My favourite interviews are always the ones I get to do in person. I am very thankful that Fredy Vare was able to meet up with me in a small eatery on Mount Royal. If you don’t know Fredy Varre, well you should he’s been round in such bands as Boogie Wonder Band and establishing himself for years. Now Fredy V and the Foundation have truly branched out with the album release, #It Takes a Village. We had a nice long talk about the new album, his career, musical influences and Prince.
Ron : So tell us who is Fredy V? What is your origin?
Fredy V : My origin really starts with my father and mother who were both raised in Senegal. My dad came over to UCLA in the 60’s. You have to imagine what it was like for a Senegalese guy to come to the US in 1965. He then moved to Washington DC, had his kids and I’m the last born son. My dad was a music fanatic. My brother and sister are also both musicians. I grew up watching rehearsals take place in my house. My sister was doing musical theatre in school.
I had been accepted to several schools all over the US, but it’s just so expensive. My mom suggested I go to Montreal because we all speak french and it’s a bilingual place. My cousin already lived here and said it was a great city and so I moved here in 2000 and decided to stay.
Ron : What was it that made you want to get into music?
Fredy : My brother was a Prince fanatic. Prince is the soundtrack of my life. Growing up it was a part of me. I remember every Sunday we listened to Purple Rain.
In my house there was so much influence with R&B, funk and gospel. My Dad is a huge jazz fan but he also loves The Beatles, along with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. When I was growing up the hip hop thing was coming onto the scene with artists like Big Daddy Kane. It was great to have so many different influences, but I wasn’t sure what my direction was.
I remember the day I heard the Tribe Called Quest record, Low End Theory. That really changed me. When I heard the mix of jazz and hip hop that’s it. I was sold. Then I studied Bob Marley profusely and understood the consciousness. When I got into high school is where the passion chose me. I even used to be in some rock bands playing Green Day, Stone Temple Pilots, Foo Fighters and stuff like that.
Ron : So who’s your favourite rock artist?
Fredy : Oooh, that’s tough. I’d have to say Living Colour. They had a huge impact on me. I’m really big on Jimi Hendrix and a Band of Gypsys. I’d say Niravana’s In Utero. I liked the production on that by Rick Rubin.
Ron : How did you get started in the business?
Fredy : Man that was tough. It was basically through, Kalmunity. They are a collective of musicians, singers, hosts, that basically improv every Tuesday. I was able to go there and flow, sing or play bass some nights. I was able to flex what I could do and meet some of the right people. I then went to Trebas musical institute. It was through one of my teachers, Mary Harris who heard what I was doing, that I was able to get my publishing deal.
Ron : So let’s talk about your album, It Takes a Village. Some of the stand out tracks for me were, Ain’t Going Nowhere and Give & Take Care which I must say sound like they could have been Prince songs.
Fredy : (Smiling) True. Just let’s say if Prince is the patriarch of funk I am a true disciple. A heavy song with these great guitar licks and singing in falsetto.
A lot of people have been saying funk is making a comeback, but between 2000 and 2010 I was already doing all this stuff. Those songs you mentioned really pay homage to the tradition of that synth funk of the 80’s.
Ron : For me another good one is, My Joy. It has a soul R&B sound with gospel in there.
Fredy : Glad you like My Joy. That’s exactly what we were going for.
Ron : Are there any stand out tracks for you personally?
Fredy : Hmmm… I would have to say, The Call. What inspired that song for me was the riots in Baltimore. I remember turning on any social media at the time and it was all over the place. More so it was happening in some neighbourhoods that I knew, because I grew up around there.
There was a video of a mother who saw her son rioting. She went ballistic and spanked him in front of people telling him to come home. It was the emotion in this woman I saw yearning and calling for her son to come home in a state of emergency. It really hit me. We need to call to our loved ones to stay alive. Our brothers literally have to survive. We have to call them and support them. We need to say let’s do this in an intelligent way and know what we have to fight for so we can live to see the next day.
