Puppet Fiction

ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music
Mu of Fat Freddy’s Drop talks about the band’s killer new music video for ‘Clean Your House’, launching the Black Bird era, Brazil, and (J) Toogood vs. (S) Carter.

Fat Freddy’s Drop—whose Black Bird is poised to swoop—have scored a number of cool music videos like infectious ‘Wandering Eye’. Just out, ‘Clean Your House’ is their best yet: different, grunty, and striking. Mu, Fat Freddy’s Drop’s genial producer, agrees. “Yeah, those are good words: grunty, striking; it helps deliver the song.”

A prominent New Zealand musician tells me: “I don’t like Fat Freddy’s Drop general dub genre thing, but this song is way more soul, real Motowny and cool. I love the video man, love the production and the whole vibe.”

Mu, Lyall Bay’s most iconic resident, found out his barista mate Jon Coddington—at his local, Queen Sally’s Diamond Deli—is a marionette master. “All of a sudden we’re making this video with puppets.”

Drunken, violent, card- playing puppets. Freddy’s enjoys a bit of poker on the road. “I’m a very avid poker-player. Over the years a lot of our looser moments stem from late-night, drunken poker games. Director Mark Williams always wanted to do a big fight scene.”

Mark says for him it’s a really positive song. “About starting again, discovering the mess you may have made, sorting it out, and moving forward. People will interpret it how they want, and that’s the beauty of music. Maybe it’s about cleaning the house? Or car chases with puppets?”

He thinks there is no band quite like Freddy’s in the world. “From writing, to recording, to release, to performance they are a law unto themselves. The band have an endless capacity to jam and freestyle loosely, while at the same time being absolutely meticulous about what they do.

“Mu has a gravitational pull that has kept the band of brothers together for years. His patience, intelligence, competitiveness, and wickedly wicked sense of humour is a driving force. He can be tough, and sometimes ruthless, but he’s actually one of the most thoughtful and considerate dudes I’ve ever met.”

Having toured with them for the better part of seven years, he’s surprised by where the songs go, and are reinvented. “It keeps it exciting for the band and fans alike. The Freddy’s are a hilarious, deep, and interesting group of individuals, all with their own distinct flavours and styles, but still unified as a group. I’m into lots of music, which is why I love the Freddy’s.”

Mark concludes that he tends to see the funny side of most things. “I like to see where the humour happens in a story, and make the most of it. Working with Jon Coddington and the marionettes was awesome fun. Jon gets puppets doing things they don’t usually do.”

The marionette master, no relation of Anna, tells Lumière it’s great being part of Freddy’s video lineage. “I’ve served coffee to Mu and a few other members of the band for years now—Mu has quite the coffee addiction—it’s been nice to work with them in a creative sense. The song is so soulful, but there’s kind of this danger in it. Some of it’s sexual, some of it seems like a romantic crime scene. Either way I’m into it. After this, and my Pulp Fiction homage [Australasian fringe festival show Puppet Fiction], grindhouse puppetry is my niche. I love the immediacy of marionettes. I like to see horror and grotesqueries in such a delicate form, it makes it a little surreal. I was inspired by Reservoir Dogs mainly, I tried to make the female [character] a little more Pam Grier.”

Mu chimes in that the genesis of this more darkly comic song was the Drop studio being an absolute mess one day, ahead of rehearsal launch for an upcoming tour. “So we said, ‘Look, we’ll just need to do a major spring-clean here.’ This whole process took half the day.” Everyone pitched in, they kept the MPC running through the PA and came up with ideas for the beats.

The earthy producer chuckles that ‘Clean Your House’ is a relaxed way to launch Black Bird, and a new era for Freddy’s. “It’s slick, but it’s also a laugh, not taking ourselves too seriously.”

The video has quickly snared over 13000 views. Enthusiastic commenters include Brazilians and Argentinians demanding local gigs. “Yeah we’ve had some serious booking offers from Brazil and South America, might look at those in 2014. It’s a bit hard to go everywhere. With Black Bird it seems important to consolidate the markets that we have already first, like Germany.”

Oxford to Lisbon via Stockholm and Paris[1]—after Auckland and Wellington in September—has just been announced for October. The main, headlining European tour this year is October. “We’re off to Europe in three weeks, to release the album and play summer festivals. We’re playing the Brixton Academy in October and we’ve already sold over 1500 tickets. Like I said in in our interview, [almost] all our business now is Europe, and that’s why we’re going to go there at least twice a year.”

But Freddy’s still enjoy touring home. Mu even visited his despised Wairarapa on the nationwide Winery Tour. “The Adults’ Jon Toogood and Shayne Carter are really good to hang out with. I did enjoy the fishing. It was great to get to know Jon better. I’ve known him for years, but not at this level of hanging out everyday. Shayne is an especially funny guy. Jon’s such a professional: they were on stage early and he was very adamant that as soon as they come off stage they’d have to go straight to the merch-tent and sign CDs. He’s very business-like, and Shayne is not. Watching Jon trying to get Shayne over to the merch-tent to do signings became a very funny thing, because Shayne was very reluctant. He was more interested in coming off stage and smoking a joint. That was probably one of the funniest things, watching that day after day.”

Alexander Bisley (retrospectively) profiled Mu in January. Thanks to Alice Connolly for some transcription help. ‘Blackbird’ and 2013 tour information and dates available via Twitter @fatfreddysdrop1 or the official website, fatfreddysdrop.com.

[1] “We were on tour in Paris at the famous Elysee Montmartre, before it burnt down. Dallas [Tamaira] was having a particularly grumpy day. The local Paris press wanted to do some interviews and Dallas said ‘Nah fuck man no way’ and then this girl walks in and she’s just drop dead gorgeous; beautiful. He’s ‘I’ll do it’,” Mu laughs like a hyena on helium. “Most press want to talk to Dallas, but that’s about the only time I’ve seen him do an interview. He’s a married boy, so we gave him a chaperone.”

Filed under: ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music


Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.