Organ Freeman on Their Awesome Name, New Records, & Lots of Sweat

Organ Freeman band Photo

Organ Freeman.

It’s a great band name. But, let’s get passed the initial “that’s awesome” reaction to the name … because this band is more than just a cool name.

The trio of Erik Carlson (guitar), Rob Humphreys (drums), and Trevor Steer (organ/key bass) are about as tight a unit as you can get. Their organic-centric fusion of funk, jazz, and rock is the type of toe-tapping, head bopping groove that is undeniably infectious. These guys are the real deal, and it’s only a matter of time (minutes? hours?) before they explode as one of the it-bands of the funk/jazz/jam scene.

I caught up with the band to talk about their new record (Respect My Art), touring with Umphrey’s McGee, and more as they get to jam away at The Saint in Asbury Park, NJ on the day after Thanksgiving.

First question, and it’s the obvious one — what’s the story behind the band’s name? The reference is obvious, but what is the actual origin story of the name?

Calling it an origin story makes it sound like significantly more epic of a process than it was. In reality, we were just sitting around brainstorming. It was pretty important to us to not take ourselves too seriously. There are lots of organ-based puns in the world, we just happened to find the best one.

In your bio it says when you formed the band was meant to be more of a creative outlet than a band — can you talk about this? What kind of ideas were you trying out with this band? Did some of those ideas end up becoming the impetus/backbone of the band today?

I don’t know that our process was any different then than it is now. The real difference is how much energy we were putting towards the project. For the years before we released our first record, we might have played a show every three months with no rehearsal. The ideas we came up with in that time are the first record, and absolutely continue to be the foundation upon which the rest of our progress and material is based.

When did this band go from creative outlet to an official band? And why?

I think the process of sitting down to create our first record significantly changed the way we thought about what we were doing. Since we had never really devoted much consecutive time to the project, we hadn’t had the opportunity to delve into the details of the music. When we finally stepped back to see what we had accomplished, I think we all individually realized that what we were doing warranted more effort than we had been putting in.

You dropped a new record in September — how do you feel this record stands out from the rest of your catalog? 

This time around we had much more of a specific vision and were able to identify what elements of the first record we wanted to expand upon and which we wanted to leave behind. I think the overall feel of it will be very familiar to those who listened to the first record. One of our main focuses this time around was trying to push the limits of how big of a sound we could create as just three people. There’s a lot more layering/overdubs on this record, but it is structured in such a way that we are covering most of that live.

We definitely made an effort to include more synths in this one, as I think that’s a differentiating factor of our music vs. other organ trios. Lastly, I honestly think we’re just better at writing now. There’s a lot of attention to detail in the arrangements, both in the individual sections and in the overall arc. Every part of this record was evaluated in terms of its service to the bigger picture, and we’re all proud of the results.

If someone had never heard your band before, and wanted to check out one track from the new record in order to truly get what you guys are about — what would it be and why?

I’d say “Don’t Eat Your Fingers” would be the best track to listen to for that purpose. It’s at the same time very stylistically similar to the first record while being sonically representative of the new approach that we took with this album.  At its core, it is very much an organ trio song, but it expands significantly from that concept the longer it goes on.

How much do you employ improvisation into your live sets?

We keep a pretty solid balance of improvisation to written material in the live set. It’s pretty clear from our records that our music is arranged very specifically, and for the most part that holds true for the live show, but we try to leave ourselves plenty of room to experiment within the framework we have set up for ourselves.  At the same time, you’ll never catch us doing 15-minute free-form jams because that’s not what this project is about to us.

You were just added to select dates on Umphrey’s McGee’s new tour in 2018. How cool is that? 

The most cool. I personally will be crossing a few venues off my bucket list, so I’m definitely excited about that. Also, despite the fact that we didn’t meet until much later, Umphrey’s is actually responsible for putting our music in the hands of our now management, and as a result pretty much all of the cool stuff we’ve done in the past year, so it will be great to finally spend some time with them.

For those who never have seen you perform what can they expect from you guys live?

Lots of energy. Also, sweat.

What do you have planned for the rest of 2017, and what are you most stoked for in 2018?

Currently, I’d say we’re most excited about our tour dates with Umphrey’s McGee.  As for the rest of this year, our touring schedule is going to stay pretty light, but we’re already working on writing our next release. 2018 should be a busy year.

Organ Freeman performs at The Saint in Asbury Park, NJ on Friday November 24 with Waiting on Mongo. Click here for tickets.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites