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Aaron Freeman: Return to Form


What was it like to work with Boerner?
I checked out his work on YouTube, and luckily he was available for the sessions. He came in for like three days, and he’s so pro that he caught on instantly just by listening to the simple demos that I sent him. Working with him was so easy—he’s just a super nice guy and a terrific guitar player who takes his coffee very seriously. And he’s a natural fit for the Freeman live band.

Boerning It Up

North Carolina native Chris Boerner is a jazz ace and a fixture in the Triangle music scene, but he’s also a formidable rocker. In his own words, he tells what it was like to help realize the songs of Aaron Freeman.

Aaron Freeman recently called me looking for someone to play on his new record and do a little touring, and I jumped at the opportunity. In preparation for the recording sessions, Aaron sent me some demos, just acoustic guitar and voice. He was really set on giving very minimal information, basically just the overall structures, and letting the players go in with open minds to figure out the instrumental details.

We recorded everything over the course of a few days at Applehead Recording, in Woodstock, New York. It’s got a very cool, big live room and a great-sounding Neve console. Not only that, the studio is on this historic property—we stayed in a cabin that was Rick Danko’s [The Band] old house. There’s so much history around Woodstock outside of the festival—Bob Dylan and so many others have done a lot musically there—and it was cool to kind of be part of that.

My main guitar on the record is a homemade Frankenstein Stratocaster that I’ve been constantly modifying for years. It’s currently got a Warmoth neck, Lollar pickups, and, most important, a really classic Strat sound. I also played Aaron’s 1958 Historic Les Pauls and a couple of his Martins, a D-28 in standard tuning and another that we had strung in Nashville tuning.

I used some great amps that belong to the studio: a Fender Princeton, one of the early ones without reverb, and a Carol-Ann OD2 for overdrive. As for effects, I brought my simple pedalboard containing a Fulltone Full-Drive, an Eventide TimeFactor, and a cool little boost my friend Rich Flickinger makes, the Petal Pusher.

Though we did put in 12 to 14 hours each day, the sessions were pretty laid-back. We did a lot of live playing—drums, bass, and guitars—and then I went back and did some strategic overdubs. Although Aaron had a vision of how he wanted the record to sound, he was totally open to my creative input on the parts, and we were blown away by how it all came together in the end.

In touring for the album, we’ll also be playing a bunch of Ween stuff. It’ll be exciting not only to revisit the music I heard in my formative years, but also, with Aaron’s permission, to put my own spin on it.

How would you describe your formative experiences?
As a pre-teen I had a cheap Casio keyboard, and at the same time I enjoyed experimenting with tape speeds using the cassette deck that my father gave me. I discovered that if you pressed the record button and then the play button, halfway down, the recording mechanism would speed up, but the tape would play back really slowly. That was the first time I realized how much I loved slowed-down vocals.

I got my first bass guitar when I was about 12. That was my first love, and I still play a lot of bass. I started Ween at 16, and really just sang, or more accurately, screamed the vocals. Around the same time I got into the guitar through listening to Neil Young. I learned that if you knew three or four chords, you could get instant gratification by playing many of his songs.

In Ween, we would record bass and drums at home, for backing tracks, and play and sing live on top of that. We played like that for years. In any case, I would say that my formative years were all about a tape deck, guitar, and vocals. That and realizing the value of simplicity and the fact that you can write any song with just three or four chords—writing and playing all the time and getting better and better in the process.

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