Brooklyn, NY-based duo Neil Guleria and Trevor formed Free Whenever to represent art in their own unique way. They have been going on for quite a while now, and with the release of their forthcoming EP The Movement May 16, the band took their time to have a talk with us. They told us about how they met, how they write their songs, how important live performances are to them, and discussed many more things. Find out the intriguing interview below:
We understand you two originally met as working musicians performing at a wedding and later went on to form Free Whenever. Tell us more about the special connections between you guys that enables you to make this music…
Trevor: A little bit after that wedding gig, the same mutual friend sent me a track that he and Neil had made. I was really impressed by the recording and writing, so I reached out to him and went to the same bedroom studio setup we work in to this day. We just clicked, and music started to accumulate as we continued on. We both have long hair and share a lot of musical influences from Pink Floyd to Tame Impala, and then some musical influences unique to each of us that complement each other. We’re both Sagittarius born at different ends of the month. There are enough similarities and differences to make cool music happen.
Neil: I think what keeps us playing together through everything and what has served as the foundational trust that makes Free Whenever what it is is that we both feel the music every time we pick up an instrument to play. It’s not like we’re the only two people in the world who play guitar and bass—We have just grown to trust and value each other’s musical voices and ability to communicate emotionally through our playing.
Stepping back even further, what drew you both to music to begin with? And what does this art form mean to you at the end of the day?
Trevor: I was obsessed with Elvis when I was, like, 4 or 5. I like everything about music, its history, style, attitude, and other musicians. It’s a positive place to be especially in a world that gets blander, bleaker, and more disillusioning by the minute. It represents true freedom in my life. There’s no rules, and it’s up to me to push myself as far as I can with it.
Neil: I’ve been playing guitar and drums since I was, like, 8 years old. I always picked up a guitar when life got confusing or challenging and set it down feeling a sense of balance and lightness. Music is my compass through the complex maze of life and understanding of the Self.
How do you decide what songs will be instrumental vs adding vocal layers?
Trevor: Just feeling. If it needs something, it needs something. We like space in music, so we’re usually satisfied with the trio of instruments. We’ve always joked that it would be sick if RHCP just jammed without vocals for two hour sets. We love Anthony Keidis; don’t get me wrong, but as instrumentalists, we’ve always been attracted to that side of things, and we want to highlight that with Free Whenever. Bands like Khruangbin, Surprise Chef, Skinshape have inspired us to make music that shows people the power of highlighting instruments and sounds rather than only vocals.
Neil: In the early days, figuring out if and when vocals would or wouldn’t be a part of the music was a big challenge and honestly a source of stress. Now it has become a much more spontaneous and natural process. We have even started incorporating vocals into our jam sessions now too so ideas can come about freely if the moment is right.
We’d love to hear more about your experiences recording the new EP… Was it similar to previous sessions? Do either of you have a personal favorite song?
Trevor: I’m pretty sure they’ve all been my favorite song at one point in time or another. My favorite thing is usually what we’re working on. I’m excited for listeners to hear the other two tracks because they bring in some other flavors not as present in the singles. It was and it wasn’t similar to our previous process. We had the basic ideas of the songs floating around for a while, and then we went and recorded the four tracks in like one or two weeks. It was very quick and fun, and that’s what I like in recorded music.
Neil: I really like them all—kind of hard to pick a clear favorite. We were much smarter going into the process this time around. Keep the writing quick, to the point, and get the basic elements and structures tracked right away. Don’t overthink mixing and production, and get to a final master ASAP. That is one thing we have continued to adopt as a virtue in making music—slow down the process, and get right to the point.
Watch the official video of Camino on YouTube:
Since live performances are a critical aspect of the band, how do you prepare to deliver an epic show? Do you have any unique rituals?
Trevor: In the past, we used to approach live shows very differently, just jam on melodic ideas and chords and let the music goes wherever it wants. Now that we have more structured songs with moments and deliberate instrumentation we know we can reproduce, it’s a lot different. Now we get the live band together, learn from the recordings, and build the live performance together. No unique rituals besides jamming a bit before to get loose.
Neil: Yeah, we definitely approach live shows with a bit more maturity than we had in the past, and we’re always trying to get the music tighter and tighter in terms of grooves and structures but looser in order to let energy flow. Our other live members Brendan and Greg are the perfect yin and yang as a rhythm section in how they interpret the parts, add their own unique flare, and energize and complement each other.
What songs do you enjoy performing live the most, and why?
Trevor: It also varies. I really love playing “Solar System Manual,” which was our last release before this one. We honestly didn’t know how we were going to do that live, and it’s come together so nicely. Brendan Steuart and Greg Spiropolous (live drummer and percussionist, respectively) kill it, and I love the little extended outro we do live.
Neil: That’s a great one live! We also have started to tease some unreleased ones lately at our live shows that tend to get a lot of love.
Can you tell us about the additional members whom you perform live with? From what we’ve seen, they’re also incredible musicians. Did any of them make it on the new EP?
Trevor: They are both incredible musicians who play much more than what they play with us. The recording project for right now is Neil and I primarily, but Brendan Steuart (drummer) is on Jam Junkies Vol. II, which was recorded our first session together on Neil’s apartment roof, an informal audition that became an album and is a testament to his musicianship. We’ve had some other guests including Coby Petricone-Berg (an amazing sax and flute player) and Andrew Trautmann (master of everything) on some keys/organ, but Neil and I take the lead with it.
Neil: Brendan and Greg are really not just amazing musicians, but they’ve really been a rock for Trevor and I build out the live set and define the core elements even in the recorded music. So while neither of them played on the EP, a lot of the choices in terms of structure and instrumentation are the result of their involvement.
What have you learned so far being a band? What advice would you give to younger musicians trying to figure out how to get good?
Trevor: Play along to records of all kinds. You can jam with the greats this way. Just let it flow, and be expressive. Don’t get lost in thought, concepts, and ideas. Find your voice, and learn to play some sort of rhythmic instrument as soon as you can. Start a band or join one. Go to the Music Inn in Manhattan.
Neil: Yeah I’ll second everything he said there for sure. I’ll also add that removing your ego as an artist is the most important thing you can do to make sure you and your instrument aren’t getting in the way of the music. From day one, Free Whenever has been a lesson in playing less, listening more, and seeing how much bigger the music is than me or any single contributor.
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Photo courtesy of Free Whenever