FREEDOM OR DEATH
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FREEDOM OR DEATH

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | INDIE
Band Alternative Folk

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FREEDOM OR DEATH
Quelle étrange chose que ce duo devenu quatuor, de Toronto, et dont les morceaux flirtent parfois avec une emphase pop qui rappelle celle, certes pas dégueulasse, des premiers Coldplay. Sauf que sous la surface, rutilante et garantie FM, la pop des Canadiens est bien plus complexe, métissée et indéfinissable qu’il n’y paraît : de la pop ou de la soul ou de l’électro ou du r’n’b, mains dans les mains, de petites merveilles d’écriture délicate, épiques en douceurs, des odes au printemps qui vient, produites dans un pointillisme des moyens et une variété des effets qui pourrait faire couler beaucoup d’encre, évacuer quelques cumulonimbus et parler à des milliers d’âmes. Un album arrive en avril, le temps devrait alors être au beau.
MySpace - LES IN ROCKS - FRANCE


* The Wall Street Journal

* MUSIC
* MARCH 15, 2011

Rock & Pop Music
Promoters Turned Performers
By JIM FUSILLI

Toronto

Making the kind of decision that reveals its full merit only in hindsight, Steve Fernandez and Steve Clarke chose to leave cushy jobs in the music business to, of all things, start a band. As one of the 2,000 acts in Austin, Texas, this week for the 25th annual South by Southwest Music Festival, Freedom or Death will discover how far it's progressed.

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Joe Fuda

The electric-folk group Freedom or Death plays SXSW this week.
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As a national marketing manager for Sony Music in Canada, Mr. Fernandez was responsible for promoting artists such as John Legend, Prince, Justin Timberlake and the Wu Tang Clan. He studied classical piano at the University of Toronto as a child and considered a career in medicine. Instead, he majored in television and radio at Ryerson University. An internship in Sony's Toronto office led to a full-time post.

Mr. Clarke, who performs as Sway, was in charge of Sony's street-level marketing. He reported to Mr. Fernandez and didn't much care for him. "I thought he was cocky," Mr. Clarke recalled.

Mr. Clarke grew up in public housing in Toronto. "My thing was I wanted to be a rapper, but my parents wanted me to finish school," he said. "I studied computer networks." An internship at a local rock and pop radio station kept him close to music, but not close enough. "It was all technical stuff. I sat in front of a computer from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m."

In 2006, Messrs. Fernandez and Clarke traveled to the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City to scout talent for Sony. They stayed at the posh Tribeca Grand Hotel, one of the many perks to which they'd become accustomed on the business side.

"You couldn't believe the free tickets and the CDs," Mr. Fernandez, 37, said. "My friends could see any concert they wanted."

"I was the coolest dude on the block," Mr. Clarke, 30, added. "I had a company vehicle, I was meeting artists. I was a rock star to my friends."
Tune In

Listen to a clip from Freedom or Death's self-titled debut:

* This Crowded Room

But in 2007, Mr. Fernandez visited Nepal. "I saw people with nothing who were ecstatic. I saw that I didn't need a six-figure salary to be ecstatic." Two years later, he left Sony. "I lost that love of music. It was an assignment. It lost its luster."

Mr. Clarke decided to depart, too. He went to Germany while Mr. Fernandez took a job in real estate. A year passed before they decided to work together again, this time as musicians.

"When he said he wanted to make a record, I thought it was weird," said Mr. Clarke, who'd moved back to Ontario and started a band. "I was apprehensive. I didn't know if it was a fly-by-night decision."

Messrs. Fernandez and Clarke decided they'd be a self-contained unit, using Justin Vernon's Bon Iver solo studio project as a model. But the duo needed to bone up on their digital-recording capabilities. "I have an iMac," Mr. Fernandez said, "but I had no idea how to produce. I read up until my eyes were red. . . . In a few months, we were producing full orchestral pieces."

