shingo says: a night out with the free moral agents

November 5, 2010

A girl into rock and roll, requires some duties. If I’m going to engage in conversation about music, specifically anything in a rock genre, I need to know what the fuck I’m talking about. I take it so seriously, because I’m always assuming someone is trying to call bullshit. “You like the Doors? Really? Well, why? Fighting for validity in a music conversation is tactical and strategic—very little room for “it just sounds awesome.” I have to make it make sense.

A Night Out with the Free Moral Agents:
ShingoSays…I think I might be part of the Fam’
AP Night life correspondent Shingo

I failed myself when I got the Free Moral Agents latest album Control This. It was all emotion, feeling and positive vibes radiating through my speakers and into my skeptical cerebellum. The composition was immaculate, so there was nothing to spend time criticizing technically, therefore I was left to enjoy and be moved wherever the Free Moral Agents wanted to take me. My cynicism was useless. It was just, good! Great, in fact! I had to meet these guys.

It was the final day of CMJ, and I’m standing in a crazy long line to get into 8 Bond Street for open bar and to catch Cubic Zirconia do a live set. I got the call from Ikey Owens, Keyboardist of the Mars Volta and mastermind behind The Free Moral Agents, and he said was in the back of the line, so we did some “scissor cuts” (you cut in front of me, and I cut in front of you)! We had spoken on the phone a few times, and he made me laugh, so I knew he wasn’t a crazy person.

Out and about in NYC w/ FMA

Actually, I was kinda tripping. Oh hey, just chilling with the Mars Volta keyboardist! You know, the band that practically raised me through college. The band I convinced our hostel owner in Germany to play on the loud speakers in the hostel bar, because “no one listens to the beach boys in America, anymore”. Without his knowing, Ikey had already given me so many gifts, and my gift back to him was an open bar. Great job, Alex.

“So how are we going to do this? The rest of the band is on the way” Ikey explained.

“Well, I figured we would just kind of hang out, and the interview will happen organically” I said clearly, not really having a list of questions or tape recorder, or something all interview-y.

He smiled. I guess he was expecting something totally different and boring, so his face read with a bit of relief. He could relax and enjoy his last night in New York and take a break from their tour.

The juice for the open bar was completely smashed 30minutes into the party. The upstairs bar had a few bottles of juice, so we headed up there, and of course the line was to the wall. By this time the rest of the band was there, and we chatted waiting for the bartender to hurry on up! I don’t even LIKE grape juice, but whatever.

“We should get 2 drinks each” Ikey suggested, clearly understanding the severity of the drink situation.

Good idea!

We made our way back to the ground floor, and talked about my favorite thing, which is New York City. These kids are from Cali, so I was interested in what they were digging about my favorite place! Dennis Owens, who plays bass said good Chinese food, emphasis on good! Agreed! Drummer, Ryan Reiff also said eating delicious foods. Foods, as in plural. And also visiting his family, which is hard to do being a touring musician and west coaster. I feel you, Ryan. Ikey, without hesitation said his favorite part was Fatty Cue Korean barbeque (which actually, is super delicious and amazing). Jesse Carzello, who is the laid back guitarist, said eating food and drinking free booze! My man! Vocalist, Mendee Ichikawa said the Bronx. Just like that. The Bronx. I guess the Bronx is pretty cool…

The booze ran out, so naturally, we left and headed for Brooklyn bowl to see Atrak and Kanye. My roommate offered to drive in her 2008 Jeep Wrangler, which we lovingly call “Club Wrangler” because we treat it like a club. We blast offensive music, drink 40oz out of brown paper bags, and vodka out of travel coffee mugs.

“You guys wanna ride in Club Wrangler?” I asked with a bit of a laugh, knowing these guys had no idea what I was talking about.

“Whats a club wrangler” Mendee asked, also with a bit of a laugh.

Mendee, Ikey and I snuggled up tight in the back of the jeep, and my friend Cece rode shoty.

“Who’s got an Ipod” my roommate Jean called from the driver’s seat! “If you’re going to ride in Club Wrangler, you have to be the DJ”

Mendee pulled out her Iphone and I told her to play whatever she wanted.

The sound of the Free Moral Agents is experimental rock. Loads of distorted guitar riffs, haunting and layered vocals, space age ticking drums, and low long bass lines. It’s mellow, it’s beautiful, and can be strikingly sad at times.

