Recently I had the opportunity to ask the members of the Toronto pop/R&B group The Free Label some questions pertaining to their brand new album, M.I.A, the past, present, and future of the band, and everything in between.
What’s the significance of your band name The Free Label?
When we were thinking of a name for the group, we looked at the kind of music we were making, and all the different genre influences we have. We didn’t want to be confined to a strict sound; we wanted the fluidity to make music the way we wanted. To be free from titles or rules.
Where did the idea of calling yourself a boyband come from?
The boyband name was given to us rather than created by us. When we perform, all four of us sing and dance on stage. People would just call us a boyband, and we just went with the title. There aren’t too many boybands anymore, and we want to continue the art and style.
You guys originally formed as a funk cover band in 2017, correct? What made you guys move away from covering songs, slightly straying from the genre, and start to write, record, and perform your own material?
We started as a funk cover band to fill the gaps in our set between our originals. We always knew that the covers were our way of cutting our teeth and learning to perform on stage together. As we started playing more frequently, we would play shows with two, three, sometimes four sets, and we needed to extend our setlist.
You all have jazz/funk backgrounds and certainly, display that on M.I.A. and even on your previous EP, Lift You Up. You blur the lines between pop and R&B, also incorporating some funk, jazz, and hip-hop elements throughout its eight tracks. Are these just genres you’re all fans of that you decided to blend and incorporate into your sound? How did that all come about in the songwriting process, past and present?
After playing as a cover band for so long, those genres are practically ingrained in the way we function musically. I don’t think we could make it through a full writing session without breaking into a funk jam. We always use our roots to create our original music. Like in the way old funk/soul music, it was meant to be performed live. That’s something we think about with every song we write. How do we go crazy with this on stage or how it fits in our set.
What are your musical influences that shape the group’s sound? For example, I love the vibe on your track, “You Ain’t Got No Reason” that resembles a piece of music from the likes of Justin Timberlake, or even Bruno Mars.
Anderson .Paak is a massive influence on us as a group as well. He embodies old-school soul and R&B in the most modern way. That’s where our song “You Ain’t Got No Reason” comes from; It’s our way to pay homage to our roots, and showcase our old school vibe.
Which songs on the album were the most fun to write and which were the most challenging to write?
M.I.A. was the most fun to write by far. What we sing about on M.I.A. are our personal experiences. In 2019 we spent four months abroad performing on a cruise ship residency, and we lived the life you hear about in the song. We had performances every night, and our job was to throw parties until the bars on the ship closed. Then we’d wake up and do it all over again, travelling the world.
The hardest song to write was, “Let Me Find a Way.” We went through three or four different versions of the song before we landed on what you hear on the album. It started as a 60’s soul song, then transformed into a 90’s R&B style track, and finally ended up with an indie-pop vibe. With the previous versions, we felt like we weren’t exploring the range of what we could do. As we started to experiment, all the elements all began to fall into place.
How was it collaborating with fellow Toronto indie-pop artist Oleyada on your track, “Up in Flames,” could you tell me more about that?
Oleyada is not only a super talented writer and close friend but also our bass player Mathew’s girlfriend; they collaborate all the time. “Up in Flames” came about while Mathew and Oleyada were writing together. After they showed us what they had, we all agreed it was an excellent fit for the record. We all love Ariana Grande’s last album, and it influenced “Up in Flames.” The song was written far before COVID-19, but the release lined up in a super weird way. The apocalyptic themes felt very fitting for this peculiar time.
If you could have collaborated with any musician that’s ever existed, past or present on M.I.A. who would it have been and why?
We would love to get Anderson .Paak on a version of “You Ain’t Got No Reason.”
What are your favourite song(s) off the new album?
Our favourite song off the album is “M.I.A.” For so many reasons, the memories and stories that the song is about, plus the music video was so fun to shoot.
Since its release in 2018, your single “All Night” has garnered over 550,000 streams on Spotify, a real monumental achievement, sparking the path you guys are now on. How has the reception for your most recent singles, “Up in Flames” and “M.I.A. (Money Isn’t Available)” been since their releases?
Releasing “All Night” was crazy. The reception we received for our first ever single is incredible. The fact that people have heard our music around the world and that twenty-two thousand of them have saved the single on Spotify is unreal. “M.I.A” is our evolution from “All Night.” It shows how much our songwriting and style has developed since 2018. As for “Up in Flames,” it was a song that felt like it fit in our boyband image, and is just another branch of what The Free Label is.
This past month you guys released a mixtape made entirely from the comfort of your own homes while practicing social distancing in the months of March and April titled, Quarantoonz, Vol. 1, will there be more Quarantoonz mixtapes down the road?
As long as quarantine lasts, we will release more volumes of Quarantoonz. We’re making so much music right now; it would be a shame not to release it.
Do you have anything else planned for 2020, or are you guys just taking the year day-by-day for the unforeseeable future, before you can solidify touring plans, etc?
As for 2020, we will release another summer single, and the second volume of Quarantoonz, maybe two… We will be playing a few online festivals and streaming performances. We performed for Homebody Festival on May 29th, and the City of Vaughan’s Canada Day stream. We are always looking for more opportunities to perform, so it’s best to check our Instagram or website at thefreelabel.ca if you want the most updated info on us.
Thanks for the time, guys! With everything going on in the world right now, I hope you’re all staying safe at home in Toronto. Is there anything else you may want to add?
Thank you to everyone for showing us so much support and love right now! Stay home, stay safe, and wash ya’ damn hands!
Check out more from The Free Label: