While at PAX 2008 I had the chance to meet with the synthpop band Freezepop. For those who don’t know, Freezepop’s music has been featured on every Guitar Hero game, and many other rhythm games, and have gathered quite a following. Their music is remarkably upbeat and the melodies catchy.
Freezepop consists of three members: Liz Enthusiasm (Jussi Gamache) on vocals, the Duke of Pennekoeken (Kasson Crooker) as programmer, and The Other (Sean T. Drinkwater) on synths. They use a variety of electronic instruments, sequencers and computers to produce their music. Liz is also a graphic designer by trade, and designs the band’s logos and CD art.
Freezepop met me at a quiet conference room at the Washington Convention Center. There was a long conference table in the oblong room, and all three members sat at the end.
Liz: We’re a little over-tired.
AM: How long have you been up?
Sean: Over 75 hours… it has been a while.
Liz: we flew in yesterday, and our flight was at 6:15 am (Boston time).
Duke: Did you cross the International Date line?
Liz: We went around a couple times, yeah.
AM: Wait, were you in Europe?
Liz: That was a joke.
Duke: I actually go all the way AROUND the world when we leave from Boston.
Sean: At the end of the interview, we will tell you what things we said were lies and what aren’t.
Duke: Just assume that it’s all lies.
AM: I saw on your blogs that everyone has regular jobs. Are you playing full-time now?
Sean: Well it’s funny. we actually had this panel, and someone asked the same question. We could tour 7 or 8 months out of the year. If we did 150 to 200 shows a year, and had a booking agent that was really kicking ass then we could live off of it. But, that would be a lot for us.
AM: So it’s really touring that makes money rather than record sales?
Liz: Oh, yeah.
Sean: Record what?
Liz: People pay money for our music?
Duke: Shows are one of the few places that we sell records… er… CDs. When I say records I actually mean records.
AM: I heard that Freezepop’s music sells alot more through iTunes since Guitar Hero came out.
Duke: Yeah, we sell like four times more music online than physical CDs.
Sean: Is it really that?
Duke: Yeah. Pretty much.
AM: Is that a significant stream of your income?
Duke: Um, yeah. 90% of the money we make online from selling music comes from iTunes, which is apretty interesting indicator. It’s starting to change because places like Amazon are starting to sell non-DRM MP3s, and people are totally diggin’ that. It’s going to change… they’re (iTunes) is going to lose their market share in about five years.
Sean: They’ve been helpful for us, and we have a good relationship with them. They’ve been able to get things up pretty quickly, which we haven’t been able to do before.
Duke: Another thing that’s been really helpful, is that a LOT of people find out about us from MP3s that are online, and there are a LOT of free stuff… and you can find our stuff on torrents. We have a lot of people that tell us they found our music online and then go to our website and buy our album. We have a lot of people that realize that they want to help the band, and know that buying our CDs actually helps us directly and not some mega-corporation.
Sean: If you like our music, then enable us to make another record for you.
AM: I can’t wait for the next record. When is that coming out?
Liz: We’re going to have an EP soon. We’re working a little slowly at the moment.
Sean: Less than five years.
Duke: We don’t make music that fast. If you look since ’99 we have 3 albums. We have alot of other stuff: remix CDs and vinyl and an EP.
Sean: With the exeption of a lot of people we do play a lot of shows.
AM: A lot of people have recently found out about your music from Guitar Hero, even though you’vearound for nearly 10 years. So I assume your explosion in popularity is directly related to the video games?
Duke: Um, yeah. I mean, well there’s two things. One is that we’ve been around for a long time, and we’ve been playing shows since ’99, and so we’ve been out there a long time. A lot of synthpop bands just don’t perservere that much and they tend to go away after a few years. We’ve actually stuck with it.
Sean: We have a lot of name recognition in the scene, even now if we weren’t in Guitar Hero.
Duke: But being in video games is a HUGE thing. We’ve had music in games since 2000, but it was Guitar Hero 2 when that franchise totally took off. At that point you could BUY songs (rather than being unlockables), which made it very easy for people to go and guy our song. We’ve had songs in other games that were unlocks (where you have to beat the game to find it), and there’s not as much exposure in that.
Sean: Even in our early touring, we did have a song in 2000. I remember in 2003 that people wanted us to autograph Frequency rather than our CD. I actually autographed two copies of Freqency today. And so I was like “huh”… this video game thing seems to be taking off. With every game that’s been released it’s gotten a little bit bigger. We can actually calculate how many people are going to be at our show based on the number of games that have been released.
