Mannix grabs a world exclusive with the mastermind behind Freeez; the seminal jazz funk band from the late 70s who helped lay the foundations of the early electronic music scene for us all…
DMC: John, Freeez, your famous band format had its first releases in 1979. Still a lot of people are digging that sound. Do you have any explanation to that fact?
JR: I can think of lots of reasons… the most prominent but not necessarily the right reason might be it seems people have got tired of the over production of today’s music and are searching for something more authentic. That said, I still like a lot of what is produced today, so is the real problem the massive amount of music out there? There’s just too much to keep track of, so perhaps that is a reason for going back in time – music from the past is limited, so…it’s a lot easier to dig through. Today we have also lost that ‘specialty’ of many things, music included. Back in the 70s I had to travel by bus to one or two of the only specialist shops in London to find funk and soul tracks whereas today, they’re even playing rap in supermarkets… that takes away the feeling of discovering something special so perhaps people feel they are finding gems when they go through old stuff. Even if they’re not 😉
DMC: What are your musical influences and when did you get in touch with the funky sound, Freeez represented later?
JR: I have a core playlist of my 1970s influences on Spotify…
And, this is also set out in my Instagram and Facebook pages…
DMC: You have been quite young by that time, how was the process of getting the project formed in the late 70s?
JR: I had no idea what I was doing back then, and today, cannot remember how I figured things out… it’s all a bit of a mystery 😉 I think at that age, we just do things.. there’s very little thought and planning, just a living in the ‘now’ and so ‘doing life’, taking one step at a time and not thinking so much about the outcome. That’s how we make so many mistakes, which often, are beneficial to us as we hopefully learn from them. When we’re older, one of the things we’ve learnt is the consequence of mistakes and so detrimental in many cases, we are far more cautious in what we decide to do. Back then there was no big plan, I know that. Young men rarely have plans… I just wanted to make a record… and so to do that I simply made a start and then at each step I took a new hurdle would appear, which in turn I climbed over, walked around, or barged straight through.
DMC: You are often described as THE mastermind behind Freeez: producing, playing instruments, leading the band. Which instruments do you play yourself?
JR: I only played percussion back then (my beloved congas and bongos mostly). But I was clear about what I liked and wanted from the rest of the band who were all what I call real musicians. Its not so different today, I just use computers to do the bulk of my music, so I still don’t really play any instruments, neither can I read music nor even know what chords I am using or what musical key a track is in. Rather, I translate my ideas and what I think sounds good into the computer and then manipulate it there. With real musicians, I do something similar. I ask them for something and guide them by says yay and nay to what they do, however, humans also bring their own ideas and so the creative flow and result is of course different. With the advent of AI, who knows… perhaps if I ask, it will come up with ideas for me to choose from and manipulate within the computer to my liking. So far though, the AI music I have heard has been crap hahaha 😉
DMC: The sound of Freeez keeps popular, recently albums and even 12″s have been reissued. Is that somehing you like?
JR: It’s always very flattering that our/my work is of interest to people, whether back then, or today. I’m grateful and respectful of people’s appreciation.
DMC: Are you still in touch with your ex band members?
JR: I am only really in regular touch with Andy Stennett. Although I have been in contact with others but only very briefly.
DMC: The story of Freeez is well documented, but not many know what you have done after the project ended. Can you give us a hint?
JR: I went solo after Freeez, under my own name, John Rocca, then quite a few different Pseudo names and just before I retired form music released an album under in 1993 as Midi Rain – the track Shine from that album was also my last US number 1 dance hit with many of the other tracks big underground club hits. So a happy ending.
DMC: The re-invention of old Funk, Jazz and Disco tracks is very popular right now. What is your opinion on people like Dr Packer, Opolopo, The Reflex, Dave Lee, Moplen or Dimitri From Paris reworking old classics or not so well known underground gems?
JR: I have very mixed feelings about this; I don’t know most of these names, but some of these people I do. And so some of these as well as many other not mentioned are respectful of original music and how they use it today. Most importantly not taking credit for what they did NOT do… so giving credit where due. Also, to some artists, older music is completely new, many were not even born when it was originally released and so they are simply inspired by it, by the sound and style, which then becomes mixed up with their other influences and abilities to become part of them and their won sound which means they are not simply copying or replicating what they hear, but merging it with something else. However… some people, blatantly use or might I say, Rip Off, other people’s music to fluff up their career and own fame partially or omitting to credit the original artist, performers, writers and/or producers, which irritates the hell out of me. So… I have mixed feelings indeed 😉
DMC: Another of those who know how to rework a classic, has touched one of your greatest records. We are speaking of the Late Nite Tuff Guy Rework of your 80s classic ‘I Want It To Be Real’ which will be available on vinyl and digitally soon. Happy with the result?
JR: Most importantly, LNTG got in touch to ask permission and get the track properly licensed as well as ensuring credits reflected the original song properly.
DMC: Your brother’s kids are great musicians as well. Proud uncle John?
JR: Yes my nephews Benjamin Rocca and Joel Rocca have certainly done well (and worked very hard) to get where they are today. So yes.
DMC: What are you up to nowadays and what is your message to young guns who want to gain ground in the music industry?
JR: I am making bits of music primarily for my own enjoyment, and on occasion, releasing the tracks, as I did recently with my Reflections of the Sun album which is out now on vinyl and streaming platforms. But, as to how to make it in today’s music business… I have no idea… I guess, go viral on Tik Tok !!! … hahahah… what a shame.
On the bright side, technology has enabled almost everyone on the planet to create. So now days; not just music, but photography, videography and whatever else is within the reach of millions of people. It just means that no doubt, many talented people are simply drowned out by a deluge of internet throwaways.
DMC: Final question: What is the best Freeez record ever?
JR: The best Freeez or best John Rocca (including Freeez)…? If just Freeez then… probably Southern Freeez. That was a pure piece of music. Lyrics written by me when I’d not really written any musical words before in my life and the music guided by me via jamming by a bunch of 19 – 20 year old boys … all created and recorded within a week or so, so very little thought process and planning, we just did it… after that, we became professional musicians (for what that is worth and whatever that means).