Rob DeFriese, is a professional singer/songwriter, vocalist, bassist, and guitarist from Phoenix, AZ. He writes and performs his own music as a solo act, and as part of an original-music, 3-piece, alternative-rock trio called ANT FARM. He also sings and plays bass in a 3-piece blues/rock cover and an original-music band called JC & THE ROCKERS.
- Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how you got started initially?
Rob DeFriese: I was born and raised in Phoenix, AZ, although I recently spent time on the East Coast. I’ve been interested in music since grade school, but I got started writing songs and doing the “rock band” thing since high school. That’s when I wrote my first song, dedicated to my girlfriend at the time. And actually that’s where I met my current, Ant Farm bandmates.
- For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style?
Rob DeFriese: I think every musician carries the music they were “raised on” or grew up with into their writing and performing, and so I’m grateful my early influences were diverse and a little eclectic . . . like popular music throughout the 70’s really was. But of course when I started playing and performing myself, the bands I was in were trying to sound like the bands and artists we liked at the time. For me, of course, The Beatles had stuck with me, but I particularly liked and was emulating The Police, U2, R.E.M., and even The Replacements. Alternatively, I was playing a LOT of cover music the 10 years I was in Atlanta, and I think that experience generally was very helpful because, when you’re playing so much of others’ music, you start to see how YOU want to play it. Your own musical flavors start to emerge, but you’re simultaneously being influenced by the music you’re learning and playing. And nowadays, I think I’m still being influenced by ALL the music to which I both have and am listening. The process continues!
- You’re currently in 3 different projects – your own solo work, as well as the bands ANT FARM and JC & THE ROCKERS. How do you juggle your time between the 3?
Rob DeFriese: It can be challenging! Each project lands on a different point in the spectrum between original and cover music, so the amount of paid work — or maybe I should say the amount of pay — varies. At this point, the more covers involved, the more you’re gigging for pay . . . “working!” (lol) So JCR has the most work, followed by my solo gigs, then Ant Farm. But I’m trying to gradually increase the amount of my or Ant Farm’s own music I/we are playing at gigs, and increasing the number of “original” gigs as well.
- Do you feel that your music has given you back just as much as you have put into it over the years, or were you expecting something more or different?
Rob DeFriese: Yes, the personal gratification of writing a song and then performing it well . . . preferably for a large audience (lol) is greater than I expected. And I’m very happy as I look back at my, and Ant Farm’s past work — which is why I and we are still playing it now. I’m still not happy with my volume of writing. I’m still striving to be as prolific as I can be.
- How would you define the word “success” as a musician? What does “success” in music, mean to you personally?
Rob DeFriese: I’d say it’s a combination of 2 things generally: 1) At a minimum making a comfortable living writing and performing my and/or the band’s own songs, and; 2) Reaching, connecting with people with the songs I write and the messages in them. Hopefully the first is happening because a lot of the second is happening (lol)! But I envision a time when I also could be writing background/soundtrack music for TV or film, which might be a little different in terms of how I’m “connecting” with listeners.
- The music industry has fundamentally changed over the years. For the better or for the worse in your opinion?
Rob DeFriese: What’s changed for the worse is the amount of pay an artist will get for their recorded work since the advent of digital distribution and/or streaming. There are people in the industry hard at work trying to change the laws surrounding this, and hopefully this aspect will change. I’m encouraged, for example, by the establishment of the MLC (Mechanical Licensing Collective) to help collect royalties from streaming use.
One of the blessings is also a curse: The “democratization” of music — that is, an artist or band being able to record and distribute their own music — is revolutionary and CAN open access to more people, but it also puts a huge burden on the artist or band to do all the work and foot all the expenses that record labels used to do, which can be really overwhelming. If you’re not making “a living wage” from writing and performing, your time is taken by whatever other means one has of earning an income, and makes all aspects more difficult.
- Do current popular songs from the radio influence your music, creative approach and/or production decisions in anyway, or do you stick with your own baggage?
Rob DeFriese: I think in order for an artist or band to be true to themselves, they mostly have to stick with their own baggage because one’s muse is one’s muse — you have to write what you’re hearing in your “mind’s ear” and your heart. At the same time I think it’s good practice to listen to what’s out there and try to incorporate ideas — either lyrical or musical — into one’s own music. I’m doing my best to strike that balance.
I’m having a lot of trouble with “grumpy old man” syndrome (lol): It seems to me like the musical structure and content of a lot of “pop” music lately is so much less colorful and complex than it used to be, and I struggle with being flexible enough to “dummy-down” my songs to what feels like is the least common denominator. But I suppose the upside to this aspect is that there may be more exploration of melody, which is fundamentally important to any song.
- What’s your favorite ‘guilty pleasure’ song? One that’s as far removed from your genre as we could hope to guess?
Rob DeFriese: Oh, I have a lot more than one . . . here’s three (lol)! “Shining Star” by Earth, Wind, & Fire, “Your Smiling Face” by James Taylor, and “Chase The Clouds Away” by Chuck Mangione. I’m dating myself here, but each those were Top-40 or maybe even Top-10 hits of their time.