Ron : So you could say while it’s an upbeat dance song it has a social message to it at the same time.
Fredy V : Exactly. I want to give people something to nod their heads to but at the same time make them think. The album as a whole has a consciousness to it, but without being preachy.
The song Ain’t Going Nowhere is about immigrants. If someone tells you to “go home” you tell them “I ain’t going nowhere” and let’s celebrate this.
Ron : That’s interesting because when I listened to Ain’t Going Nowhere I took as a song about you and your music career. As if to say “I’ve got my album out and I ain’t going nowhere.”
Fredy V : (laughing) Yes! Yes! That’s the other side of it. I’m here to stay. I ain’t going nowhere. Especially since I almost died from brain surgery a few years ago. For me, it’s a very empowering message to myself. It gives me more life and I need to make the best of it.
Ron : With the singles My Joy and Ain’t Going Nowhere, what’s the next one?
Fredy : Mmm… okay. The next one, which is going to be a video we are working on, will be Intertwine. It’s a very modern new school song. It has some old school funk, but at the same time it has a futuristic sound to it as well. It’s a song that is exploration into the future. I imagine all these computer wires that sort of intertwine. Get it? This is also a track I did with Anomalie who is the producer of the album. He’s an amazing keyboard player and him and I pretty much built the album together. He even has his own instrumental EP he just released. He is a virtuoso.
Ron : Who would be your dream producer?
Fredy : I’d say Andre 3000. Him as a producer right now he’s killing the game. Pharell would be one as well. I’d have to say, Kaytranada who is probably the biggest producer to come out of Montreal. He is representing Montreal on the highest level as a producer right now.
Ron : You have a few collaborations on the album with Malika Tirolein, Anomalie, and of course the man who is considered to be your uncle, Alan Prater of The Brooks.
Fredy : Yeah he’s definitely an Uncle to me. I used to be the little dread headed kid who was watching him play in the Jello Bar taking notes, you know what I mean? He was my mentor before he even knew he was my mentor. He’s given me a lot of counsel and guidance. He’s very hands on in my career right now. For over ten years Alan has been a beacon for me or a pillar I can lean on.
I’ve seen him go through different phases of his career. I watch how he is able to reinvent himself. He always finds a way to stay connected through all generations. 18 year olds are bopping their heads to what he’s doing now and 70 year olds are like “I remember that.” He’s able to stay relevant.
Alan and I had a great conversation on what it is to give back. He gave to me and now I want to give back to other musicians I see coming up too.
Ron : I would love to see you and Alan do a duet either on your next album or The Brooks next album.
Fredy : Definitely. I don’t think he or I have a choice in the matter. It’s just natural that it has to happen.
Ron : How did you get involved in the Jazz festival tribute show for Prince?
Fredy : I know the Jazz fest people wanted to do something special for the passing of Prince last year. So when they got The Brooks involved they said they wanted to have various musicians on stage and Alan was the one who said we have to have Fredy. People in the city know I’ve always had a reputation for being a disciple of Prince. He’s always been an artist for me. I mean he sings, he plays instruments, he produces and that’s what I aspire to do.
The first time I ever saw Prince in concert was for the Jazz fest at Metropolis some years back. So for me to stand on the very stage where I saw him perform for the first time and doing a tribute to him… man… it was very emotional. To do that show in front of crazy Prince fans and have them watching me thinking I knew my stuff. I studied.
Ron : I was there at that show and I can remember watching you perform and in my mind I knew that you knew your stuff and your were already a fan. I walked away from that show being most impressed with you.
Fredy : Thank you so much, man. Well you know I even did my own Prince tribute.
Ron : Really? I would have loved to have seen that.
Fredy : Yeah,well if you go on youtube you can see a medley of what I did with my own tribute. We go through some B-sdies and the real funk.
Ron : Do you have a favourite Prince song or album?
