Fred again.. gives glimpse into ‘Actual Life,’ talks new music with Skrillex, Coachella booking, and more [Interview]
At age 28, Fred Gibson, the man behind meteoric electronic force Fred again.., is already reaping a level of esteem typically heralded by someone twice his age. A protégé of musical mastermind Brian Eno, Gibson—one of Dancing Astronaut’s Artists to Watch in 2022—began making beats on Logic Pro in his early teens. Since these early days, Gibson has worked with some of the most emblematic artists of the current day, namely Ed Sheerhan, FKA twigs, Jayda G, Jamie xx, and a myriad of other top-tier talents. With a skill set invariably honed with one distinguished collaboration at a time, alongside the encouragement of Mr. Eno, Gibson set out on his first solo project in 2019, thus officially birthing the Fred again… project. Two years later, Gibson currently holds the title for the BRIT awards‘ Producer Of The Year, and another BRIT nomination for Best Dance Act in 2022. The accolades, however, hardly hold a flame to not one, but two full-length LPs that Gibson bestowed the world with this past year, Actual Life (April 14 – December 17 2021) and Actual Life 2 (February 2 – October 15 2021).
Despite beginning 2021 on shaky ground with aftershocks of 2020 still rippling across the world, there was a new kind of feeling that arose alongside of the new year—a feeling of hope. Despite reeling from the confusion and disillusionment 2020 left, Fred again.. seemed to capture this feeling of hope with a purity that shook listeners by the shoulders, then wrapped them in a warm hug. Pulling at heartstrings with the spoken-word-poem-turned electronic-deep-cut, “Kyle (I Found You),” in tandem with “Hannah (The Sun),” a smooth, up-tempo rendition of Grover Washington Jr.’s “Just The Two Of Us,” Fred again.. has proven his uncanny knack for establishing an intoxicating connection with his listeners.
Capturing glimpses of his real life through impromptu iPhone recordings, poetry readings, train station ambience, the ramblings of friends old and new, and other seemingly innocuous musings from everyday life, Fred curated two full-length albums in record time. What most would consider arduous undertaking, Gibson attributes his successes to the art of steadily chasing his next accomplishment, and fostering a sense of unbridled joy. Gibson recently told Dancing Astronaut,
“I definitely have times where I’m chasing and I’m not on the right course at all, but fundamentally enjoying the journey, the through its peaks and troughs. I think it’s more [sic] kind of just doing what happens and trying to be as at peace as possible with what is happening and then obviously, you know, also aligning yourself. So you’re hopefully feeling like you’re getting closer. The only feeling I love is if [I] get closer, even if it’s just like 0.0001%”
More recently, Gibson kickstarted 2022 with “Lights Out“—a joint effort alongside Romy of The xx, and London-based experimental producer HAAi landing on all major streaming platforms. The merging of these visionaries called for a dark, club-driven deep cut that strays from the norm of Fred again..’s typical sound, perpetuating the versatility and evident chemistry between all three musicians. When asked about the inspiration for the track, Gibson shared,
“I was actually sat on a crowded train to Edinburgh when I made the first draft of this! And the thing that was kinda in my mind as I was doin it was a rave me, Romy and HAAi went to in Manchester when we first hung out. And wanting to have a song that we could play the three of us in a place like that.” Continuing about his process in the studio, “I don’t ever really aim. I want to make what the song wants to be. I’m sort of just serving what happens. And this is what happened!”
Fred has produced alongside Romy for her 2020 hit, “Lifetime,” and although this is the first official collaboration released since, the two have been in the studio together consistently—an alliance that Gibson describes as, “[feeling] like home,” adding, “[Romy] is one of my best friends and we’ve been working together for the last few years on a bunch of different things.”
