Mortgage Freeman’s Proggy Grab Bag
will always claim a diehard following, prog-rock remains one of music’s most
maligned genres, dismissed by rock purists who reflexively turn up their noses
at any composition that smacks of overwork or indulgence. Because of that
stigma, prog has become an increasingly isolated art form, off limits even to
musicians who might be intrigued by its showy synthesizers and complex time
signatures. There’s a real freedom in prog’s eclectic, anything-goes ethos,
though—one that can’t always be found in supposedly less-restrictive genres
like punk and garage-rock, as the Milwaukee band Mortgage Freeman can attest.
Though prog is just one of many influences Mortgage Freeman pull from on their debut album The Living Proof (released in February), by virtue of its sheer novelty, it’s the one that stands out the most. “I can’t say we’ve tried to sound like Yes or anything like that, but at the same time, I can’t say we’re not inspired by prog-rock’s mathematical ideas, either,” explains singer-keyboardist Adam Gilmore. “It’s just an approach that appeals to us.”
The Living Proof leapfrogs happily from oddball indie-rock to jaunty barroom shuffles, yet always seems to return to the heady rhythms of ’70s-era Genesis or King Crimson. The band members didn’t initially intend their sound to be such a grab bag. Several of them first played together in a different incarnation as a blues band, but, as Gilmore explains, “we weren’t really satisfied with this constant shuffle. We wanted to try all kinds of different tempos and styles and genres.
“I really hate the idea of restricting the band,” he continues. “I usually just try to throw out as much nonsense as we can fit into one song.”
As a result, Mortgage Freeman’s songs play out as restless, winding suits, similar in tone to the whimsical hodgepodges of Milwaukee peers The Fatty Acids and Sat. Nite Duets, but cut from a wholly different sonic cloth. Most members of the band are former film students, Gilmore notes, and that background informs how they approach song composition.
“With all their tempo changes and mood shifts, our songs almost beg for a clear, narrative approach in the way they traverse both musically and lyrically,” he says. “We don’t just settle on the same chords and play them over and over. We want to start somewhere and end in a completely different place, and have the sound travel with us.”
For his part, bassist Chuck Zink compares the band’s arrangement process to video editing. “Piecing together everybody’s parts, and figuring out which parts are going to work with which instruments and where they’re going to go—it’s a lot like editing,” he says. “For us, arrangements are kind of like a montage. We’re trying to be as creative as we can with what we have in front of us.”
The Living Proof is posted for free streaming and name-your-price download at mortgagefreeman.bandcamp.com.