Sean: Our first big success was from Guitar Hero Two (Super Sprode) when both the PS2 and Xbox 360 versions were out at the same time. If you put all of the different versions of that song together, it would easily be in the tens of thousands, which none of our other songs are quite in that range.
AM: There was a remix of Super Sprode for Rock Band that came on an OXM (Official Xbox Magazine) disc, but I haven’t been able to buy that particular remix anywhere. Can you buy that single?
Duke: Yeah, that’s never been released.
Liz: It may at some point.
Sean: We’ve been talking for a while about doing a release for our tenth anniversary (which is actually next summer) which is all of our video game stuff
Duke: Like the version of Brain Power on Rockband has never been released as a single. The version of Stakeout that is in DDR has never been released. The version of Science Genius Girl from Frequency… we modify them for the games.
AM: I actually had a question about Science Genius Girl… was Robotkid’s Lamboy Mix version actually played on a NES console?
Duke: That is a program called Little Sound DJ for the Gameboy, and I believe it accepts MIDI files. I just used the MIDI file from the QY70 and you could assign all the different sounds you want to use.
AM: Whenever I’m playing that song in the car my kids scream “Mommy, Daddy… Mario!”
Duke: Yeah, right! Do you know Mega64? They re-enact classic video games in public. They re-enact Tetris and a few other games. They used our music in some of their performances. They use that 8-bit song version in one of their DVDs.
Sean: They did the Brainpower video for us. We’ve been trying to get them to do a collaborative video project for a while.
AM: How did each of you come up with your nicknames?
Sean: Mine’s real.
AM: Sean T. Drinkwater is your real name?
Sean: Uh, huh. (Sean pulls out his wallet as Liz laughs and tosses me one of his credit cards. Imprinted on it was SEAN T DRINKWATER).
Liz: Sean made a list of stupid names, and Liz Enthusiasm was on there. They originally were a list of names for me, and the Dutchess of Candied Apples was on there, and Duke stole that.
Sean: Well he’s gone through several Dutch names.
Liz: He’s conquered several kingdoms.
AM: So you’re actually from the Netherlands?
Duke: I actually am part Dutch. Which is why… I actually don’t like apples that much, but I use that as my name. I got bored, so when we were in Belgium I changed it to the Duke of Belgian Waffles, ‘cuz I really liked waffles for a while. But then we were in Amsterdam and I’m a huge fan of Pennekoeken, which is a Dutch crepe pancake-type thing.
Sean: He’s not jokin’ around.
Duke: So that’s when I switched it to that. I’m settled on that because nothing really beats Pennekoeken.
AM: That’s a two-percenter, there (a joke that only 2% of the population will get)
Duke: Maybe less than that. But anyway, we wanted to choose names that were really really absurd.
Sean: She was going to be Crisco Disco Marie for a while.
Liz: I always liked Crisco Disco
Sean: …and Christmas Johnson: I always liked that one, but there was a jingle named Christmas Jones.
AM: I thought Liz Enthusiasm was tounge-in-cheek becuase your singing style is somewhat monotone, similar to “The Waitresses”.
All: Yeah, we get that alot.
Sean: It’s unintentional but certainly similar. Her brother’s name is Les Enthusiasm.
Liz: …and my mom is Hella Enthusiasm.
AM: Duke, you work at Harmonix. Is that how you were able to get Freezepop’s songs into the game?
Sean: (sarcastically) NO!
Duke: Well it does make it easy.
Liz: Well it wasn’t actually easy at first.
Duke: No, that’s true.
Liz: We had to uh… pester.
Sean: We greased a lot of palms.
Duke: Freezepop actualy pre-dates me working at Harmonix. When I started working there they basically hired me to write music for their early games. They wanted electronic music in a bunch of different genres, and I said I have a synthpop band, so why don’t we have a little synthpop song? And they were like “fine” because they needed music at that point ’cause they didn’t have a huge budget.
AM: So you write soundtracks for video games at Harmonix?
Duke: I used to. and then I transitioned out of audio and I’m a producer now.
Sean: So can you get us a song in Rock Band 2?
Duke: It might be a little late.
Sean: Wait, what?
Duke: Yeah, we got our music in because I worked there, so obviously that made it easy.
Sean: Can we write a song called “Why didn’t we get into Rock Band 2”?… (singing) “I thought you worked there… What the hell is going on? What a gyp!”