You know him as Eddie on The O.C. and as Gabe Dimas on Six Feet Under; you've seen him get Punk'd and hacked in half by Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; but with the recent release of Uptown Music for Downtown Kids, Eric Balfour is attempting the most dangerous role known to actors: lead singer.
Is Balfour just another Bruce Willis, Don Johnson, Russell Crowe? Is he another actor who thinks he can sing just because he's famous? Is Balfour's band Fredalba just a group of studio musicians assembled to help him make an album?
Fredalba flutist Charmian Callon would say not.
"If you listen to the music," she said in a conference call with the band, "if you see our live show, we're clearly a band of musicians that know what they're doing."
Guitarist Tiffin Roley agreed, mentioning that he and Balfour formed Fredalba before Balfour started landing big roles. Fredalba is not another Dogstar, said Callon.
Singer/songwriter Balfour and his band may not yet be writing the next Led Zepplin IV, but they've gotten to an earnest start. They have faith in their music and they claim Balfour's star status isn't disrupting the band's dynamic.
Callon admitted that teen girls will run up to the band screaming, "Eric is so hot," but she also said that "the music speaks for itself…. Singers always get a lot of attention, but at least it gets people to listen to the music, because they're curious."
Balfour is not to Fredalba as Gwen Stefani is to No Doubt, Callon said.
The Los Angeles based band features a core line-up that, at this point, is very familiar: guitar, drums, bass, lead singer, and turntables. Their core sound is a rock/hip-hop blend with DJ samples, which was new — a decade ago. But to define Fredabla in those terms would miss the point.
Enter Callon on flute and keyboards. Keyboards are nothing new to rock, but a flute? Do they think they're Jethro Tull?
No. Think of the flute sample in the Beastie Boys's "Root Down." In Uptown Music, tracks like "Progression" use the flute to complement smooth R&B. In sections of "Gimme More," the flute is part of West coast rap — a la Dr. Dre — that melts into Latin rhythms laid down by drummer Blair Shotts.
What's probably most surprising, given Fredalba's line-up, is that they're not heavy nu-metal. You hear the description "rap/rock," you might envision a DJ surrounded by drums, bass and guitar, and you think, "Thank God for this new Limp Bizkit."
Instead of Limp Bizkit, though, think Anthony Kiedis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. "Get Up" highlights their ability to mix Chili Peppers-esque funk guitar and bass with rap vocals.
Fredalba's smorgasbord of influences mixes well, but with so many sounds fighting to be heard, there's a high probability for shoddy seams. And there are a few. In the intro of "Storm," Latin rhythm cuts into a rap/rock beat. In "Get Up," a rock beat clumsily switches gears into Latin.
Bear in mind, though, Uptown Music is Fredalba's first album. For the most part, their influences build upon each other instead of transitioning from one to the other. Don't worry about the seams quite yet. Fredalba will likely iron them out.
As for their next album, Callon said they have about three quarters of it recorded.
"It all has a lot of energy," she said. "It's a little edgier. We're working with dynamics a lot more."
Another change in store for their sophomore effort is a new DJ. Grady Reinagle will take the spot behind the turntables. Fredalba was the first band that Reinagle ever auditioned for, having previously worked mostly with MCs and rappers, but he said the band had "the passion and drive that I do."
The band said that Reinagle is very involved in their music. He's writing drum beats and programs, "organic sound effects," said Reinagle. He's scratching, "just doing a few things differently to add as much as possible."
Fredalba's first single, "Gimme More," is already on the radio and a video will soon follow. Drummer Blair Shotts said that video will be filled with shots of scantily clad women sipping Crystale, and "lots of sexy clips of Eric on the beach." To find out what's really in the video, you'll just have to look for it on MTV.
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