Interview | FFS 5 with Tom Freund

Over the course of his career, singer/songwriter and Americana artist Tom Freund has released more than a dozen records, collaborated with legends such as Elvis Costello and Jackson Browne, pulled a half-decade stint on bass for alt-country pioneers The Silos, and has shared bills with everyone from Matthew Sweet to Guided by Voices. Freund’s intimate, heartfelt new solo album, East of Lincoln, chronicles a personal journey along the path from self-doubt to enlightenment. Freund takes his time and lets these new songs simmer, and that—along with memorable guest spots from longtime friend and collaborator Ben Harper and an all-star cast of session players—is a big part of the record’s charm.

Freund’s new record is a potent reminder that life is measured not just by our successes, but by how we choose to grow from our failures.

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?

I’m from New York City. I had a lawyer dad who banged on the piano as soon as he got home from work. And an older brother who played drums. So, after my brother threatened my life (cause I said I want to play drums too) It was clear that I was left to cover “the strings.” I Started on piano with classical and the Beatles and then started hearing more guitar driven music like Steve Miller band and The Who so I moved over to guitar.

Simultaneously, my dad got me an upright bass so we could have the family band and play jazz standards – I loved it all.  I never saw a barrier in musical categories. So I started learning Zeppelin riffs and singing Dylan songs on guitar while getting gigs on upright bass playing jazz (underage in clubs) in NYC.  It was fun. The summer out of high school of Music And Art in New York City, I auditioned and got into off broadway director Elizabeth Swados’s “Swing” at The Brooklyn Academy Of Music. That pretty much said where I was heading in career choice.  Also in College in California, I met Ben Harper and we put out a duo record called Pleasure And Pain on Cardas Records in 1992, all acoustic, live, with one mic, direct to 1/4 inch tape. And Immediately after college, that summer, I went to a BBQ in LA and jammed with some guys who then asked me outright to go on a tour with their band, The Silos, leaving in 2 weeks – that was another telling moment.

As an artist, how do you define success?

I still believe in mastery of sound and writing songs and singing them as a true measure of success, how good you can get at your chosen art. Of course, we all like to see positive responses from that, financially, it helps keep up an artist lifestyle and gives validation and allows you to continue what you do. People getting to see you and hear you in bigger numbers also feels good and makes you feel like you are doing the “right work”. I still feel the most success when I conquer a song I’ve been working on, or when someone tells me at a show or in an email or when they have me play at their wedding, that I have moved them, and they consider my music part of their life experiences, whatever they may be, and they want to share it and partake in it. That’s definitely success. I try to branch out in music, so I can feel success in different ways and get the necessary funds to do my art the way I intend to. There are interesting ways to keep some financial stability (not depending solely on album sales and touring revenue) like writing for TV and producing and playing on other folk’s albums. I really dig it all.

What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business?

The greatest struggle for me in the music business, is keeping all pistons shooting simultaneously with all the things you have to do these days: online/media, booking, keeping up with territories you perform in, and figuring out how to get compensated for your albums you make, as we know recent years of streaming are fairly draining on the royalties of days of yore and record sales and CD’s on tour. I think keeping a presence in a flighty, chaotic and often times whimsical online world has added a lot of stress to the business of being in music. Although fun and a great outlet and place of discovery, it can also prove daunting and take you away from the purpose of music; unless you find the proper balance (enter flushed face emoji).

What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist/band? What do you hope to achieve?

I would like to play on bigger stages and reach more people, in one sitting, to have a steady tour schedule and a manager and booking agent and perhaps a label that would allow me to focus on the creative side more.  I’d like to buy a house with my music for me and my daughter, I’d like to perform on TV shows under my name, not just as a bassist for a group etc. The ability to have a band on tour, in a bus let’s say, and play with them every night and pay them well and get paid in return from a profitable audience and streaming revenue because some songs or set of songs sticks to the masses ears. You know, nothing much. Oh and I’d like to play Carnegie Hall.

Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?

I like to hike and write, see what words or melodies happen on a hike in California or anywhere. I find a lot of energy with my daughter, discussing stuff with her or helping her on a school project, there’s a lot of fodder there. Earlier she inspired a Kids record called “Hug Trees”, Now she’s 15 so we share some more current topics and I love seeing the world through her eyes when I can, cause they are less jaded and “sarcastic” than mine! When I can, I like to meditate and do yoga and stretch or head to the beach for some solace, that all fuels the creative machine. My phone is loaded with Notes and memos full of song ideas, harmonies or words, I piece it together from wherever and whenever it comes, that is probably what keeps it still so interesting.

Words by: Jonathan Frahm (@jfrahm_)