Freeman Young is Making Music That is Anti-Nostalgia
He openly admits to being a Nickelback fan, too.
All photos by Parm Gill
Freeman Young fell in love with music while attending gospel choir rehearsals as a kid, tucked away in the corner. His mother and Godmother were both heavily involved in the Vancouver lower mainland’s gospel scene, and while babysitters were hard to find, an empty corner in the rehearsal space was not. They would give him an ice cream bucket and a pair of drumsticks to keep him busy but before long the ice cream bucket would be warped and beat, and he'd move on to a classical piano. Young, who is now a full-time musician, describes his current sound as pop with an urban touch. His style is similar to that of Frank Ocean—soulful with a story—though his personal interpretation of influences like channel ORANGE takes all the twisted content and adds an air of jubilance. A devoted fan of both D’Angelo and Nickleback, it’s fair to say Young is not the kind of artist trying to fall into a trend. By mashing up his personal style and varying tastes Young pulls from across the musical spectrum weaving together wonky and mismatched genres which ultimately combine to create songs that are both layered and relatable. Young creates a soundtrack for the outskirts of Vancouver; he provides a three dimensional image of life as a young person in an area often clouded with negative and violent stereotypes, making it more relatable.
I sat down to talk with Young in his hometown —a neighbourhood called Whalley in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey. At the back table of his favourite haunt, the Jamaican restaurant Di Reggae Cafe, sits Young and three of his closest collaborators. His debut album Young was made with his close friend Franco Maravilla, also known as Baby David, whom he met during his short stint in the music program at Capilano College. The pair cut a deal and were offered some basic knowledge of online production equipment and a scuzzy print shop to lay down tracks in. “It was like a makeshift studio. Noelle’s print shop on Kingsway and Gilley, it’s this dingy ass upper level print shop,” Young said. “We would do our 9 to 5 and then from like 6AM to 1AM we’d just record, taking turns working on all our friend’s projects, all in the print shop, that was like the trap house.”
Noisey: When did you first start making your own music?
Freeman Young: [When I was] 17 I got suspended for doing some stupid shit. I got a week suspension. But the weak part about it was I had to do it in school—they put me in the principal's office. Literally all they gave me was a textbook, a bible, and a notebook. So I was like man, I’m not trying to read the bible, I’m not trying to do homework, and so I wrote my first song. It was horrible by the way, completely horrible. Shortly thereafter, I became enamoured with rock music and I met my friend Xander. We formed a band together and it was actually pretty good. I’ll go on the record to say I’m an unapologetic Nickleback fan. I fucking love Nickleback. Anyway there was one guy I think he was either their former drummer or produced for them or something, he put us in a studio environment and we did this little workshop, it was on the University of Alberta campus. I remember thinking, I want to do this for the rest of my life, and I’m going to make that happen.
How did you meet Franco and decide to start working on your first album together?
Well eventually I went to music school at Capilano, I would soon drop out, but before that I met this guy, Franco. He was playing MF Doom and I remember shouting at him from across the computer room, I had never met him at this time and he had long shaggy hair, I shouted “Yo! What is that?” The first time I ever heard Doom was through this guy, and then I introduced him to this Toronto artist Slakah the Beatchild, then he introduced me to Mad Lib, and I introduced him to Kid Cudi. Then over at music school I would spend not as much time as I should have on academia, and instead we would just share albums back and forth. It was Common’s Like Water For Chocolate that made us want to start making beats together. I thought “Yo, we should do this sometime.” From 2011 to 2015 we just fully immersed ourselves in making music and not releasing it, just doing it for the love. So there’s a four, five year gap where it’s like no one will ever hear the shit that we wrote. I would say last year we finally decided like yo, enough is enough, let’s put some music out there. I felt like we were ready. We came up with two projects Young was mine, and his was Marvelous under the name Baby David.
Tell me more about the making of your album. How did you two go about it?
Both albums are produced by us, mainly. I’m responsible for drum programming, little melody lines and stuff like that. And all things harmony or guitar based is this genius right here. He is really quiet and humble about it, but trust this guy is deadly. This guy will listen to Robert Glasper and he’ll hear what’s on the record and then transcribe it on to score paper. Then next thing you know he’s like fully ripping it true to the original voicings and stuff which is really difficult, so he’s the lynch pin behind the entire sound.
Admittedly when I first heard your music I categorized you as a hip-hop artist, but you're adamant the music you make is pop, can you explain why that distinction is important to you?
I think the best thing is not to have a conscious with what you do, because you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself. Especially for black artists it’s important that you don’t corner yourself too early, because then people can be like ok we’ll put him in this category over here and then next thing you know, I’ve got to be careful how I say this, you don’t want to be labelled as something especially as an artist of colour because it’s very hard to dig yourself up out of that. I always get called R&B or rap, and it’s like yo I’ve rapped in one song I’ve ever released in my life. How the fuck do I keep getting put in hip hop? Maybe two of the sixteen tracks I’ve made public I rap on, so one eighth of my work is hip hop.
Are you working on anything new at the moment?
For now it’s a secret. It’s a new album that’s a lot more ambitious. I’m not being secretive on purpose, I just don’t want to count the eggs before they hatch. It’s not going to be like the last one, we draw water from different wells, different projects. I’m like the least nostalgic person you’ll ever meet, especially in terms of creativity.