FREE NATIONALS The X-Press Interview

Funk geniuses the Free Nationals, aka Anderson .Paak’s live band, are coming into their own with the release of self titled album Free Nationals. Best known for touring the globe with Paak live, the four-piece have delivered an album magnified by a number of remarkable collaborations including the likes of Paak, Syd, Kali Uchis, T.I., JID, Westside Gunn, Conway, Chronixx, Daniel Caesar, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Kadhja Bonet, MIKNNA, Benny Sings, Callum Connor, T. Nava and even the late Mac Miller. Keyboardist and producer Ron “T.Nava” Avant spoke to ANYA HARRIS about the new album, where it all began and the band’s thoughts on their new musical journey. 

So, your debut album, this must be a pretty crazy time for you. How long has this been in the making?

This album, I’d have to say has been in the making for about three years. All up about three years.

How would you compare the making of this album to previous albums working with Anderson, and what’s the main difference for you?

No difference really, I mean we’re a band so it’s just like playing normally – just without Anderson! There’s a lot of similar stuff in there you know.

So, you’ve worked with a lot of artists on this album, a lot of big names and I love the direction you’ve taken with each of them individually. Have any of these collaborations been long awaited?

A lot it happened really naturally and just kind of organically. I was like “Yo, you know we got an album we’re working on,” and Anderson would reach out to them and send the track over and then we’d get on it, you know. Anybody on there that we were like, “Oh we should get this person, we should get that person, we should work with this one,” we just happened to be hanging with them and we became friends and it went that way.

Is there anyone else that you and the band are super keen to get on board in the future?

We definitely want to work with Hiatus Kaiyote. We want to work with like, just some homies! And definitely want to do some with Mac Demarco. There’s so many artists out there that I think would be great to work with.

I caught your performance of Gidget on Jimmy Fallon just recently with Anderson. I know you’ve been on the show before but this time performing your own track, how was that experience?

Oh that was a great experience, I loved it – I got a solo on it. It was cool to hear them say our name first, “Give it up for the Free Nationals featuring Anderson .Paak.” It was definitely a big moment for us, a great time and hopefully we have some more like that.

How far do you and the band go back?

We go way back! So basically, I met Jose first at the Musicians Institute, back in 2005, is when I went there. We didn’t meet Anderson until around 2007- 2008, he was walking around the school and we all went to gigs together. Anderson was playing the drums and at the end of the performance he said, “Hey man check out some of my music,” and we checked it out and his music was really dope. So me and Jose, we both gravitated to him and decided that this is what we wanted to be doing. I was playing with a bunch of artists, and Anderson’s music was the type of music that we wanted to do. Nothing was really corny about it. That was how we first met, and then Kelsey – Kelsey was after that. I met Kelsey at church, playing bass. You know I was a kid in church and said “I wanna, I gotta play with you guys.” At the time, Kelsey was playing with Miguel, and I was like, “Man what you mean, why don’t you wanna play with us?” And I was playing keys, bass, and then Jose on guitar and then Kelsey came in and started playing the bass and it just happened that way and we kept it going. It all happened really organically and we wanted to be a part of it.

And overall, how are you feeling about going out and touring out on your own as a band?

Oh looking forward to it. We have a lot of features on the album so, you know the fun of that is going to be figuring out the shows without all of the artists. At the end of the day we’re a band, you know. Whether we’re doing a Free Nationals live arrangement around that or myself doing the talk box. I do a lot of talk box stuff so some of the songs I’ll be channelling on that. Kelsey’s singing some songs and Jose’s playing guitar solos, so it’s gonna be a fun show you know, it’s gonna be a really Free Nationals fun show. We’re not going to depend on the artists, that’s what a lot of people are worried about, they’re like “You got all these artists, you gotta bring everybody on tour.” That’d be great if we could bring all the artists, maybe it would be cool to bring one or two but we’ll figure it out.

This may go without saying, but what is it that keeps you playing and sharing your music everyday?

I have to say, I mean, I don’t know how to do anything else really. Music is my life. But then also, seeing how the fans react to it and how it inspires a lot of other musicians, you know I see a lot of that and that right there means a lot. That means we’re doing something right. Do it for the people.

What’s your personal favourite track on the album?

I have to say Gidget right now, it could change but I have to say Gidget right now because that one has all of us. The way that it all came about, we were all in the room together, Anderson was sitting on the couch, I’m on keys, Callum was on the drums, and you know we’re just fishing, just trying to figure out something dope to play. Then you know, some shit didn’t work and then fifteen minutes later, Callum starts to groove on and then I come in on the keys and then Anderson. Jose would probably have to chat about it later I guess, but there was a funny contortion he had going on with a friend of his, and so Anderson immediately starts writing about it and the whole song happened right there. That’s the way it came about.

And just one more question before I let you go, I haven’t heard anything yet about an Australia tour, is that something that we could possibly get excited about in the future?

Actually definitely, I love Australia, all of us love Australia. We’re coming to Australia, don’t know when but we’ll definitely make that happen for sure.


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