‘Joyful, chaotic, desperate’ | Interview with FRED

What makes FRED’s EP Creature special is its rich variety, highlighted by the inspired songwriting with unexpected turns complemented by the saturated drum beats, the warm synth sounds and the dedicated vocals. This is one to remember.

Describe your sound in 3 words

Joyful, chaotic, desperate

Tell us a few things about your EP Creature. What is the main idea behind this project?

I have an unreleased song coming out later this year called “Creature Horror.” It’s about losing my mom to cancer, and is written as a letter to her. It’s rare that I’m ever able to capture the emotion or experience I’m aiming for in a first draft of a song, but I did for this one, and it hit me so hard I couldn’t return to it for months. My mom was an avid reader and loved the genre of creature horror, both in books and in movies, and my sister and I both grew up reading these books way before we were probably old enough, but I loved it. When I finally started coming out to my extended community as trans non-binary the year after my mom died, I found new resonance and identification with the monsters in these books. I already knew how the queer community loved to claim the villains and monsters in stories as their own, but it wasn’t until I started facing rejection myself that I understood it in a very personal sense. These two experiences, the grief of losing my mom and coming out as queer, have been very intertwined for me and ended up being what a lot of these songs are about. So “Creature Horror” felt like the right title. I decided to break it up into two different collections though before releasing it all together, so “Creature” is part one. Part two, “Horror” will hopefully come out summer or fall of this year. It’s a little darker than this first one.

The songwriting in Creature has a vivid pop sensibility but if you listen more carefully there are very exciting, more complex layers with an experimental touch. The outro in I’m Not Better is a good example. Tell us a few things about your creative process.

I’m really proud of I’m Not Better, because I did pretty much all the tracking myself, except for vocals. I’m still pretty new at working with recording software, so when I brought it to my producer, Timothy Robert Graham, I considered it a victory that he didn’t feel the need to change much of it. But he of course made it infinitely better and added my favorite part of the whole song, the backing vocals in the outro that repeat “I don’t wanna come back.” But the process was different for each song. Some of them we built up together from scratch, and some various parts of what I had already done stayed. I also worked with William Cremin on Trust Yourself and 4 More Years, and that was a completely different process. I wanted to turn something over to him and see what he would do, and I love what came out of it. William would send me the tracks, I would then go record vocals with Tim, and then we would send it all back for William to mix. There was a lot of variation and experimentation with how all of these songs came together.

Your sound has nostalgia elements. If a time machine could take you anywhere (past/future) for a day, when/where would you go?

Haha, that’s not really a fantasy I’ve ever explored before. I guess if there’s any particular music scene I’d really like to see firsthand, it would be New York in the 60s, when Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis were blowing everyone’s minds and jazz was cool. I would’ve loved to see them play. I’m terrible at jazz and dropped out of a college jazz quartet the same week I joined it, but I’ll always love it. My retirement plan is to completely devote myself to jazz and play regular gigs in nursing homes.

Favourite album of the past decade?

Shit these are hard questions. Ok, so 2012 and on? Didn’t 2012 just happen?! I’m gonna say Tierra Whack’s 2018 “Whack World”. I was first introduced to it by my friend M through the accompanying music video, so my first experience listening to the album all the way through was also visual, and holy bejeezus if that isn’t the best music video ever. Each song is so short, but there is more brilliance packed into those short little songs than most albums I’ve come across that are twice the length.

‘When people hear the name FRED, they certainly don’t expect me’. What do you think that people expect?

I obviously can’t assume I know what people are thinking, but in general, our culture is obsessed with gender. There is this weird preoccupation with assigning binary gender to every object, animal and person. Just think about how we talk about other people’s pets. It’s no different with names, and Fred is generally seen as a masculine name. Being trans and non-binary, I think it’s funny, and I enjoy the playfulness of putting the name FRED over images of me decked out in gorgeous long nails and bedazzled lips. I actually named the project in honor of my grandmother, Winifred, who I never met. She apparently hated the nickname Fred, but it felt like something I could take on and lean into. Maybe it’s a defensive posture, I don’t know. There’s obviously a long history of queer folks reclaiming unwanted titles put on them by others and making them their own, like the word “queer.” But the whole point is that names are not gendered. When we encounter someone else, we have no idea what gender they are. All of the signifiers we are used to leaning on to figure someone’s gender out (again, wtf is up with our obsession) are useless. Names, clothes, body types, timbre of voice, walking gait – all of these things are not gendered. I like creating that moment of discomfort for people where they are like, “wait…maybe I don’t know who this person is.” I didn’t know about this artist when I first named the project, but I am absolutely in love with Bob The Drag Queen for this reason. If you don’t know them yet, you have to check them out.

(How) has the realisation of being non-binary affected your music?

I encounter a particular worldview a lot, mostly from folks who consider themselves to be reasonable and moderate. The rules of this worldview are that you respect and accept other people’s beliefs and identities as they are, and don’t try to push your own beliefs onto others. That generally works ok, but non-binary identity isn’t just an individual identity you take on, it’s a full on manifesto for how the world works. It’s a universal statement about the nature of gender that applies to everyone. Sure, everyone still determines their own identity, but non-binary identity requires that you perceive gender as a continuum, threatening the idea of a fixed binary gender that has been used by powerful white men for centuries to control and dominate other people. If gender is not binary, then men cannot be fundamentally different or better than women. And if you cannot create and enforce beauty standards for women, then whiteness cannot be held as a standard for beauty as it has been, placing Black women on an inferior level. Patriarchy and White Supremacy are intertwined in so many ways, and dismantling the gender binary is one of the tools we have for collapsing those rickety towers. For that reason, it has been impossible to claim non-binary identity and not be disruptive and offensive to people. They want to be able to say, “sure, do your thing, I respect you” but my very existence is causing them to reconsider their entire worldview. It has made me more alert, and at times scared and exhausted. It has also made me examine all of the transphobia, misogyny and racism I have internalized myself over the years. It influences everything from the songs I write to who I work with and how I express FRED on stage.

What’s your advice to humanity?

Deep breathes

Thank you!

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