Guitarist, Songwriter and resigned crooning singer for Nashville-Based group King Fisher, Freddie Fisher isn’t someone easy to attach a label to. A little bit country, a little folk, a lot of rock ‘n’ roll; a bit of a Christian, a bit more of a sinner, and a musician determined to be brutally honest about all of it.
Freddie Fisher is a drug addict. And for many listeners, that’s the label that will stick. He’s also a guitar-maker and lifelong player. He’s Christian, who recorded Christian music but eventually left that scene because it was dishonest.
He’s a complicated, interesting, talented person who doesn’t shy away from introspection or self-recrimination when discussing the choices in his life which lead songs of King Fisher’s debut EP, All Standards Broken.
Freddie took a call from me to talk about life as a recovering Christian rock star, the reality of life as a drug addict, and the real-life events which lead to the stories told in Caroline and Carry the Load.
So, before we talk about Caroline and Carry the Load, I’d actually like to talk about you. When did you start getting into music?
I fell in love with music when I got a Beach Boys cassette as a little young kid before I was even a teenager. My second, because it was Led Zeppelin, and it was all over. But dad was a guitar player so guitars were always laying around and I was always sneaking in and picking it up and plucking on it, but I became serious about it at thirteen. I started taking lessons twice a week and by the time I was fifteen, it was my life.
So that’s a pretty diverse leap from Beach Boys to Led Zeppelin. What got you into country as a genre, or do you even consider yourself country, per se?
Yeah I forgot to say that the Ghostbusters movie soundtrack was my jam too, back then. I fell in love with old school country when a friend of mine turned me on to George Jones. I hated country before that because I was just a Rock ‘n’ Roll guy, but you can’t not get music like that and then it got me looking into more of the ‘outlaw’ type fellas and has just grown ever since. We don’t really consider us country, I consider us soul. With a little Rock ‘n’ Roll, and a little country
The Ghostbusters is everybody’s jam. Is your dad also a musician?
Hell yeah, the Ghostbusters is everybody’s jam!
Yeah, he was a musician. Never really was a professional, but it was a passion. But he turned me onto to the blues and to the 70s classic rock and stuff.
He turned me on stuff like Alvin Lee and Robert Johnson; good, old-school blues and freaking rock ‘n’ roll.
…Fucking not freaking this is Rock ‘n’ Roll not fucking Sunday school.
Speaking of Sunday school, your earliest work available is a few Christian rock tracks like a song called Our Ruin, God’s remedy. What pulled you in the direction of religious iconography? Do you consider yourself a Christian genre musician?
I definitely do not consider myself a Christian genre musician. I️ grew up in Birmingham Alabama, neck deep in the Bible Belt, my family put me through a really nice private Christian school – for which I️ am grateful – and I grew up in a pretty strict Christian upbringing.
I had been fairly successful as a local musician playing Rock ‘n’ Rolland when I turned eighteen it basically supported me at that time. But when my grandfather passed away when I turned eighteen – and he was pretty much the only authority figure in my life – it went from being strict to me being able to do whatever I wanted to do. And the music allowed that as well.
So, I became the cliché of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll; it became my whole worldview and it took me down some dark paths. And it took me to some beautiful places, I mean all my dreams came true. But a lot of those dreams turned in the nightmares because of my lifestyle.
I became addicted to heroin by the time I was nineteen. My mom was a drug addict as well as my father. He only smoked weed, he wasn’t really a junkie like my mother who was an alcoholic and heroin addict who loved her cocaine. After she died of a drug overdose in 2001, things started really spiraling out of control for me as far as my drug and alcohol use. So, a couple years after she passed I tried to clean up my act and the mature way to clean up my act was to quit the seedy Rock ‘n’ Roll scene, go back to my roots – so to speak – and start playing Christian music, and something positive.
At the time, I didn’t realize that the Christian music industry was just as seedy – if not worse – than the general market in the music industry. I did a showcase in 2003, out in Dallas Texas, for unsigned Christian artists and got picked up by a management team. I had a couple different Christian labels looking at me, and there was this book that was written by Lauren Sandler called Righteous*.
She was in a Christian, she was basically writing a commentary on the Christian music industry and church youth groups that were geared towards ‘helping the kids’. The book came out and it was not positive for the Christian youth movement; talked about all the Christian bands and all the Christian teachers and preachers in youth groups pretty much being corrupt as shit.
