It’s been six years since Frazier Chorus has put out a new album, and perhaps no one is more surprised by the return than the groups’s one remaining member, Tim Freeman. Singer/songwriter Freeman had pretty much given up on performing and was going to focus on composing songs for other people to sing. But much to his surprise, Freeman found himself getting enjoyment out of the performance aspect. The new material he was working on ended up being released under the Frazier Chorus name as “Wide Awake.” Chaos Control recently conducted a telephone interview with Freeman:
Why was there such a long gap between albums?
Tim:“They’re all sort of tedious reasons, really. Business reasons, mainly. We had ‘Ray,’ our second album, released in America in ’91. It seemed to be going ok in that college-y way, and we were all pretty happy with it. Unfortunately, Virgin, our label, was in the process of selling to EMI at the time and when we got back to England, they had a list of the 60 most least wanted bands, and we were pretty near the top. So about 60 of us all got the chop that week, and after that it sort of blew the wind out of our sails a bit. So Chris and Kate, who were the only other two band members at that point, decided to call a band meeting at a hotel in Brighton and effectively sort of gave me the sack. And I thought this was a bit odd, seeing as it was my band. So I thought well, ok. We were all getting really depressed and I decided at that stage that, I had quite a bit of money saved at that point, so I thought I’d just throw myself into a life of sin, which I did for a few years. I woke up with a few more songs and decided to release another album. It’s not much of a story, but basically I just went underground for a few years and had some fun and was entirely irresponsible.
From a legal standpoint, was there any question as to whether you would release this album as Frazier Chorus?
Tim:There was at first, because partly the reason for doing this album was that it was cooked up between me and my publisher here in London. We thought that the time had come to focus on writing songs for other singers and not to be a performer anymore. So we got together a set of songs we were going to release under the name Tim Freeman just as a sort of as a la carte menu that other singers could pick a song from if they so desired and sing it for me. But after a while recording, it became apparent that this was a lot more fun that Frazier Chorus ever was, basically because there were no other band members and it had just reverted to being my domain. I thought that well this was what being in a band is really about, ie no other members. I rang Chris and Kate and cleared it with them, and they cleared it with their lawyers, so I got the name back. It was quite smart really, because in the olden days we had decided that the name was legally worth a penny so if anyone wanted to sue anyone for the name the most they could get in court was one penny. So there was not much to lose or gain from it. It’s just that because people were conscious of Frazier Chorus from the past it made sense to capitalize on what I had, which is effectively a name to trade under.”
Do the other musicians have any input on songwriting, or do you have good idea of exactly how you want a track to sound when you start recording it?
Tim:“I come horribly well prepared. It’s all pretty much nailed down before we get into the studio. I work incredibly simply, if you know anything about gear you’d probably laugh when I tell you that I do all my writing on an old Alesis MMT8, a little 8 track sequencer. That’s proved to be the real strength to it, it’s got 8 tracks that you can play with and to be honest, if you’re doing what I’m trying to do, which is write songs as opposed to make atmospheres aurally, if you can’t do it in 8 tracks then I think you fucked it, really. So I’ve had times when I’ve had a lot of gear, I’ve had times when I’ve had none at all and just an acoustic guitar. I think that this little set up with just a Proteus and the MMT8, although it sounds very limited, almost like a couple of toys, a lot of musicians would sort of snear at the gear I’ve got. But to be honest with you, I snear at a lot of work that’s done too easily with machinery. I’m by no means a technophobe, without technology I couldn’t have made any of the albums. We’ve relied really heavily on technology, the difference being that I don’t get into it myself, I’ve always believed in sort of trusting the professionals when it comes to getting a job done.”
Do you tend to write a lot of material and then pick out the best to record, or do you spend a lot of time on each track?
Tim:“I spend a terribly long time on each track, sometimes a distressingly long time. In the last couple of years, there have been times when I’ve been so deeply in a sentence or a phrase that I’ve actually looked in the mirror and thought ‘Am I actually going mad over this?’ Because I am really keen on words and lyrics. The music always comes really easily, I’ve got 1001 musical sketches at home, but it’s the lyrics that always prove to be the problem. I’m never really prepared to take the easy option; I feel sometimes like I’m wrestling fucking alligators on the floor. It’s a really slippy thing trying to get a lyric sometimes, and I really sweat over whether it’s to be ‘or’ or ‘and'”
Do you have a specific approach to songwriting, or does to vary by track?
Tim: “There is pretty much, for me anyway, a standard way of doing it. And when I say ‘standard’ I don’t mean it’s a sequence of events I can go through and get a song. It just always seems to happen this way. The music comes, bang. I’m very attracted to melodies so I’ve always got little riffs coming in and out of my head. So you nail one of those down, and then immediately I use something harmless like a piano sound to write the vocal melody on sequencer so I don’t forget it. And then I spend the next couple of months going round and around this melody trying to get the perfect phrase. I was talking to a friend of mine who’s also a songwriter a few days ago and it occurred to me that you hear a lot of people say they’re in music or they write songs because they have this desperate need to communicate. If you ask me, that’s a load of bullocks, actually. If you tell me honestly that Michael Bolton has something to communicate then I’ll give you money! The fact is that it’s just one of these things people say. What I do in my writing, is I try my hardest not to communicate anything at all. I try and set up a sort of atmosphere with the lyrics and the music that has some meaning but I’d be very surprised if anybody can double guess what my meaning was. Because it’s all very loose. I prefer to almost layer a load of words out on the page and leave them to their own devices. Because when you put words together, even if you put the words cat and dog together, that create a sort of tension. I know that isn’t that good of an example, but do you see what I mean? I prefer to do it that way and sort of let the song have a life of it’s own. Because I’ve been surprised by some songs I’ve written. Afterwards I read them or sing them and I think ‘oh right, that does have some meaning now that I had no idea of.’ So it’s all fairly, not exactly accidental, but there’s something faintly sort of abstract about it.”
