What’s in a name?
Portland’s Benjamin Franklin Freeman rocks with the weirdest of them
It takes a certain kind of person—a confident if not megalomaniacal one—to name his band after himself. It also takes a certain kind of person—a thoughtful, determined one—to name his band after a prominent historical figure like, say, Benjamin Franklin. But a combination of the two, realized in Portland band Benjamin Franklin Freeman, which shares its name with its frontman, seems utterly over-ambitious.
Freeman ("Frank” to his friends), a songwriter who expertly walks the line between tasty pop and balls-out rawk, explains that the name is really a matter of necessity.
“We started out as The Draft,” said Franklin via e-mail as his band prepared for the trek to California. “I loved that name. After a year or so I was told that three of the four members of a band called Hot Water Music had broken away to form a band they would call The Draft.”
Freeman’s The Draft had already released an energetic record, but it stopped using the name rather than dealing with the legal hassle. The Draft became Flightlessbird and played a handful of shows under that name but feared it would eventually be stolen as well.
“Benjamin Franklin Freeman is my full name and I doubt anyone will think to call themselves that,” Freeman said.
Whatever its name, Freeman’s band is strictly rooted in good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll, whether it’s bands like Queen, the Pixies, the Grifters and Spoon, as described by hometown critics, or ‘90s rock bands like the Smoking Popes or even Soundgarden, the latter of whom BFF seem to nod to on their newer songs.
“I loved Badmotorfinger,” said Freeman. “I would steal my family’s station wagon, burn a hog leg and listen to that album over and over. I’m sure that had some impact on my writing. That tape could be found between my Ritual de lo Habitual and Bossanova tapes.”
Franklin’s family moved around constantly when he was a kid, and he bounced from band to band as a teenager, experimenting with psychedelic music and crazy costumes (he still takes the stage dressed in a variety of weird outfits).
One life-changing moment came when, in a freak accident at a house show, his friend and bandmate was electrocuted by a microphone and died shortly thereafter.
“It just seemed like a crucial moment in my musical history,” he said. “I don’t think you ever get over something like that. I still ask myself why I wasn’t the one electrocuted by that mic.”
After the accident, Freeman had sworn off music altogether. Years later, he and his band (along with a spate of side projects—Freeman’s is called Jesus Burger, bassist Zach Domer’s is simply Domer) have found a place in the burgeoning music scene of Portland.
“There’s a lot of magic in Portland,” Freeman said. “It’s dark. That usually depressing scenario can persuade you to meditate on music …. There is a wealth of progressive and traditional ideas, musical or otherwise, for such a stable city.”
But, BFF is a band that feels more regressive (in a good way), the songs refreshingly free of indie posturing or freak-folk-style self-conscious weirdness.
A current tour finds Benjamin Franklin Freeman in the process of releasing its first album, killyourselfishness, which was recorded by Skyler Norwood at Portland’s Miracle Lake Studios. Norwood approached the band after a show ("he liked my Santa with Satan face costume,” Freeman said) just around the time they’d finished negotiating a deal with Love Harder Records. So they used their advance for some intoxicants and studio time, emerging with a record that captures the band’s raw weirdness. Says Freeman: “All of these songs are written in code, and he [Norwood] understands that. We wanted it to be cut and dry, in the vein of our performances, and it’s a great rendering.”