Tom Freund is a busy guy — writing, touring and recording albums in his Venice studio
By Bliss Bowen
“Funny how when you leave LA you gotta drive into the desert
Out of the frying pan and into the fire
To all of my friends who’ve taken their leaves of absence
This is a song for you”
Tom Freund opens his latest album, “Two Moons,” with those lines from “Angel Eyes,” sung in a conversational melody over solo piano subsequently joined by bass, cello, drums, electric guitar and harmonies. It’s a very LA record that’s sonically reminiscent of 1970s-era Jackson Browne. That observation is welcomed by Freund. A longtime fixture in the Westside music community who titled an earlier album “Edge of Venice,” he invited Browne to play on his 2008 release “Collapsible Plans.”
“The West Coast has been a good influence for me in the songwriting,” he says. “I think a lot of those songs penetrated me from this coast. Even though I consider myself a New Yorker, I guess I knew I had to head out this way. There was definitely a calling. I know it’s very spread out, and LA takes a lot of crap for that, as it should; there’s a lot of bullshit here. But there is a gathering of great minds at the end of the 10 freeway. I dig it. I feel like it is a sound and a place that means a lot to me, even though it’s uncondensed and unfocused. [He laughs] It almost makes you work harder to meet the people you need to meet and create with the right folks.”
After years of living in Venice Freund’s now a West LA resident, although he’s kept his Venice studio, where he recorded “Two Moons.” He came to Southern California in the 1990s, majoring in English lit at Pitzer College in Claremont. (He also studied jazz at Pomona College, but “figured as a musician it sounded really boring to major in music.”) During his last two years at Pitzer he and Ben Harper were introduced by mutual friends and subsequently made and released an album, 1992’s “Pleasure and Pain.” Freund later played bass with Austin roots-rockers the Silos, then teamed with producer Marvin Etzioni for his first solo album, 1998’s “North American Long Weekend,” with soul-jazz great Jimmy Smith guesting on organ. He officially made LA his home in 2000.
Since then he’s become solidly identified with Venice. His video for “Next Time Around,” a hopeful ditty from “Two Moons,” shows the sneakered troubadour riding his skateboard, then strumming his ukulele below the iconic “Venice” light sign on Windward while wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “NYNY.” He was very much a part of the Stronghold scene while it lasted, recording a live album there (2013’s “The Stronghold Tapes: Live in Venice, CA”). “It was more of a speakeasy fashion and that was part of its demise too,” he recalls wistfully, “but it was awesome.”
Like most indie artists, Freund works hard juggling the competing creative demands of musicmaking with the business of making and promoting music. He spends a good chunk of time on the road, in the States as well as Japan and Europe. It was on a European tour that he felt compelled to write the bittersweet “Happy Days Lunch Box” (“Fonz and the Cunninghams, Ralph and Potsie and Al/ How I long for the days when I’d take out my sandwich and have my lunch with my pals”).
“I wrote that in the weirdest spot,” Freund says with a laugh. “The lyrics poured into me on a day off on a tour in Europe. I was skiing in Switzerland; I wrote the whole thing on a chairlift.”
Freund plays and composes on multiple instruments: bass, guitar, mandolin, piano and ukulele. At solo shows he often accompanies himself on bass, especially in Europe, where audiences are perhaps more receptive to the soulful, spacious vibe that creates. “They like it ’cause it’s unusual, not just another dude with a guitar. I’ve had Lucinda Williams and Jackson Browne both tell me I should do a whole record with the bass and vocals; not including other instruments, but really focus on the whole singing and upright thing. I’ll be doing that next,” he wisecracks. “Maybe I’ll get them to produce it, those two. [He laughs] We may go round and round in circles, but it’d be fun.”
All joking aside, Freund is an album artist who cares about elements like song sequencing, lyrics and liner notes, and he believes in the album as an art form. “I’m still making albums,” he asserts. “And also, mind you, I also still believe in the finely crafted EP. I think an EP or album can be very tangible, very time and place.
“I’m not against singles. I like the freedom of now, especially since I can put on iTunes tomorrow what I recorded today. That’s pretty cool. I’m not anti-that. But I do like an album; I still enjoy artwork and all that. I still think it’s very important.”
Tom Freund performs a free outdoor set during the 30th annual Abbot Kinney Festival on Sept. 28. Visit tomfreund.com.