JAMES FREUD: An Icon Remembered (2017)

Published on April 7th, 2017



I CERTAINLY appreciate that the following feature may not fit neatly under the banner of all things metal. However great music and art transcends labels. I hope you enjoy reading about an Oz rock icon, James Freud.

As a child of the eightiess, it was nearly impossible to attend a family BBQ or gathering of people and avoid the music of James Freud. A member of the Models and other musical projects, Freud’s accomplishments are many.  After reading his two poignant yet hilarious biographies, I harboured hope that it would be possible to talk to someone that spent a considerable amount of time around the man. So who better than his own son, Jackson Freud.

“Your timing has been perfect, I’ve actually been writing a book about dad’s last days and of my family afterwards”. Freud fought alcoholism for much of his adult life, succumbing to the disease in 2010. “It’s like he had a Jekyll and Hyde complex. The James Freud that you read about in interviews and that we knew in our personal lives, that guy completely disappears. Alcohol had such a profound impact on him, it was like looking at a completely different person”.

Like so many women through history, Jackson’s mother and Freud’s wife, Sally Freud, held the family firm through some very difficult episodes. “She was dealing with this guy who was just completely out of control and up at all hours. She would have to deal with that at night and then get up and go to work in the morning. She provided for the family when we weren’t getting a royalty cheque. To this day, I have no idea how she managed to hold all four of us together and just persevere.”

Freud penned “Out of Mind Out of Sight”, “I Hear Motion”, “Modern Girl” and the all-time classic, “Barbados” so I ask for Jackson’s take his father’s legacy and ongoing contribution to the Australian music scene. “I don’t think (he gets recognition) at all. When you look at bands like INXS, Midnight Oil and Cold Chisel, they are always lauded and held in high esteem. The Models are always kind of pushed to the background. They never get that recognition as being one of Australia’s most influential bands. They were also so ahead of their time too.”

Freud was indeed an innovator!  Where does Jackson think the inspiration came from? “I think a lot of it had to do with David Bowie. He was such a big fan of Bowie’s and I guess he has that real pop sensibility, he was also really in to bands like The Clash and the Sex Pistols. He was blending those two sort of styles, Bowie as the pop innovator and then those two punk elements.” You can certainly hear that influence on his first album Breaking Silence (’80)(continued below)

Freud’s final work, See You in Hell (’08) contained ominously titled songs such as “Ghouls Window” and “Wreckage of my Youth”, however Jackson is keen to point out that it was a far more optimistic affair than those song titles suggest. “I actually really love that album, I’m only saying that because I played guitar on it. [laughs]. It’s a strange album because he wrote it when he was completely sober and was in a good place. I think it was his outlet for venting demons that he wrote about in the two books. It is kind of like a concept album in a way, relating to his whole career up until that point.”

Freud’s career included a stint as the bass player in Kylie Minogue’s touring band (for side splitting laughter read Freud’s recollections of Minogue in his books), composing a song for Tony Lockett and the AFL in ‘99, collaborations with Gary Numan, Bernard Edwards (Chic), Martin Plaza (Mental As Anything) and of course singing and playing bass for the Models.

Amongst the cavalcade of achievements, it was Freud’s friendship with Michael Hutchence I am keen to explore. I ask Jackson if a collaboration was likely. ”That is a really interesting question actually. I don’t think I have ever thought about that, but that would have been a fantastic record. I reckon they were such firm friends and professional rivals however I think that they absolutely would have tried something. I hope they would have collaborated because that would have been a fantastic album.”

Throughout Freud’s biographies, it was clear that his family and friends meant the world to him. “I was saying at the eulogy that he was one of those guys who would do anything for anyone. To get a laugh or just make them feel great about themselves. I remember mornings where my brother and I would be really hungover from the night before and he would drive an hour from his place just to bring us stuff. He was the funniest sweetest guy that you could imagine.”

We conclude the chat after I share my own James Freud story with Jackson, so I’ll share it here with the reader. As a guitarist I have pursued the time honoured tradition of playing the guitar and singing to lull my two young daughters to sleep. There are two songs I mostly perform, one is “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs and the other is “Barbados”. My eldest daughter who is three can now can sing the chorus to “Barbados” along with me.

James Freud was a father, husband and creator of some of the best music you’ll hear from anyone. Freud has been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame with the Models and his solo work contains the genesis of what would eventually become punk-pop. If you are unfamiliar with his work you can spend hours diving into his catalogue via the plethora of streaming services out there today. 

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