Rich Freitas was at the point where he had to break something just so he could fix it. Or maybe start his own home improvement show. It was a few months into the initial COVID lockdown in 2020 and Freitas, without his regular jobs at Mystic Disc and Mystic Army/Navy, had filled his downtime with every conceivable long-anticipated repair project for his car. as well as the home he shares with his wife, photographer Michelle Gemma.
“It was weird,” Freitas said in an interview last week. “I kept thinking, ‘Is there anything else I haven’t fixed?’” Then an idea came to him. Although well known in the area for his role as a drummer in iconic bands Mystic 17 Relics, Portersville, Low-Beam and Slander, he hadn’t played any music since Slander’s disintegration several years ago. Now, without domestic chores, Freitas picked up an old acoustic guitar he had forgotten how to play and gradually familiarized himself with the charms of the instrument.
“Somehow I ended up writing a song,” Freitas says in a tone of someone who isn’t particularly surprised but nonetheless moderately pleased — as if that wasn’t really part of it. of a general plan but was certainly a welcome development. “I was like, ‘Hey, that’s pretty good.’ I should post it online, if only to say, like, ‘Hey, look! I’m not dead!’”
Freitas is actually SO NOT dead that last week, under the name of his alter-ego Ellery Twining, he released his first solo album. The nine-piece digital recording is called “Revenge”. It was recorded last November and December at Dirt Floor Studios in Colchester and co-produced by Freitas with Dirt Floor owner Eric Lichter, with engineering by Guido Falivene. Freitas played most of the instruments himself, did the vocals, and is “very grateful” for old friend and Relics bandmate Larry Bentley, who played bass throughout. Other guest spots came from guitarists Brad Benkso and Luke Hunter as well as percussionist Jay Curland.
A new musical direction
The composition of this first song was essential and inspired Freitas, 52, to continue writing and exploring the nuances and sonic dynamics of acoustic guitar – which are very different from amplified rock and synthesized electro on his resume. Freitas taught himself the alternate chords associated with blues artists, Joni Mitchell and Johnny Cash. And, fueled by a melting snowdrift of longstanding frustrations and disappointments, the work’s dimensionality was given true lyrical weight.
“When I thought about getting involved in music again, I thought there was no point in doing pop or electropop. I did. And what I was proposing was something new for me,” says Freitas. He adds that watching the Ken Burns documentary mini-series “Country Music” was an eye-opening experience and led him to absorb the gospel catalog of soul band The Staple Singers.
“While I was writing songs, I had the idea to do a country/gospel/dub album,” Freitas explains. He’s laughing. “IT didn’t happen, but the IDEA of it definitely informed what happened.”
As such, “Revenge”‘s sound is sparse and haunting, with an infectious slow-pulsing percussive underpinning that propels the flow from song to song conjunctively. In addition to Freitas’ acoustic guitar floor plans – he was enamored with the chord structures of much gospel material – there are splashes of moody piano tracks, keyboard atmospheres and fluvial bass guitar figures.
It all works beautifully behind the voice delivery. Freitas, who is also a poet (and who adopted the name Ellery Twining from a character in a novel he is writing), relies on dry, hypnotic speech punctuated with opportune moments where he will sing a chorus or phrase to great effect. . It’s not remote hip hop, but rather a style reminiscent of the work of artists like Lou Reed, Jim Morrison and Tom Waits.
In fact, says Freitas, he was most inspired by Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, Laurie Anderson and, more specifically, the phrasing and intonation of Neil Young in the song “Tired Eyes” from the classic album “Tonight’s the Night”.
“I knew I couldn’t carry a record while singing – I don’t have a voice – but I knew I could sync the poetry and use the syntax and rhythm of speech to get the songs going and sing just enough to give it some emphasis,” Freitas says. “And it’s great credit to Eric for helping me do what I imagined and hoped for.”
In the studio
When he decided to record the album, Freitas says there was never any real possibility but to go to Dirt Floor. “I had never met Eric, but the testimonials from everywhere and everyone – including many musicians I know – were overwhelmingly positive. And when we met, it was an instant connection.”
“We have similar musical interests, but more than the song demos, I was impressed with Rich’s drive and vision,” Lichter said. “He came to work with detailed notes on overdubs and ideas and he knew exactly what he wanted. It was a fun project and he’s a great, talented guy. Most of my work was just taking step back and let Rich create the album he heard in his head.”
“Working with Eric was one of the best recording experiences of my life,” says Freitas. “He never dictated. He always asked if I was happy with a particular take or idea. He made me do things at high levels and that’s his real genius.”
Freitas also emphasizes the impact of Bentley’s bass playing. The song construction and reliance on space and simple grooves gave Bentley a bit of leeway, and he delivered quite a bit.
“We’ve been really close friends and in bands together for over three decades,” Bentley says. “We were the rhythm section, and we developed a great bond a long time ago. When I heard that Rich was doing an album and he wanted me on it, I was excited. And when I heard the demos, I was floored.”
Bentley also had the creative freedom, before entering the studio, to quietly compose parts and try out new ideas that went beyond the standard “pocket” base and included melodies not usually associated with to standard pop or country songs. Bentley says, “There were no restrictions, and Rich told me to write whatever I wanted and do whatever I thought the songs called for.”
thinking about revenge
That the album is provocatively called “Revenge” is both calculated and a bit ironic. “It’s kind of like what Carly Simon said about ‘You’re So Vain’,” Freitas laughs. “If you think any of these songs are about you, it probably is.”
But these tunes are not Henry Rollins-esque verbal sniper attacks on current affairs, culture, or the antagonists from afar. Freitas, who wrote the lyrics before the music, takes the listener through an emotionally-tinged album that chronicles a range of experiences from his own life as well as outside issues.
Its delivery is deliberately smooth and understated, with a slightly jaded tone at times and a hint of puzzled exasperation at others, but the overall compelling consistency helps maintain the impression that “Revenge” is truly a work to be absorbed in a narrative mode. AZ. – instead of picking a single piece here or there.
Some of the songs – “The Belt of Orion”, “A Month of Sundays” – focus on the anxieties and difficulties of growing up in a fractured family. “On Schedule” tackles centuries of greed-fueled colonization and subjugation, while “Weatherall” seems to depict a bit of hometown pride and civil disobedience.
Given Freitas’ more than 35 years as a musician, it’s fitting that a number of songs are about his life in the business. “The Day Jeff Buckley Died” and “Let Me Die Onstage” depict random events frozen in memory against real-life moments from Freitas’ time in 17 Relics and Portersville.
And “Sequence,” perhaps the most bittersweet cut on the album, is about Freitas’ reaction to being unexpectedly fired from the band Slander when they were about to sign a band contract. registration. It was a particularly hurtful development given that the group of young musicians had recruited Freitas in the first place – as much for his experience and leadership as for his estimable drumming.
“The slander ended within a 48-hour period after a show in Hartford,” Freitas recalled. “Some people are scared of success, I think. It’s one thing to start a band and it’s fun to play gigs. When it gets real and labels are involved, maybe you have to take a chance and go for it. Or maybe you’re freaking out and a way out of the pressure, in this case, was to kick me out. That’s my point of view, and it was real enough that I said, “I don’t need this anymore. And I didn’t.”
Freitas has no plans to release “Revenge” in any format other than digital. There will be no release parties or live performances to support the album.
“For now, I’m just glad it’s over,” Freitas said. “I expressed some things that I wanted to express and I learned some things. Who knows what that might lead to? But it’s been fun making music again, I know that.”