Aston Harvey of perennial party band the Freestylers has a secret. Although his group’s music is influenced by all the cool styles of underground music like jungle, 2-step, hip-hop, and dancehall, his favorite CDs of this past year were of a more mainstream variety.
“Strangely enough, my three favorite albums of last year weren’t dance: They were Staind, Limp Bizkit, and Linkin Park,” Harvey says. “I think they were all amazing. They’re not just wall-of-sound-type rock songs — you can really hear the beats.”
Anyone familiar with the Freestylers’ work will know that beats are of utmost importance to the band when creating their songs. The London-based group, which is essentially a big-beat band, consists of DJ/producers Matt Cantor and Harvey-along with a host of musicians, MCs, and singers.
The act’s debut, 1999’s “We Rock Hard” (on Mammoth), has sold 120,000 units in the U.S., according to SoundScan. The video for the single “Here We Go” was deemed “buzzworthy” by MTV. The band spent months touring the U.S., opening for Lenny Kravitz and co-headlining a tour with Lo-Fidelity All Stars.
Now, on May 28, Mammoth will issue the act’s sophomore album, “Pressure Point.” While the band has matured musically since its debut, its goals for making music haven’t changed. “We haven’t taken any of the party elements out of our songs,” Harvey explains. But where “the first album was more like a series of 12-inch singles put together, “Pressure Point” is structured like a proper album.” Also, the new project focuses on live musicianship, as opposed to the sample-based “We Rock Hard.”
Another new development for the Freestylers is the use of female vocals and soulful nuances: Witness the uptempo and hypnotic “Callin’, ” featuring vocalist Valerie M., and the hip-hop based “Told You So,” featuring Petra.
Although the Freestylers are essentially a band and tour with a stable of 11 musicians, they are still firmly planted in the dance music scene. “Our first album was heavily influenced by old-school hip-hop and breakdancing,” Harvey notes. “But this album is more influenced by the early acid-house rave scene in England.”
Mammoth Records president Rob Seidenberg believes “Pressure Point” will appeal to a wide audience. “The Freestylers take classic dance music elements and fuse them with elements of pop music,” he says. “The result is timeless, melodically strong tracks mixed with great grooves and beats.”
Radio mix-show/specialty DJs were sent the Trick or Treat remixes of the set’s first single, “Get Down Massive,” the week of Jan. 21. Three weeks after that date, Eric Kupper’s house mixes will be delivered to club DJs. A commercial single, including Kupper’s restructurings, is scheduled for release in the next few weeks. When the album is released, the dancehall-flavored “Weekend Song,” with remixes also created by Kupper, will go to radio.
Nic Harcourt, music director/host of KCRW Los Angeles’ “Morning Becomes Eclectic” and the public radio syndicated show “Sounds Eclectic,” is a Freestylers fan who featured “Here We Go” on an “Eclectic” sampler CD. “I am happy to see the band reappear,” Harcourt says. “We were fans the first time around, and we’ll support them again.”
Mammoth is busy finalizing a U.S. tour of major markets. Seidenberg views this as an important step to increase awareness of the Freestylers. The label also has plans to aggressively pursue an Internet presence for the band, creating pop-up sites with stand-alone Web players, which will stream music and videos. Freestylers contests are also planned for highly trafficked Web sites like MTV, BurlyBear, Launch, and Yahoo.
At the end of the day, Harvey is incredibly happy with “Pressure Point.” “It’s an easy album to listen to,” he declares. “It’s also the type of record that will get you in the mood for a party.
“You know, I never thought I’d be doing this,” Harvey adds after a few seconds of silence. “I always had these weird fantasy jobs I wanted when I was younger, like being a pilot or a race car driver. One thing I knew I never wanted was to sit in an office all day long.”