DAN FREEMAN AND THE SERIOUS: GRUENER SALON, BERLIN – MAY 30
by Emily Brinkman
Last Wednesday evening, I stumbled down a rabbit hole into a wonderland called Grüner Salon where talented Tasmanian-born songwriter, singer, saxophonist and pianist Dan Freeman and his band “The Serious” were filling the room with a blend of indie-rock, pop and experimental sounds.
The phrase “What’s in a name?” rings very true with these four musicians as Dan’s stage antics arefree and expressive, switching from English to German banter and joking that despite the suggestive shirtless photo on the concert flier, he sadly wouldn’t be stripping off for the audience. His band members “The Serious”, on the other hand, consisting of Peter Meyer (guitar), Bernhard Meyer (bass) and Hanno Stick (drums) were so deadly serious throughout the performance, I swore they could have been playing at a funeral.
What counteracted their “poker faces”, however, were the madhatters in the audience who filled the room with life: a Dwight Schrute lookalike prancing around like a ballerina, a middle-aged father doing what looked like a belly dance and a blonde teenager whipping her hair back and forth like she was at a Rage Against the Machine concert. It just goes to show how wide-ranging the appeal of Dan’s music is, and the transformative effect it has on its audience.
In November 2011, Dan Freeman and the Serious released their debut album “I lie a lot” (by Solaris Empire). I thought I’d ask him how he stumbled into this musical wonderland.
So, Dan, tell me – what were the seeds of Dan Freeman and the Serious? How did it all begin?
It all began in Tasmania with a family of music lovers. Mainly pop/rock music. Then came my jazz phase. This brought me to Berlin in 2003. I played in a whole bunch of different bands in the jazz/funk/afro/Latin/balkan/gypsy/ska/reggae/hip-hop/pop/rock scenes in Berlin. Okay, it sounds a lot, but I really did hit Berlin and tried everything I could sink my teeth into. At some point I started writing my own music. I found “The Serious” in 2007 and since then I have continued some of those other bands (Rotfront/Sebastian Schunke Band) but finally cut down to just a few sideman bands so that I can focus on Dan Freeman and the Serious.
What are your biggest influences?
The great composers. From Bach through to Radiohead. Anything that is filled with luscious harmony, melody and rhythm. Films are a huge influence too.
If you had a time machine, which musical era would you go back to and why?
Sometime in Africa where those music traditions began. Sometime in Eastern Europe where those musical traditions began. Or the 1700s when Bach was doing his thing.
What are your thoughts on the evolution of music today? (the evolving genres and the blending of old and new to create whole new genres, and so on).
I think music is evolving just like it always has, but through the popular culture I think too much of the development in music is not being heard by enough people. There are so many amazing musical things happening that we just don’t hear about, or if we do, we may not appreciate as much as we should because of what is pumped down our throats in the popular music scene. So in some way, I think the popular music culture is killing the potential for mass appreciation of the development of music.
Compare/contrast being a musician in Australia and being a musician in Berlin? Pros and cons?
For me, the difference between Berlin and Tasmania was that Tasmania was free and open in creativity yet lacking in structure or a depth in understanding of how music functions, whereas Berlin has a lot of tradition and a lot of different musical cultures to offer. This allowed me to fill in those holes that I previously had. It was exactly what I needed. I think any australian would benefit by going anywhere in Europe or even anywhere where there is a strong musical tradition.
Okay, so I mentioned travelling BACK in time, but how about if you hop into Michael J. Fox’s “Back to The Future” car and travel into the FUTURE – where do you see Australia’s music scene 10 or 20 years from now? How about Tasmania’s music scene?
I don’t really know the Australian music scene well enough to comment. When I look at my background then I see a great potential for australians in the future of music, given their openness for exploration in music. We are naive yet willing to learn and absorb what there is to find in music. Not so attached to tradition, so we are on the search.
As we’re well aware, music is more accessible than ever these days. What are your predictions/thoughts on future CD and vinyl sales? Do you think digital music will ever completely erase physical sound carriers?
I don’t really know. The digital world is getting pretty out of control, it’s hard to say how far things will go. I am willing to go with the flow. I have never really been focused on how music is packaged and received. The main point is that good music continues to get received. This is my only concern, that the digital world is creating a mess, where one can’t find good music. But really I have nothing intelligent to say about this.
Imagine you’re watching a concert and one of the band members spontaneously combusts. You get called to the stage to replace that band member. Who’s the band?
Well, if Thom Yorke fell to the ground, I would happily sit in for him.
What’s the most ‘rock star’ thing that you’ve ever done?
Got ridiculously drunk and pranced around the stage as if I was Mick Jagger on the saxophone.
What impact do you want your listeners to walk away with after they hear one of your songs or go to one of your shows?
I want them to be moved emotionally. I want to them to be forced to go to a deeper place for a moment.
If you music could be on a soundtrack for a film (any film, any genre), what film would it be?
A thoughtful arthouse film.
If you had to give up music – what would you do to be creative?
I would dance.
Strangest venue or gig you’ve ever played?
Strangest was definitely in China when I was on tour with Sebastian Schunke. We were playing complex modern latin jazz in a big full concert hall. We were treated like rock stars. huge applauses and at the end a roped of section where we signed autographs. We were just an unknown jazzband, not some famous rock band. It was serial.
What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about each member of the band?
Weird question, ummmm…. They are not as serious as they look!
Describe your songwriting/recording/mixing process and what makes it different to other music that is out there?
I spend hours on a few chords/melodies/ beats until I find ideas for songs. This process is the most fascinating for me. This is where I find myself. Recording and mixing is a stage that I am less focused on. This is where I am very grateful to have other musicians and producers co-working with me. The compositional stage is where I am at home the most.
If you could throw a concert or a gig in the world (and money wasn’t an issue), where would it be and who would you have play?
It would be a combination of art performances. Dance/Painting/Video/Lighting/visual craziness along with the most innovative musicians in the world. All performing separately yet contributing to a combined concept of artistic expression. Situated on an island paradise. Sounds anal I know. But I like it.
Review by Emily Brinkman