To know Jamie Frey is to know a true champion of the spirit of rock and roll. With his current rock collective NO ICE, he writes songs that touch upon and aim to navigate through the primal urges that plagued so many loners who are fans of the classic American songbook.
With the band’s second full-length release ALL NIGHT — which Frey self-released this week to celebrate his 35th birthday — the band builds upon the Springsteen, Costello and Westerberg influences of their first album Come on Feel the No Ice incorporating dance rhythms and bleary synths. The whole thing perfectly encapsulates the feeling of wandering the streets of Brooklyn in search of the next bar after the gig is over.
The only problem is, neither of those things are a possibility right now. And the Brooklyn native Frey, whose youthful enthusiasm for the local scene is undying and infectious when you cross paths with him, is more than ready to rebuild. When I caught up with Frey for a long chat down by the lake near the southside of Prospect Park, I asked him if, when thinking back to the scene before the pandemic, if he ever felt like his songwriting fit in with what was going on. Afterall, his pre-NO ICE band the Brooklyn What had been playing The Dead Milkmen-meets-the-Replacements style rock and roll before it was in vogue. When talking with him these days he is more likely to reference albums like From Langley Park to Memphis by the ‘80s sophisti pop band Prefab Sprout over the vast discography of The Fall. So does he still feel there is a place for him in this city when all of this madness is over?
“After being at it for a certain amount of time you see waves go by,” Jamie told me as we sat down for a long chat by the lake at the southside of Prospect Park. When he started The Brooklyn What back in 2007, he and his bandmates didn’t really know the hip crowd — or anyone for that matter — that could open doorways for them. They didn’t feel at home with the garage rock revival bands at East Williamsburg bar Don Pedro’s or whatever was happening just a little north of there close to Bedford Avenue. They were just doing it — as the Mats song says — as “Somethin’ to Dü.”
“We just thought of ourselves as a New York rock and roll band,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone when we started. I didn’t know one other band. I just started with friends I went to high school with.”
Now with NO ICE, Frey is writing music that is freeing him even further from the trappings of rock and roll. He is a fan of the post-punk and shoegaze indebted music that surrounds him and comes in and out of fashion every few years or so. But he has always viewed his approach to songwriting as more of a student of sturdy classic pop construction like the architects who wrote hits for the Brill Building in the early ‘60s. His biggest examples being Lou Reed and Carole King. The songs on ALL NIGHT owe a big debt to both, as the songs never shy away from big hooks, are emotional without being “emo” and invite you to groove unpretentiously.
It’s the sound of a band making the fun music they wished existed in the world and if you’re not kidding yourself, you do too.
“We’re people pleasers in a way,” he said. “We want to be relatable and have a good time. I think that rock music is for the outsider and I think that I come from an outsider perspective. But I think the outsider perspective for me is that I want to make and play honest songs that people like instead of going with the contemporary thing.”
With the premiere of the new video, directed by Joe Wakeman, for the album’s first lead single and title track, everything that Frey has been working towards all of these years hits a new creative peak in one of the catchiest songs you are bound to hear in 2021.
After sitting on this new record during a year that saw Frey being sidelined from the stage — the place he feels the most at home — he is not going to take the rest of his life for granted ever again. If that means touring and playing every hole in the wall venue that will take him then so be it. Whether it’s with the full seven member “party” lineup of the band — with Gwyn Galitzer’s harmonies, Jordan Smith’s funky bass, Sean Spada’s keys, the dual guitars of Sam Braverman and John-Severin Napolillo, and Jesse Katz’s mammoth drums — who’s to say. But the songs on ALL NIGHT have sturdy enough bones to stand on their own with Frey belting them out over his stratocaster and right now he’s lining things up for when the coast is clear.
“To be honest, what this looks like is still a question mark and the way I do it is still a question mark,” said Frey. “But what this year off has taught me is that I never want to waste a year of my life ever again not performing for people.”