Josh Freese Packs It All Into ‘Just A Minute Vol. 1’ And Vol. 2 Is In The Works (INTERVIEW)

Josh Freese is one of the most prolific drummers in music and has been for some time, working on large swaths of albums per year (including efforts from Queens of the Stone Age, Weezer, A Perfect Circle, The Replacements, and Nine Inch Nails to name only a few) and touring on a grand scale, currently with Devo, Sting, The Offspring, and more. The pandemic lockdown caused work to dry up for him, almost “overnight”, and while he adapted to working remotely on albums from his home studio, the unaccustomed quiet time also allowed him to dive into a personal project that suddenly occurred to him at the time, creating one-minute songs which he could post with little videos on Instagram. The appeal of the work soon made it a big part of his pandemic life, and he amassed forty or fifty one-minute songs. The first collection, Just a Minute Vol. 1, is out now from Loosegroove records, in both digital and hot pink vinyl formats, and Just a Minute Vol. 2 is coming up, too.

After creating these songs, and making larger videos for some, Josh Freese was back on the road, however, navigating the strange world of summer, autumn, and winter touring in 2021 and beyond. I caught up with him between a Sting tour and a tour in Europe with The Offspring to look back at this unusual and very entertaining solo work and what we can expect from Just a Minute Vol. 2. 

Hannah Means-Shannon: You’ve been touring quite a lot with Sting and have more coming up. Were there extra layers of responsibilities you had to get through in order to perform during this time? 

Josh Freese: It’s things like how much paperwork there will be, depending on the venue, or depending on the country you’re playing in. There’s having to show not only your vaccination card, but a negative Covid test within 72 hours of getting on your plane. It depends on the country, though. I went to the UK and Greece and I had to have all that stuff before I went there, but I didn’t have to have that stuff coming back in to the States. I’m about to go to France and I don’t have to show a negative test, but I have to show my card and fill out some paperwork with health information. 

HMS: If it were me, I would have anxiety that I might have gotten some small piece of information wrong, and then I wouldn’t be able to go, which would be letting down the people depending on me.

JF: Absolutely! I’m going to France, Ireland, and the UK with The Offspring, and one of the things that they want is the digital proof of vaccination, but they also want your physical one, and I don’t know if I’m allowed to laminate it. I’ve got this flimsy thing in the bottom of my backpack with all this other stuff, like bottles of water, wipes, snacks, and computers. So I got this case that headphones come in normally and I’ve got my passport and this tiny piece of paper in it, zipped up. It’s a lot. There was already a lot to keep track of and remember, and there’s even more now.

HMS: What was it like for you playing your first shows back on the road?

JF: It was in May or June of this year that I flew to New York to do something with Sting there, and it had been 14 months. That is literally the longest I haven’t been on a plane. Even as a kid or infant, I was on a plane a couple of times a year. I thought it would be great, but I got to New York and walked around Central Park, and though there were parts of it that was cool, I was surprised how after even a day, I missed my family and my dogs. I had been home so much. 

On that trip, I was gone five days, and my kids were saying, “Where’s Dad? Where’s Dad??” Before that, I’d be gone for six or seven weeks at a time. It’s been nice being home a lot and I’ve been lucky to have a second home not too far away so we could bounce around. 

HMS: There’s definitely a different vantage point on being at home now versus a couple of years ago, for me too. 

JF: I’ve been touring since I was sixteen and now I’m forty-eight. The thing about being a freelancer is that you never have to make a definitive decision about stopping or retiring. But I got a taste of it. Maybe I am old enough now not to say “yes” to everything. Right now, I’m still working pretty hard, but now I want to say “yes” to even less, even while staying creative. Maybe I don’t want to be on tour all the time? I left Nine Inch Nails in 2009 only because my wife and I were having our third kid and I needed to be home. But I’m able to make those choices more now, and family is actually with me right now in Las Vegas! I fly them to Europe sometimes and we figure out trips.

HMS: The music you’ve just released is ominously titled “Volume 1” as if there could be a lot more here. It hails from a very different time when you weren’t out touring at all. Did you plan ahead to work on a personal project during this time?

JF: No, I just started writing songs for fun. I built a studio at my house a long time ago and I always complain that I don’t have time to use it. The reason I don’t get to use it is because I’m too busy out in the “real world” working at “real studios” and doing A-list musician stuff. But I jokingly call my studio “the world’s most expensive storage unit” because we don’t have a garage, so it’s filled with bikes, skateboards, and Halloween decorations. But then, I had to stay home and my work vanished overnight. So I started doing remote recording sessions for people, which I still do, working with people in their own home studios. That’s been great. Also, form a creative standpoint of wanting to have fun, I started recording these songs.

