Pay for Play

As the sun sets over the parking lot of the Long Beach Courthouse, one of the best and busiest session drummers in the industry is standing motionless, a pair of shearing scissors in one hand, a plastic comb in the other, poised over the head of one of his biggest fans.

An overturned cardboard box serves as a provisional barber's chair. Josh Freese looks around, unsure.

"Okay," he says. He's wearing a T-shirt ("Don't Mess With Kansas Either") with black jeans and Circle Jerks slip-on Vans; his blond hair is cut short. His teeth? Remarkably white. "I feel like such a freak doing this. And you know it's bad if I feel like that."

Freese and fan are surrounded: Along with Freese's girlfriend Nicole Amdurer, a photographer and Freese's personal videographer, there's a steady stream of people walking out of the courthouse, staring.

Someone points out the man in the dark suit peering down at the mini-media circus some three floors below him.

"We're officially being watched," Freese says, looking up.

The photographer convinces the two to move in front of the parked, empty police car. "How 'bout we do it with the police car behind you?"

"How 'bout I lay on the hood of the police car?" Freese counters.

"No, seriously," the photographer says. "It's a good backdrop."

Amdurer: "Yeah!"

"And then at the end," the videographer adds, "we'll throw a brick at it!"

"Yeah!" Freese says. "Flaming bottle of vodka!"

Still slightly tipsy from the previous pit stop at the nearby Pike Restaurant & Bar, where he alternated between sips of Fat Tire and Patrón with lime and Cointreau on the rocks (Jerry Casale from Devo's signature drink — a no-bullshit margarita), Freese begins cutting. The fan perched on the edge of that grubby cardboard box is getting what he paid $1,000 for.

It's all a part of Freese's grand marketing ploy, a not-unprecedented but still quirky scheme to get people talking about his second solo album, Since 1972 — but mostly to get them talking about Josh Freese.

Even if you've never heard of him, you've heard him. As a professional drummer and session musician, he's one of the best around — if not the best — known for getting the job done fast and right. Freese is a permanent member of Devo, the Vandals and A Perfect Circle. He served as the drummer for Nine Inch Nails for three years and worked with Guns N' Roses from 1998 to 2001, even helping to write Chinese Democracy's title track. As a session musician, he has played on close to 300 records, working with everyone from the Dwarves, Slash, Sting and the Replacements to 3 Doors Down, Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson.

When the 36-year-old announced in March a list of limited-edition, special add-on packages in conjunction with the release of his new album, Freese wasn't the first to offer fans such bonus opportunities. Radiohead's promotion of In Rainbows was considered "groundbreaking" in the music industry; the band let fans choose to either download a digital copy of the album for whatever price they wished, or they could opt for the $80 discbox, which had things such as an illustrated lyric booklet and an extra audio disc. In March 2008, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor released a 2,500-copy run of an "Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition" for Ghosts I-IV that cost $300. