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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Conversation with Big Freedia

Posted by Andrew R Tonry on Wed, Sep 8, 2010 at 6:09 PM

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Along with the Tallest Man On Earth, there's no other shows this weekend I'm excited about as Big Freedia. For a little background, check out my feature in this week's print edition. For it, I spoke with Freedia at length from her home in New Orleans. We talked about her beginnings in bounce music, her insane schedule, drugs, her experience as a gay man in the rap community and more. The whole thing is available after the jump.

And when you read it, hear Freedia's deep southern drawl crossed with a bit of a sassy lisp. Her "r's" drag along, and when she says "party," it sounds more like "pouty"

MERCURY: HOW OFTEN ARE YOU PERFORMING WHEN HOME IN NEW ORLEANS?

FREEDIA: Six nights a week, definitely. And sometimes more than six shows because I do two or more a night.

I've been doin' it for years, you know. People will book and have two or three parties in one night and all of 'em want a performance by me. And if it's at an appropriate time and fits in my schedule, we have time, and they know that I have three shows that night, we'll make it happen.

WHY HAVE A NUMBER OF SMALL SHOWS RATHER THAN ONE AT A BIGGER VENUE?

If it was up to me and I could have one show and make the amount locally, at home, cause we show lots of love here at home—it's a different story when you go out on the road.

At home if I had those three shows, I'll just pace myself and get out a little bit earlier, and make sure I'm most productive at every show and make everybody feel it, almost everybody happy at the end. I've done my job.

IS GREATER INTIMACY PART OF THE DRAW OF THE SMALLER SHOWS?

Well yeah, that's definitely how it goes. You have so many clubs here in New Orleans, and they're all promoting different stuff. They have em on both sides of the river and they'll book us on (each side), because it's two different crowds that want to see the artists and the club-owner and myself will just make it happen.

DO FANS FOLLOW FROM SHOW TO SHOW?
Oh yeah, definitely. They'll follow me all night. Some people will follow me, at the first show they'll be like, 'just let me know where you're going. When you leave, I'll leave and meet you at the next spot.'

NOT TO PUT YOU ON THE SPOT, BUT ARE THE VENUES MELLOW WHEN YOU ARRIVE, THEN POP, AND THEN QUICKLY MELLOW AGAIN?

It's all about presentation. I mostly go on last, and everybody's waiting cause they know I'm gonna tear the house down. And the party be over once I get off the mic.

HOW DO YOU WEIGHT THE ROLE OF PARTY FACILITATOR VS THAT OF A TRADITIONAL SONGWRITER, AND WHICH DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF?

There's different kinds of hosts. Some just talk over the music, like a hype man, and then people who sing along with the music.

As far as a songwriter, I think that a hype person can hardly compare to a songwriter, meaning that this person takes a whole lot more time sitting down, hearing their thoughts, and putting a song together. The hype person is only hyping off the songwriter's song, unless the hype person wrote something of their own.

I would say (I'm) the songwriter, over the hype person.

PERFORMING MULTIPLE TIMES EACH NIGHT, SIX NIGHTS A WEEK, WHERE DO YOU FIND TIME TO WRITE?

Maybe when I'm on my hotel room on tour, if I have some free time. Sometimes late at night I might leave the club and I might still be energetic. I might have some ideas bouncing in my head. If I'm getting an idea I might pull over and write it down.

Now I'm working on my album and I just have to stop a lot of stuff and put that time like, 'this is my damn writing. I don't want know phone calls, no interviews, no nothing.' My manager is good about keeping my schedule clean when that happens.

I find time definitely. It's hard. It's harder now because I'm doing so much, you know, with touring a whole lot more. But I ideas are steady coming while I'm touring from things I'm seeing. And I also get ideas when I'm in the club, you know, like people dancing in motion. I get ideas from that as well, the scenery, and I may write about it when I go home.

I DON'T THINK I'VE EVER HEARD SOMEONE REFER TO TOUR AS THEIR 'TIME OFF.'

It is because it's really stressful at home, I must say. Because I work so hard at home and when I get on tour I'm only working on my stuff that's on the tour. I'm not multi-tasking. At home I'm doing six to twelve jobs, on tour I'm doing two or three: a photo shoot, and interview, the show, maybe an after-party. At home I'm doing all that, three or four shows, six nights a week, I'm running my decorating company, I'm helping out with my other friends, I'm recording at the studio. All this is happening while I'm at home. So it's a whole lot of stress on me while I'm at home, so I get to really relax when I'm on tour. 'Cause if I don't feel like doing anything really I can just lay in the bed until the next show. My managers and my dancers will make sure whatever I need will happen.

HOW DO YOU SUSTAIN THAT ENERGY AT HOME?

What gives me the energery is really my fans. My fans, and my new fans that I'm picking up. People love my music, they love what I'm doing, and that just gives me energy. It's a blessing, to be blessed, and to have people feel your music and not be judged so quickly because I'm a gay guy.

At the end of the day I'm just thankful that I made another person happy at their party, or at a concert.

I've been doing this for 12 years now, and to be honest, if it was just up to me, if it wasn't for the fans, I would've been stopped. Because I've been doin' it for so long and working so hard. Now it gives me another bit of energy, I've got to work even harder now, so I'm ready.

YOU DON'T WORRY ABOUT HITTING A WALL?
No, not really. (laughs)

IS IT DIFFICULT TO BE AROUND ALL THE PARTYING? A LOT OF PEOPLE AT THE SHOWS, MAYBE THEY'RE OUT ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK, AND THEY CAN GET TOTALLY WASTED. YOU'RE WORKING PARTIES CONSTANTLY, AND I WONDER HOW DRUGS DO OR DO NOT FIT IN WITH THAT SCHEDULE.

I don't drink a lot. I might have one casual drink. Actually I just started drinking to have a casual drink. But before I wouldn't drink. I may just smoke, you know, and I'll be OK. That's what gives me energy as well, just having a good feeling, just watchin' everybody gettin' all toasted and drunk and tipsy. You know, I have to keep a cool head because I have to be aware of what's going on also.

At all the clubs I work at I'm not just a rapper. I take care of a lot of stuff at the clubs. Like when I'm on stage and they have a fight, I'm the first person to see that fight because my eyes are rollin' around the whole crowd the whole time. Then I stop the music, I turn on the house lights, and I do crowd control at that time. I change the music and everything. I play a big part and I have to stay focused when I'm at work, even if it is a party, it is my job and I take it very seriously.

HOW DOES YOUR DECORATING BUSINESS FIT IN WITH ALL THIS?

It fits in perfectly, because I date for people's parties, and I do package deals where I decorate your party and I rap at your party. And then I give 'em a little special deal and it works really well. I've been doing this for the same amount of time and I'm well known all over the city for being one of the best decorators in the city. Nobody else does what I do except for one other person in the city. When they want the best, they call me. With hard work and dedication as well.

CAN ANYONE HIRE YOU TO PERFORM?

Basically, yes. I'll do a two-year-old birthday party, or a 99-year-old lady party. Whoever wants to book me, wherever you want to book me, that can happen. I'm travelin', I love to travel, I love to make people happy, and if you want me at your party, what's more an honor than if you want me and you requested me.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MORE INTERESTING PARTIES YOU'VE BEEN HIRED TO PLAY?

What really trips me out is the kid's parties. They go crazy. We do a lot of kids parties here, I mean like a lot, a lot of kids. Every mom want to have their child's party and they always want to have an artist at their child's party. They do it big for their children. It'll be kind of like the MTV Sweet Sixteen. Their parties be the funnest parties because it be so amazing of seeing so young kids in to it. The energy in the room be oh my gawd.

But I love doing all kinds of parties. It's not nowhere I can't say I didn't have fun at a show. As long as somebody's having a good time, I'm having fun as well.

WHAT'S IT LIKE WHEN YOU PLAY AWAY FROM NEW ORLEANS? I IMAGINE IT'D BE A LOT DIFFERERENT TO PLAY OREGON, WHERE WE HAVE DIFFERENT MUSICAL TRADITIONS.

We make it work everywhere I go. I've been to Portland. It was wonderful. They blew me away with the crowd participation.

YOU MENTIONED YOU'RE WORKING ON A RECORD. ANY IDEA WHEN WE'LL SEE IT?

Two soon (too say), but I think it'll be the first quarter.

HOW DID YOU ORIGINALLY COME TO BOUNCE MUSIC?

It was so much fun. We used to just hang around the projects and we used to already to all this stuff before we became rappers or whatever, we just would like act crazy in our neighborhoods and have people followin' us and beatin on the walls and singing rhymes. Just fun stuff as kids...

How Katy Red first got discovered was at a block party, people were like, 'girl, get on the mic and sing somethin'.' And the girls started backgroundin' her. (Freedia would later become a background singer for Katy.)

Same for me, a DJ just said get on the mic, try to make a song and boom, it happened so quickly though.

WITH RAP'S ENDEMIC HOMOPHOBIA, HAVE YOU EVER CROSSED PATHS WITH RAPPERS WHO GAVE YOU TROUBLE OR LACKED RESPECT FOR YOU BECAUSE OF YOUR SEXUALITY?

Time is changing. You know, they always pretend and say all the homophobic stuff for the public's eye view, but ain't nobody know what's going on behind closed doors, so I don't be worried about the homophobic raps and all that. It don't bother me. Cause most of the rappers, when they come up to me they greet me and they still say 'hi,' so that's not a factor to me.

When I started bounce music, I said I was going to be a person locally, here in New Orleans, that changed the way people look at gay people, as rappers and individuals period. And when I tell you I achieved my goal, I really did. They respect me to the highest, everywhere around the city when I come—the boys, the girls, the grown men, the little children. And you know, I work hard at it. Because it's all about respect. If you give it, you can get it back, without a doubt, no matter who you are.

FIRST NEW ORLEANS, NEXT THE WORLD.

Yes. That's what I'm working on. (Laughs)

SO YOU LEAVE ON TOUR TOMORROW?

Tomorrow morning, and I got three shows tonight. Early flight.

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