Freedom or Death's debut disc, a self-titled five-song EP, declared the group's burgeoning strengths—melody, an affinity for space in the arrangements, Mr. Clarke's voice, Mr. Fernandez's easy way with keyboards. But though the musicians brand themselves an electro-folk group, their second release included covers of songs by Jay-Z, Nas and others, introducing Mr. Clarke's rapping amid Mr. Fernandez's lush arrangements.

Some have criticized the group for lacking a signature sound. "That's the freedom or death part," Mr. Fernandez replied. "We picked that name for a reason. It's on our own terms. Who says things have to be genre-based?" He cited Gorillaz and LCD Soundsystem as bands that defy easy categorizing.

"We'll always push the music to be a little abnormal, to push our own relevance," Mr. Clarke said. Their next album, "Ego," which will be released in late April, updates 1970s Britpop and is another step in the group's evolution.

On stage, Freedom or Death is a quartet with Mr. Clarke out front, supported by Adam Doige, Ryan Mercier and Dan Miller. To keep focused on writing and producing, Mr. Fernandez doesn't perform with the group, but he'll be at SXSW along with their manager. To preserve their budget, all six men associated with Freedom or Death will share a single motel room. They'll fly in and out of Dallas, remaining until Monday to avoid a weekend surcharge; that will save them $2,000.

Mr. Fernandez said that given the changes in the music industry, having once been a part of the marketing machine at a major label no longer helps much. "We're trying to unlearn 90% of what we knew. Now it's not about sales or radio. It's about building a fan base. Check Facebook, check Twitter. Do we have new followers?"

Said Mr. Clarke, "You've got to take more chances, because there's no formula."

"I have an 8-month-old son, a wife, a mortgage," said Mr. Fernandez. "Knowing what I know, I must be insane. Or completely rational in my belief in our music."

Mr. Fusilli is the Journal's rock and pop music critic. Email him at jfusilli@wsj.com or follow him on Twitter: @wsjrock. - WALL STREET JOURNAL


Conceived during a recent trip to New York, this version of the Nas-Lauryn Hill classic “If I Ruled the World” by the Toronto duo of Steve Fernandez and Sway is less a cover than a wildly inventive homage. Pairing the lyrics to the chorus with a set of completely rewritten verses, this is a hip-hop tribute that has far more in common with the Church’s “Under the Milky Way” than anything else. Add in synth lines that recall the celestial keyboard bursts on Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and you’ve got something that pulls off the rare feat of honouring the spirit of the original while discarding most of its corporeal parts. - TORONTO STAR


It’s funny sometimes what you’ll find in your own backyard. It’s no secret to the world that Toronto is chock full of sublimely talented indie rockers, folk heroes, and electro skids, but every once in a while something new comes along that really peaks your interest.

Freedom Or Death is a mixing bowl of not just Toronto’s but the world’s best, and they come with their own manifesto! Pop sensibility, a couple acoustic guitars, synths ad drum machines, dancing shoes and some lyrical heart add up to success for this Toronto duo. If you like everything, you’ll like Freedom or Death – it’s a music lovers band, and the EP packs tight six remarkably mature tracks including a Pink cover!

I know, “What?!” you say, “Have they gone crazy?!” No, we’re fine around the ol’ Lithium office – we haven’t flipped our wigs in some post-holiday Turkey toxification. Through the amazing magic of the internet we got some answers out of Sway, FoD’s vocalist, about covers (both musical and physical), influences and aspirations. Check. It. Out.

Myles – Let’s get this right out of the way… why a Pink cover?

Sway – Why not a P!nk Cover? We’re a fan of all music, but suckers for pop as well. P!nk has always been an artist that was able to walk that fine line of credible pop music, and she’s always had a very dark and demonic tone to her lyrics, which we admire.

M – With the idea of “Freedom Or Death” you guys have set out a demanding goal for your band, do you feel like your living up to the expectations of those ideals?

S – Well, I think for us to evaluate that we would have to be years into the future looking back on what we’ve done with our careers. Our mantra is more of a lifestyle rather than just isolated choices, so I think it’s difficult to determine that within just a few months of releasing our first record. But with what we’ve done thus far, I would say we are well on our way.

