With a burgeoning reputation as one of the capital’s finest live bands, Jemma Freeman & The Cosmic Something’s debut album was always going to be a fascinating one. How would something so visceral and compellingly raw translate to the recorded form? The answer arrived back in October, when the band teamed up with Trapped Animals Records and shared, Oh Really, What’s That Then?
What really stands out on the record is the versatility of the Jemma Freeman & The Cosmic Something sound, yes they did the loud, audible howls, and did them really well on the likes of Helen Is A Reptile or Heaven On A Plate, however they also were never afraid to take a side-step into something completely different. Kopenhagen combined a light jazzy-flourish with a slice of Dresden Dolls-like cabaret, Count To Ten took a slide into freak-folk and Americana, while closing track Tasteless felt like the missing link between the musical words of Kate Bush and Sparks.
Jemma has stated that some of the inspiration for the record comes from feeling like an outsider, an attempt to channel solidarity with all those who don’t fit neatly into how the world thinks we should all behave. Yet on, Oh Really, What’s That Then, the band seem to almost flip that idea on its head, this is Jemma Freeman’s world, this is a place where the unusual is the norm. Throughout, Jemma takes you by the hand and guides you through, offering you the chance to see their world, to look through their eyes and revel in this strange, exciting and beguiling setting. You’re welcome to enter, you just might never want to leave.
Following the release, we had the chance to discuss the record with Jemma, talking about the recording process, the joys of showing off and how, “both a £20 yamaha keyboard and a priceless Steinway“, played a role in writing this album.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who are Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something?
We are non-binary drag fronted alt/glam/psych/pop band made up of Mark estall on bass and bvs, Hamilton Lee on drums, Jason Ribeiro on drums (yes sometimes there are two of them!) and myself on guitar, keys, drum machines, voice…anything really.
FTR: You’ve just released your debut album, what can you tell us about recording it?
We recorded it over the course of about a year at Marks studio (Marketstall) it was important for me based on previous recording experiences that we retained the energy we emit live and capture it on the record. My demos are usually quite wildly out of time and spontaneous in nature, I wanted that feral, experimental energy encapsulated so we didn’t use a click and most of the main guitar and drums are complete live takes.
On a lot of the songs I’m playing every instrument, recording my own material was a huge leap mentally for me and I’m naturally cautious and overprotective of the songs. Muisc was my only escape as a teenager and one of the only things I had any confidence I could do something approaching well. I spent close to 6 years mostly just playing to myself in my room, I had no confidence to perform or record. Similarly some of the songs only existed as bedroom demos heard by a handful of people. As we progressed through the process I started to trust the people I was working with to contribute.
There’s no hierarchy with instrument quality on this record, on keytar we used both a £20 yamaha keyboard and a priceless Steinway…there aren’t any rules as far as we are concerned with getting the right sound for a song. I’m a big fan of sickly sounding instruments, I love the emotion you can evoke from unexpected places, there is almost an orchestra of recorders on the front of Black rain, but they have been processed through some alien pitchshift effects and demonic delays, something relatively innocent transposed into leering, creepy atmospherics. I like to use the limits of my voice as well, grinding low pitched drawls almost subconsciously in your ears or energised harmonised superhero crescendos.
FTR: Did you approach writing an album differently to how you would approach a single?
We didn’t have the luxury of going in and recording this in one cohesive session, so it was recorded as and when I could afford it or could get time off work. So some of the songs were changed or developed along the way. I’d love to be able to go in with a concept and just make something in a week but it’s not really possible at the moment. I change my mind a lot I’m always hearing and trying out new things so even if I tried to have an approach I think I’d disagree with myself a week later
When we first went in it wasn’t clear whether or not we were making an LP or a series of singles.
FTR: What are your aspirations for this record? Do you see music as a viable career?
I just want people to hear it, I make music primarily for myself but obviously I am a performer, I present it outside of my bedroom. I worked hard on it and I want to share that. There’s a hope that something will resonate and bring light to someone when they hear it.
It’s not a viable career at all, in regards to making a living, the only place you’ll find money is in sync deals for adverts and films and that’s the same as anything in life, it’s who you know not what you know that gets you those deals…I don’t know anyone so I’m still churning out posters about photocopiers in a library. When you’re younger you believe all these things about being discovered and some huge film executive being in the audience by chance…these are stories manufactured after the facts in my experience.
I make music because I absolutely have to, listening and creating music is how I have survived, it sounds like such a cliché but my life would be empty without it. My only ambition is to have the means in every sense, to continue making it.
FTR: Who are your influences? What were you listening to when you wrote the album?
That’s a whole year! I can’t remember, hundreds of people haha, Hurtling, Angel Olsen, loads of Turkish psych, Anna Calvi, Cowtown, Brian Eno, Beverly Copeland, Failure, Gutts, Fran Lobo, Wendy Rae Fowler.
I’m influenced by the people I work with as well, I enjoy playing session guitar for other people as well, it takes me out of my comfort zone and it pushes me ever so slightly into other people’s orbit. You see glimpses of their world and once you’ve seen it you can’t create without that being part of you.
FTR: You’ve mentioned this record is partly inspired by feeling like an outsider, conversely does music give you the chance to feel part of something bigger than yourself?
Music connects people, it acts as an amplifier of human experience, it converts the intangible into something that can be momentarily held. When it works it’s electric, we can all temporarily be part of that wave.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I do make other art forms, I draw and paint – I studied fine art….it’s not as easy to connect with people in the instantaneous way you can by just standing on a stage and getting a reaction from an audience. The art world is almost impenetrably elitist, it’s all about placing value on something that is essentially worthless. Getting your work seen was an enormous challenge when I was still pursuing it in any kind of serious way….and actually aside from that I don’t think it’s where my heart lay. I always wanted to do music, for various ridiculous reasons I wasn’t allowed to study it formally, the school I went to said that because I couldn’t play piano I would struggle with composition, I doubt any of those folk allowed to study it have ever written a song past their A levels. I got distracted with art because for illogical reasons it was the path available to me, that said I spent most of my time just trying to be a better musician. I love fine art, good art is an absolute gift it lights up all my synapses – I was never good enough to be able to express what I wanted through art I don’t think.
FTR: What can people expect from the Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something live show?
A lot of energy, at the moment we are a three piece so the live show is punchier and punkier than the record perhaps, you have to make choices about what parts you replicate and which parts you sacrifice. I love showing off, I like to build suspense and energy, it’s almost an exorcism. I feel ecstatic, invisible, in control and held by the universe when I perform I try and share that.
FTR: What’s next for Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something?
A new anti-brexit anti patriarchal video made by our pals at Black Triangle Films, they made our beautifully outrageous Helen is a Reptile video due around 3rd Dec…it was carnage, there were pickled onion jellies, accidental trump wigs and a philandering husband that turns into a monster…
Oh Really, What’s That Then? is out now via Trapped Animal Records. Click HERE for more information on Jemma Freeman & The Cosmic Something.