FROM their eponymous Krautrock debut album in 2012, right through to the futuristic punk of 2018’s Beyond XXXL, Canadian duo Freak Heat Waves have consistently churned out unpredictable, bold and wildly different albums.
Originally formed more than a decade ago with bassist James Twiddy as the third member before merging into the current incarnation consisting of just Steven Lind and Thomas Di Ninno, Freak Heat Waves have developed and explored various aspects of their sound over the years. They’ve evolved from their art-rock origins, acquiring accolades in the ambient and post-punk spheres along the way; whilst their most recent release, Zap The Planet, sees them moving into psychedelic electronica with mesmerising effect.
Refined hypnotic blends of dark baritone vocals, precise drum machines and chilled synths are the cornerstones of this new album, a review of which you can read here.
After having been completely captivated by Zap The Planet, we managed to catch up with Freak Heat Waves’ Steven Lind to chat a bit about the album, the pair’s ‘freak’ status, climate change and more.
BACKSEAT MAFIA: I’m sure that you’ve been asked this question before, but your answer has somehow disappeared into the ether. What inspired the name Freak Heat Waves?
STEVEN LIND, FREAK HEAT WAVES: We liked the name because it sounded both fun and ominous, inspired by global warming.
It feels logical to ask how concerned you are about global warming, then?
When we named our band ten years ago we were definitely aware and concerned about global warming; however, I’ll admit it didn’t seem as pressing of an issue at the time as it does today. It’s a tangible reality today more than it is an ominous dystopian sci-fi future. I think it makes sense that we should all be concerned about it and do what we can to reckon with it as soon as possible.
You also refer to yourselves as ‘The Freaks’. Would you say that not taking yourselves too seriously and having a sense of humour is important to you?
Ya for sure, we always want to have fun. I think there has always been an element of absurdity in our music and artwork. When we are writing and recording things turn out the best when we are laughing and not taking things too seriously. Some of our stuff can sound doomy but we’re having fun with it, we’re not brooding.
So overall, how do you feel about this portrayal as freaks?
We embrace the freak label. We’re not exactly the textbook freaky, trippy characters but we’ve always kind of identified as outsiders.
We come from a small conservative town and I think early on we recognized the importance of breaking from the norms and doing things our own way, leaning into our own brand of freakiness.
Musically we always try to create something unique and exciting. This doesn’t always mean trippy psych music; it can be anything. When I think of my favorite artists in any medium they are people who confidently went their own way and created something unique, elevating over everything else to find freedom through art. I think that’s awesome. Freedom is freaky.
Freak Heat Waves has been making music for a decade now. How would you say your music has evolved over the past ten years?
I think the biggest evolutions have been due to increased independence. We keep increasing our ability to record ourselves and the more control we have the more we are satisfied with the result. With the latest two records it has just been Thomas and I writing and performing all the music; I think that has enabled us to really experiment and develop a sound more unique to us.
You’ve released three tracks from your upcoming album, Zap The Planet, and they already sound unique and different to anything from your last album, Beyond XXXL. Is this change in sound a conscious choice or is it something that happens naturally?
A bit of both. The sound of Beyond XXXL was a result of a lot of experimentation, but there was definitely a conscious decision to put a similar treatment on all the songs and create that kind of gross alien sound. We knew that Zap wasn’t going to sound anything like Beyond XXXL, because we did that already and wanted to try something new. We didn’t consciously set out to do one thing in particular but I think after the maximal approach of Beyond XXXL we were more interested in trying out something more minimal with Zap.
Were there any key musical influences on Zap The Planet or any events that changed the course of this album?
There were some personal life events that occurred in the time between these records that influenced some of the writing. I think Zap is lyrically a lot more personal than anything we’ve released before because of that. Additionally Thomas and I started living in different cities, so we approached writing in some new ways. Musically we were inspired to dive deeper into sampling and electronic music more so than we had in the past.
Was there any particular reason for the decision to focus on the electronic side of your music more?
We’ve had electronic elements on all our records, synths and drum machines, often mixed in amongst the guitar/bass/drums live band sound that was the foundation of the band. Over time we’ve gravitated away from the live band sound towards a primarily studio sound. I think the main inspiration for that is that it gives us the ability to experiment with a variety of sounds and not be limited to sounding like a punk band; not that that is bad, but it just isn’t where our interests are at the moment.
A large part of the album was created with you and Thomas on the opposite coasts of Canada. How did this writing process work on Zap The Planet?
We started to work on ideas separately and then we emailed each other a lot of demos and started collaborating and bouncing ideas back and forth.
Were there any positives that came from recording and creating music with the two of you in separate locations?
