Big Freedia on whether stage fright is still a concern: "No. Hell, no. I own the stage now"
Big Freedia (due this Saturday, November 23, at the Bluebird Theater) is the stage name of Freddie Ross, who began performing in his home town of New Orleans as a backup dancer and singer for Katey Red, a local drag queen who performed bounce music. Nicknamed "Freedia" by a friend, Ross created a stage persona appropriately dramatic and super-hero-esque -- not unlike that of Bootsy Collins, who crafted his own inimitable performance style.
By 1999, Ross was putting out music as Big Freedia and became a noteworthy bounce artist -- though some refer to the specific style as "sissy bounce," a distinction that Ross doesn't see as necessary. Big Freedia is a powerfully compelling and visceral live act, and one of the most charismatic gender-bending figures in music since David Bowie.
Anyone who has seen the act live can tell you it's one of a kind and difficult to convey, other than to say it is visceral, inviting and a musically alchemical combination of dub, hip-hop, soul, modern experimental electronic music, punk and whatever else inspired Freedia at the moment. Whatever it is, it is a sonically rich and inspiring experience.
A bit of a legend in certain circles of dance and experimental electronic music for more than a decade, Big Freedia has recently reached wide audiences through connections with the jam band Galactic, a recent summer tour with the Postal Service, and Freedia also set a world record for twerking. We recently had the opportunity to speak with the gracious Ross about the inclusive nature of bounce, setting that world record and the roots of an interior-design career.
Westword: You've spoken about how you've been inspired by punk and electronic music, as well as what some people might assume inspired your work. Has that been part of your experience with music from early on?
Big Freedia: You know, everything was playing in my house growing up and in the neighborhood. A little bit of everybody contributed to my musical vocabulary and catalogue of things I listened to. Really no limits. It would have to be something weird to the ears so that the ears couldn't take it.
You were one of the first people to come back into New Orleans to play music at Caesar's for "FEMA Fridays." Why was that important for you to come back early on?
To entertain people and to make people happy. People were going through a lot of stuff at the time. I was trying to bring the community back together, and bounce music is one of the ways, one of the first steps, in bringing people back together.
Lately you've been releasing singles. Do you feel that format suits the kind of music you're making, better than releasing a more traditional album?
Well, it has been that way for a while just me doing it myself or whatever. But all of that is changing now. A new album is on the way; should be dropping first quarter of 2014.
You did some work with Galactic. How did you get connected with those guys?
Ben [Ellman] in the group reached out to me, and we did a few collaborations in New Orleans, and we started working together, and have been ever since. They love me as an artist, and they're friends of mine, as well.
How did you coax yourself into overcoming stage fright?
I just kept saying to myself, "Is this something you want to happen? You know you want to do it, so you're definitely going to have to get over this. And you're not going to be able last if you keep on throwing up." So I had to keep on telling that to myself.
Is that something you have to do to this day?
No. Hell, no. I own it. I own the stage now.