Ed. Note: Head here to find our complete coverage of Coachella 2022.
If you aren’t familiar with Josh Freese’s prolific career, ask the following question: What do Sting, DEVO, The Offspring, The Vandals, Nine Inch Nails, 100 gecs, and Danny Elfman have in common? They’ve all recorded, written, or toured with Josh Freese behind the drum kit at some point in their lengthy careers. If “drummer for the stars” is any metric of Freese’s success, then he’s one of the most successful drummers of all time.
Last weekend at Coachella, Freese had quite the engagement on Saturday — performing with hyperpop icons 100 gecs around 6:00 p.m., and then again with composer and frontman Danny Elfman at 9:00 p.m. Such a hectic performance schedule is nothing new for Freese, who proudly takes on as much as he can as a touring and studio drummer. “It’s part of my workaholic ‘try to do it all’ ethic that I have with playing music,” says Freese.
Luckily for Freese, this is far from the first time — nor the last time — he will play Coachella. “This is my sixth or seventh Coachella, all with different bands,” says Freese. He goes on to mention that Paul Tollett, the founder of Goldenvoice and the leading mind behind the festival, once reminded him of his Coachella legacy in person. “A couple of years back, I ran into him, and he said, ‘I think you’ve played with more acts at Coachella than any other musician.’ I think he’s right.”
Indeed, Freese has stories galore, and when we chat on the phone, he’s eager to share his enthusiasm towards the festival, his performances, and the many bands he’s worked with. Freese tells me about the first time he played Coachella, which, coincidentally, was with the first band to play the festival, period: Maynard James Keenan’s A Perfect Circle. They played around noon to a nearly empty main stage, and according to Freese, the “lawnmowers were still going, people were drinking coffee, and Maynard was reading the lyrics off a sheet of paper.”
As for the festival itself, Freese praises Goldenvoice and Paul Tollett for always seeking to improve the experience. “Paul is such a smart guy, and he’s so thorough,” he says, “he’s always looking around and going, OK, here’s what I don’t want to do.” And according to Freese, from the first years of Coachella to now, it’s only gotten better: “I think he’s probably a good observer of just wanting to make things better and more comfortable for the concert goers and for the festival, because it’s a lot to be out there, you know, all day long.”
Though the 100 gecs collaboration was a bit newer in the mix, Freese had been preparing for the Danny Elfman set for a very long time. “The Elfman thing was very, very intense and a lot of work. It started over two years ago. We were rehearsing in early 2020 for Coachella 2020,” he recalls. “As we were in the studio, when it came early March, everything started slowly shutting down, and we didn’t know the magnitude of what was about to happen. We were like, ‘Oh, schools are shutting down in Seattle! That must suck.'”
Of course, the first major wave of COVID derailed Elfman and Freese’s plans, but the uncertainty ended up being a catalyst for Elfman: “When Coachella 2020 was postponed and everyone limped back to their perspective homes, Danny was really inspired and went from having these two songs we were going to premiere to him going, ‘I’m going to write a bunch of stuff,’ and that’s how his album came to be.”
Freese then worked heavily on Elfman’s new album, Big Mess, which was recorded throughout the last few years as they waited for his career-spanning Coachella set. “Normally, we wouldn’t have been able to make a record… he’s the world’s busiest film composer,” Freese says. “But when all of his films went away and all of my touring went away, we realized we had so much time.”