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Interview: The Freelance Whales' Judah Dadone

The Freelance Whales have managed to craft one of those songs that gets in your ears and won't quit. It's called "Generator^1st Floor", and I'm not just speaking for myself. Other indie forces like the Antlers and Aislyn (a side project of Passion Pit's keyboardist Ian Hultquist) have remixed and recut the song in their own oblique homages to the original's acoustic delicacy and swelling, textural layers of banjos, Micro Korgs, tambourines and vocal harmonies. Their debut Weathervanes, which was originally self-released back in September 2009 but then picked up a few months later by the labels Frenchkiss Records and Mom and Pop Music, is jam-packed with quirky instruments (glockenspiels, harmoniums, waterphones) and all the traditional ones too that create a dreamy, lush world to step into every time you don your headphones. We called up Judah Dadone of this totally charming Brooklyn band before their upcoming May 18 performance at the Great American Music Hall with the Shout Out Louds and chatted about inventing instruments, busking on the streets of New York and their futuristic grassroots sound.

How's the tour with the Shout Out Louds going so far?
It just started two nights ago in Washington D.C. and we played the 930 Club, which is an incredible venue. Me and Jake in the band went to school in D.C. and we went to he 930 club to see all the bands we liked in college so for us it was a really big moment. We were geeking out really hard before we went on. We were super nervous but it was one of the best shows we've ever played.

So, no crazy tour adventure stories yet?
Nothing too crazy has happened yet. So far we're easing into things. But we promise we'll get into more hi-jinks so we can call you up and tell you about them.

I've heard rumors that you guys busk on street corners. Is that true?
It's absolutely true. It's something we did in New York for a long time, and by a long time I mean 6 or 7 months. We did it when the band was first getting together. The way it is in New York is that it's extremely easy to book shows on proper stages because there are just as many venues as bands. Most of the venues would be happy to take your band if they think you can bring 20 or 25 of your friends because that's a good night for them, but in the end there's no glory in playing on a proper stage if youre only playing to 20 or 25 people. If you play in the streets you can encounter 500 people and you encounter people from all over the city and sometimes all over the world. It became a really big reason why we met all the industry people who wanted to help us out with our album and our music videos.

There's this theory that when you hit people with music when they're not expecting it, you can get a more true reaction. We tried to figure out a way to play our songs with just acoustic instruments and evoke the same feeling and emotion as we would in a normal setting with our electronic instruments. We did it on the streets and in the subways. It's a really great part of our history and was a great way to challenge ourselves and get tighter as a band. And to have those interactions with people one on one. . . . they were finding us on the street in the city and not on blogs.

You guys have a pretty unique futuristic grassroots sound. How did you guys decide to blend banjos and glockenspiels with Micro-Korgs?
I feel like banjos and synthesizers are a combo that have been going together for some time. I'm really big fan of a band called Le Loup from D.C., and there's just a lot of great bands out there who are floating in my mental periphery who do that combo too. Our band and the instruments we're using and the overall textural pallette is more just a product of us using whatever we had lying around. Specifically for me and the process of composition for Weathervanes was, instead of sitting down with one instrument, which is kind of the way I've been doing it for a long time, I decided I wanted to compose from a bunch of smaller parts that would be synergistic with one another. It's pretty arbitrary how we stumbeld upon most of the instruments we have. The banjo used to be my stepdad's. The harmonium was shippped from India after I saw someone play one really beautifully once. I just decided I wanted one. Some of us already had the instruments we use. We just wanted to patchwork something together and kind of reflect all the eclectic things we love about music.

A few notable artists have remixed your song "Generator." Who would be your dream artist to remix one of your songs?

I would love to hear Neon Indian remix one of our songs. That would be incredible.

Your band self-released the album Weathervanes. Why?
We released it in September and signed the record deal with French Kiss in April. The band was just getting together so we decided we wanted to make a record that had some sort of narrative quality so for us it was easier for us to do an LP. Most artists, before their signed, make EPs but I don't understand that format. the reason we self relsead it right away was because we made it and no one knew about it. We thought it would be a couple years before anyone would know about it. The fact that two months after we released it ourselves there were labels who wanted to release it, we were shocked and really happy.

What's the rest of 2010 got in store for you and the band?
The last few months have basically seen this band getting warmed up and well oiled. I think we're gonna be touring a lot of this year. We've already done a lot of full U.S. tours as a supporting band and we've done the UK. We may even go out to Australia. When we get these brief moments between tours, we're gonna be focusing on writing songs, which we're also doing on the road. We're going to start experimenting with making new instruments. We have a few ideas for percussion instruments and new wind instruments we want to build. We're harvesting parts from old wind organs and we're gonna be making a bamboo pipe organ. The pipes the wind will be going through will be made out of bamboo which isn't really different in layout from any other pipe organ. Kevin and myself in the band are enamoured with East Asian music and when I was in Japan I heard a really beautiful Japanese flute choir. I became really interested in polyphonically making an instrument that sounds like a Japanese flute choir.