Freeport's siren songs

Freeport talks sea shanties, drum machines and that peaceful, haunted feeling

This is much better than one of those scary cruise-ship voyages.

This is much better than one of those scary cruise-ship voyages.

photo by shoka

See Freeport on Friday, November 15, at 6:30 p.m. at Harlow's Restaurant & Nightclub, located at 2708 J Street. The cover is $7-$10, and the Jahari Sai Quartet is also on the bill. Visit for more info.

The term “sea gaze,” which is how local band Freeport describes its genre of music, isn’t just some clever name the members devised—it really is the best description for its sound.

The band is, on one hand, heavily influenced by early ’90s-era music: moody, atmospheric shoegaze by the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Lush, and the Jesus and Mary Chain. On the other hand, it is also quite influenced by sea shanties.

It isn’t just that the group’s songs sound like slow, surreal pirate sing-alongs—although they do—it’s that the sea is an integral part of the band as a whole: It serves as a place of inspiration on all levels, and lyrically, the ocean is a recurring theme.

To that end, Freeport, which performs on Friday, November 15, at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub, has even planned a songwriting retreat to the northern coast.

“I think the sea is a good symbol in that it represents the freedom and also the terror of something so vast,” says pianist and vocalist Madeleine Lohman.

The trio, rounded out by Jeannie Howell and Joy Stern (both on guitar and vocals), creates haunting vocal harmonies, which float atop snail-slow, drumless melodies. It’s a sound punctuated with plenty of keyboard textures and the effect makes for an eerie wash of sounds.

The incompleteness of this sea-gaze sound is what makes it so chilling, at least in part. Without the anchor of a drummer, the songs are rendered thoroughly trancelike, even with the sea-shanty waltzes that inspire the guitar rhythms.

But that’s all about to change—the lack of drummer part, anyway.

The band recently decided to add another member and experiment with sound. Well, not a drummer exactly—rather a drum machine the members named “Doctor Rhythm,” to be exact.

“We’ve apparently offended a lot of drummers from Sacramento when we posted a picture of Doctor Rhythm [on Facebook],” says Lohman with a laugh. “[They] were offended at being replaced by a robot.”

OK, no one was actually upset. Bands use drum machines all the time. Then again, most bands don’t name their machines, nor refer to them as a band member.

That said, Freeport’s decision to use technology instead of living, breathing person had to do mostly with not wanting to alter the trio’s dynamic: Since 2011, the three have worked to refine their sound and build on those gorgeous harmonies.

Let’s back up a bit. The band actually formed in 2006, but never got that serious and eventually broke up. Then, in 2011, the women decided it was time for a reboot.

“I never let Freeport go,” Stern says now. “I was just really excited that Jeannie and Madeleine wanted to give it a go again.”

Now, the band is set to premiere a new collection of songs (Doctor Rhythm in tow) at the Harlow’s show. Afterward, it’ll take a break to write more material.

How exactly the drum machine fits into that remains to be seen, the band members say. The idea is to keep the sound organic but also be open to new possibilities.

“I think [we’ll be using the machine to] enrich the music, to add dynamics … to just to make the final point,” Howell says.

With rhythm taking a more overt role in the band, the members say they’re taking care not to lose the haunting quality that has so prominently defined them in the past.

If anything, Lohman says, they hope that more variations will make the music more chilling.

“It’s very much in process. All of us hope it’s adding to that haunted feeling,” she says. “[The sound’s] not going to get happy and have handclaps going on it anytime soon.”