Fredy : Hmmm… (thinking) maybe Shhh. I play it with my band the Foundation and there’s always those four true Prince fans in the crowd who’ll scream their heads off. I’m like “Yeah, that one is for you guys. The true fans.”
As far as an album is concerned I’d have to go with Dirty Mind. Maybe because it was his coming out as himself. I hear all the elements of what was to come after that album. You can hear the pop. You can hear the funk. You can hear the rock. That album was so important for him. Then I also fell back hard on 1999. Musicology for me was an opus. Of course, Sign O The Times.
Ron : What the best live show you’ve ever seen?
Fredy : I’ve seen a lot of shows. I’d have to say the Prince show at Metropolis was the best show I’ve ever seen. It was everything I ever wanted. It was in an intimate setting first of all. He took a bass solo. He was so generous that night. It was four hours.
Ron : So tell me about your band, The Foundation.
Fredy : It’s a six piece band. Sometimes we even get to seven. So there’s Ronny Desinor on drums, bass is Alex Paquette, while Frank O’Sullivan is on guitar, and phenomenal background vocals are from Melissa Pacifico. I want to give special props to our keyboard player, Caulder Nash. He not only plays keys, he sings and played talk box. This band was really started with me and him making arrangements at the helm of it.
If you really want to get into the concept of what this band is, they are just so important to me. Aside from playing with me we make musical arrangements together. They like having a singer who can understand their language as musicians too.
I really wanted the band to have a name and so I called them, The Foundation. I’m a band kind of guy. It’s like a patriarch and the band, Sly and the Family Stone, Prince and the Revolution, George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars. I grew up on being with real musicians in rehearsals. I didn’t grow up on The Voice or American Idol. The band is so important to me and my musicality and that’s why we call it Fredy V and the Foundation.
Ron : With your album called, It Takes a Village, it might really mean that in a sense it’s about the band itself as a village. It takes a village or let’s say the Foundation to make a song or an album or a live show.
Fredy : Exactly. We like to take that concept to the audiences. If you are going through tough times we understand that. Whatever it is you’re going through we want to be here for you. Come to see our show and have a good time with everyone around you because sometimes it takes a village to get you through. If you don’t know someone then give them a hug. Buy a stranger a drink. Let this be a gathering of healing. Not only will you get a fun entertaining show but it’s very sincere, heart warming and loving. That’s the kind of experience I want to give out to people.
Ron : That’s cool. Aside from just doing a song with Alan and The Brooks you guys should do some shows together.
Fredy : That’s just it. You see The Brooks are doing a more 70’s sounding funk. Then there’s Fredy V and the Foundation doing a more 80’s synth style. So The Brooks and us together in Montreal pretty much complete the gamut of funk. The bond is coming together.
Ron : Do you have any other interests outside of music?
Fredy : I’m a huge basketball fanatic. I know the NBA inside and out. It’s almost kind of embarrassing.
I am also getting involved in the business side of music especially when it comes to concert production. I want to bring my knowledge and the knowledge I’ve gained from people like Alan Prater and pass it onto others.
Ron : So what’s coming up for you in the near future?
Fredy : What’s coming up for me and my band is Pop Montreal. We’ll be playing at a brand new venue called Le Ministère on September 15th. We also have our residency gigs that we do at the Bootlegger, it’s on St Laurent just above Sherbrooke. That place is our home. That place is special because that’s where we really get to play and grow as a band.
Ron : Fredy, I think what you are doing is great. I think you are a very original artist as well. You do so many things.
Fredy : Thank you so much. I like to be able to do many different things. I’m a singer but I can also freestyle rap, When I see an artist like Andre 3000 who can sing, rap and produce it’s like, I want to be like that. There’s another guy Anderson Paak, he sings, raps and plays drums.
That’s what I aspire to be. A guy who’s rooted in funk and R&B, has the capabilities of hip hop, is relevant to today, and can play an instrument.
Ron : Thank you so much for everything and taking the time with me.
Fredy : No problem, Ron. Thank you.