Freelance Whales at Kilby Court | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Freelance Whales at Kilby Court

The Careful Craft: Freelance Whales draw an intimate, intelligent world.


Judah Dadone appears to invest a lot of thought into things. The Freelance Whales vocalist and multi-instrumentalist answers questions like the ideas behind his responses are unfolding in front of him as his words come out.

This isn’t a bad thing. Instead, it means that he offers erudite, reasoned explanations for whatever comes his way. For example, when asked for suggestions on the “Try These” recommendations accompanying this story, he ruminates aloud for a good six minutes, eventually revealing that a pair of short stories—D.H. Lawrence’s “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter” and James Joyce’s “The Dead”—inspired the Whales’ “Broken Horse,” while the seed of “Hannah” came from the 2007 film Hannah Takes the Stairs. Many devote brainpower to things, but when Dadone talks about his band, you can feel his mind at work.

Another instance of this comes when Dadone discusses how his indie-pop band dealt with the problem of trying to break out in New York City, a place teeming with musicians scrambling for attention. The only solution the Queens-based quintet could devise was becoming public performers, so Freelance Whales tossed themselves into busking in the city.

“As we started to do it, we learned very quickly that there’s something very special that can happen there. When you give people music when they’re not expecting it, they can sometimes have very spontaneous and genuine reactions,” says Dadone.

One time, two interpretive dancers abruptly joined the Whales’ show, performing a “slow and fluid” dance that was “eerily appropriate” for the song played. Another encounter involved a man wearing all orange dramatically kneeling toward the band as they played, “almost praying at our altar.” (Dadone ponders the notion of the stranger being on acid when he did this.) The Whales have become such veterans of this circuit that a performing arts project called Music Under New York granted them an official license to play in the New York subway system. “It was really nice of them to give us one,” says Dadone, “but I feel bad because since they gave it to us, we haven’t been home very much.”

Currently on their seventh tour this year, Freelance Whales’ reputation has been picking up steam, thanks in major part to Weathervane. Their debut album follows a boy who communicates with a female ghost who lives in his home. Accompanying this semi-romantic narrative is a skillfully assembled batch of instruments, which includes the standard rock equipment and more unusual items like the harmonium, the banjo, the glockenspiel and the watering can. The sum leads to an intoxicating, nuanced and tender experience.

Freelance Whales are often described with a handful of adjectives that aren’t necessarily complimentary—“cute,” “fragile,” “precious”—and in one especially biting review, Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen called them “Nick & Norah-core,” referencing the recent Michael Cera indie-rock rom-com.

Dadone is remarkably restrained when discussing these perceptions of the band’s narrative voice. “This is one side of the scenario, but the record is from the perspective of young children. Sometimes, we get confused when we think about the authors as opposed to the characters,” he says. “The record is trying to evoke childlike sensations and innocence, but ultimately, there’s another side. It has an element of darkness that’s supposed to reflect a more aged experience. In the same way that light and darkness are trying to reconcile on the record, there’s also youthfulness and agedness.”

He’s still uncertain on whether or not the Whales’ next record will involve a concept, but he’s already thinking about the idea of thinking about it. “It’s strange how anything can come out. That’s what we learned with Weathervane: If you tune into certain frequencies, it can come from different places in your subconscious or your current experiences,” he says. “It just depends on what your brain is tuning into when you’re sitting down to write.”

w/ Miniature Tigers
Kilby Court
741 S. Kilby Court (330 West)
Saturday Nov. 27, 7 p.m.