It does seem that FRED are happy to play fast and loose with naming things. The Auckland eclectic pop band’s synth-smart second single (and first ever video) is called Polyamorous, but had the name-that-song roulette wheel stopped earlier it may well have been less eye-catchingly Amorous Lover, more eye-wateringly Cannabis Lover, more numerately Abacus Lover or more, just plain oddly, Platypus Lover.
The band was itself originally badged A Girl Named Fred, the subsequent abbreviation stemming from LGBTQ friends’ concerns that some in that community may find it offensive, or might even think they were making fun of people transitioning. Not so at all however Fred it thus became, though if I may, Fun With Fred might have been a tighter fit.
Musical career-wise, Jesse Sheehan is the best known of the Fred fun five, providing guitar, lead vocals and principal songwriting. Taking cues from the imagery for Polyamorous I ask if it’s fair to summarise Fred as a frivolous five-piece who enjoy partying in cosmically coloured tight fitting onesies and often wear sunglasses inside?
“Yeah!” Jesse laughs gently. “I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description! I mean none of us enjoy partying that much, but that’s definitely the image. We want everybody else to be partying.
“Our friend Robyn makes these incredible onesies and we just thought we needed a cohesive band image, so we got her to make us a bunch of them. Now we go everywhere in them! We do radio interviews in our onesies, we did our Sofa Sounds show in our onesies, we play every gig in them… it’s a fun thing!”
Fred is as much about friends as it is fun. Returning home from a stint at making it as a musician in England, Jesse moved into Parnell’s legendary alt-community the ‘Big House’ a few years ago. He and fellow flatmates Louis Newton (synths) and Cam Taylor (keys) decided they should form a band for a planned (about 500 people big) house party. Local bassist Alex Ang was asked to join in, plus a drummer since replaced by Karen Hu – currently studying the diversity-conscious combo of jazz drumming and law.
Happy mag’s review of the band’s newly-released single Polyamorous is plenty generous in praise and accurate in its headlining of the song as ‘synth-pop ecstasy’.
‘… Fred glide through a rich blend of funk, synth-pop, soul, and psych-rock, delivering something uniquely their own. With delicious instrumental grooves, soaring vocal hooks, and harmonies that could match Electric Light Orchestra, Polyamorous is the kind of tune that’ll stick with you for weeks.’
“We were absolutely stoked with the Happy review actually, it was incredibly kind. It was super nice. Loved that they wrote about one of my favourite bands,” Jesse applauds.
Lyrically, the song is a celebration of a love interest, the sort of wild, untamable person.
“I actually it wrote before the formation of the band, while I was living in London. I wrote it with Jack Flanagan who plays in the Mystery Jets – it used to be called Cannabis Lover and it was not a particularly deep song as you can tell! But when we came to record it we felt it was a bit of a naff name so we went through lots of different versions of it – Abacus Lover, Platypus Lover – then we ended with Amorous Lover, Polyamorous Lover…
“We liked the idea of celebrating a wild person that [the writer] is in love with, but she’s unable to be tamed – not as a tragic story, but with respect and celebration.”
Originally composed on guitar and piano, there’s plenty of difference to the recorded version musically as well. Jesse laughs that they put ‘psych’ next to the band name but really the only thing psychedelic about Fred is Louis’ sound. He’s excited that everyone in the band has put their stamp on it.
“Everybody has really different influences. Louis’ [pronounced Louie’s] got a real psychedelic, otherworldly kind of dreamlike thing that takes it off into outer space… Alex has a kind of DJ house party thing that he pushes us towards. Cam loves the funk, so it’s a nice amalgamation of all of our tastes.”
The song’s sweeping production stamp was added by Nic Manders, with recording done in his room at Parachute Studios.
“Nic’s an amazing producer, he actually recorded my first solo album and I do bits of singing for him on his projects. He’s just got a wealth of experience and amazing ears and touch.”
The result was plenty good enough to attract NZ On Air video funding and for a director they needed look no further than another ‘Big House’ flatmate Perry Wilton.
“He’s multi-talented human being and we loved his vision and enthusiasm. We all wrote the story together, lots of people helped out in figuring what would be best.”
Initially, that story was simply the band travelling to their February gig at central Auckland venue The Tuning Fork. It evolved into a band from an alien planet, Planet Fred, who having descended to Earth see themselves on a gig poster get very excited about it. They decide to recruit people to come to their gig by Fred-dancing along K’ Rd and environs, towards the end teleporting to the venue and playing their gig.
It turns out even alien video shoots come unstuck and when Karen had to leave mid-way the storyline required some on-the-fly improvisation that can be left to the viewer to figure out, over inevitable repeat watches. One last question for Jesse though – what does Polyamorous tell listeners about Fred?
“Frivolous is a good word. Slightly glam and flamboyant. If you come to one of our gigs we think you’ll have a good time. With the video and song we’re showing Fred is a band that can play a party and have the dance floor going the whole night.”
To borrow a 1970’s lyric from Electric Light Orchestra, ‘Oh, what a strange magic.’
Made with the support of NZ On Air.