I first heard the tremendous talent from this rock band with an expressive jazz, funk style band self introduced as FreeJay, featuring Big Mountain Little Everest, coming from the Coca~Cola stage at the Cherry Blossom Festival on March 22, 2012! I was impressed as two band mates "flipped the script" with the lead singer and the drummer switching out during their high energy performance. I introduced myself and passed my contact information to FreeJay band manager, Jessica, before the band departed the stage in hopes of gaining an interview with the band members.
Jessica contacted me and I was invited to interview the guys of FreeJay before their band practice on March 25. I was stoked to sit down with Jessica and the band mates to get a lesson in their music!
FreeJay was initially comprised in 2006 of front man Jeff "FreeJay" Warren and evolved with time to become the current band, FreeJay & $2 Fortys, which has been playing together for a month and a half at the time of our interview, although most of the material is previous. In speaking with Jeff, he will mesmerize you with entertaining conversation filled with stories and jokes. After taking part in definitively making forty six CDs through alternate projects, Jeff was determined he would make his own album, "and just find cats that just want to go play." Jeff is very talented as a lead vocalist, song writer, guitarist, drummer, and pianist. Jeff enthusiastically admits he has always written the same type of music, but the music as played "can range from simple to an eleven piece band with strings and horns and everything else, either way, it just sounds great." Jeff is in tune with his song writing style as he writes what comes, he says to sit down and think to write just didn't work for him, but to just sit down and let go, allow emotions to flow and "bam there it is." Jeff describes, "people say I hate my bad life, no - I'm learning to embrace it because it is the fuel to the fire. If I would just be content with what God has given me, it would be beautiful and that is where I am at." He will have you wondering where does the talent end, a better question is where does the talent begin?
Jeff met Michael "Mike" Roark in 2004 as Jeff played drums for another band. Michael charmingly joked, "they just threw a bass at me and I picked it up and started playing." In actuality, Michael is as multifaceted as his band mates with the ability to play bass, guitar, and drums with plans of performing back up vocals in the future. Michael began playing the first four guitar chords as taught by his older brother, from there picked the rest up on his own. In 2008, Michael graduated the Master Recording Program II (audio recording school) at The Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences. Michael is currently attending classes at Macon State College toward a degree in Music Theory and Composition. Michael describes himself as "more conserved, I like to observe then just annoy people with witless banter." Cail describes Michael as, "able to do things on a bass that most people can't do on a regular guitar." During our conversation, Jeff correlated Michael to Beethoven. For inquisitive minds, I found out that Michael owns a Ibanez SR405QM Electric Bass Guitar that he plays in FreeJay & $2 Fortys. Michael owns a pretty serious guitar as well, a Schecter HELLRAISER-C1 Electric Guitar w/Floyd Rose tremolo.
Jeff and Cail "Boxxx" Huggins met in 2005 while Jeff played for "Face Down." Cail, 24, is a vivid artist as he plays drums, sings, writes songs, and plays guitar. Cail expresses "the music is about life, about celebrating." Cail says of Free Jay, "we all three bring something different to the table - like Jeff has his way of playing and singing that is really soulful and really uplifting. Mike brings the funk and groove to it, the mechanics of it all." Cail professed he has only been playing the drums for approximately a year and a half, has "learned finesse from playing with Jeff and Mike."
Cail's music influences include Alice In Chains, 311, Sublime, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, and New Radicals. These multi-dimensional influences come to light in FreeJay's music.
What is in a name? Jeff explains FreeJay means "Free as a bird...it is a symbolization of who I am, how I was raised, what I have been through, and I believe these guys can relate."
In regards to $2 Fortys, "FreeJay" has a 1940 microphone he was using in rehearsals and jokes came of the other 2 members and Jessica in regards, leading up to the name.
As if FreeJay & $2 Fortys were not enough to keep Cail "Boxxx" busy, he collaborates with his friend, Famine, on a side project known as High Class and Homeless, a notorious rap duo. Famine stated that the name for this project stems from an incident that occurred about four years ago when he borrowed his Mom's boyfriend's late model Mercedes. While Famine was driving the car, his Mom and her boyfriend broke up, Famine decided to stay out in the car, driving, sleeping and eating in the Mercedes for three days, returning the vehicle upon the make up of his Mom and her boyfriend. "Boxxx" expresses that High class and Homeless is "a clean living band," no drugs and little to no alcohol consumption, although they have a song that pokes fun at drugs, called "Bobby Bouche'." "Boxxx" addressed his concern of bands lacking the support of others, he feels that bands should collectively help one another by "uplifting and boosting one another up," rather than act in each for their own.
