In April 2017 I intereviewed The Freeks‘ Ruben Romono (ex-Fu Manchu and Nebula). In our lengthy and insightful chat, we talked about Romano’s music career, The Freeks’ history, their album Shattered and touring among other topics.
Jack: Hi, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you doing?
Ruben Romano (Vocals/Guitar): Ruben here, the pleasure is all ours thank you and we are all doing just fine.
Jack: How did you all meet?
Ruben: We all met through music, of course. I met Jonathan and Bob sharing a stage while playing in Fu Manchu and them in Backbiter. That’s going way back at the very beginning of Fu Manchu. Esteban was in a band called Smoke in Sunshine who shared a rehearsal lock-out space together with Nebula. Tom was hired as a roadie for Nebula during a U.K. tour and he’s been around ever since! When Nebula needed a bass player, Tom jumped right in. When the Freeks needed a bass player, Tom jumped right in again.
Jack: As a band with former members of Fu Manchu and Nebula in the line-up, were you ever concerned their respective histories would overshadow The Freeks?
Ruben: No, The Freeks are just another branch from that same tree really. I never really stopped to look back, I just kept moving forward on my own path. I adhere to the term “Your band is only as good as your drummer”, so me being the drummer that helped start those bands, and how both FuManchu and Nebula excelled while I was still in those bands gives me enough confidence to move on. The real challenge for me that makes everything new and exciting is that I moved forward from just the drums to writing more songs, playing a different instrument and singing lead vocals. I’m not the first one to do this. In the genre that I seem to be grouped in you got Dale Crover of the Melvins, Dave Grohl went mega doing it, Brant Bjork, Eddie Glass from Nebula first played drums in Olivelawn. Even Steven Tyler from Aerosmith was first a drummer. Dwelling on shadows hanging over just sets you back. I use my experiences to the utmost and also to fall back on to prove my point that I am who I am and I do what I do regardless. It’s a benefit that I took part in building my previous bands in respect to the Freeks. My how the garden grows, right? Weed never dies!
Jack: When you decided to form the group, is the sound you have now the one you wanted when you formed the band?
Ruben: At the start The Freeks was just a project to get friends that I met in my musical travels from all over the U.S. and Europe to just freak-out and add to a foundation of silly songs that I was still in the midst of writing. It was a fun project, nothing to serious with no instructions, just jam along to it and hit record while your doing it. So upon the first Freeks release Cargo Germany, wanted me to do a support tour for it. Again I had to call upon some friends to hit the road with me. Everyone was scattered from the Mexican border all up to the Canadian border. We had a blast of course but having everyone so far away was way to expensive to try to do anything further. So, I laid down for a while. It only became a band after that fact. Already having the first Freeks record release did make it easier to continue on with the name when it came down to it. I narrowed my search for local band mates and again as before, called upon the musical friends I made here in L.A. Thus, to answer the question, YES, the music has evolved, It got more back to my roots, bringing back the high energy of fuzzed out guitar action and tapping into my influences of both Punk, Garage and Spaced out Rock as Hawkwind/Amon Düül II
Jack: Has being from Los Angeles influenced you at all?
Ruben: I don’t know? I was born and grew up here, to me L.A. is just normal living. If anything, it may be more difficult in L.A.. There are so many bands and people trying to “Make It” in the entertainment industry. Maybe it’s the people who migrate here that want to be seen, want to be heard, and thus everyone gets clogged. I’m just here, doing what I do wether it flies or dies. I’ll still do it. I think if I were from anywhere else I still would have been effected, inspired and influenced by Rock-n-Roll. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to slag on anyone, However, I feel more inspired after playing shows in different countries. Seeing how well bands get treated by both fans and promoters everywhere else is way more influencing.
This makes it more crystal clear to me that L.A. really is over populated by entertainers, trying to play to other entertainers and everyone thinks they are better or deserve more then the others, thus making promoters more calloused to the fact that why should I pay you only $100 when there are so many other bands that will do the show for a mere $50. So, L.A. is a cruel place. But in the end “I LOVE L.A.!” It’s my birthplace! I’m L.A. Born and Bred! With what I just described, L.A. does influence me. How? To work hard and to play else where! To get out of dodge! [Laughs]
Jack: Your sound has been described as The Stooges meets Hawkwind. What bands have influenced you?
Ruben: Both you mentioned in the question have had big impacts on me personally, I do like to keep an open mind and to not really stick to just one genre. If I like what I hear, then I like what I hear, and discovering new music is just as influencing as hearing it. Of course we all enjoy that high energy Detroit sound of the MC5. I think some of the best drum beats are found on Amon Düül II’s “Yeti”. Thee Hypnotics also had a very influencing energy. The standards all apply of course such as Blue Cheer, Sabbath, Deep Purple, those are givens. I like finding weird and obscure things, bands that sing in their native languages. Naming specific bands would be such a long list, there are so much influence with music that it is next to impossible to answer.
