Big Freedia on whether stage fright is still a concern: "No. Hell, no. I own the stage now"
Big Freedia (due this Saturday, November 23, at the Bluebird Theater) is the stage name of Freddie Ross, who began performing in his home town of New Orleans as a backup dancer and singer for Katey Red, a local drag queen who performed bounce music. Nicknamed "Freedia" by a friend, Ross created a stage persona appropriately dramatic and super-hero-esque -- not unlike that of Bootsy Collins, who crafted his own inimitable performance style.
By 1999, Ross was putting out music as Big Freedia and became a noteworthy bounce artist -- though some refer to the specific style as "sissy bounce," a distinction that Ross doesn't see as necessary. Big Freedia is a powerfully compelling and visceral live act, and one of the most charismatic gender-bending figures in music since David Bowie.
Anyone who has seen the act live can tell you it's one of a kind and difficult to convey, other than to say it is visceral, inviting and a musically alchemical combination of dub, hip-hop, soul, modern experimental electronic music, punk and whatever else inspired Freedia at the moment. Whatever it is, it is a sonically rich and inspiring experience.
A bit of a legend in certain circles of dance and experimental electronic music for more than a decade, Big Freedia has recently reached wide audiences through connections with the jam band Galactic, a recent summer tour with the Postal Service, and Freedia also set a world record for twerking. We recently had the opportunity to speak with the gracious Ross about the inclusive nature of bounce, setting that world record and the roots of an interior-design career.
Westword: You've spoken about how you've been inspired by punk and electronic music, as well as what some people might assume inspired your work. Has that been part of your experience with music from early on?
Big Freedia: You know, everything was playing in my house growing up and in the neighborhood. A little bit of everybody contributed to my musical vocabulary and catalogue of things I listened to. Really no limits. It would have to be something weird to the ears so that the ears couldn't take it.
You were one of the first people to come back into New Orleans to play music at Caesar's for "FEMA Fridays." Why was that important for you to come back early on?
To entertain people and to make people happy. People were going through a lot of stuff at the time. I was trying to bring the community back together, and bounce music is one of the ways, one of the first steps, in bringing people back together.
Lately you've been releasing singles. Do you feel that format suits the kind of music you're making, better than releasing a more traditional album?
Well, it has been that way for a while just me doing it myself or whatever. But all of that is changing now. A new album is on the way; should be dropping first quarter of 2014.
You did some work with Galactic. How did you get connected with those guys?
Ben [Ellman] in the group reached out to me, and we did a few collaborations in New Orleans, and we started working together, and have been ever since. They love me as an artist, and they're friends of mine, as well.
How did you coax yourself into overcoming stage fright?
I just kept saying to myself, "Is this something you want to happen? You know you want to do it, so you're definitely going to have to get over this. And you're not going to be able last if you keep on throwing up." So I had to keep on telling that to myself.
Is that something you have to do to this day?
No. Hell, no. I own it. I own the stage now.
Recently you set the World Record for twerking. Some people think you can just do something noteworthy and get a Guiness World Record, but it doesn't quite work like that. How did that come about for you?
That was in New York. The network that my reality show was on, Fuse, came up with an idea to help promote the show, and they put it together and contacted the Guiness people. We met the number of people in order to break the record, and we accomplished that, and I became the world record holder.
One thing noticeable about your shows: You have diverse bills and a similarly diverse crowd. Why is that important to you?
My music, and bounce music is for everybody, makes people happy and excited. Why wouldn't I want to make every nationality, culture, color or origin of people happy. That's a Freedia show is about: bring all walks of life together under one roof and have this big old dance party where they can be themselves and be free and be welcome to be who they choose to be.
You toured with Postal Service this past summer. How was that for you?
The Postal Service tour was a very interesting tour. It got me a lot of new fans, and it was amazing to me in that the Postal Service would take a chance on Big Freedia being the opening act. They were also fans of mine, and they love my music. So it was very interesting to do that collaboration with them. I am very grateful to them and their gracious fans for accepting bounce music all over. Overall, we captivated lots of people, and I'm thankful.
You also do interior design. What got you interested in doing that, and what keeps you interested in it?
I've always just been a neat freak at home and I change the house around and do different things. I used to surprise my mom when she got off home from work and show her that I did something different. That's where that started. Later, people really dug on how I changed my house around and asked me to do theirs. I took it even further and got my licenses. It was always just a passion of wanting things to be neat and changing things around. My mama would go to work and come back and the whole house would be re-arranged.
Did she enjoy that you did that?
Yes, she did. She never had a problem because the house was always spic and span.
You've talked about branching outside of doing bounce music. Have you done that lately?
Oh yeah, definitely, especially for the new album. So you'll be hearing some of that really soon. I worked with some new producers on the album and a few collaborations, so you will see a little bit of elevation and change in the music.
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