M – I really like the quote: “We know what sold, we know how to make it, but we decided not to make it.” I think that can be tougher to set out to do than just trying to come up with your own sound for a band. Do you ever find yourselves making a conscious decision to turn away from a certain direction even though your instinct might take you one way say with song structure, lyrics, or sounds?

S – For sure, I think it’s easy to get lazy and produce music with the conventional format and in some ways we don’t want to break that convention. Chorus, verses, breakdowns still work, but for us, those can be innovative and simply boring. We are from the school of songwriting and song structure being key, so in that respect we may not reinvent the wheel because we don’t believe it to be broken, but lyrically, rhythmically or sonically, we will always push the envelope and be as open as possible.

M – Are you guys still working at major labels?

S – No, that’d be just weird.

M – You’ve expressed interest in working with like minded artists, who are a couple at the top of your list?

S – We’d love to work with some Canadian artists like Arcade Fire or even Drake would be interesting, but not just musicians, guys like David Fincher or David Cronenberg. I can’t say for sure, but I’m convinced that most of the artists we adore have had a community of visual or photographic artists that can interpret their music and help to create fascinating artistic visuals to accompany their work. We’re definitely into those types of collaborations.

M – Listening to the EP I thought I could pick out some influences but you can tell me whether I’m off base or not.
- I thought “Back For More” started with a bit of Thom Yorke solo material beat and picked up some TV On The Radio vibe.
- The final refrain in “Meter Maid” reminded me a bit of those odd moments that are sometimes taken up by Bono and The Edge when it’s just the two of them with vocals and an acoustic.

S – Hah. I don’t think you’re off base at all. Radiohead and U2 have definitely influenced us; however, the TVOTR comparison always throws us off because neither of us really listens to their stuff. I mean, I more than Fernandez appreciate them, but we’re not sure how their sound seeped into our music.

M – Many artists start out being compared to other more established artists before making it on their own right. Is it a goal of FoD at all to become a band that others are eventually compared to?

S – I think every artist would hope for the same thing. The goal of artists is to make musical, even cultural impacts and to have people use your music as a reference point means that you’ve accomplished your goal….unless, of course, they’re comparing it in terms of how terrible something is. Then that’s just unfortunate.

M – One of my favorite moments on the EP is when a ragged arpeggio kicks in on “Soldier”; do you have a favorite song or moment on the disc?

S – I think Fernandez’ favorite moment is in Lost in Dances, but for me it’s This Crowded Room. I love performing the arpeggio in Soldier live, although the end of TCR always moves me—hence, why we try to end sets with it. It’s just so beautiful and fluid.

M – Is that a banjo in “Back For More”? Is it a conscious decision to keep a balance between digital and organic elements in your music?

S – Yeah, that is a banjo. I recorded it simply because it was in the room and thought that it’d stand out between all the reverb and delay. I wasn’t sure if it’d work, but when Fernandez dug it as well, I was like, “Of course, I meant to do that!” We do believe that organic instruments are a staple in music, no matter how much midi and sequencing we use to adorn the music, there always needs to be an element of natural sound and timber in there.

M – You’ve talked about the importance of lyrics and if I was to really generalize you seem to look at the human condition from a personal perspective, and you stay close to some accessible, universal human concerns. I think it’s rare that a band says openly that they take their lyrics seriously, is it a point to draw attention to them?

S – Although we normally write lyrics last, they are the most important to us. Words are what represent you and what you stand for. Fernandez and I sit around talking a lot about life; its experiences; its lessons and its challenges. For us, like most people I’m sure, those conversations are important and yeah, we’d like to draw attention to that aspect in our music. I think there is a time to dance, play and loose control, essentially that’s hip-hop today, but for Freedom or Death, those universal human concerns govern our thoughts, so we do hope that others connect with them.

M – I like the cover art for the EP. Who put it together, and is it two Polar Bear heads? Any significance for the band?