Jack: ‘Where Did You Go’ has a strong Alice Cooper vibe to it, are you a fan of his? Has he influenced your work?
Ruben: Very much so. As a kid I think Alice Cooper was way more real and scary to me then the schtick of Gene Simmons. The original band of Neal Smith, Dennis Dunaway, Michael Bruce and Glenn Buxton can not be beat, and I love the ad lib on the live Beat Club version of “Eighteen”, when Alice says “Mom and Dad’s got me drinking whisky!” man, I “Love it to Death” The song “Where Did You Go” however did start out more as a ZZ Top influenced blues but in the end, I do admit, that it captured a bit more of Alice. I thank that to Jonathan’s guitar leads, combined with my approach to the vocals, maybe that is what does it. Definitely a surprise on how it came out in the end. Thank you for the compliment.
Jack: Have you been influenced by any films, books or works of art etc?
Ruben: Two books come to mind, First one, I highly recommend, “Ringolevio, a life, played for keeps” by Emmett Grogan. Emmett was a modern day Robin Hood of the 60’s. His motto was “It’s free because it yours!” That resonated with me. The second, “Guitar Army, street writings/prison writings” by John Sinclair. While in prison, he calls to all his people on the outside as “FREEKS”, with two “E’s” I thought that a bit clever! I read both of these before I had the inception of what to do post Nebula. When I left Nebula I had this new sensation of being free, I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, where ever I wanted. It was these two books and my newly found freedom that gave me the idea to call the project the FREEKS. Everyone involved was free to put down their tracks as they wanted, no instruction, nothing omitted. Not such an original name by any means I admit, but it did have a personal meaning attached, and thus it stuck.
Jack: What’s the music scene like in Los Angeles for bands of your sound?
Ruben: Oh, um, I think I kind of unintentionally answered this earlier but to elaborate I will say this. Ever since Fu Manchu, Kyuss and Monster Magnet were just getting clearance to take off and the genre of Stoner Rock was just getting pushed out of that birth canal, it has branched out into so many different styles within the genre. Now-a-days it seems everyone wants to be heavier then thou, down tuning until the strings are so loose that they almost fall off the saddles. I find cheer in knowing that I/we/The Freeks still seem to be on the outside looking out. I’m not worried about becoming the heaviest band around, in my opinion, that was done and ended with Black Sabbath, no one will ever be heavier than them. I would rather have girls dancing all over the place then just a bunch of dudes whipping their hair together, haha. We also have Esteban playing keys/synth and this throws people of guard a bit. We have our LA punk influence from the 80’s that give us our energy, we have that 60‘s/70‘s groove that does get people off their feet and we tune to a standard “E”. Once, this guy came up tome after our set and said, “You guys are cool, it’s like your heavy but at the same time, my girlfriend would dig you guys” I took that as the best compliment ever. It’s not being slower then everybody else, or faster then everybody else. It’s more of a “this feels good” type of thing and when I look up, I see people moving, shaking and dancing about with us. That’s how our shows are.
Jack: You’ve just released your excellent third album Shattered, are you happy with the response?
Ruben: By all means yes! we feel blessed with it, that Heavy Psych Sounds took a leap of faith with us. That this new solid unit of the Freeks were finally able to tour Europe to share it and what we do live. With the response we were given, we wish to return many times more in the future. We did work long and hard with this one, long being more the issue, however, in the end we are all proud of it. We did 95% of it by ourselves. We did some Basic Tracking for drums with engineer Matt Lynch who also mastered it for us but the rest we recorded and mixed on our own. So yeah, we are very happy with it!
Jack: How would you say it’s different to your previous albums/EPs?
Ruben: I think with this one we had more time with it. “Full On” was more rushed as time was limited. Esteban was only in the band for two weeks prior to recording that one. The amazing thing about “Full On” is that all tracks used were first takes. With Shattered we were more relaxed with time and we did use it to our advantage. So we were able to adjust as we went but for the most part it was business as usual with recording. We also were still writing as we worked. The foundations of the tunes were in place so we got all the drums done quick but we were still also writing as we went, lyrics, guitar leads, key/synth parts. That’s what made “Shattered” interesting in the end for me. we watched it grow and with “Full On” it was almost like recording a live record.
Jack: What was the recording process like?