“AHH SNAP, she’s playing Gin and Juice!” Cece hollered from the front seat.

Not what I was expecting from the deep and intrinsic anchor of the Free Moral Agents, but it was awesome!

“Damn, this is like the club” Ikey laughed

We all unfolded out of the 2 door jeep and were ready to take on Williamsburg.

“Man it feels so good to walk” Mendee said “Being on tour, you just ride and ride, and I just need to move my body, ya know. Our bus now is pretty cool, cause at least you can stand.”

I figure that’s pretty true. City to city is great, and exciting especially for a band really beginning to make their name like the Free Moral Agents. I was feeling pretty honored these guys were down to hang out considering they were getting ready to get back on a bus and ride onto the next city. And then abroad. And then a summer tour. I thought I was hard core, but these guys are actually super troopers. That’s when I committed to showing them a really good time!

Brooklyn Bowl was a super bust and the line was about 3 blocks long. We ended up at Cameo Gallery, which is also a restaurant/bar called The Loving Cup on N6 st. We popped in a table and ordered a round of drinks.

The lights were low, and the band was going. A house band…

A little dude with an alto saxophone that was as big as he was, and he was doing covers of 80s classics, which was ironically hilarious. He was being very serious about it.

I saw that Ikey and Mendee had a brother-sister-relationship-type-of-thing going. Playful punches to the arm, cracking jokes on each other, and leaning laughs with personal jokes that were definition, genuine.

“I’ve known this one right here for almost 8 years” Ikey said giving Mendee a short nudge with his elbow, to which she smiled. He had an idea to get a band project going, and Mendee was there from jump. The rest of the boys came soon after, and as we talked them up Dennis, Ryan and Jesse walked into Cameo to meet us. How apropos.

So you guys are pretty much family then?

Silly question. You’d have to friends first to create anything as pure and uninhibited as a Free Moral Agents project. The harmony and fluidity of their sound reads in their interactions with one another. Quite, laid back, and out of nowhere a deep full laugh—a heavy drum solo.

“We don’t really need to go anywhere to dance or anything, sometimes it’s just better to talk”

I totally agreed.

Mendee who is Hawaiian Japanese and white, showed us pictures of her brother who was alarmingly attractive. This has nothing to do with the music of the Free Moral Agents, but essential to this interview as her brother’s attractiveness was a top of conversation for more than 20mins. You guys,…hot!

We were all feeling nice in the candle light, and figured we’d bring it up with some house music, even though Ikey said at least 4 times, it wasn’t his style. He was such a sport though; he just went with the flow with us crazy girls. Jean, Cece and I snagged Ikey and gave big hugs goodbye to the rest of the Free Moral Agents, who were having a blast and ordering food.

We got to 300 Douglass, which is a pretty well known loft space for grown and sexy parties. “The Beautiful people” who just so happen to be unpretentious, and also smoke plenty of weed. It’s always a good choice. We danced for a bit, and chilled outside on the dangerous and cumbersome outdoor space full of 2x4s, concrete bits, and a charcoal grill. .

“What’s the coolest studio you’ve ever recorded in?” I asked with childlike interest

He told me about a bread and breakfast studio he recorded in with The Mars Volta a few years back. The woman who owned the place would cook breakfast and dinner them, and the band could work super late-late into the night and pass out in a bed, not a studio couch. The owner was super attentive to the band’s needs but let them do their thing in cozy comfort, in some tiny town in the North East. Unassuming, yet perfect in simplicity.

“It wasn’t fancy at all, it just felt like…like, home”.

I’ve come to find that a band on tour will always mention home as a mythical place, they know does exist, but can’t seem to make their way back to. A longing of something familiar and normal. That’s why Mendee didn’t care about a crazy rave with A-Trak making the kids bump at Brooklyn Bowl. It’s the reason friendship is a mandate for these guys. To make any kind of music they can be proud of, it can’t be forced. It has to be real; as real as Ryan taking time out to visit his actual family while in NYC. Its Why food and meals are, and will always be the favorite part of the journey. It’s a return to normal, when “normal” exists completely without definition. The only way to find it is to create it.

They create sounds, they create their own good times, and they do so with each other. It’s more than “Cali laid back swag”. It’s their genuine smiles, and interest for some chick they just met and took them to some crazy party with a dry open bar. The music is both beautiful and obscure, but after vibeing with them, and being taken in like one of the Free Moral family, now it all makes sense.