The Freelance Whales emerged from the underground. Literally. Upon their 2008 inception, the quintet quickly found that the subway was the best way, as multi- instrumentalist Chuck Criss explains: “It seemed silly to book a small club and invite friends and that’s all who would show up,” he explains. “I remember playing a club in Williamsburg and we went outside a block away and started busking to encourage people to come see our set. It became immediately clear that people who would stop and listen to us on the street would also end up coming to our shows. From that point on, we ended up busking a lot, and it was a very organic way of growing the band.”
They’ve grown quite impressively. The Queens-bred group of versatile multi-instrumentalists ply their trade using banjo, bass, synthesizer, glockenspiel, harmonium, guitars and, on their latest, Diluvia, a “gigantic zither.” While they’ve been termed “baroque pop,” Criss is more pointed when it comes to the oft-asked request for a pithy descriptor. “I normally say ‘indie pop that mixes acoustic rural instrumentation with electronic music,'” Criss says. “Then they ask me, ‘what does indie mean?’ And I tell them it means I’m poor.”
But not as poor as previously. Freelance Whales’ music found its way into an inordinate amount of TV shows and commercials, especially the sweetly lush three-minute “Generator First Floor.” “We’re not really sure how these songs actually get perceived as ‘suited’ for that world, but we’re always excited to get our music out to an audience that may not necessarily hear our music otherwise,” Criss says, adding, “It also means that somewhere along the line, someone made an emotional connection with a song we wrote and felt the need to share it. We’ve been lucky in that we’ve been able to associate ourselves with some really cool things like Twitter, the first electric car, and a PSA for Melanoma, for example.”
Strong exposure begat touring, and Freelance Whales–rounded out by lead vocalist Judah Dadone and bandmates Doris Cellar, drummer/vocalist Jacob Hyman and Kevin Read–spent two years on the road supporting their 2009 debut, Weathervanes, the journey leading to a more group writing effort on Diluvia. Criss explains the esoteric term that refers to a kind of glacial drift. “We had a lot of different album ideas floating around that all centered around the idea of floods, whether it meant a literal flood or a flood of ideas,” he explains. “Our actual original album title was “Codec Diluvia.” We liked the idea of combining a very ancient word with a very modern computer term, and it made sense in terms of what our musical mindset was. Our big goal with Diluvia was to explore the emotionality of science.”
While the self-admitted nerd band is proudly from and of New York, they don’t necessarily fit in any niche. “If you were to pull up a 100 bands from Brooklyn and New York and were to discern a sound, I guarantee it would sound nothing like us” Criss concludes. “We’re too nerdy, our songs are very nuanced. We do consider ourselves a New York band though. The city really shaped who we are.”
Freelance Whales, Tuesday, January 29 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.