FreeJay is also collaborating on a side project compiled of "heavier stuff," called Big Mountain, Little Everest. In fact, the Cherry Blossom Festival performance was a compilation of material from FreeJay & $2 Fortys featuring Big Mountain, Little Everest. Jeff explains the thought behind this project, "Little Everest, for some people, is the pinnacle of climbing up that mountain per say, they have been at the at the top of that pinnacle, they have bigger mountains to climb...I have been through life, I have seen every up and down, that is why I have something to write about. I don't just sit down and write out lyrics, it just comes from the heart. Truth is it has worked, I used to write, think stuff out and it just didn't work for me. I sit down and let go and bam there it is, it is surreal sometimes, but at the same time I realize we can get somewhere, because the people are going to make the music, per say."
With that, Jeff recited these lyrics from "Notion":
Little Charlotte is on the corner
doing what her mama taught her
selling her body for some drugs
but if she'd look deep inside,
she'd see things that she hides,
and all that is missing is love
but she never knew a notion of fear
behind they lyrics: "the world is programmed, and she feels no fear, doesnt realize that she is destorying her life, she going to end up in the same pattern and burden that her mom did."
Cail feels this hits home, "a lot of people see that as just another song, but as I see it, that is a true story." Jeff concurred and added, "at the top of that pinnacle, they have bigger mountians to climb."
Cail shares, "it is really neat we all three bring something different to the table, Jeff has this way of playing and singing that is really soulful and really uplifting. And then he (speaking now of Mike) brings some funk and all the groove to it, I feel like without bass in the band, without a good player like Mike, it would be difficult and different sounding in the band, just in the way he plays and has a certain sound, he brings the mechanics of it all basically. The way they work with each other it really brings out the essence of what each is trying to bring to the table." It is really easy for me to translate it on drums with Jeff also being an amazing drummer, he shows me alot because I really came into all of this not really knowing crap about anything and Jeff said 'Dont worry about it man, just play what you feel and I will teach you here and there, if there is a certain part you've got to learn later we will bang out the details, we will figure it out and we will do it together." Cail continues, "I have been playing drums maybe a year to a year and a half in being serious with it. Working with these guys has done nothing but made me better, learning finesse is probably the hardest thing I have had to do, because I am so heavy handed, emotions is what it is all about behind the drums."
Jeff advices "finesse is everything in music."
Success comes the hard way for Jeff, "it is just experience the hard way for me" because he has collaborated on 46 Cds (including his own, which is to come out soon), Jeff stresses, "that is just forty six of the bands that were serious enough to get something done, that's not counting the other 700 that never made it out of one days practice, or the garage. It is hard, I think they all have the desire, they lack the drive. To be honest, I'd lack the drive too, but circumstances in life drive me which also gives me the inspiration to write. It's like people say I hate my bad life, well, no I'm learning to embrace it because that feeds the fuel to the fire and I feel like I ought to just be content with what God has given me even if it is bad, it is going to turn out beautiful and that is where I am at. I have nothing to fear, from now on I will be known as FreeJay, that is what my mom calls me, that has always been my nickname and it says alot..and I say why not? It is obviously a path I should have took because it has worked. I like when things work."
With debate, 47 albums were worked on in actuality, Jeff states, "we did an album but never played together." Mike clarifies, "I was emailed tracks and I just laid bass down and a couple of song programs I have gotten, - not one practice with that particular band," Mike laughs. Jeff adds, "good material though - could have worked, there you go with that - all the talent and desire but no drive. It is so weird what happened." Mike chimes in, "another guitar player gone bad." Jeff stated, "that is why I like to write my own stuff because this is what I hate, you write all this good music, you have a unique sound and you put your heart and soul, five years later, three albums in and boom they just quit, you're screwed, because if a label was interested, they want the whole package."
A background in music...
Jeff shares personally, "the truth is I met my grandma on my dad's side for the first time after 28 years, I met my dad and that whole side of my family finally. My grandma happened to be a famous R & B singer, Leona Rogers. Jeff expressed excitement, "I was like holy cow, man, wow! And I got to meet her and she said when you learn to use your voice, because I did metal or something and she said when you learn to sing and do soul then you have it right and she said I know it's in you. I said I have thought so for a long time and she said well, you're right. So, Try that on FreeJay. That is what my grandma said to me and it just blew me away." Jeff and his grandmother spoke further in regards to his talent and career and to that, Jeff says, "Almost overnight, two worlds of a difference, like a studio opened up, all these people came, we just filled in the gaps, got in the studio to get this project done, including Mike who recorded on the album as well. The album turned out beautiful, I cannot wait to get it back. Beauty is, it is done now, we can finally establish my grandma was right. Like the other day, we just came to play, we didnt know how it was going to turn out and the response we got out of the crowd, all sorts of ages!"