But she talked really highly about me, she basically dedicated a chapter to my story. Lauren got to realize my music wasn’t overtly Christian; I mean, it was just music that came from my heart it wasn’t about God it was mostly about suffering and trying to come out of a dark lifestyle into a healthy one.
I experienced a lot of darkness in my life because of my choices.
Basically if it wasn’t about a good time I didn’t want nothing to do with it and I lived life to the fullest. But I got a lot of attention in the Christian industry as well as the general market because of that book. But like I said the Christian industry is pretty dark has a very dark underbelly and its more set up to take advantage of artists and consumers than the general market is by far. In hindsight I should’ve probably just gone to rehab to get my life together instead of checking into the Christian music industry.
So no, my creative director Steve Hash wanted to separate me as far away from the Christian industry as possible for this project and I agree with him one hundred percent. It’s not like I turned my back on God, but I’ve definitely turn my back on the Christian music industry.
Holy shit (pardon the pun).
So, out of the three or four songs that you have laid and mixed, what made you choose Caroline as your debut single?
We’ve actually laid down nine songs. I have a really good producer and wanted to lay down as much as we can and then cherry pick the best songs and be able to listen to them. He didn’t want his money or time to bottle us down so we’ve just kind of taken our time and put our best foot forward. It’s been a blessing having that luxury with my dream Producer and Eric McConnell
This whole record is a concept album about facing your demons down with no happy ending.
My Producer thinks it might tap into a nerve with the opioid epidemic going on, and basically it’s the same type of content people like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isabel, who are in recovery as well.
Caroline is the song which pretty much embodies the whole concept; it’s about a girl that I turned on to heroin for the first time and it ruined her life within months. She lost her child and turned to prostitution.
Everything on this record is literally true that I’ve written about; even the song that’s in first person, Carry the Load, which is the most personal song I’ve ever written. It doesn’t paint myself in a pretty light but it’s honest.
Two of the songs are about people that did not make it out alive. Two of the songs are about people that did live through it but it destroyed their lives and the one song about me is about the jury still being out as to whether I’m going to make it out alive or not.
It’s pretty cool that you’re doing a concept album for your first release.
Yeah, it just kind of fell into place. The concept record came about because of losing people – mostly to opioids – and how they didn’t have to die in order for it to totally destroy their lives. It’s a choice between death and just no hope. There weren’t any good endings.
The idea is that there will be two EPS with the same concept; the first one is either End of the Line, which happened to a lot of people in recovery and then just destroying their lives with no hope.
The song that’s in first person, the only one about me, shows how it did wreck my life, and hopefully there will be hope, but the jury’s still out with that. There’s a long road to recovery.
Can you tell me a little bit about Cockblock Records?
Yeah, so I met James Longstreet on a Christian tour way back in about 2005, and we’ve been close friends ever since. He had the LAPC, and he put out some good stuff in LA, but it’s hard to build something when it’s an artist’s collective.
He put out this country-vibe record, a ‘California country vibe’ as Steve calls it. Something rock, and country, and also kinda blues and big band. I fell for the sound and we toyed around with the idea of doing something like it together, because I was looking to get out of the rock scene.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much by way of that ‘California Country sound in California. So James decided to put his own label together. He ended up calling his album Cockblock Records, and it’s such a great name for an independent label! Have you seen the picture of it? It’s a little stick figure of a cock on a block.
Cock herein meaning rooster, yes.
(laughs) it’s so awesome.
Do you worry that, given the kind of music you’ve made in the past, there will be backlash to doing an album about something that is still so culturally stigmatized?
No, I don’t feel like there will be backlash. I mean, I’ve been talking to one of my really close friends – who is still in the Christian music industry, and successful in it – and he didn’t see there being any backlash, other than just being connected to the Christian music industry, versus the industry I’m in now.
But screw that stuff.
My creative director, Steven Hash, didn’t see a problem with the concept.
He’s also your drummer, right? Steve Hash?
He’s my drummer, he’s my creative director, I super lucked-out on that. Creative direction is super important. People don’t understand how important that is for a record or a project. Even in the music industry.
