It could be said the world has lost its bounce this year. Canceled performances and tours, cinema-intended films gone straight to stream, remote schooling, shuttered borders, Tinder with a lot more layers (and I don’t mean prophylactics), and a weird continuum of severity that’s mirrored that of our frustration: steadily climbing. The list goes on, of course, but we’re not so sure what it does to prattle on about the losses and the listlessness.
Let’s talk about our gains. First, an EP from the veritable Queen of Bounce (how’s that for an antidote to your bouncelessness?), Louder, that dropped this Spring when things were seeming less birds and budding flowers, and a bit more nuclear winter thanks to super powers. For a sonic banger—her fourth extended play atop three studio albums—that begs, as they always do, its participants to put their joints and zygomaticus majors to work, Big Easy-based Big Freedia—who has in recent years notched collaborations with Beyoncé, Lizzo, and Drake into her canopied bed post—felt a little crestfallen: “My fans, the energy,” she cites wistfully when asked about not being able to hit the road to tour the effort, at least right now, “connecting with the people and actually being in the room with them and feeling the songs out. You know, there’s nothing like a performance where the crowd is there.”
Alas, as the sky continued to fall, the economy continued to eat its disposable bib, and the cagey politics of theTiger King morphed from a quirky entertainment meme into an all too real metaphoric dream (eh, nightmare), Freedia did what many have in this hour of darkness: got cozy in la cocina. The difference? Instead of trying her hand at sourdough (and gouging into that EDD support for rustic ribbons off Etsy with which to wrap the sour for one’s lonely pals) or perfecting amaranth strudel, or trialing her own Worcestershire sauce, Freedia leaned on her many years of experience, traveling the world, of course, but more importantly: in the kitchen, with her mom and her aunts, soulfully and sincerely Southern and loving it. Et voila! Big Freedia’s Gospel Brunch via Youtube was born.
And the show is refreshing AF. Hand-held, in BF’s own New Orleans kitchen, with family members and friends stealing scenes from the background, Freedia dishes not only the “swiggle wiggle burger brittle”, or “gravy liver with scrambled eggs and toast”, orhow about “bent over biscuits Benedict, which is sautéed shrimp and crabmeat in al fredo sauce with an egg, all on a bootie baked biscuit”—she dishes knowledge. She also throws some love to the heavens (it’s Sunday after all), nips from the odd joint, and reminds us that sharing is caring, which often begins with good grub.
We had the privilege of a video chat with Freedia a couple weeks ago. Here is a performer, a personality, that not only came up to invent her own form of dance rap nearly 20 years ago, which hasn’t ceased evolving, who causes sheer joy-addled pandemonium during live shows, who has unabashedly lead the charge—Black, Queer, Southern, Fierce. But the best thing about Freedia? That kill-them-with-kindess attitude that makes her not just a hot ticket in town, not just the post midnight playlist sleeper surprise, but a voice for this unhinged, unstable nation in need of healing. We hope you enjoy our conversation, and score some family recipes on the way.
So with COVID, are you at the threshold or what?
Well, no, because I have been busy ever since—I haven’t even stopped—so I’m not at the threshold. It’s just I miss my fans, I miss traveling. I miss just, you know, doing what I love to do. I’ve been doing my cooking shows so I’ve been staying very busy. I’ve been doing lots of live and lots of virtual performances, so I’ve been okay.
Do you think that once things are sort of in a place where we can have performances, attend performances, put on performances, that the enthusiasm is going to be better than ever?
I can’t wait. Once it busts open it's going to be like a wildfire. I just know the energy is just going to be so crazy when people get to come out and, you know, enjoy the clubs again and have good drinks and laughter and fun. Yeah, it’s going to be nice.
Do you think sometimes in order to maximize enthusiasm or maximize experiences we gotta go through an uphill of sorts, or perseverance, as we have done with quarantine and COVID?
Yeah, I think this is a time for people to reflect, rejuvenate, and revive their lives. And just a chance for you to sit back and be in some situations that you are not normally used to. A lot of us are stuck inside, you know, happen to be stuck with our significant other, or family, or whoever they may have, or not have, or whoever they may have been stuck with, and just giving people a chance to do something different and have a different outtake on life in general.
Yes, and one way you’re connecting that is with Big Freedia’s Gospel Brunch, right? What's special about it?
Well, it's new and it's fun, and it's lots of great food that's going to be coming through. I learned cooking from my mom and from my aunts and my grandmother, so I get my experience from old school cookin,g and I’ve been blessed to pick up that tradition of getting all the flavors right and really knowing how to blend it all together. So I’m excited about my new cooking show and hopefully it gets bigger and better.
You mentioned this idea of ‘old school’. Why do we need old school in contemporary culture like cuisine?
You need old school just to keep us grounded, you know, to those roots. You just need old school stuff to remind us of all the traditions and what we fought for and what we’re going through. You know—just reminders. Old school reminds us of all the things and the people that have fought for different situations that we’re in now.
