Robbie Baldock interviews Chris Dedrick about the first new Free Design album to appear for nearly 30 years, Cosmic Peekaboo. It was conducted over February and March 2001
MAKING COSMIC PEEKABOO
Robbie: Congratulations on the new album! In many ways it’s as though the last 30 years never happened: you all still sound so beautiful singing together. Can you tell me a little about the processes which led to you deciding to bring the Free Design back together to record this new album?
Chris: The event that brought my thoughts about the Free Design out of “isn’t it great that the old albums are available on CD” into “let’s do a new recording” was the Caroline Now project. A specific opportunity to do just one song seemed possible, even with everyone’s busy lives.
Robbie: Were Bruce, Sandy and Ellen as aware as you were about the renewal of interest in the band over the last few years?
Chris: I kept them informed of whatever I became aware of.
Robbie: How did they feel about being asked to take part in recording a new Free Design album?
Chris: Bruce was interested, especially if he could be included as a songwriter. Sandy was very keen; she just loves to sing. Ellen found time for the “Endless Harmony” session, but opted out for the new album.
Robbie: Did you record the album in a similar way to the original albums?
Chris: We recorded in my studio, not so differently than in the old days – except we weren’t always able to perform at the same time.
Robbie: How easy was it singing together again in the studio after such a long time?
Chris: Over the years Sandy and I have had ample opportunities to record together with the Star-Scape Singers, and the vocal connection for us was easy. It was more difficult with Bruce whose musical tastes and inclinations have always been somewhat different from mine. I’m glad (and I think he is too) that we pulled it together for this project, after not having him in the group for the last two albums of the 70’s.
Robbie: You mention in the “foreword” to the album that you were able to get your original bass player Tom Szczesniak back to play. I don’t recall this name – did he play on many of the original Free Design albums?
Chris: I met Tom in the AirForce Band in Washington, D.C. He played on some cuts on the One By One and There Is a Song albums. He did a lot of live concerts with us in the early 70’s. He is a very successful writer/player here in Toronto.
Robbie: Apart from Tom’s sons (who also play on the album), how did you go about recruiting the other musicians?
Chris: These are people who play on many of my sessions for film scores and record dates.
Robbie: Were there many songs which didn’t make it to the final album? I only ask because I read in another interview with you that you had recorded a track called “Programmed to Self Destruct” which isn’t on the album.
Chris: The folks at Marina felt that that number didn’t fit in with the others. I have other plans for it. There is one other song that falls into the same category; it’s called “Love Hangs In The Balance”. Stay tuned.
Robbie: Since this interview is primarily about the new album, I’d like to go through the album with you track by track.
This almost sounds like a song you might have written as a kind of “good to see you again” to Bruce and Sandy. Would that be a fair assumption?
Chris: That interpretation could certainly be included in the overall meaning that the song has for me. It is inspired by the eyes of the young and has to do with the awakening to a recognition of a timeless connection and the priceless value of the present moment together.
Robbie: What is the significance of the phrase “Cosmic Peekaboo”? For me it conjures up an image of a group of people who feel they share some sort of cosmic/karmic connection but who only fleetingly get to see or spend time with each other.
Chris: Yes and the idea that we only get fleeting glimpses of our true identity.
Robbie: 2. Younger Son
One of two songs on the album which seem to be about loss – or perhaps in this case more a fond looking back to an earlier time, namely the time when you were recording your first albums.
Chris: Yes, specifically the consideration of how the early part of my life was a creative force in defining who I am now, and yet is not who I am now.
Robbie: You mention someone called “Wo” in this song – who is that?
Chris: “Wo” is my second cousin, Bradley, same age as my younger brother Jason (“Woody”). They were “Wo & Woody” and had their own little theme song when we were first the Free Design. 3. McCarran Airport
Robbie: The intro on this song is the one of a few examples on the album where some quite unusual instrumentation is featured. I’m guessing this marks the arrival of Rebecca Pellett’s keyboard playing.
Chris: Yes, she came up with interesting sounds to go along with the guitars and brushes on snare. I had recorded a fiddle player on this song, but eventually the feeling was that it made the song too “country”. Anyway Bruce hated the fiddle!
Robbie: One aspect of this song which is perhaps more characteristic of many Free Design songs, though, is the contrast between a superficially positive sounding arrangement and quite different sentiments being expressed in the lyrics. I notice that it was written by Bruce – is there more to this song than just a having had a particularly bad losing streak in Las Vegas at one time?!
Chris: Yes, it’s definitely about more than losing money. 4. Destiny
Robbie: Would I be right in thinking this lovely song is about your wife Moira?
Chris: Yes. It’s also been known as “Song of Blue”, the color of devotion. 5. Springtime
Robbie: Bruce’s second contribution to the album – I think I am right in saying that this is the first time we hear Rebecca’s solo voice on the album. While she may not have quite that distinctive Dedrick sound she certainly does have a very sweet voice and I think fits in really well.
