The Family Business: Stan Freese and Sons Josh and Jason
If there's one thing the Freese family is good at it, it's music.
If there's another thing the Freese family is good at, it's talking.
We got to sit down with Stan Freese and his two sons, Josh and Jason, in April at Jason's Fullerton home. The idea was for them to lead the interview, and they did: growing up, their not-so-rebellious household, what makes a good musician.
Stan, 67, is the talent casting and booking director for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts—not to mention being a world-renowned tuba soloist who was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year's OC Music Awards.
Both of his sons are professional studio musicians—and trust us when we say you've heard their work. The 38-year-old Josh (a former Weekly cover man; see "Pay for Play," June 26, 2009) drums as a member of Devo, A Perfect Circle and the Vandals, and he was also momentarily a part of Nine Inch Nails. He has also recorded for everyone from the Replacements and Sting to Unwritten Law and Kelly Clarkson. You can currently catch him on tour with Weezer.
Jason, 36, plays the saxophone, piano and keyboards; tours with Green Day; and records with his own array of world-famous artists including Dweezil Zappa, NOFX, Spoon, Jewel and more. He has also produced albums for Jewel, Death By Stereo and Zebrahead.
OC Weekly: Stan, tell us about growing up in Minnesota playing the tuba.
Stan Freese: I did it on a dare in fourth grade. Bruce and Keith offered me 25 cents each if I would raise my hand and say I'd take the tuba. And so I made 50 cents—in 1954, that was pretty good. So I brought it home, and my parents were cool, and they didn't say, "Get rid of that thing." You know, they just figured I'd quit in no time. But for some reason, I liked it.
It was just fun. And ever since then, I've used the tuba as a prop in my life. It's gotten me everywhere—around the world, China and Russia and Japan . . .
Josh Freese: Placentia.
Stan: . . . So it's been great for me. I had a lot of fun playing it, but I never considered myself a great tuba player. And I admire these great symphony tuba players, for sure, but for me, it was just a fun deal to get through life.
Jason Freese: The Flea of tuba playing!
Stan: So when the boys wanted to go into music, and my job is to be around professional musicians all the time, and I see how tough it can be—you know, to make a real good living and whatever in this day and age—I wasn't jumping up and down. But once I saw they really wanted to be [musicians] and it didn't make any difference to them if they became millionaires or not . . .
Jason: [Puts up his hand, smiling] No, no, it does. It still does. I'm still living the dream. SOMEDAY!
Stan: . . . So then I jumped onboard once I saw that they were into it, and I didn't have to tell them to practice. Then, I thought, "Okay, well, I'll support this and just see where it goes." [Pause] Too bad it ended up like this. [Laughs] How lucky is it, in one family, for two brothers to do well and have fun and enjoy what they're doing and be able to make their car payments? It doesn't happen a lot.
Josh: I just feel so lucky and fortunate to know what I've wanted to do since I was my son's age, who's in the fourth grade and more worried about video games and riding around on his scooter with his friends. It was us wanting to do it, us seeking it out on our own. It was always around us, but seeking out what we wanted to do, what instrument we wanted to play, and to be focused in on that has given me and Jason a real drive and meaning since we were kids. It's gotta be rough not knowing what you want to do or if you find something you wanna do is something you don't wanna do. . . .
Jason: Or! At the same time, I have a ton of friends who are unbelievable musicians who've never had a break and can barely make a living. That's gotta be the worst. Because when you do have a drive and a lot of talent, and you do practice and you never get that break, that's gotta be the most frustrating thing in the world.
Stan: So there's a lot of luck with a lot of practice. You have to practice, practice, practice and have a lot of talent and have it in your DNA and then! You got to be lucky.
Josh: Yeah, it's gotta be both. . . . You gotta have the magical combination. That's one reason why I feel like it's hard for me to get lazy or say no to stuff. I'll only say no to gigs if I can't do it—like I literally can't do it. Almost out of respect for the situation and the opportunities I've been given, I can't sit around and blow things off . . . because I'm so lucky.
Stan: I know exactly what you're saying because you feel almost obligated to the spirituality of the whole thing that you don't . . . You have this gift, and it's your time, and it's coming around, and you have these opportunities. . . .
Josh: And you feel like a total jerk.
Stan: That's how I feel about retiring from Disney. I've been at Disney for 40 years, and I'm 67 years old, and everyone's going, "Well, why don't you retire?" But then I look at the news, and I see tons of people out of work, and I just feel so lucky to have a job that I'm going, "Man, I'm not quitting this thing." Plus, I'm having fun. . . . I feel an obligation to the law of nature to keep doing it—as long as I think I'm doing a good job.
So what was it like growing up? You obviously all have strong personalities.
Stan: I wish I could tell you it was really rough and they were hard to raise and they rebelled, but actually, we had a great time. Josh was out of the house sooner because he had quit school to go out on the road, but the years we spent together it was fun. It'd be me going to their gigs and roadie-ing for him.
Plus, we all kinda spoke the same language and had the same sense of humor. I think musicians, in my experience, are funny. Good musicians who are smart are funnier than anybody else in the world. Bad musicians aren't all that funny. So I love being around musicians who have that sense of humor, and both boys have that sense of humor. We laughed a lot.
Josh: Bad musicians are funny to us.
Stan: Don't you think so? Let me tell you one of the reasons: A musician grows up by himself. You play in a practice room, practicing by yourself, getting to be really great hour after hour after hour, and spending all your money on instruments and getting really good. And so you go out and mow yards when you're young, wash cars, whatever, and then you go to college and whatever, and you practice. And then you're finally a professional musician, and you're on your first professional gig after all those years of hard, solitary work, and they make you come in through the back door.
Jason: I also think it's a profession where you get paid to be onstage for about an hour, but you gotta be there for nine hours. So those other eight hours, you're just hanging with people. And that's what you do for a living. You're paid to work about an hour out of the day. So the other 23 hours when you're on the road is hanging out—and if you don't have a sense of humor . . . you'll kill yourself.
Stan: If you're a great player, that's one thing, but you better be a good hang in the dressing room, a good hang on the tour bus, a good hang at the hotels. Even if you play your fanny off and you're the world's greatest player, the band leader is gonna fire you if you're a drag. I've seen it my whole life.
. . . And that's when the conversation came around to the topic of poop, so we'll stop there. Look for Stan this summer performing at Vandals shows and doing a "little quick hit" for the new Muppets movie, out this Christmas. Josh will be touring with Weezer and doing a few Devo gigs. Both Jason and Stan just finished recording on Jewel's next record; Jason also produced Zebrahead's latest, Get Nice.
This article appeared in print as "From Disney to Devo: Stan Freese & sons Josh and Jason."
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