Q&A: Freshkills Frontman Zachary Lipez On Lounge Singers, LBJ, And The Landfill That Inspired His Band's Name

Categories: Interviews

Gentrified Brooklyn can be a rough place for the struggling artiste, what with ever-ballooning rent prices, subway breakdowns, and feeling of being in a constant state of catching up. But all three of those basic roadblocks can be an inspiring launching pad too—you've got to work hard to make the bills, forcing you to be even more laser-focused when you've got the time to create; and if the subway's down, you can walk off the cheap beer from the night before.

Freshkills have operated in this milieu since forming about six years ago, and the result is a fevered, anxious, and refreshingly crisp, chiseled production, to refine/refract their frenetic live show. Hence, they've been able to avoid another frequent gentrified Brooklyn malady—indie rock weeniness. Their music is neither a synth-layered fey-wave nor tossed-off beer-punk; instead, they combine horn-rimmed wisdom with post-punk muscle.

Their latest, Raise Up the Sheets (Bat Rabies Alert/The End Records) is out next week—snag an MP3 from it below, and read on for lead singer Zachary Lipez's thoughts on landfills, lounge singers, and making the trek to South By Southwest.

Download: Freshkills, "New Folk Songs For New Buildings"

So, are any of you actually from Staten Island? And/or have you hung
out at the Fresh Kills landfill?

None of us are from Staten Island, but I have made a lot of drinks for people from Staten Island. I believe all of us have received summons from Staten Islanders at some point also. After we'd been around for a couple of years, we received an email from the Fresh Kills Park's people. We were like "fuuuuck... really?!" We're going to have to change our name!" But it turned out they just wanted to invite us on a tour.

How did you hook up with Jim Sclavunos, and how was it working with
him? Is he still in the Bad Seeds and/or Grinderman?

We knew Jim mainly from the drummer of Bellmer Dolls being my old roommate. His wife also did publicity for our UK tour, so I was pretty comfortable reaching out/pleading with him to produce our record. His mom lives in NYC, so whenever he was in town to do some grouting around her house and whatnot, we'd record songs.

When I try to tell folks about how I think you sound, I start dropping
names like Volcano Suns or Vertigo, and I get the usual bent lip/
scrunched forehead looks. So then I say, "Well, Pissed Jeans maybe," and then I instantly realize my mistake. (Nothing against Pissed Jeans.)

Yeah. You're old. I have the same problem. No one wants to hear about how Vic Godard influenced my lyrics. We've actually gotten the Volcano Suns comparison before. The reviewer said something along the lines of "like Volcano Suns, I imagine Freshkills will also be unjustly forgotten..."

Though from what I've heard of the latest album, Raise Up the Sheets, and from your 2008 self-titled second album, your sound has grown more melodic, kind of even diamond-cut on the guitar edges, and there's more clarity in the vocals (not as much guttural wailing). I guess that's what happens when you play more, get tighter, maybe get tired of wailing all the time...

I didn't even have the Jawbreaker throat surgery excuse! I think one thing that happened is that we just wanted to concentrate on other music we loved, besides Drive Like Jehu and other post hardcore hoo-haw. It's not like we were going for Nillson (though that would be wonderful) as much as we stopped excising parts that were "too poppy." The Clash and straight-up goth loomed large in our thinking. At least mine. I maybe didn't ask what the other guys were up to.

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