Networking in Harmony...
Jeff, a Macon native, lived a few years in Tennessee. Of the Tennesse scene, Jeff tells "on the scene the people are super, super supportive at the club, the scene and all the bands are wide open. Starting musicians can play on the street or at ball games and an appreciation comes to them. Down here - I can say this because I have been in the scene, in every aspect of it, even played a street party...In Macon, Georgia, it is much more difficult to find that support". Jeff elaborated that he was in Tennessee, performing at a football game at UT and a patron requested that Jeff put a hat out for tips. Jeff put his drum snare case out and kept on playing. In a matter of about four or five hours he made little over $800. After feeling the support of the scene, Jeff spoke of finding a rare coin in what he recieved in tips that night. He took the coin in and recived $14 for that one quarter. Jeff says "I want to bring that here, now that I have got some real connections in Tennessee, alot with the clubs and radio stations"... Jeff states, "The Hummingbird is connected in that scene, in a sense, they bring in the good groups to the scene. I want to try to talk with the owners and people we know in different clubs and try to do that here because it creates a good network for the bands." Mike stated, "It would be nice to get a good circuit going." Jeff agrees, "that is what's missing, In the nineties, the circuits were everywhere, just get on one and it was amazing, the bands were cool and you played all these cool cities and you knew that every club you were going to was a cool club, good crowd, good people whose supportive of the music." Jeff enthusiastically proclaims, "The Press Club - thats the coolest venue I have ever been to, anywhere, so far - it's small but the crowd, the atmosphere, the bands - its like no other." That is the atmosphere Jeff wishes to bring into Macon.
Mike shared, "something that bothers me about Macon is the fact that it claims to be a music city yet there is hardly any music in it." Mike articulates, "I am not saying the talent wasn't here, I was saying that there are limited places to play." Cail added, "There is so much music, that there is so little opportunity to be heard, for instance, the Power Station requires you to have a press kit." According to Cail, this is a concern as alot of musicians aren't aware as to how to acquire press kit.
Room for Music Growth...
Jeff is a veteran at spreading his love of music, "look, I used to do this in the ninties, and I believe it helped, I used to go and set up in Central City Park, create our own show. It's free, it's not against the law and as long as you're out by ten o'clock, it was perfectly cool. we would get hundreds of people down there and have our own show. Everybody would just set up on the gazebo, play until you're done, another band would set up and just created our own shows. But that created something so unique down there that it carried over onto Cherry Street. In the ninties there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people on Cherry Street. Now there may be a hundred people on Cherry Street." It's starting to grow again, I noticed some little stores opening back up and Mercer getting the Villas, kind of enhancing the college and that helps the city." Jeff elaborated that Mercer (or any independent entity), could start a local radio station, similar to what he witnessed in Tennessee, to help promote local music amongst the big hits, offering local musicians the opportunity to send in their music to the station for potential rotation. Mike warns, "you would have to find out what regulations they have." Jeff shared, "you used to not get the games televised, we are now starting to get the Mercer Bear games televised, people get into that...if Mercer were to get a football team, it would be where it's at!" Jeff used to perform at local college games in Tennessee, so he sees potential for Macon there as well.
Jeff and a friend want to start "The Four Seasons Festival, every season we want to have it in the same location, like a three day weekend event and bring in bands from everywhere, and all these big bands and at the very end of the night have one headliner, don't have the financials now. I actually have the connections to make it happen."
All in good fun...
Jeff broke up the serious talk with an amusing joke in a sombrero.
Mike joked, "It only takes Jeff seven hours to do a two hour interview."
Cail poked fun at Jeff telling nearly his life story, "I am FreeJay", Cail giving a brief break down of events and adding ...."by the way my left hand got cut off in the war." Jokes continued about Jeff's conversational review, Jessica throws in a joke, "he is just excited about seeing actual people." Cail says of Jeff, "we are what you see, we are very comfortable people, man, that is basically how it is. Jeff, he is a goof ball, but at the same time he is as cool as water in a swimming pool." Of course, laughs continue to erupt. Mike jokes about Jeff's sweater, "Next show we do, you got to wear that Cosby sweater, man." Jeff counters, "I will have my pudding pops sitting on the stage."
I finally was able to turn my attention to the quieter member of FreeJay & $2 Fortys, inquire about Mike's music background. Mike shared he began playing bass in 2000, Cail chimes in "A.D.," breaking out another laugh amongst us. Michael admits "I was a band geek in school and Captain of my percussion line back in high school." After high school, he decided to learn another instrument and "picked up a bass and started playing Metallica." That was the first influence, Mike adds "let's see if I can play this and I will be all right." Mike was further influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Rush, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Dead Kennedy's.