Since you spend so much time on them, do you find yourself going back and changing the music to go along with the finished lyrics?
Tim:“I can’t help it, being a bit of a tinkerer. As I said, I usually spend so long on the lyric I’m listening to the music over and over so it just gives you so many opportunities to tinker with it and get it right. You know if you leave your house and you have this suspicion that you’ve left the oven on, or you have this suspicion that you’ve left the phone off the hook so you’re not going to get that important call. It’s just in the back of your mind like that, if you really know in your heart that you haven’t finished then you’ll never get to sleep.”
Have you always done all the songwriting?
Tim:“That’s the only reason I’m in this. I got my publishing deal back in 1986 and from that moment on I saw myself as a writer, and that was the only reason I’m going to do this. I know a lot of people say this, but I’m not that much of a showoff. I’m not the kind of person who’s really driven by having to stand on stage in front of hundreds of people. And I thought if there’s something in this that I am going to enjoy, it is this. I used to write poetry and I’ve always played with words, making anagrams and stupid little word puns and things. And I thought, I’m not going to let go of it. Of course Chris and Kate and other band members who’ve come and gone, you know if you are a musician you’re a creative person and you can’t help that urge but I had to say to each and every one of these people that ‘you find what you want to do, you tell me why you want to be in the music business and we’ll take it from there. Why I want to be it is to write songs,so you’re going to have to find something else.’ I know that sounds a bit bullyish, but because it was always my band I’ve always felt that I must do what I want to do. The idea of a democracy in a group is very rare, and I think a lot of people are bullshitting if they tell you that’s the way it works. I do think that in some cases you need kind of a dictator, and if you trust his ideas then everyone should be happy to go along with it and make money.”
Why did you decide to focus on writing songs for other people to sing?
Tim:“There’s a much smaller frame of reference for semi-fame or infamy in England. Given the level Frazier Chorus got to, which was always sort of 40 something in the chart, we never really made it big but there was always an awareness of us. And there did seem to be something distinctly small town about us being perceived as failed on your home turf, the fact that you didn’t get into the top 20. Other people see it as a signal to start mocking, and I’d had enough of it. I was living in Brighton, which is a sort of competitive artistic and musical scene, and I found myself signing back on the dole and the whole thing was really embarrassing. I could hear people going ‘oh that’s that bloke from Frazier Chorus who used to think he was really something and now he’s signing on the dole.’ So I wasn’t particularly in the mood for performing at all. And also I’ve always had this thing about my voice, I can’t really sing. I think what I do with my voice is a performance of sorts, and it’s fairly intimate and that’s the only strength it’s got. And I was sick of standing on stage or standing in the studio in front of microphones and doing what I thought was a bad job. So I was really game on for never singing a note again and being one of those background boys. Trouble is, the best laid plans of mice and men come to cheese when you actually find yourself enjoying yourself again, which is what I did, really. It’s been a heck of a lot easier this time. It’s been sort of so little effort. I basically did this deal with Pure in the States in the spring, have come back to England and wondered what would happen and now it all seems to be going slightly mental on the radio. So I feel a bit of a cheat, really, because I haven’t really lifted a finger. All I’ve done is record the songs and put them out.”
Do you still want to write songs for others?
Tim: To be honest with you, that’s something I’ll inevitably get into doing, but by the looks of it now we’re going to have to give it another few years as Frazier Chorus first.”
When you do get into it, are there any particular styles of music you want to experiment with that might not fit into the Frazier Chorus sound?
Tim: “That’s a bit of a tricky one for me because I’ve always been unable to write anything that doesn’t come naturally. I do admire people who can say, well we’ve got such-and-such an artist so you have to think there’s a key they normally sing in or there’s a style they’d be happy with and mold it to them. Unfortunately, I’m not that good. I’ve tried to do that sort of thing, even just as a theory to see if I can, and I can’t. So any possibilities of having my songs sung in the future are going to be dependent on somebody hearing a Frazier Chorus version and liking it.”
Where did the name Frazier Chorus come from?
Tim: “It came from the back of a jacket, the sort of American college football team kind that the cheerleaders all wear with the college name on the back. I think there’s a Frazier College somewhere and the Frazier Chorus was their team of cheerleaders.”
The way the name sounds makes it seem really suitable for the music you make.
Tim: “It’s funny how it’s turned out because I really like the name. This name has no meaning, but to us it takes on a meaning. Do you remember Blancmange? That’s potentially one of the worst names in pop history, given what Blancmange is, but as soon as you start to associate the name with the sound you hear, it takes on this really mysterious dark, other worldly type of thing. Only very rarely do you snap out of it, and think ‘oh, come on, we’re talking about blancmange.’ Let’s be honest, The Beatles, that was one of the worst band names in history! Very corny name.”