- Putting aside the accolades or criticisms that fans or the media may afford your releases, what’s the one thing about your music you think people overlook or misinterpret most often?
Rob DeFriese: I don’t think many are listening to or “hearing” the lyrics. It may be that I can improve how I write them, but I definitely thoughtful about them, and it seems like many people are missing the meaning.
- Name us a band or musical artist you love, that you think we probably haven’t heard of (but definitely should hear)?
Rob DeFriese: Camper Van Beethoven — it was the band David Lowry fronted before he went on his own and formed the band Cracker.
- Do you have a particular hobby or activity outside of music that you use to rejuvenate your creativity or inspiration?
Rob DeFriese: Going for a hike up one of the local mountains, or going for a long-distance drive, and/or being out in nature — especially seeing wildlife.
- What drives your day after day, more than anything else, to continue pursuing your musical career?
Rob DeFriese: My soul feels rejuvenated, even after practicing of any kind including band rehearsal, and especially when playing my (or the band’s) own music. And that feeling is magnified when I write/complete a new song. And there’s a bit of financial pressure to (lol) — I’ve committed to being a full-time musician, and while teaching private lessons is rewarding and is a valuable service, I’m trying to get to the point where I’m only writing, recording, then touring & performing my or the band’s own music.
On an even more personal note, it’s really important to me to put “good vibes” out there. Especially nowadays, there’s too much division, rancor and hate, and simply as being that exist we can’t afford to give in to all our urges and impulses to follow those instincts or it seems to me we won’t survive. I’m trying to connect with people so they don’t feel alone, but so that we can see what we have in common. This may sound a little preachy, but I think that’s our job as musicians and artists in general — to help inspire and connect us.
- If you were forced to choose just one song by your favorite artist that you wished you had written, which song would it be, and why?
Rob DeFriese: That’s a tough choice to make! It’s hard to choose only one, but I’ll go with “Blackbird” by The Beatles. It’s simple in terms of arrangement — just guitar and vocals — but it’s musically beautiful and chordally a bit complex.
- Do you think is it important for fans of your music to understand the real story and message driving each of your songs, or do you think everyone should be free to interpret your songs in their own way?
Rob DeFriese: It’s most important for people to interpret my music in their own way, so that it has meaning for them. But that said, I hold out hope that most people are “pickin’ up what I’m layin’ down” (lol) and hear the message I’m trying to convey.
- What’s the most exciting part of the process of putting a new song together for you?
Rob DeFriese: Finishing a song musically and lyrically is very exciting. Almost as exciting is hearing my music in a full arrangement — that’s usually in Ant Farm rehearsal when we play a song for the first time relatively sure of what we’re doing.
- Have you ever stepped completely and unwillingly outside of your comfort zone, vocally or musically to accommodate the desire of a co-writer, arranger or music producer etc.? If so, did you consider it a positive or negative experience, and why?
Rob DeFriese: Not to extent I wish I had. It usually happens in Ant Farm rehearsal when we try something new with a song or a song that’s not quite in our normal genre “wheelhouse,” as they say. I have also had that experience with a couple of producers, and a little with some co-writers. I definitely think it’s a positive experience, because even if I didn’t care for the result, it always helped me expand my musical horizons and see from a different perspective.
- Regardless of genre, which basic qualities does a song need to possess to qualify as a “good” re-listenable song in Rob DeFriese’s playlist?
Rob DeFriese: A good groove is important, and some kind of musical hook — it’s good if there’s an instrumental one outside of the melody, AND one in the melody. I think the lyrics need to say something relatable, but it doesn’t always have to be terribly meaningful . . . like, “I love Spring” or “you bum me out,” or something.
- How long does it usually take you to complete an album? Do you work with a fixed daily writing and recording schedule, or do you only work on your music when you feel inspired?
Rob DeFriese: TOO LONG. I’m working on that! (lol) I usually only write when inspired, but it’s been too confined to “when I have time,” and I’m working hard to allow myself to set aside the time to regularly create. So right now it’s every few years, and I definitely want to pick up the pace.
- Many in the industry believe this to be the ‘golden age’ for electronic music, and that in the future we’ll be looking back at the electronic dance music songs from this era, in the same as we look back at our favorite pop, rock, country and soul tunes, from past eras of musical excellence. Coming from a completely different musical genre, what’s your take on this thought?
Rob DeFriese: I definitely hope not! It’s fine if it has its own place as a genre of its own. But I hope that all of music keeps its variety, not only of genre but of the sounds made by all manner of musical instruments — electronic, acoustic or both! And I think there’s something to the fact that we’re “organic” beings, and as a result we have a connection to sounds made by nature or by “natural” (i.e. acoustic) instruments. Sounds that are “electronic” — and by that I don’t mean samples, I mean sounds that can only be produced electronically — are excellent additions to our collective, human musical palette, but should not be substitutions for what we’ve had for so long.