The inception of the Actual Life concept began with one man, a construction worker named Carlos, one randomly captured video outside of a friend’s concert, followed by one morning spent lazing about, toying around with vocal samples. Out of this morning fatefully came “Carlos (Make It Thru),” the impetus of Fred’s most unique solo voyage. Carlos has become one of the main staples in Actual Life, chiming in throughout both albums with his ever-endearing “I want you to see me Fred, I’m here!” as well as the optimistic burst, “we gon’ make it through.” Gibson ultimately regards the process of capturing Carlos’ energy as one of complete serendipity, telling Dancing Astronaut,
“I met him [sic] and then I became more and more obsessed with it over the course of a few months. But by about three months after first making a song out of him, I was pretty obsessed. I didn’t have any intention. It was a just like reacting to what to what happened, I guess.”
On the road to following one’s joy can often lurk a darker expression of this same passion; one where perfectionism is keen to rear its ugly head. Having tried and failed to reach the top of an imaginary ladder of excellence during earlier points in his career, Gibson relays that attempting to make something “perfect” had lent itself to a swift burn-out. Rather, now the British multi-threat finds a potent exhilaration intertwined with creating something authentic yet imperfect, turning the composing process into something more like a computer game. This high-spirited mentality includes giving himself 15-minute deadlines, and testing himself to see how quickly he can connect the proper beat to his chosen real-life samples, exercises which enable Gibson to succinctly dissect the lifeblood of a track. When asked if these unique methods help him keeps perfectionism at bay, Gibson elaborated,
“It is a really dangerous thing…I don’t think it helped me make better, or I don’t think it helped me get closer to perfect. I think that to me, the fundamental floor of perfectionism is the premise that if you try and make it more perfect, you will succeed. That is usually not the case. I found that, in hindsight, the pieces I’ve made, where I’ve just been a bit more reckless with it and just kind of gone with it and then put it out are the ones where in hindsight I’m really proud of how it sounds. [Perfection] is a trap for everyone who creates, I think the more you can relieve yourself from it the better.”
With the first album from his solo project created throughout the height of the pandemic and released not long after the first major wave, Fred only began touring just a few months ago. Kicking off in his native United Kingdom and working his way over to larger US markets like New York City and Los Angeles, the South London maestro is already skyrocketing up the lineups for some of the most sought-out festivals in the world. With Coachella announcing it’s 2022 lineup, Fred again..’s road stretch has seemingly climbed to new heights, capturing a prominent spot on the festival’s highly anticipated Sunday billing. For many, debuting at the grandiose Indio affair within the same year as a debut album release may seem like a nearly unprecedented career upswing in a very short time, but for more seasoned fans of Fred again.., these kinds of leaps and bounds are increasingly less surprising and perhaps more accurately overdue. Says Gibson,
“It’s felt like a real blessing, I’ve been very very affected by it. I feel really just lucky to be able to do it. I love it, and I’m really loving trying to get better at the pacing of the set and what works and what can be better. What I love most is that the songs become very much that each room’s songs each night I feel very differently, whether it’s the show in Bristol, or Dublin, or Glasgow, or New York, or LA, the songs have a totally different energy based on the room and the people in that room, which I find really invigorating. It makes me wanna write more as well.”
And write more he will. Gibson tells Dancing Astronaut that the concept of plucking sound-bites from the world around him is something he is going to do for the rest of his life. Says Gibson, “I’m really obsessed with this thing…I’ll do it forever a hundred percent. I love it.” It’s not certain when fans will see another full-length LP, but it’s undeniable that Fred again.. has only just cracked open the door to this new sonic venture. In terms of what’s on the immediate horizon—Fred’s got a few exciting things under the hood at the moment, sharing with DA that he has collaborations in the works with his longtime friends Brian Eno and Skrillex, who Fred deems “one of the greatest producers of all time.”
Unromantic, oftentimes rough-edged, but endearingly vigilant in its pursuit to highlight the beauty that already exists within the places most people often forget to look, Fred again..’s growing body of work seems to strike a chord with a generation that broadly tends to gravitate towards digital social grounds more than its predecessors. “I really just want the purity in something. When it feels like [artists] have just condensed their ideas to their purest and simplest and most like communicable form. That’s what inspires me, because that’s really what I’m trying to do,” says Gibson.
Featured image: DIY Magazine