Today I have the great fortune of chatting with the Melbourne, Australia emcee Jonny Freesh. Welcome! Can you tell us a little about yourself?
(Laughs) That’s a tough one, but I suppose to summarize that into a succinct enough answer for an interview, I’d say that I’m a 3rd culture kid (meaning that I lived all over the world and went to international schools my whole life) who loves hip hop and tends to do things slightly different from most. And usually a lot weirder too (laughs).
When did you know hip hop was what you wanted to do with your life?
I’ve been rapping for about 11 years now and thinking about making a career out of it for about 6, but I decided to give it a proper go about 2 and a half years ago when I was living in Bali. The stars aligned, so to speak, and I had the opportunity to record some music in a pretty professional studio for pretty cheap and then make some really professional music videos again for much less than you’d be able to in the west because of the low prices that a 3rd world economy like Indonesia offers.
I had the dream of doing it professionally for a long time but it wasn’t until these opportunities arose and really positive feedback came in that I built the confidence to actually go for it. I wasn’t one of those rappers who knew from the start that I was going to do this properly because I didn’t have a natural gift for it. My first raps are absolutely horrible. I pray they never get leaked. I’ve met some dudes who pick up a mic and they’ve got a natural flow from the get go, that wasn’t me. It took me years to get it to a point where it was good enough to spend money on recording.
What was the first song you wrote/ recorded? What was it like hearing yourself for the first time?
The first song I wrote that has been released was “The Durian Song”. I can’t remember exactly what it was like the first time I heard myself recorded but I remember feeling really excited and proud the first time I listened to a finished track. It was like a whole new world had opened up.
Your style and content is unlike anyone else. Did that approach come right off the bat or was that the result of time and continued effort?
Before I released anything the stuff I was writing wasn’t quite as original. It was kind of a mix between early Eminem and The Bloodhound Gang, but it still had a strong sense of individuality to it. I think everything I’ve ever done, outside of music too, has had that quality to it. I’ve always felt a little different from other people and it tends to show no matter what I do.
How do you feel that you have grown as an artist from your first release, the 2014 mixtape Raw Food Rap, to your upcoming ep entitled Strange Displays of the Naked Truth?
The timeline of my released music has coincided with a lot of personal development work, much of which was focused on embracing my individuality and letting it shine, so I think my music has gotten increasingly unique due to that. And as I’ve concentrated on delivering a message more in my music I realized that this individuality which often comes out quite weird, is one of the core ideals that I want to share through my songs; it’s okay to be weird and different and in fact I think you should be proud of it and show every part of you.
I think the main improvement I’ve made as an artist is that my flow has gotten tighter as I’ve progressed. When I listen to some of my earlier stuff I hear flows that would never make it into a song now.
I’ve also grown a lot as a video artist; my first video I had very little input on and now I usually direct, sometimes film, and often edit too. I directed this video and actually wrote the lyrics to fit the shots that I wanted to do, specifically the crazy drone shots.
I agree. On that note, you have just released a video called “I Like to Climb Trees” from Strange Displays of the Naked Truth. You’ve described it as your “craziest video yet”. What inspired both the song and the video?
I loved climbing trees when I was a little kid (and still do), so when I started focusing on putting the message of freedom and individuality into my music, I felt like it was a great metaphor for this. I made a music video for an earlier song of mine, “Jatuh”, with the same aerial photographers, and afterwards we knew that we wanted to do a second one together.
But we wanted to really step our game up and combine some kind of concept with the beautiful drone shots. In “Jatuh” we just shot me rapping in nature and it was cool but it was missing something. So I was just thinking of ways we could combine those epic drone shots with something more cohesive, and getting me way up into trees was it. It looks so surreal that some people think we used special effects, so I think we found the right idea.
How did the song and video come together?
This was a really fun and interesting project for me because it was the most organic and cohesive creative process in terms of writing the lyrics, creating the storyboard, and producing the beat all together. We had a brainstorming session with the filmmakers and the producer to come up with concepts for all 3 aspects so they would fit together from the start. So I knew some of the shots I wanted to get and wrote lyrics for them, and we used certain instruments and samples to play into that funky monkey vibe that the lyrics and video embody, and we tweaked the lyrics back and forth quite a bit. Usually my process is much simpler; get a beat, write a song, make a video based on the song, and I think a lot of artists do it the same way. So to create all the parts of this together was really amazing and it’s something I hope to do more often.
What do you want people to take away from the audio and visual aspects of “I Love to Climb Trees”?
That they deserve freedom and they shouldn’t let anyone get in the way of that. And that being yourself is awesome even if that means you being a bit weird and different from other people. And also on a less serious note, but also kind of pretty serious note, get naked! The experience of being naked on set in front of a bunch of people was so liberating.
You said your music reflects and coincides with your personal life. This was evident on the terrific Let It All Out EP released last month. What can audiences expect from your new EP, which will be released March 31st?
A lot of weirdness (laughs). Let It All Out was all about digging up my deep emotional wounds and coming to terms with them, and Strange Displays of the Naked Truth is about being my true strange self and proud of it. It’s a really joyful EP. And there is one deeper introspective song in there, as I always like to mix a bit of that in.
What drives you as an artist?
What drives me as an artist is a desire to make music that impacts people, myself included. I want people to feel good about who they are, all aspects of that, when they hear my songs. And I’m also driven by the desire to keep making wilder and wilder music videos, to keep pushing myself to make things that people watch and go “whoa”. And of course the joy of making the art. I also absolutely love performing. Getting a crowd to participate in my songs is one of the most joyous feelings I’ve ever had. They tend to like “F*ck, Where Did I Leave My Pants?” a lot.
What is your approach to songwriting?
My approach to songwriting is fairly multifaceted. I make sure to mix it up because the way I write will affect what comes out quite a bit. So sometimes I write very free flowing, and don’t think so much about where I want to take the song, I just let it grow organically. You’ll hear a song that I wrote like this on the EP called “Clownin’ Around.” These tend to be more freestyle type of songs.
Then sometimes I will know exactly what I want to get to and so I’ll plan it out and be very meticulous in the writing. “No Shame” from my last EP is an example of this. With these I tend to have more structured flows that stick within the bars because it helps me to be concise and to the point so I can get out a deep message in a relatively short period of time.
And the last method I use is kind of a mix between the two. Instead of planning where the song will go I will just brainstorm some themes and ideas that I think could work well in it, and often write up some rhyming word lists so that once I get in the flow of things I can quickly connect ideas.
Do you have any final thoughts for us?
Yeah. If you don’t mind I’d like to do a quick little bit of shameless self- promotion for my crowdfunding campaign. But also some promotion for the platform that it’s on, which I think is the future of the music business. It’s called Patreon and it’s basically an ongoing crowdfunding campaign as opposed to a one off project like Kickstarter. It’s the best way I’ve found for independent artists to monetize their music and it is how I plan to fund my life as an artist. I’ve made a video that explains the platform more as well as my campaign, so if any of you folks out in Internet Land like what I’m doing and want to support the creation of more of my art, please head over to http://Patreon.com/JonnyFreesh and watch the video. Even donating just $1 a month makes a big difference.
Thank you for your time!
You can watch the video for “I Like to Climb Trees” above.
You can connect with Jonny Freesh on Facebook here.