Return of the Free Design

Return of the <b>Free Design</b>
Some of the most beautifully harmonised vocal pop music of the 1960s was not created by the usual suspects, the Beach Boys or Simon & Garfunkel, but by a family-oriented band that has never seen one of their seven albums properly released on CD until late last year. It's no surpise that many missed out on the Free Design's warm and friendly sounds. Tremendously overlooked in their own time, the Free Design should have gained the same hipster recognition as contemporaries like the Association and the Zombies, but unfortunately, things just didn't work out.

The band's main songwriter, Chris Dedrick, believes the opportunity was there, but it just wasn't meant to be. "We definitely felt there were things we did that had the quality and the capability. If it wasn't meant to be that way, then we're not blaming anyone or getting upset about it, but we really did feel that we could have achieved a much greater audience with better promotional support."

Their chance may come, more than 30 years after the fact, thanks to Seattle-based label Light In The Attic, who is planning on reissuing all seven albums by the end of 2004, something that originally happened without Dedrick even knowing about it.

"The idea came about unbeknownst to me, because the first reissues happened in Japan and I knew nothing about them. It wasn't until a musician in California contacted me over the internet and told me," he admits. Other than a few compilations floating around on tiny Spanish, American and English labels, the Free Design's music has been talked about more than it has been heard.

Dedrick recalls, "Our label Project 3 folded, Enoch Light [the label's owner] died and nobody knew where a lot of the masters were." The recordings were unaccounted for, but the band's legacy was never forgotten. Innovative artists such as Stereolab, Sean O'Hagan and Cornelius (who was responsible for the activity in Japan) were constantly name-checking them, while their songs managed to pop up on television programs like Gilmore Girls and Power Puff Girls. (Dedrick, who lives in Toronto, now works as a composer for TV and film, including scoring Guy Maddin's latest effort, The Saddest Music In the World.)

"Because there was so much airplay, TV action and so on back when we were kids doing this, there were enough people who remembered it who, put together with those just discovering it for the first time, created a critical mass of interest that seems to be still peaking and growing."

Such interest has brought the Free Design's classic sound into the now. Along with the reissues, Light In The Attic has recently compiled The Free Design Redesigned, two EPs featuring remixes by artists as diverse as Madlib, Belle & Sebastian, Manitoba and Danger Mouse, all of whom are massive fans. "Apparently they were all very keen to work with this material," says Dedrick, who wasn't quite sure what to expect from the project. "I was a bit surprised, each one being quite different. Some appeal more to me than others, but it doesn't really matter to me."

Keeping an open mind about the project, he gives it a fair assessment from both angles, confessing, "As a businessman, or someone who is interested in the success of the ongoing exposure of the work, I see it as something that has its place and I don't mind it at all. As an artist, I think sometimes these things are a little more expressive than others, and I just sort of wash my hands in the sense of not feeling like I need to judge it. I can just appreciate how people are hearing the material and how they use it."