Wayne Flask interviews hot débutantes The Freuds. Read Flash version here.
I haven’t been here in ages. The smell, or stench, of lead/zinc/whatever toxic chemical still haunts the air like it did twelve, ten, eight years ago. The roads are narrow, doors and windows are closed, and now that the working day is over a few parking spaces are popping up. This is Marsa, boys, and that’s the power station: nobody really wants to drive a stake in its heart it seems.
I have nostalgia of this place: a huge block of garages, rows and rows of them, where a sizeable chunk of Malta’s bands spend countless man hours writing, rehearsing, fine tuning their music. Within this community, all the musicians seem to know each other, at least by sight. Ideas are shared, anecdotes recounted, the odd tip given here and there. And while the decor isn’t grand, there are no neighbours to bother here as Sven Bonnici rightly points out.
A couple of mechanics cast an inquisitive look as I follow him to The Freuds’ garage. His burly figure reminds me uncannily of college years Guy Garvey, clad in blue trousers, shirt and blazer that complement this unusual frontman pose. Unusual, because if you heard their debut single Out of Time there’s little to suggest that The Freuds are a band who is only just happening.
Inside the garage I am greeted by the eager welcomes of Albert Sciberras (guitars and backing vocals) and drummer Laurent Farrugia. And an actual sofa, too. Seems like band meetings are taken seriously here. Laurent, bushy hair and beard to match, slouches on an amp opposite; Albert, meanwhile, sits next to me, instrument cradled on his knees until the end of our meet. In the armchair, Sven does the honours of walking me through the band’s brief history, already laid out on the garage walls in a neat timeline.
“We’ve known each other for a long time. We were at school together and that’s where our love for music had begun. We had those rare opportunities to play, during breaks or some Christmas concert. We used to rehearse for three months to play just one song,” laughs the singer. “At the time Albert used to play the drums, then Laurent took over from him when he finished school. We continued at Junior College, and Albert joined us again on guitars when the other guy left.”
The band chose their name after Albert complained, late one evening, of his psychology studies. “With The Freuds we knew we were ready to take it to another level. Before it was just the occasional rehearsal at Sven’s. We used to be called Albert Town at one point,” he says.
“We entered a Battle of the Bands. Our first gig in front of an audience was the summer of 2009. Chris [Ciappara, owner at Rookie’s] had given us the opportunity to play live. We didn’t do that well but at least we were out of the garage. Then we moved to this place to rehearse.” More than a mere rehearsal place, Albert explains, the garage was a commitment. With rent fees to be paid, this is the band’s first test at sustaining itself.
The three of them are students without a fixed income. “Money is the main problem, but so far we’ve coped very well,” says Sven. “You need to look for gigs and do whatever is necessary. I think 2010 was a very positive year for us in that sense, now we’re looking at organising a few events of our own as well.”
The band shot into the scene with debut single Out of Time, a raunchy tribute to early Editors that romped straight to number one in Bay Radio’s Malta Top 10 chart, staying there for two whole weeks. Not bad at all for a debutante. At the time of writing, Out of Time was still in ninth place.
“Towards the end of last year we decided to record something, it would have given us the chance to show what we’re offering. The single ended up giving us quite a boost. We’ve had very good feedback from the radios and we never expected to be in the charts,” says Sven. “I mean, we were unsure if the song would get any airplay at all. After Bay picked it up the others followed.”
Recorded away from the major studios, Out of Time delivers a rare, punchy refrain and a solid if colourless rhythm guitar. They hardly “betray” any Malteseness, partly down to Sven’s depth on the vocals and to the crafty production that, without the frills we’re accustomed do, gave the tune just what it needed: a short intro with its potent snare drum and witty guitar effect, and enough hook to make it to number 1. Admittedly, it goes off the rails a little in the outro as Albert threatens to step on the pedals, but fortunately doesn’t: it’s a stunner in all of its 3 minutes 23 seconds.
While the song did more than just get them radio airplay, Sven seems to be averse to The Freuds being tagged as an indie band. “We tried to make the song as radio friendly as we could. I don’t think it’s correct to categorise us as indie or alternative,” says the singer. “It doesn’t define our style at all. Our influences lie in blues rock mostly, and that was pretty much the style we played when we first met.”
Their rejection of the indie label sounds a tad baffling, and in time they will need to work hard to shake off the shadow of their debut hit. “It’s a disco beat that people misconstrue as indie. Maybe having only one guitarist hinders us a bit because we cannot have a proper rhythm section.”
So, if and when work on the album will commence, they are unbothered by an apparent disparity in musical direction. “We make it a point not to stick to a particular style. I love Led Zeppelin and for a band of the seventies they experimented with a lot of varieties,” says Albert. “Now we’re working on new material to have enough to choose from for an album, and bring our live set to do more original tunes. Unfortunately people tend to judge us by cover versions.”
Like many of their most experienced peers, they acknowledge the limitations of our island’s scene. “We are far away from having a scene here but we’re making little steps ahead. There are a lot of bands and we’ve always found help from others. I think the bigger problem is filling venues. Around three out of every four people who come to see us live are musicians in other bands. You can’t play once a week, people will listen to the same stuff and with at least three different gigs happening in a week the audiences will be split. To make a record we need money from gigs, but playing regularly is tough because we’d get saturated very easily. And then there’s the lack of venues.”
They admire local peers like Niki Gravino, Brikkuni and Xtruppaw (Albert), indie hotshots Dolls for Idols (Laurent) and Areola Treat (Sven), a band who “are doing something very original in Malta.”
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Back among the long rows of garages, I notice I’m actually lost. There are more quizzical glances from the panel beater nearby as I turn right, left, go down the slope again, and finally see the light another 200 metres or so from me.
Do The Freuds have what it takes to stay in the limelight? For this young trio, the answer lies in the effort they’ll put into making Out of Time just the first single out of what could be a very successful lineage.