Yes, so we started to work on the album separately and then met up for about a month in Victoria to do most of the final recording and then finished the vocals and mixing of the album at a distance. I think the main positive to this was that we could each take a lot of time to work out any idea we had on our own time, where previously we would both be in the room for everything.
The first single that you released from Zap The Planet was “Dripping Visions”. What was the reasoning behind releasing that one first?
The main reason that was the first single was because Cole picked that song for his video; we ended up really liking the video and thought it would be a great way to announce the record.
The bizarre and trippy music video for “Dripping Visions” was created by Cole Crush and Jason Harvey. How much influence did you have in the video’s creation and in deciding what would feature in it?
We actually had zero influence on the video; it was all their interpretation of the song. We are happy with how it turned out, it was a cool surprise to us.
The album art for Zap The Planet is also brilliantly bizarre and looks like a stoned dinosaur trying to lick Elvis as you two and extras from Lord Of The Rings look on, all while stood on a slowly deflating beach ball. What was the thought process behind it?
I like that interpretation! Again we wanted something a bit absurd and funny. We wanted it to look kind of lowbrow and DIY; we were really inspired by the art of bootleg vinyl. The deflating sphere is the planet. The dinosaur is symbol of extinction, Elvis is a symbol of baby boomer values; the brainwashed baby with a cellphone is a symbol of 21st-century technoculture; the deconstructed Statue of Liberty with dollar-sign eyes is a symbol of the neo-liberal deception of freedom; the alien Flintstone barbarian is a symbol that we aren’t entitled to this planet – we are just the ones who are here right now. And we are on there too because we are a part of all of that. And it’s our record.
So would you say that there is a political aspect to Zap The Planet?
I would say predominantly the album is pretty apolitical. The main lyrical themes are personal ones, closer to the diary zone in comparison to the more political and abstract lyrics we’ve had on our previous records. Obviously calling the album ‘Freak Heat Waves Zap The Planet‘ is a pretty direct allusion to the climate crisis, but I don’t necessarily characterize this as much of a political statement.
It’s the political equivalent to a protest sign that says ‘the climate crisis is real’. It’s a statement that affirms an observational reality: climate change is real and its effects on the planet are real. This shouldn’t be considered to be much of a political statement, it’s empirical, it’s bipartisan.
And the album name itself, Zap The Planet, how did you come up with that?
Zap The Planet comes from a lyric in the song “I’m Zapped”, off the record. The song explores the ways that one could feel personally depleted (zapped) and also suggests that we are zapping the planet. We thought Freak Heat Waves Zap The Planet was a good tie-in with the band name and an important reminder.
What are your personal favourite songs on the album and why?
My favourite track might be “I’m Zapped”, because it was the first one that kind of clicked for me when we were recording.
In the past you’ve had some intense touring schedules. With live performances on-hold, what do you miss most about touring?
It’s great to go all over the world and see the friends we only get to see when we are on tour. Also we get to hang out with each other a lot which is hard to do these days now that we live so far apart.
Also, I miss the food! It’s the different regional food we get everywhere we go. We always try to get tipped to good local spots. We like starting the day at a diner and then usually find some good late-night food after the show.
Are there any performances or venues from past tours that stand out more than most?
We love playing Victoria because we have never had a bad show there; people have been super supportive to us since day one, they really show up and make the show feel special. We don’t have a connection quite like that anywhere else, so we always look forward to that. We also like when we get to play shows with our friends, those are always the best nights. We often recall a show we played with New Fries and Cindy Lee in Toronto as being one of the best shows we’ve ever played.
Looking ahead, do you have plans to begin touring again or releasing more music?
The touring thing is completely unknowable right now; we would love to get out there perform this new record when we have the chance. We’re always working on new music but we have no definitive plans in the works for another release.
And finally, what music have you been listening to recently that you would like to recommend?
We’ve been making some playlists together and sharing them on our Spotify. Lots of good stuff in there. Also we love the new New Fries record!
Some of the big artists we love are Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Kraftwerk, Sly Stone, Yoko Ono, Prince, Bee Gees, Flying Lizards, Astrud Gilberto, Scott Walker, Serge Gainsbourg, Alan Vega/Suicide, Funkadelic, Nina Simone, Bob Marley, Leonard Cohen, Brian Eno, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, The Kinks, Scientist, The Beach Boys, Alice Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lee Hazelwood, John Lennon, Lynsey de Paul, Captain Beefheart, Chic, Sister Sledge, Diana Ross, David Bowie, Diana Ross, Chrome, Keith Hudson … so many more!
Steven, thank you.
Freak Heat Waves’ latest album Zap The Planet is out now via Telephone Explosion. Order your copy at Bandcamp, here.