Josh Freese On The Theory Of De-Evolution

By Jared Cobb Reprinted from the September 2010 issue of DRUM! Magazine

In DRUM! Magazine’s September cover story, Josh Freese recalls drumming along to Devo’s Freedom Of Choice when he was only eight years old:

“It was a terrific record to learn to play rock and roll to,” Freese recalls of those basement Devo training sessions, “because of the simple yet fun and driving eighth-note beats. There was no jazz-fusion here, just good honest — yet quirky — new wave for me to keep time to and get a feel for things. It’s not machines, but they’re playing to a click so everything is very metronomic and tight and easy to lock in to. It became my daily workout routine.

“I didn’t have the big brother or cool older kids to turn me on to music. I kind of discovered it all on my own. Devo was something I’d hear on my crappy little pocket transistor radio while I was walking home from school. ‘Whip It’ was a huge hit and I loved it. Then I saw a picture of the band and I was like, Oh, my God, what’s wrong with these guys? It really freaked me out. Except for the singer with the glasses they all looked like the same guy. Something was off and strange and different from any other band I knew about at that point in my life.”

Time jump a decade forward and at 17 years old Freese is already a skilled pro drummer. His goofy SoCal punk band The Vandals is preparing to cut an album when they learn their small record label has coughed up enough dough to afford them a legit producer. When Freese hears it will be Devo guitarist/producer Bob Casale he turns back into the pajama-clad eight-year-old dancing around with an imaginary whip on Christmas morning.

“I was so stunned that I was going to meet one of my heroes. The running joke at the time was that not only was I going to get to hang out with Bob Casale, but he was going to have to come to the studio every day and answer all my questions.

“It’s not like I’m meeting him after a show and two seconds later he’s pushed away. I was going to get to hang out with him and play drums for him. Great! Devo wasn’t even playing at the time, but I was really excited to get to know him and to befriend him, really. Everyone in The Vandals were fans of Devo, but I was a complete fanatic.”

Despite the near ceaseless questioning and Freese’s tendency to drool in admiration, Casale and The Vandals finished the record. It went well, and Casale took from the experience an appreciation for Freese not only as an enthusiastic fan but also as a gifted and committed musician.

“So we kept in touch and eventually [Devo frontman] Mark Mothersbaugh had me come up and play some drums for stuff he was doing for Liquid Television — Pee Wee’s Playhouse and stuff like that. They called me and I was very excited.

“Then, around 1995, they called again and said they were remaking one of their songs, ‘Girl U Want,’ for this awful film Tank Girl, and asked if I wanted to play drums. I’ll never forget it. I was freaking out. Driving to the studio I was actually really afraid I was going to get in a car accident. Don’t crash the car because here’s your big chance! We did the recording and it was awesome and a lot of fun and shortly after that they called and asked me to play a Devo show for Sundance Film Festival. I was ecstatic. I played that gig and it went great, and after that I’d play occasional gigs with them. And that’s kind of how it all started.”

Indeed, it was the beginning of a long and beautiful relationship, which recently resulted in the band’s stunning new album, Something For Everybody, Devo’s first studio release in 20 long years.

But that’s not all! The September issue is packed with valuable information for all active drummers, including a blow-by-blow interview with Bill Ward about recording Black Sabbath’s historic Paranoid (complete with note-perfect transcriptions), a vintage feature on collectible drum keys, a special article on avant garde percussionist Jan Williams written by former student by Bobby Previte, reviews of Pearl’s Boom Box and Jesus Diaz Radial Edge Cajons, Korg Wavedrum, a Gretsch Catalina Birch Kit, and Paiste Alpha Brilliant Series cymbals, an interview and lesson with HellYeah’s Vinnie Paul, and profiles with Ben Horowitz of Gaslight Anthem and Johnny Kelly of Danzig.

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