To get a creative director like Steve for a project like this is, I just feel super grateful and blessed. But his heart’s behind it, and he’s part of the band! Just like Eric McConnell; he started out producing and became part of the band as we were recording. It all came together organically, it fell into place, and that’s why we went from Freddie Fisher the solo project to King Fisher the band.
Eric is my dream producer, and on the tracks we have featured artists like James Longstreet. He’s also the owner of the label that’s helping put the whole thing together, Cockblock Records. He’d been my producer for over ten years, this is the first time I’ve used another producer besides him.
Both he and Steve were in the Christian industry; it was important to all of us to distance ourselves from the Christian music industry. So no, I don’t think we’ll see much backlash from that, I think it’ll just add to the story.
So, how would you say that the previous musical experiences of you and of your band mates has shaped the sound of King Fisher?
I got so sick of playing in bands with, like, four or five egocentric dudes, and I usually ended up being the person to write all of the music, I just got sick of the struggle of going back and forth with people that I just decided to try doing solo stuff.
It was just easier, especially being the writer, to do the whole thing alone. That’s actually how I became a vocalist. I never wanted to be the lead vocalist, I just wanted write the music and play guitar and jump around on stage! I didn’t want to eat a mic, but it got to the point where I could portray what we were trying to portray better if I became to vocalist as well. I fought that tooth and nail, but eventually ended up singing.
When I went to rehab and decided to relocate to Nashville, I was going to go to this other studio. But something happened and my friend Nick called in a couple of favors and got me working with Eric at his studio.
Eric became part of King Fisher when I needed a base player and he said he could get me a session artist through his studio, but he ended up doing the bass guitar for all the songs and then asked me if I wanted him to produce them. James was cool about me working with another producer, was even excited for me to be working with someone like Eric, and handed over the production to Eric’s studio.
By the time Eric had done bass for all the songs, I asked him to be the official bassist for the project, and I could not believe it when he said yes.
So with Eric and James and Steve and I all having our hands in it a little, we created what became King Fisher. The whole project has been ongoing since 2013 or so, and it has evolved as a sound with each hand that has played in making the music. I don’t know how I got so lucky!
So, what made you decide on the name King Fisher? I assumed it was a play on the Fisher King.
It’s not, actually! When I moved to Nashville my favorite band in the world was Slick Willy, and they were also from Birmingham, Alabama. I would follow them around everywhere. They kind of took me under their wing, this young guitar player. They were basically my home-town heroes and when I moved to Nashville, I called my friend Jerry Hollenfield up and got a job with him on the side working for his company, washing windows.
Well, his music name is Muddy King, and I loved the name so much. I always thought that was the coolest name. We were riding down the road and I said, “man, if we ever put a band together, it would have to be called King Fisher!”
When I told Steven and Eric, they thought the name was as cool as I do, so it just sorta fell into place and stuck.
So what would you say is your biggest hope for the two singles, Caroline and Carry the Load, and for the future album as a whole?
Well, as far as the single – part of it is that the label, Cockblock Records, is James’ label and I’m just hoping to help out and bring some recognition to his new brand. I’m not really too focused on hopes until the release of the EP in February or March, whenever we decide to release it.
But I think of a release – especially a single release for a new project like King Fisher – exists in the realm of intangibles, and you can’t really plan for something like that. Something really great could happen, or it could just be the foundations for everything that happens from here on out.
So, if there were a particular message that you wanted to convey to your audience as pertaining to the music and the concept and deciding to open these private wounds to the public, what would you say it be?
Just that this stuff is real. I had to go through a lot of suffering to be able to write this music. I don’t want the cliché of the starving, suffering artist.
There’s excess and recovery. And sometimes it’s not possible to recover until you’ve reached excess. Someone told me, if you can do your craft as an addict, you can be world-class sober.
It got to where I didn’t even know if I’d be any good without my drugs, without my “cushions” as I called them. I thought nothing would be the same without them.
But I have found that this is the best record that I’ve ever done, and I did it sober.
Really, so many people are affected by addiction. There’s always fallout from the bad choices one person can make. This thing can take you to the grave. It can destroy your life, and the lives around you.
I’m not the only artists writing about addiction, but it’s too real and too relatable and too destructive to cloud with metaphor.
I want to share, in a real way, that there is hope… or there isn’t.
Everything I write about is literally true, this all happened.
*Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement