The most identifiable and impactful stories stem from experience.
We pick up our own personal plotlines from trials, tribulations, triumphs, loss, love, pain, confusion, and experimentation. For as much as Freeman Young roots his music in echoes of entrancing guitar, fits of unpredictable percussion, and a soothing smooth timbre, he also pins it to a singular journey as “a flawed kid” and boundary-agnostic musician. The singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer projects a relatable story in bright color on his 2020 Republic Records debut.
Freeman’s first chapter unfolded in the blue-collar city of Surrey, BC, Canada. Born to Jamaican immigrants, he grew up in a town of “houses from the seventies occupied by families who work three jobs.” To entertain Freeman and his sister, mom regularly popped in an old VHS of Kirk Franklin & the Family’s Whatcha Lookin’ 4. He fondly dubs it, “the first album I fell in love with.” On the other end of the spectrum, pops blasted reggae favorites, introducing the kids to the Caribbean sound. Armed with drumsticks from the church, Freeman pounded away on an ice cream bucket in addition to marveling at his mother’s solos during service on Sunday.
At the same time, attending private school opened his eyes to the world around him.
“My mom was a janitor at this private school, so I went there and saw a different walk of life,” he recalls. “It’s where I co-founded my first band with Xander Miller.”
He linked up with Xander and found a lifelong collaborator. Together, they listened to everything from D’Angelo, Radiohead, and Jeff Buckley to Kings of Leon and Coldplay. Freeman often stole his big brother’s CDs out of a six-disc changer and burned copies. He also openly cops to being “a huge Nickelback fan.” This mélange of influences ultimately dictated the course of his creativity.
“In terms of songwriting, I gravitate towards alternative, but I have soul instincts that bleed out,” he remarks.
In between a series of short-lived projects, he played keyboards in a local reggae group, learning arrangements from much older members. During 2016, he co-founded production collective The Expo Liners alongside Xander and friends Franco and Miguel Maravilla. They spent countless hours cooking up beats out of a house in Vancouver before eventually uploading a demo version of “Awreddy” to Soundcloud and stoking very early buzz. After agreeing, “Fuck it, let’s move to L.A. and see what happens,” the four friends piled into a car and drove for 24 hours to the City of Angels. Along the way, Franco proved especially supportive and formative to Freeman’s evolution.
Freeman eventually inked a deal with Republic and crafted what would become his debut in Los Angeles.
He introduces the project in 2020 via “Running Back.” Strains of keyboards and acoustic guitar sway towards a vocoder-lifted bridge punctuated by lilting vocals and nostalgic strings. He makes heart-wrenching confessions such as, “I tried to kill myself two times and that's real life, I tell you ‘cause I know you know what it feels like,” over glitchy synths. Written during a 40-minute walk home at 2AM, he bottled a flood of feelings and crystallized the lyrics during a moment of clarity.
“It’s about not going cold turkey on someone or something I should’ve went cold turkey on,” he sighs. “I was heavy in my self-sabotage bag. I was aware of it when I wrote the song. There’s some addiction in there. I’m personifying it. Musically, we pull nineties grunge and put it into the world of 808s. We do our best to fuse those two worlds together.”
Rounding out the EP, “Awreddy” dips in and out of a soundscape colored by heavenly harmonies, cathartic screams, and uncomfortably honest lines like, “I hate when my stomach does that thing.” Meanwhile, “Red Pill” begins with layered harmonies from Miguel swelling towards buoyant verses. A rush of feedback fixes upon the hook, “I took the red pill anyway.”
“For a long time, my life was informed by an unhealthy amount of escapism and addiction to surrealism,” he explains. “I couldn’t see clearly. Everything was opaque. I made the song around the time I tried to turn it around.”
In the end, Freeman’s honesty might just make a connection.
“When you listen to me, hopefully you feel like you’re not alone,” he leaves off. “We all have different ways of expressing ourselves, but we’re not really all that different. There’s a lot of commonality in our experiences across colors and sexual and religious proclivities. We’re all really similar. If you feel isolated, maybe you can see yourself in the music.”