In the beginning, I only wanted to keep them to a minute long for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to make them into little videos on my phone and stick them up on Instagram where they would just loop. The second thing is that it felt like so much less of a task or a chore to write a one-minute song. I didn’t have to have a verse, and a chorus, and a bridge, with so many lyrics. It was so much less daunting and a task I could tackle. After two or three of them, I decided to do a series. 

I’ve made solo records before, but on this one, I realized I’ll sell the same handful of records to the same handful of friends of mine whether I try to make a commercial-sounding record or not. I could do whatever the hell I wanted. Knowing that I wasn’t going to be trying to make a dime from it, and there were no guidelines or rules to it made it pure fun. 

After I’d posted four or five of these, my old friend Stone Gossard got in touch and said, “Hey, I’m rebooting Loosegroove Records. Let’s put this thing out!” He guessed that I had a bunch of the one-minute songs lying around, and I did have a ton. He didn’t give me any guidelines. He wanted it to be just be very me. At the time I had 40 or 50 songs, and I suggested we do 40, but he suggested we do a volume one and a volume two and space them out. So we’re doing a limited run of vinyl, and it’s available digitally.

HMS: The vinyl is a really great addition to the release. The artwork for it is really fun. 

JF: It’s a thing to hold, like the old days. The artwork looks cool when it’s big. The artwork is a collage of stuff that I’ve done and photos that I’ve taken. I had Regan Hagar [at Loosegroove Records] do the layout for it. The picture on the front is this weird doll that I have.

HMS: You have that doll in your house? That’s disturbing!

JF: I do! It’s hanging in my recording studio. I took a photo of it and on an iPad, I painted on the jutting eyebrows. I sent that to Regan, a photo of a hotel, and some collages I’d done. He sent it back and right away, I said “That looks great!” And that was it. There were cool little things, like I did some defacing of a photo of a photo of Michael Jackson holding Bubbles the Chimp that’s on the back of the album. 

HMS: Can you give us some hints about the artwork for Vol. 2?

JF: All the artwork for the second volume ties in with the artwork for the first volume, but it’s totally different. It has something to do with that mask again but the first album is really colorful whereas the second one is really stark and simpler. 

HMS: How frequently were you making these songs, and did that have a positive impact on your life at the time?

JF: Oh, yes, it was a hundred percent therapeutic. I love making something out of nothing. It’s fun. There was a time early-on when I was recording the songs to stick them up on Instagram, I was in my studio and I was really enjoying it. I chuckled to myself and realized it was a Tuesday morning at 10:30AM and I was in this room loving what I was doing by myself. 

I used to make fun of people on social media who would take a picture of themselves working out at the gym and would hashtag “Blessed!”, or “The Dream”, or “The Journey is the Destination!” But I had to stop and say, “I now think I know what people were talking about when they write those things. Because if nothing more transpires from this, it won’t matter to me.” At that time and place, I was enjoying it so much, that was what it was about. 

HMS: You seem like someone who has always seen the funny side of music and seen the humor in things. These songs, and even what they are about, introduce a lot of humor. Was that liberating?

JF: This record, and the next record, have two different sides for me. There are songs that are obviously silly and funny, like the song about my poodles, “Wanda Is White”. Or poking fun at a John Mayer title with “Your Body Is a Nightmare”, or singing about Nicholas Cage and Vincent Neil day-drinking in Vegas and getting into a fight, “Headlock Headlock Nicholas Cage”. But some have a humorous tone to them, but as you listen to them, you think, “Maybe this is serious”. 

A friend game me a song title during the pandemic, when I said, “You can’t get married or have a funeral right now.” And He said, “I have a title for you, ‘I Can’t Get Married, I Can’t Get Buried.’” So I wrote a song and the lyrics aren’t really supposed to be funny. It’s serious even though the vocals are sped up and make me sound a little like I’m on helium. That may be to mask the seriousness of it. There are a lot of other songs there that are actually a little serious to me. 

HMS: Will there be the same mix of seriousness and humor on the second volume?

JF: On the next record, there’s a mixture personal and serious songs, but there’s also funny stupid shit. There’s one I really love called “Somehow I Like Lou Reed.” It’s funny but it’s also truthful. I’m saying, “I don’t know how I like him, but I like him. I know there are plenty of full-of-shit things about him, but god, he’s a genius! Is he full of shit, or is he a genius? I think he might be both! I’m really confused.” 

The second record is actually more of a Rocker record, a little more Punk Rock than the first one. I had some trouble picking which songs should go on the first one versus the second one, because I didn’t want to front-load my favorites. I’ve been jokingly referring to the second record as “The Kill Bill 2 of sequel records” because I didn’t give all the good songs on the first one. There are some songs on the second record that I can’t wait to make the videos for. There are definitely some songs on there that I’m really proud of. 

Photo credit: Michael Goulding

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