By Adam Lovinus
By Lilledeshan Bose
By Gabriel San Roman
By Rachel Mattice
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Daniel Kohn
By Nate Jackson
By Mike Seeley
Free Moral Agents gave you four free shows this month as part of a Monday-night residency at Detroit Bar. They even gave you shows that included newer material and, if you were lucky, the world debut of a few brand-new tracks. It's like getting that remote-controlled car you wanted, and then finding out your aunt also bought batteries.
The Long Beach-based sextet (vocalist Mendee Ichikawa, Rhodes player Reid Kinnet, guitarist Jesse Carzello, bassist Dennis Owens, drummer Ryan Reiff and keyboardist Isaiah "Ikey" Owens) have been holed up in a slew of Southern California recording studios since July working on the follow-up to 2010's Control This, an album that was created, Owens says, in a way that wasn't as modern as he would have hoped. The new songs, of which five or six have been road-tested in Europe with another few slated to be worked out—kinks and all—in front of Detroit Bar audiences, feature a strong dub influence and production by Sublime sideman Michael "Miguel" Happoldt.
"We're trying to make a modern record, a record that can only be made this year," Ikey Owens says. "We purposely didn't use a lot of new recording techniques and technology on Control This. And this record, I'm purposely trying to be as inorganic as possible. It allows us to be more fluid and agile as composers."
As stocking stuffers, the band are using their December residency to perform songs from Everybody's Favorite Weapon, an album released in 2004 under the Free Moral Agents moniker that was more of an Owens solo record than a full group recording (the current lineup wasn't formed until 2006). As if that weren't enough, to celebrate the string of shows, Free Moral Agents are giving away a new song available for download.
Calling from San Francisco before a gig with Long Beach's Crystal Antlers (the keyboardist is filling in for Crystal Antlers "until they fire me"), Owens says the details of each week's show haven't been worked out in advance, but it's possible new material played one week might be replaced with newer material the next. They want to bring guest musicians in to each performance, including a collaboration with Crystal Antlers singer/bassist Jonny Bell on saxophone. The day after Christmas, however, will be a dance party with nothing but DJs and Free Moral Agents.
Mondays are rough nights to pull a crowd. Factor in the cold weather and holiday hangover, and as a band, you're asking for trouble. Yet for some reason, Owens and company will be playing new material, some of which is nothing more than incomplete parts to songs. They plan to record the shows to remember how things turn out, but if the recordings fail, Owens says, there were always their memories to fall back on. The room for error is high, but, the keyboardist says, he doesn't mind if what comes out onstage isn't perfect.
"I've never been scared of fucking up," Owens says. "I don't really care if people hear me or any of our band fuck up. I don't think that's a big deal."
This article appeared in print as "Gift-wrapped: Free Moral Agents give you free shows filled with new material."