Not Yet Ready for Primetime: Tom Freund is as surprised as you are to hear his tunes on TV.
Howlin' at the 'Moon'
Tom Freund's literate song craft
By Greg Cahill
"I hope you don't mind if I tickle the guitar in the background," says singer and songwriter Tom Freund during a phone call from his home in Venice, Calif. Readying himself for a gig at the Temple Bar in Santa Monica on the first leg of a West Coast tour that brings him soon to the Sweetwater Saloon in Mill Valley, he explains, "I just need to stretch out these strings."
It's a rare bit of downtime for the former Silos bassist, who's been busy of late promoting his third and most recent solo album, Copper Moon (Surf Dog), producing bands and playing sessions. He's also recently seen his own material find an unexpected outlet--one track from the new CD made it onto the soundtrack of the popular Fox-TV teen soap opera The OC.
"You know, if you're gonna live in Hollywood, then there's gotta be some perks," he says with a laugh. "All these opportunities keep some flow under the belt. My running joke is that if you're going to put up with L.A., you better have some 'in' to the entertainment industry, because to live here without doing that would be criminal."
Indeed, Freund's surprise reception in TV Land is especially strange since this is a troubadour whose literate song craft has drawn favorable comparisons to Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones, producing Beat-inflected tomes with decidedly poppish hooks. His critically acclaimed 1998 solo debut, North American Long Weekend, contained numerous references to Bob Dylan, Holden Caulfield, Jack Kerouac and the Beat era--not exactly the stuff of primetime TV.
"I kind of lump Kerouac and J. D. Salinger together, though I guess technically I shouldn't," he muses. "One was a little more drug-induced than the other, but they were on a similar journey, for sure. Obviously, their work is connected with the idea of soul-searching, and to me that is what Americana is all about, more than country and a cowboy hat. That stuff feels like the end of the line, you know--'Let's go see what's on the left coast.'
"It's more about hoppin' the freights than riding the range."
The new album features the jazzy ballads "Comfortable in Your Arms" and "Leavin' Town," with Freund laying down solid bowed stand-up bass parts. "I get audiences to snap their fingers along on that one," he says with a chuckle.
On North American Long Weekend, that Beat influence was even more pronounced. "I appreciate that stream-of-consciousness style of writing," Freund says of Kerouac and company. "For that first solo album, I found myself writing in a notebook a lot and then pulling songs out of those journal entries. It felt good to let the lyrics emerge and then piece them to music, which is the opposite of what I usually do when I write a riff and stick some songs to it."
Freund has spent most of the last 20 years honing his songwriting, including three years paired with eclectic blues and soul artist Ben Harper. The two recorded the now out-of-print album Pleasure and Pain, a title that could just as easily describe the duo's parting.
"We had shared a lot, so it was hard to pack it and go off individually. We had spilled a lot of stuff on the table, so to speak," says Freund, who acknowledges that their 1993 breakup was less than amicable. "But I just spoke to Ben today, and we're thinking about doing some more things together. I don't know if it'll include taking bits of that album or working on some new songs. But we're committed to doing some things together, so that's kind of cool."
After the split, from 1993 until 1996, Freund played bass in the Silos, the unsung alt-country pioneers. His song "Fallen Angel" was included on the band's 1994 album Susan across the Ocean and put Freund's formidable songwriting talents into the limelight.
"I hope there's that general feeling that only a combination of words and music can do, and offer audiences a break from the daily grind," he says of his song craft. "I hope people can relate to the stories I'm telling and come to the show and feel involved. I'm not into the aloof artist thing; I like my shows to be an intimate affair.
"I see it as a community service somehow," he adds with a laugh, "rather than a chance to knock people over the head."
Tom Freund performs Wednesday, Feb. 16, at the Sweetwater Saloon, 153 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. 9pm. $15. 415.388.2830.
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From the February 9-15, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.