Ruben: We all have our realities and responsibilities so getting together to just jam these days isn’t really the way we do it. I mean, when we do get together to rehearse the in between jams sometimes are fruitful, of course. Then we take it and we all mold stuff with our home recording devices. We bring in demos of either parts or complete works and present to each other. We all collaborate in this way. we find it easier and way more time efficient. When the recordings started really happening it was still in this same way. We would add overdubs either in our homes or at our rehearsal room and then send them to Tom to dump into the main files. Tom would roughly mix in what we sent and them we would get together to finalize the mixes. This process saved us tons of money but we did exhaust a lot of time. In the end we came out with something that really was ours, Recorded by us, Produced by us and Mixed by us. I’m proud of that!
Jack: What’s working with Heavy Psych Sounds like?
Ruben: Gabriele has been nothing but fantastic. We are very honored that he had interest in the Freeks. His whole Heavy Psych Sounds conglomerate encompass everything that is needed to pursue Heavy Psych Sounds! He’s a label, He’s a booking agent, He’s an Equipment rental company. He has cornered a market and makes his band flourish with it. On top of that he is a really cool mellow cat. I am very glad to be working with him on this. Thumbs up all the way!
Jack: How did your recent European tour go?
Ruben: It was a blast. It has been 8 years since the Freeks last hit European soil so for me it was a well awaited, greatly anticipated time. A bit of some reclaiming to do for me, it was so long in between. This time it was 20 shows in 20 days! No days off. It was a lesson for me in regards to vocals. Came very close to losing it but thanks to my concoction of straight shots of Whisky chased by 100%pure honey squeezed right from the jar, I was able to hold on. All the promoters who hosted us were fantastic and the next time we return I do hope to hit a lot of the same places to see them again. The other cool thing, that was kind of my thing, was that I drove almost the whole thing. I couldn’t tell you how many Kilometers I tacked but it was again about 95% of the journey. Truth be told, the driver’s seat was the most comfortable one in the van!
Jack: You shared the stage with Komatsu on the tour, what do you like about them?
Ruben: We have new Dutch Brothers for life! What really made this tour easy was how well we got along with the all the guys in Komatsu. This is usually a rare thing, there is usually one bad apple to make things just a bit uncomfortable, but that everyone got along so well, now that was awesome. I would recommend Komatsu as touring mates to all my friends in bands who tour. They played great every night and were definitely a hard act to follow. They made us really raise the bar and up our game. Stand out Komatsu tunes for me are “So How’s about Billy” and “Surfing On A Landslide”. On the last couple of shows Esteban joined them for “Surfing On A Landslide” and he added all this crazy Moog blips and swooshes to an already killer instrumental.
Jack: What are the biggest differences between Europe and the US?
Ruben: What really made a difference was how well Europe promoters and staff worked together to make their events something more personal and special. A small group of people conglomerating to make something happen in their small little village, Standing front and center stage headbanging, being a part of it and having a blast doing it! In the U.S. it seems more a job then a passion. There’s been many times in L.A. when you never even meet the promoter, they’re not there. You settle up with the bartender who just hands you an envelope, or a production manager who just says put your social security number here and sign it or we can’t pay you. In Europe you have the promoters bringing you home cooked meals that their mother’s made. You meet their pets who lounge out with you on the stage prior to playing your set. Bartenders who slip you back the drink tickets your supposed to be using(well, bartenders do that in L.A. also, if they like you or your band, [Laughs]). They take you back to their homes and lodge you for the night, then make you breakfast the next morning. They definitely don’t do that in L.A. I don’t know if all European promoters do that to all the bands they deal with, I mean, I’m lucky that the guys I play in a band with are cool, treat and respect people like they deserve. Maybe that’s what helped to get us all these great new friendships. This last tour definitely was an amazing experience and having it be done and being back home is a bit depressing. So we are all really looking forward to the next journey
Jack: How was it to share the stage with Fu Manchu again?
Ruben: Well, upon returning from the tour and playing with FuManchu was great, however, it is not a first time thing. We have already played a couple of shows with them prior to the last one. To answer the question, It’s great! It’s nice moving forward and being friends with them again. Burying the hatchets and all. They have morphed into the machine they are today and I hold my head high with pride knowing that I was a part of that. I hope we can do more shows with them in the future for sure.
Jack: Finally, what are your upcoming plans? Any visits to the UK on the horizon?
Ruben: We have a slew of shows here in So. Cal. Got to get those good and done as we move forward. I am hoping to get the band spread out here in the States by planning a small get away to the mid west. Play cities like St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland. do it also along the east coast. All that were great places during the Nebula years. Would be great to hit those places again. We also do have a bunch of new tunes to arrange so there’s that as well. We hope to return to Europe. On this last tour we had tried to do a one off London show but was unfortunately not able to clamp it down, so UK is definitely on our radar to play. Hope this interview can spark the interest of some UK promoters to invite us over, we’d love to!
Jack: Thanks for your time, Ruben!
Ruben: All thanks to you, Jack.