
Mike: It was the worst night.
Moshe: I had a pretty good time. You know, I like to create memories. You don’t create memories by being comfortable.
P+W: Have you ever slept in the van before?
Mike: Oh, yes.
Matt: Yeah, we’ve stayed in the van in Spain, we’ve stayed in the van in Sweden, we’ve stayed in the van in Austin, Texas. Where else have we stayed in the van?
Moshe: We used to sleep on the side of the road.
Matt: Yeah, we bring our sleeping bag wherever we go.
P+W: For your debut album, can you tell me a bit more about the process that went into it?
Moshe: That’s a bit of a tough one because we more or less have been a band for about three years before releasing our debut. So as far as process goes we had way, way more material than we needed and we just did our best to curate the album in a way that was organic. Just the songs that felt related to one another. And at the same time, we worked with a producer Mike [Haliechuk] from “Fucked Up” and the process of working with him was good because he was able to hear the music in a different way.
Mike: Just having an outsider, it really helps. We spent hours and hours writing it so you get lost in it and you’re like, “Is this good anymore?” I think it is, but I can’t tell so it’s helpful to have a different set of ears.
Matt: We played this part on six different synths so it’s like, which one’s better?
Moshe: We learned a lot from it…you know, rewriting songs that we thought were done. But you know, our process of songwriting as a band, I think it’s actually a pretty unique one in that it’s wholeheartedly collaborative.
P+W: You guys have known each other for a while…does that time length help with songwriting?
Moshe: I think it makes us more elastic musicians because we don’t really take stuff personally. We’re not afraid to criticize what another person is doing and I think that that…you know, when you’re not worried about that stuff I think it really helps the music to develop.
Mike: You’re not afraid to make mistakes or doing things that are kind of lame. And you grow.
Moshe: But some bands don’t really have that communication between them. It’s like, “What do you know about drum beats, bass player?!” There’s less ego, I think.
Mike: Everyone knows where the others are coming from. We can tell what the other one is thinking just by looking at the scowl.
P+W: How would you guys define your sound? Some people call it psychedelic pop…others krautrock, which I just learned about today.
Mike: Well we have our own term. Is it still valid? We call it Astrobeat.
Matt: It’s like a transmorphing of the afro-beat. Kind of like African, funk music. But also it’s like a cosmic vibe.
P+W: What inspired you to make this type of music because I know with your previous group you were a bit more punk rock?
Mike: Yeah, it was a little bit like angular and heavier. Basically, we kind of in some ways started listening to the music more than just performing it. We said that before, but like it’s such a clear delineation between thinking about how the song sounds as opposed to how it feels to perform…we’re utilizing the brain, but also the heart.
Moshe: The music we used to make was also better suited for a live performance. It was fucking crazy.
Mike: And we were pretty good at doing the live thing but never had the recording thing down so…[we] really focused on recording sounds as opposed to how we’re gonna perform it on the stage. We can figure that out later, which we’re now doing.
P+W: Everyone compares you to the Beatles. What was your first reaction when you heard that?
Matt: Uhhh, when Rolling Stone said that we sounded like the Beatles we were like what the fuck universe is this?! And why do we have a print version of Rolling Stone on my coffee table?
Moshe: My first thought was Mike would be pleased.
Mike: I was very pleased.
Article by: Liz Dennerlein