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- Posted on Aug 9th 2010 4:00PM by Kenneth Partridge
With his new roots-punk side project, Devil's Brigade, Freeman has traded his electric for an upright, an instrument he didn't begin playing until 15 years ago, when he received one as gift from Bad Religion guitarist and Epitaph Records head Brett Gurewitz.
"I started out playing electric bass," Freeman tells Spinner, several weeks before leading Devil's Brigade on its inaugural tour. "A lot of guys, they'll be upright players and move to electric. I never got to play in school. I wanted to, but the teachers said my hands are too small. I've always had [the upright] at my house, and I've always played it. It's a different instrument than electric. You've got to approach it differently."
Freeman says crafting bass parts for Devil's Brigade, a collaboration with Tim Armstrong -- his bandmate in both Rancid and its ska-punk precursor, Operation Ivy -- and X drummer DJ Bonebrake, forced him to think in ways he ordinarily doesn't.
"I definitely had to learn," he says. "I knew in my head what I wanted to play -- those lines, from just playing electric bass -- but I had to learn how to interpret them. And then the slapping thing, that's a totally different type of rhythm. You can't play upright with a pick."
"I can't really play 'Rancid 5' songs on the upright," he adds, referring to the group's bleak, pulverizing self-titled fifth album, released in 2000.
On Devil's Brigade's self-titled debut, Freeman sings as hard as he slaps, leading a band that draws on punk, rockabilly, psychobilly and even Dropkick Murphys-style old-timey thrash. While he's a technical player who still practices his fundamentals, he says it's taken more than musical smarts to master the new instrument.
"The upright is a lot more physical thing to play, too -- the strength I've had to get in my hands just to push the strings down," he says. "I have this old '50s Kay, and just getting a tone out of the wood, you really have to work on it."
'Devil's Brigade' is due out Aug. 31 via Epitaph.