Chris: Actually, my first impression of her voice was that it reminded me very much of my sister Stefanie when she was a teenager.
Robbie: How did she become involved?
Chris: Becca came to work here at Christopher Dedrick Productions two summers ago as an assistant and all-purpose helper. Her talents and the experience she was getting soon led her into doing some pretty high-profile performance and technical jobs on some of the scores I was writing. We even sang together on many cues for one tv series, and the sound was reminiscent at times of the Free Design. When Ellen was not available for this album, my production decision to have Becca sing was not a difficult one: was her sound compatible with the Free Design palette? Yes. Would the record be enhanced musically? Yes. 6. Listen
Robbie: This is a very abstract song with some very delicate and complex lines. In fact the vocal lines seem to follow the instrumental lines even more closely than they often do on other Free Design songs (especially that of the piano). Can you tell me a little about what inspired the lyrics and the arrangement for this unusual song – oh and the unusual flugelhorn playing!
Chris: The inspiration for this one was as abstract as the song itself. It really just “happened” out of a moment of hearing/feeling/writing. 7. The Hook
Robbie: I have to confess I find this song a little corny but I suspect it was supposed to be a little tongue in cheek! I gather you’re not too impressed with the current crop of recording artists who make music by rehashing other people’s music!
Chris: This song is ironic in that it is more about audiences than it is about recording artists. It’s the marketing and the lack of education/sensitivity of the “average” buyer that sponsors mediocrity, and creates the mentality that is more at home with rehashed, formulaic approaches than with raw inspiration in the hands of technically proficient artists. In spite of that, there are countless recording artists, some even well-known, who are doing great things today!
Robbie: I think probably more than 90% of the music most people listen to these days is utter rubbish but there is clearly a place for technology in music – including sampling. Would you agree with this or do you think that people who want to make records should spend more time learning how to play their instruments and learning some compositional skills?
Chris: There’s nothing right or wrong here. It’s all about intention, honesty, and realness. Within those (self-imposed, but universally felt) standards, I guess you can do anything.
Robbie: Griffin Dedrick gets the credit on this track for giving a guitar some grief(!) – am I right in thinking that he’s your nephew?
Robbie: Does he play in a band?
Chris: He seems to be perpetually putting together a band. He can really play, and writes some interesting things. 8. Music Room
Robbie: I couldn’t decide whether this song is about pure musical inspiration or about a particular person.
Chris: It springs from a particular person, as does “Peekaboo”, one of the great loves of my life: my granddaughter Taylor. 9. The Only Treasure
Robbie: I have to say I found this song quite hard to understand. On the surface it could be seen as “just another song about love” but there are many other, quite sombre, feelings expressed in the song.
Chris: Guess I’m just getting to that point in life where temporal really is temporal. 10. Day Breaks
Robbie: I was greatly saddened when I saw that the album is dedicated to the memory of your sister Stefanie and even more moved when I heard this song which I gather you and Bruce wrote for her. If it’s not too painful, can you tell me how she died and how long it was before you and Bruce felt able to put your feelings into words?
Chris: She died on April 5th, 1999 after many months battle with ALS. At the time of her death I was in the midst of writing a choral piece called “Joysounds”, which I dedicated to her. It was a year later when Bruce brought me the beginnings of Day Breaks, basically the first verse and a few more words. I finished lyrics for more verses and wrote the chorus, did the arrangement for piano, violin, cello and voices – later wrote the solo cello intro.
Robbie: It must have been a very difficult song to sing
Chris: It’s strange how it is possible to sing such a song, even listen to it back as if you were someone else. The full feeling only enters in special moments of congruence. 11. Perfect Love
Robbie: A suitably uplifting end to the album after the sadness of Day Breaks, this has quite an unusual almost “anthemic” sound.
Chris: That’s what I was hoping. After Peekaboo
Robbie: What sort of reactions have you been getting from people who have heard some or all of the album?
Chris: So far very positive, both personally and in print. Hope it stays that way. But really, if you are doing it only for compliments, it’ll never get done. Future Plans
Robbie: Are you planning to release any singles from the album?
Chris: I don’t know.
Robbie: I guess the obvious questions fans would want me to ask you at this point are:
(a) are you planning to do any live performances to support the album?
Chris: Not at this point.
Robbie: (b) Do you think you might be tempted to make another Free Design album at some point in the future?! Personally, I think you should certainly have a go at making a hit single for 2002!
Chris: I agree.
Robbie: Well, thank you Chris once again for sparing the time to answer my questions. I hope the album’s a great success.
Chris: Your interest and good wishes are really valuable and appreciated. Thank you!
This interview © Robbie Baldock/Chris Dedrick 2001.