S – Yeah, that’s a polar bear. No particular significance other than we thought it looked cool. I was waiting for people to start making “Canada” “Polar Bear” references and connections, but I’m surprised no comments were made. Hah! We got the logo silk screened, then we hand crafted and stamped every package - a long arduous process, but fun nonetheless.

M – You’ll have to explain how the Spike Jonze video came into play, why was it chosen?

S – We have always been huge fans of Spike Jonze and we were quite jealous when Arcade Fire started working with him. Lost in Dances is actually inspired by the short film, so it only made sense to sync the two together. We’re still waiting for Spike to call us and tell us to take it down. - LITHIUM MAGAZINE


Freedom or Death, a Toronto-based duo, express warmth whether they’re playing quiet folk guitars or electronic music under their engaging vocals. CMJ marks their first appearance in the States; since they’re unsigned, they’re likely in search of label to help distribute and promote their music, which is mature and thoroughly satisfying. Wise is the executive who signs and nurtures them. - WALL STREET JOURNAL


There’s a palpable ache at the heart of this track by the Toronto duo of Steve Fernandez and Sway that’ll be instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever felt like they were moving in slow motion while a crush of strangers rushes past you. As for the music, its influences are at once familiar and elusive, recalling everyone from “Fake Plastic Trees”-era Radiohead to new acts such as Freelance Whales and The Middle East. Oh, and they can make an electronic keyboard feel as organic as a plank of oak. (From Freedom or Death) - TORONTO STAR


Discography

FREEDOM OR DEATH - SELF TITLED (EP) - JUNE 2010
FREEDOM OR DEATH - EGO (EP) - APRIL 2011

Photos

Bio

In the 1820's during the Greek War of Independence "Freedom or Death" became the war cry for the people of Greece. Their passion, belief and desires were so strong, that they accepted no substitute. The Toronto based duo adopted that name, as it’s their mantra when it comes to their music. “We want to have the freedom to make the music and the artistic choices that we want. If we can’t have that freedom, we’d rather not put anything out, which is the death of our art” says Fernandez, one half of the production and song writing unit. Freedom Or Death’s sound is based in everything, acoustic folk, electronica, traditional rock, hip-hop rhythms yet always rooted in lyrics with substance. “We didn’t want to get caged into any kind of pigeonhole,” Sway says. “That’s our freedom, to make the music however it comes out. We have two different sensibilities to making music that clash, but it’s how we actually reconcile them that’s interesting.”

With the release of their self titled EP, they’re creating and making music their way. Freedom Or Death assumed all creative control; every song was written, produced, recorded and performed by the duo. Yet while they have proven they’re self contained there is a strong desire to work with like-minded artists. “We are more interested in working with a collective of artists, rather than being a silo unto ourselves,” Fernandez says. “Our artwork is being done by artists that inspire us, our videos are being shot by directors that we want to work with.”

With a strong and steady creative process, stopping is the last point on Freedom Or Death’s agenda, they plan on touring, as well as another EP in the near future. As long as the band’s ideals of their art come first and commerce taking a back seat hold true, they will continue to make the music they want to make for as long as they desire.

"There's a palpable ache at the heart (of the) Toronto duo that'll be instantly recognizable to anyone who's ever felt like they were moving in slow motion while a crush of strangers rushes past you. … they can make an electronic keyboard feel as organic as a plank of oak."
- John Sakamoto, Toronto Star, Anti Hit List, 2010

"Music...mature and thoroughly satisfying. Wise is the executive who signs and nurtures them." – Jim Fusilli, Wall Street Journal, 2010

"Don't be surprised to see the major label's sniffing around as it would take more than a defection to put them off this scent, but one thing is certain – whilst they are shackle free they've produced a consistently impressive set of mellifluous songs, so any label would be a fool to mess with them." – The Recommender, 2010

"Lost In Dances…This is just another time when losing yourself temporarily is the right decision." - AUX TV, 2010

"A Toronto based electro/soul duo made up of a couple of refugees from the music industry. Watch these guys." - Alan Cross "Explore Music"