FREELANCE interview (from AOR Basement Issue #5, August 1988)

Do you ever wonder what determines whether a band "makes it" or not? It surely can’t just be down to luck, or being in the right, fashionable place at the right time. Songs really must have something to do with it. But why then have so many great bands disappeared into obscurity?

But if songs do indeed make the difference then Freelance are one band already well on the way to being a success. These guys first came to my attention via a four song 1987 demo, which I received from their manager; none other than the semi-legendary journalist Paul Suter! And, believe it not with Paul involved, neither have the band a female singer, nor have they any members of Canadian nationality.

Hmmn, very intriguing, better check out the tape…. The first track, "Painted Lady", immediately disperses any disparaging preconceptions I could have had: it sounds like White Sister in overdrive! A real classic pomp rock sound, but beefed up a degree to make it that bit more invigorating. The other three songs were excellent too. Especially, "Don’t Wanna Want You", a majestic ballad with elements of Foreigner, and "Feels Like Love" which positively reeks of seventies pomp rock right down to the Roadmaster ("Hey World" period) bass line. I could almost sense older fans pulling on loon pants as I listened, while ironing their treasured Styx T-shirts and practising their Trillion style pouts!

But one of the overriding things I concluded was that Freelance sound like…, well, Freelance! They certainly have a sound all their own, and it’s a definite band sound. Rather than some similar bands I could mention, who seem to sound like five or six musicians all trying to outdo each other!

So, in order to bring you the AOR Basement reader a bit more information on the band, an interview was arranged with lead vocalist/guitarist Roger Sommers, a man not short of a musical pedigree. In the past he’s been a member of the popular New York band Majesty, as well as also being invited to join projects with Ian MacDonald (ex Foreigner) and Doug Lubahn (ex Riff Raff and Billy Squier).

Roger hooked up with the rest of the guys in Freelance through a chance introduction through his landlady’s daughter. The first thing I asked him was if there was any advantage in the rest of the band (Michael Lord – keyboards, Danny Lux – drums, Jason Horme – lead guitar, and a bass player they’re currently in the process of recruiting) being so young, as they are all in their late teens.

"It’s definitely an advantage, of coarse there is an upside and a downside to everything. The advantage was although young, they hadn’t, for want of a better word, been jaded by the L.A. club scene, where it is easy to get a band together and as long as people come to the show it doesn’t matter how good your are. They still were very fresh, enthusiastic and there was still a lot of integrity there; they weren’t doing it because they wanted to meet girls, they did it because they liked making music. This was actually a pretty unique quality among all the people I met in L.A.."

"Another advantage was that the experience I had, meant we circumvented the time that would have been spent hashing over basic fundamentals. We all really wanted to do things at a real high standard."

In many ways I detect a real, seventies influence in your material, from bands like Styx and such like….

"Well Styx aren’t one of the bands I’d think of straight away but they would be in there someplace. Speaking for myself the period between 1976 and 1982 was where the majority of good music of the last twenty years was made. There was a certain dynamic to it: the difference then was that songs were the main focus. Broken down to basic elements a lot of recent stuff doesn’t stand up. We do follow pretty much the same format of high quality, song orientated, commercial hard rock."

Your keyboard player, Michael Lord, has recently been guesting with White Sister – can you tell me more about that?

"Mike’s really improved for it and it happened at a real good time for us. It’s helped him to see another side of things. I’ve heard the project and his contributions, and it’s excellent: Greg Giuffria originally did the production work which was good, but they redid some of it with a local guy, Ron Bloom and that was even better. So I can definitely see White Sister getting a record deal, United States-wise, with that. To be honest, they’d love to have Michael join the band; probably many people in your part of the world have been told he’s a member of that band, but he’s not, he’s a fully committed member of Freelance."

"Actually I must tell you we just got a real good bit of news: Jonathan Cain is going to produce our record."

Well there’s a thing to casually drop into the conversation! All your need now is a deal?

"To be honest, I don’t think it’ll be too much of a problem! We should manage to get some sort of deal before the end of the summer. Then if scheduling permits Jonathan will be doing the record."

So how did Jonathan hear of the band?

"Originally I heard his production work on Black ‘n’ Blue’s record and I thought he brought out a great side of that band, for me at least. Then I heard the Jimmy Barnes stuff he did and that was excellent. I met him years ago and he struck me as being a great person. I liked the way he attacked things from a song level rather than a sound level, and thought he’d be perfect for Freelance. Anyway, we got a tape to a woman how works for him and she thought it was good but she didn’t say stay in touch or anything. But I wasn’t going to take no for an answer and Paul (Suter), in his infinite wisdom, found a way of getting a tape to him on the road with Jimmy Barnes and he liked it."

Shortly after my conversation with Roger I received a tape of four new songs. As I’ve pointed out I thought the first tape was exceptionally good, but this new one is even better!!!

Opener "Guilty" adds a little more bite to the Freelance sound and Roger likens it to Night Ranger, and I’d agree with that. But it’s the other three songs - "Lightnin’ Strikes"; "In your Eyes"; and "Keep the Fire Burnin’" – that really stun me with the sheer quality of the song-writing displayed. Both "Lightnin’ Strikes" and "Keep the Fire Burnin’", despite their slightly clichéd titles, are mid-paced, instant AOR classics. "In your Eyes" sees the seventies feel back at its most prominent, but at the same time it’s certainly not dated. In fact, in many ways it’s very like a glorified version of a band like MPG (a criminally underrated band).

Also particularly noticeable on the new tape are the improvements in Roger’s vocals. Previously he had a tendency to sound quite nasal, but now he sounds more like Billy Squier. And, his delivery sounds more passionate. This rather fits in with the band’s viewpoint of always looking for ways to make themselves even better.

You know when you’re presented with material this good it is very difficult not to sound like you’re going over the top. But, honestly, with the combination of such great songs and such an admirable attitude, this band surely must go on to big things in the near future. I can only hope that the record labels get on the case right away.

Ian McIntosh

Footnotes- White Sister did not manage to pick up a deal for their third album, which featured Michael Lord, but it is expected to finally see the light of day on MTM in 1999. Michael Lord did also hook-up with the guys from White Sister in the later band Tattoo Rodeo, who followed more of a hard blues rock direction.