Freelance Whales

Freelance Whales cut their teeth playing jaunty pop music on the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Recently, the Metropolitan Transit Authority granted the band a license to play in subway stations as an official member of Music Under New York, complete with banner. We spoke to one of the band’s multi-instrumentalists, Jake Hyman, about the differences between street and tunnel playing.

TMN: Tell us about your subway license. What’s better, playing the subways or busking on the street?

Jake Hyman: The Music Under New York award was quite an honor. We get to be those guys with the big black and yellow banner behind them playing in the most crowded stations, being ignored by millions of commuters, not just the hundreds we get when we play on Bedford Avenue. As a group I think we find playing on the streets and subways to be a very different experience than playing a traditional show.

TMN: How so?

JH: The reactions we get on the street are very real, very ethereal. If people don’t like it or they’re too busy, they move on. If they do like it they smile, they dance, they clap (and give us money). But either way everyone’s on the same page. The feedback is immediate and unavoidable.

TMN: You closed down Bedford Avenue during one street show. Is that your turf now? Do street and subway musicians fight for the best spots?

JH: I wish we could call it our turf! The truth is we just sort of wander until we find a good spot. Lately we’ve taken to playing both on Bedford Ave and down in the L-train station when there isn’t another band around. Other musicians have been really friendly about sharing stations with us. As long as you ask and don’t just start encroaching on someone’s livelihood, nothing gets contentious.

TMN: You’re a subway rider, what makes you irrationally angry?

JH: When people don’t wait for me to exit the train before they push their way on—it takes every ounce of strength not to strangle them. Even just seeing someone do that when I’m not involved gets me, too. I’ve verbally accosted more than one person about it (much to the chagrin of my girlfriend) and never been satisfied with an apology.

TMN: How does the band’s creative preparation begin?

JH: Before shows we get together and do our own form of meditation. We get into a circle and close our eyes and hold hands and do some chanting and harmonizing. To me it feels like we’re just sort of putting ourselves in a bubble together and really connecting. It really helps to focus and relax us; our diverse instrument setup at traditional venues can get pretty stressful and hectic.

TMN: What’s something you’re not good at but wish you were?

JH: Musically? I’m a horrible lyricist. As a lifetime choir singer I can come up with melodies and harmonies like it’s my job…which it sort of is. But I have the lyrical prowess of a monkey. Non-musically? I wish I were good at a sport. Not just casually good, but had some sort of natural aptitude for applying myself to soccer or hockey. My dad and I used to play sports constantly and I used to be in all the youth leagues (though I wasn’t very good), but around the time I got my first drum set I stopped playing sports altogether.

Hyman's guitarTMN: What is your favorite object in your office?

JH: I’m a writer all day, every day, so I get to sit around and type stuff. In between paragraphs and while I’m doing research, I love to grab my guitar and just noodle around for a while. I’m a drummer through and through, but I can’t help but try to practice something else for a while to remind me why exactly it is that I stick to the drums.

TMN: What’s next for Freelance Whales?

JH: Well, recently we put out our first record, Weathervanes. It’s been a long road to get it heard, get it up on iTunes, and make it accessible to everyone that wants it, and we’re going to really be playing hard to support the record at a bunch of CMJ shows this year. Hopefully a tour is not too far off. Of course, we’re going to keep playing on the subways and streets, but I’m excited that we can start to ramp up the number of proper shows we’re playing, as well.

TMN Editor Mike Deri Smith is no gourmet, he just has an abnormally large stomach. He lives in London. More by Mike Deri Smith

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