Concerning the idea of ‘roots’, you have been on a hell of a career journey. You’ve collaborated with globally famous folks, you’ve always pushed the envelope with self expression. What do you feel like was a time where you lost yourself concerning your roots? When do you think you were most disconnected to roots and how did you figure that out?
I don’t really think that I lost a connection to the roots. There may have just been a break in some moments in my life, and those moments were losing dear people to me, where I felt the connection end up like I was losing them physically, but they are still with me spiritually, so it went from a different type of connection, and a different kind of connecting to my roots. So now I have my mom and my uncle and my brother, all of them, as my guardian angels versus when they were here physically, and I was able to touch and talk to them, and feel their presence. Now, I feel them more spiritual than anything, so just being able to change the different levels of connecting to loved ones, and friends and family and people around, and your roots, it brings us back.
Yes, and I think fans are your family in many ways, and this time has seen you open up to new mediums in order to maintain that connection, like with social media platforms, live performances online, and so forth. What's unique about this process?
Well, it’s just something new. It’s very much something new that I’m not really used to doing. A lot of times I don’t like to perform or even post stuff from my performances because I like people to come and get the experience there's nothing like being in the room, and getting the Freedia experience. So I’m just doing something to keep the fans entertained, and most importantly, to carry us through, and it's been a joy and a pleasure to just make people's day or night at home with a performance. It makes me feel good knowing I’ve been able to lift other people’s households.
You use the expression ‘in the room’ concerning your performances. Your room has always been one of inclusion, and thought to be a place free of judgement, a place that celebrates an energy in all of us. But I think America has been looking at a different scenario in terms of whose in the room, and in terms of whose allowed in the room, and where folks in the room are sat, and so forth. How have you been getting on in the last couple of weeks with this latest phase of the Black Lives Matter movement and what is going on internally for you?
Well, I mean I’ve been very proud to see the Black Lives Matter movement, and I’ve been very appreciative of the allies that have been standing up and siding for us. It’s very important that now we are not just fighting ourselves; we have other races and other people helping to fight for us, so I see us in a new direction for change in all kinds of stuff—from government to politics to jobs and entertainment, and music and careers and just all of it around, people are now having these conversations that should have been happening a long time ago, and I’m just proud that it's time that America has really shaken itself up and the world has shaken itself up to make change for a greater and a bigger cause.
Yes, it’s a major moment. Lets jump to a more promotional piece: your recent “Pipe That” video off the EP. Can you tell me about the creative process?
It was pretty easy. It wasn't too hard because we were quarantined, so everybody had to do their own stuff. You get over there and do you. I'm gonna get over here and do me, we’re going to put it all together and we're going to make something. It was such a fun song, so it was fun to create with Icona pop and the Soul Rebels and Tam, who is one of my dancers, but also one of my dance choreographers. It was just fun to do it. We had fun with it.
What was special or unique about the process of being separated? Did it kind of eliminate the back and forth, did it find itself more streamlined or were people more enthusiastic to contribute?
It was unique, because we didn’t know what the hell the other person was going to do and we were just going to see it all when it was all put together. For me, being the artist, I was like ‘no I want this’, ‘I want that’, ‘I want this type of camera’, I was very particular and trying to make sure that my part was right, and I was really a little sad because all of this corona time happened when I dropped my new project and it just didn't get the full play or the full push that it would have got. The videos, just all the work I had put into the songs, the promotion hadn’t gotten to where it could have gone. For me, I was a little sad, but I was also happy, as we were still putting something together and putting something out. I would have loved the world to be open when I shot that.
What are you working on, what's in the pipeline, how are you closing this year out?
So closing this year out is we’re taking the cooking series outside: Garden Cookout with Big Freedia, and we are very much bragging it up very well, picking up a lot of great sponsors, so if anyone wants to sponsor, they can reach out to bigfreedia.com. I’m putting on the cooking show, I am working on new music, of course all the time getting ready to drop my new EP, also working on a Christmas album. I’m also working on a kids album. So I’m just working, just trying to stay focused, and keep making great music to keep people happy, and to connect them through the power of audible, as I do.
Finally, a couple times you said something you liked about things was their newness, the fact that it was new. And I think as people make their way through time, as they age, they tend to become wary of new things, right? It tends to become associated with the youth and people get set in their ways. What do you have to say about the importance of embracing ‘the new’?
At this time it’s very important to be open-minded and to be receptive of new ways of thinking, new ways of living, new ways of eating, breathing, washing, everything. Right now it’s just serious, and it’s just the way you have to go. Otherwise, if you don't go that way, you’re going in the wrong direction, and you don’t want to go in the wrong direction, because you might be headed for destruction. So its important for us to just find new ways to do all kinds of stuff, change those old routines, change those old habits, and try to make new habits and new routines. It’s just necessary for the world right now.