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.”
Across a two-year period, Elfman’s position on the Coachella lineup never changed, nor did his 40-plus member band (for the most part). “We had been rehearsing for a month, and we were really excited about it. It’s essentially the same exact band, minus Robin Finck from Nine Inch Nails and Wes Borland on guitar,” says Freese.
But as Coachella 2022 began to close in, Freese was left in a tricky situation — he had just joined The Offspring as their touring drummer, and they were scheduled to be playing shows in Australia throughout the month of April. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, after all this, I can’t do the show?'”
The Australian government ended up forbidding international acts to play in the country after their COVID numbers rose in the early part of the year, and when Freese got the call that The Offspring gigs were off, he “couldn’t hang up the phone fast enough” to call Danny. “They were actually about three days away from auditioning drummers,” says Freese. “I called Danny’s manager, and told him, ‘Stop the auditions, I can do it!’ I was really excited about that.”
It all worked out, and Freese triumphantly joined Elfman and Co. for a powerful and fascinating set on Coachella’s Outdoor Theater on Saturday night (April 16th).
And though Freese has a great deal of pride in his complex work with Elfman over the last couple years, he was even more psyched about working with hyperpop duo 100 gecs. “Here’s a band I had never heard of… and of course, everyone half my age, including my children, they were like, ‘Oh, cool, 100 gecs!'”
Freese always tends to work with boundary-pushing artists, and 100 gecs certainly fits that category — fresh off the meteoric rise from their debut album 1000 gecs, the duo (Dylan Brady and Laura Les) enlisted Freese to drum on their highly-anticipated followup, 10000 gecs, which is expected to arrive this year. “One of the things I liked about them in the studio, some people were like, ‘Oh, I love that band!’ and others were like, ‘God, I hate them’ — I loved that reaction,” Freese says of the duo.
He was undoubtedly fascinated with their aesthetic, and jumped at the chance to work with them. “When I saw their first video for “Money Machine,” it looked like a Harmony Korine thing… they looked like two people out of Gummo in a Walmart parking lot. I was like, ‘What is happening here?’ Two people drank a case of Monster energy drinks and the last one spilled out on their laptop and fried it up. It sounded so crazy.”
Freese claims that the new record still sounds like 100 gecs, but it’s more “three-dimensional” — certainly the case if they’ve enlisted Freese for live drums. But rest assured, Freese guarantees that “by any means, they do NOT sound like a normal band.” He previewed the new record further, saying they “don’t sound like two people with a laptop anymore. Sometimes, when people stop making records with the four-tracks and go into the studio, they lose the edge and the craziness and the DIY punk-ness. They definitely did not; it just sounds better.”