The Free Design

By Semone Maksimovic
September 1, 2005

Every once in a while we witness the birth of yet another musical prodigy as they share with us some of their finest projects and usually they seem to have us captivated by their ability to think outside the square and break rules, making their own form of cool.

Chris Dedrick was one of those people; he along with his three sisters, Sandy, Stephanie, Ellen and older brother Bruce formed The Free Design back in 1967. With Chris at the helm, they went on to make seven studio albums between 1967 and 1973, giving the world fresh hope in music again, with their flair to explore new sounds and their curiosity with the beat and feel of rock 'n' roll which saw them making genre defying masterpieces.

Now over three decades later, the Free Design have just been paid the highest and most unexpected (for them at least anyway) compliment, as Light In The Attic Records have banded together with some of today's finest musicians (which include Stereolab & The High Llamas, Super Furry Animals, Caribou (formerly Manitoba), Chris Geddes of Belle & Sebastian, Kid Koala, Nobody featuring Ikey Owens (the Mars Volta) etc) to release an amazing compilation 'The Now Sound Redesigned' which shows artists and bands remixing and redesigning their favourite Free Design tracks, making sure to put their own life into the tracks that had a hand in inspiring them, sticking to the original principles of the Free Design.

In the lead-up to this jaw-dropping release, I managed to get a very rare opportunity to speak with main singer/arranger Chris Dedrick about the Free Design, inspiring an eclectic mix of today's best musicians and what his been busy working on since.

After a full-day in the studio working on a score to a film, a friendly and relaxed Dedrick picks up the phone from his home in Canada, where he's been located since just after the Free Design ceased releasing.

So how do you feel about this Free Design tribute compilation coming out?

"Everybody has really knocked me out, it's all way beyond what I could have hoped for. I think they've all found some amazing layers and feelings and really honed in on certain phrases and managed to really create something quite unique."

So do you feel a little heart warmed to have inspired this wide spectrum of artists?

"It's a good feeling to know that our music is still out there, being played and inspiring people. Years ago I got a message from someone telling me that they just had somebody pay $400 US for an original vinyl Free Design album. I just keep discovering that there's a growing number of people that still appreciate those records and to me, the remixes on this new compilation are kind of a doorway into what we were doing then and bringing it into the now. I think it's all very exciting and I'm pleased with what resulted."

Do you find yourself rediscovering any of your old tracks now with the re-working they've received?

"That's a hard question actually, you know, cause with the more remixish tracks, they've used programs that I work with now too, so I can really appreciate what goes into putting together. For example the Stereolab and High Llamas track, where they're using all of these different bits of different songs and making it all work. A lot of the tracks on the compilation are amazing in that way, there's none of the tracks on there, where I say 'Ho hum', they all have their surprises and they all capture a real vibe. I think if I had to choose one then 'I Found Love' would be it I suppose, it's hard to say, I'll have different favourites at different times. 'Kites are Fun' is amazing too; they managed to do an amazing turn out on that one. I find that as a cd, I'm pulling it out more and more and enjoying each listen even more."

Still trying to absorb it all?

"Yeah, because there's a lot of detail to take in."

So what kinds of things did bring a band like the Free Design inspiration?

"Well, it was a fairly idyllic experience growing up the way we did, we lived in the country and it was very beautiful, it wasn't a carefree existence, but we had really strong principals and a certain amount of discipline and so on. I think it gave us a bit of a clean slate and so with some of our earlier things were just a nave expression of that, I'd just write a song about whatever inspired me, whether it be a kite or an umbrella or love. I was inspired by some of the pop music that was around; there was a very wide variety of music that was around in those days, things that were very different from each other. I personally actually found Motown music to be very inspiring, even though I wasn't particularly trying to write it, I was listening to Motown and I could really relate and tell that those musicians were kind of like my dad's group in a way. They were kind of like jazz musicians who totally understand how to put a track together.

I learned so much about writing for a rhythm section by listening to Motown. There were other artists that I was inspired by at the time, like Cream, I liked the triadic palette that they used in their music.

As a teenager in high school I wanted to get away from the styles that had gone through the 40s and 50s, I felt that there was a relationship between rock and pop music that went back almost to ancient music. It had this purity and these fits, like moving fits and I tried to build on that"

So what have you managed to fill your days with since your last album with The Free Design?

"Sandy, Ellen and I went on to join a group of really talented musicians, the Star Scape Singers and we toured around Europe and the States. Then in the middle of the 80s I got into film and television writing and that's been my main work, although I still write songs and concert music and have lots of other things going on at the same time."

After over three decades of making music, do you ever find yourself feeling paranoid that the ideas might one day cease flowing through?

"I know that the ideas will never stop coming, I only get scared if I get so pre-occupied that I can't hear them or find them. I have no doubt about the abundance of the ideas that are available, usually there's not really any time to even think about that, I can't say I've ever felt paranoid about finding ideas, I think the challenge is to prepare yourself in such a way, that you go beyond what's acceptable and what's not. You know, mediocrity is just so easy to write, but the really special moments come when you take yourself into another space."

The Free Design: The Now Sound Redesigned is out now and well worth checking out for some smooth Sunday afternoon chill out bliss! Available on Light in the Attic Records.

Check out some of our other Great Acid Logic Music Interviews:
Kool Keith - By Semone Maksimovic Tricky - By Semone Maksimovic
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And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead (II) - By Semone Maksimovic And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - By Semone Maksimovic
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Mojo Nixon - By Wil Forbis The Great Kat - Wil Forbis
Ricki Rockett of Poison - By Wil Forbis Gerald V. Casale of DEVO - By Wil Forbis
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