New Orleans bounce pioneer Big Freedia doesn't struggle with gaining converts. Since her 2011 Minneapolis debut, Freedia's crowd sizes have perpetually ballooned to the point where Saturday's Turf Club performance could sensibly be the last time she swings through town on a little-top stage. This Queen Diva stage persona of Freddie Ross arrives at a time in popular music where eccentricities are adored rather than shunned. Still, Freedia's larger-than-life sexuality brings something a bit more raw and subversive than someone like the five-foot-two Nick Minaj could ever toss around a stage.
Gimme Noise caught up with Big Freedia between her European and U.S. tour dates.
City Pages: So your publicist tells me you just got back from a handful of dates in Switzerland. How were those shows?
Big Freedia: I had a blast. The shows went very well. I was very excited. The people were very excited, because it was something new for them. And it was something new for me, so we engaged in it together, you know. It came pretty naturally in Switzerland. Just like it came naturally in every other place I went. I'm assuming most people there were familiar with my videos, because they seemed to know the words. I know my videos were being pushed around more for promotion, and some DJs were putting me into more heavy rotation. So they knew it. I was shocked.
Nowadays, your live show really seems to take priority over recorded material. Was there a point that you noticed a change in demand for Big Freedia?
Oh, definitely. It was after a while that I'd gotten into it, probably three years after or so. People started calling more frequently here in New Orleans. From that moment, I decided that I was going to begin taking it more seriously. It wasn't going to be a game anymore. This was going to be my career in that I was going to be the best at it.
Pitchfork just did a pretty hardy documentary on you, and it does a great job of establishing the powerful and notable presence you carry through New Orleans.
Oh, most definitely. Like I was saying, I'm at the hospital right now, and as I was walking out, I've been putting finger up to people's faces like, "Quiet, I'm doing an interview." But people were still hollering at me all through the hallways. So I am a big part of the community. I've done all my work here, and they know me and love me and respect me. And I give that all in return to my fans and community.
As your success continues to grow, do you ever think about leaving New Orleans for a place like L.A. or New York?
This is always home, and there's no place like home. If I do decide to leave, I will always have a home here. My mom won't relocate, so this will always be home and we'll just leave that as that. In time, I may venture off somewhere else, but no place soon right now.
There's also a moment early in Pitchfork's documentary where your management team is discussing the impact that bounce music's sample-heavy nature has on its ultimate profitability. Because it's also a genre that seems more about performance than recorded material, is that something you personally think about?
Yeah, there's many ways that we have talked about it. I've been able to grow and expand what I've been doing over the years. I can't change the past in what I've already recorded for music, and I wouldn't want to. So the older songs that I can clear in the way of samples is fine and dandy. But in the future, I will be doing much more original stuff while still trying to stay within bounce parameters. That way the music will actually be mine.
Is making music more exciting now that you're constructing more of it yourself?
Yes, indeed, because I get to see a lot more of my money [laughs]. It's more fun than ever. I can control it from all aspects, and now I can hire those who I want to oversee each track. It's nice to have more authority, and I didn't have as much with the samples.
I get the impression that you've been able to establish a pretty dedicated management team. Many burgeoning artists aren't fortunate enough to have that initial guidance. How did you cultivate that?
My personality drew all these people to me. God put them in my pathway for a reason, and my personality drew them to me without any money involved. Just my personality alone got them here. All of these people wanted to help me grow and help me get to another level. Now everybody's getting paid, because Freedia's doing biggerand better things. We're just trying to keep moving forward and keeping having everything shoot for the stars.
Another thing I've always wondered is how you manage to keep your energy up night after night throughout such a heavy tour schedule. Bounce music seems like the most exhausting kind of music to perform.
There are nights where I feel down sometimes. It gets to be very tiresome always using that kind of energy. But my energy comes from my fans. No doubt about it. When I see people and how excited they are that I'm there and going off in the club, that gives me energy. It flips a switch inside me and says, "Hey, even if you're tired, you better get your ass up there and do you you gotta do for your fans." You can drop dead after the show is over. That's my attitude Each night. Each show. 365 days a year. That's just Freedia. I'm a workaholic.
You've also played in New York's Museum of Modern Art before. Does your attitude to performance change when you play a typically calmer space versus your usual club atmosphere?
I like to shock them. I typically tend to weigh out crowds. But even at a place like MoMA, they want it. And they want me to release it. When I get that feeling I just have to let loose. Because that's why they brought me. They want to let loose at this moment. They're tired of being stuffed up. They're tired of being cute and conservative. They wanna let their hair down. They want to shake their ass for a moment, and that's why they brought Freedia.
Bounce music really is something that belongs to you and your community in New Orleans. And I feel like that level of ownership of a genre isn't a privilege many artists enjoy these days. Is that something you think about?
I'm so happy that when I started performing bounce music it was original and that it was something that stood out from every other artist. When I started to take this seriously and decided that this was going to become my craft, I had to get my circle around me where I could stand out from the rest. That allowed me to make something of New Orleans and something that would continue to represent my culture and where this music started.
Big Freedia at Turf Club. 21+, $15, 9 PM Saturday, February 2