Jeff, aka "FreeJay," began playing a snare drum at the early age of four. Jeff recieved his first set of drums at nine and was a comfortable musician at tweleve. "Drums - my natural talent, I guess," says Jeff. At fourteen, Jeff took up playing acoustic guitar. He learned to play by ear and the talent has grown more so through the years. Jeff confesses, "I always wanted to play guitar, but was too lazy to take lessons, so over the years I learned to play by ear." Jeff admits, "I am very theatrical as well." He has performed in a nun costume with Kiss-style makeup, a performance to this effect actually was included in a video music compilation that Jeff shared.
Cail has been playing guitar for about 15 years, he elaborates, "I'm not a master solo artist or anything, I try my best to pull a solo out. You either have it or you don't, sometimes you just have to do it like it or not, but the show must go on. I learned by ear, I still do not know how to read music to this day. The drums for me, is a new experience all together, I like to say you got to be schizophrenic a little bit to play the drums, man - everything you have, every appendage is doing something completely different, man". Cail continues, "I am just tapping into my schizophrenia. It is a big world, man, but you got to exist in it man, to come into it at this band, because we do so many different things, not only in FreeJay & $2 Fortys, it has alot of depth to it and it's hard music to understand from a musicality stand point - it is hard to think about what you are playing (yes, Cail was picked on for saying "musicality," so just remember you heard it here first)."
Personal Thoughts Of the Music...
Jessica asked what I thought of FreeJay & $2 Fortys, I stated, "well obviously, I stayed, that says alot." I elaborated further with Jessica, "I think it will really come together for the guys. Jeff's experience is amazing. The talent of all three is unbelieveable! You know I thought a lot of them, because I gave you my contact info."
Cail expressed, "our style of music is something you don't hear every day." Cail describes FreeJay & $2 Fortys' music as "R & B mixed with a little jazz, mixed with a little southern rock, mixed with some funk, mixed with some..." Famine cuts Cail off to share, "it is like Batman riding around in the Batmobile listening to Sublime."
Jessica declares, "what I love about FreeJay & $2 Fortys and their music is that it is so eclectric, it isn't this genre or that genre, they are everything and I think that is what is going to attract alot of people because it is so different. It don't matter what genre you think you like, you can listen to them and like them."
Michael affirms of FreeJay & the $2 Fortys' music, "The harmonies are good, and I like the fact that you can dance or rock out to it."
Jeff "FreeJay" says, "I am for the people, I want to appeal to everyone in the show. I am genuine in my writing, I write for me - I write what makes me happy at the moment. I am enjoying this music, I am enjoying playing it." Jeff adds, "If it doesn't work, I can say I was genuine to me."
Cail closed out my interview and FreeJay & the $2 Fortys' band practice session with a beautiful acoustic original that he wrote, "Meteors."
More to come...
I was able to catch FreeJay & $2 Fortys playing another live gig on Tuesday, March 27 at The Hummingbird Stage and Taproom! Even with an instrument mishap and a missing musician, they never cease to impress! FreeJay & the $2 Fortys can pull off anything in my book! If you ever get the chance to be captivated by this vivacious talent, be there!
Rolling with the changes...
FreeJay & the $2 Fortys underwent band member changes since our interview with an addition of full-time drummer Phillip "Pip" Park, placing Cail "Boxxx" on guitar full time. "Pip" also takes part in another project called Failtrain. Shortly thereafter, Cail "Boxxx" departed when High Class and Homeless signed a contract, requiring "Boxxx's" undivided attention for now. Freejay & the $2 Fortys replaced Cail with local guitarist Cameron Sandoval. Cameron shared that he has been playing guitar for approximately thirteen years.
No matter what comes, keep expecting the unexpected as the energy of Freejay & $2 Fortys remains unchanged for this driven band. Cail added, "All I know is that the unexpected is what you can expect from every aspect of a spectacular group of musicians...and I hope we can meet the expectations of our spectators and special fans." Does this mean Cail may return? He definately has plans to work with the guys of this vivacious band in the future.
With a growing band and fan base, a name change came into play for FreeJay & $2 Fortys. After much deliberation between the band members, the name transformed to The Outlet. Philip Park shared of their name change,"We decided not to go with the $2 Forty's because we didn't want to portray the image of we were all a bunch of 40's drinkin hoodlums. We chose The Outlet because everyone needs an Outlet in life to deal with all the wrong in the world, to escape whats going on around us. Music is probably one of the biggest outlets and we hope that our music can be that outlet for everyone."
If you would like more information and music samples, please visit:
For upcoming gig information or to book FreeJay & $2 Fortys, please contact Jessica Boone at 478-284-9190.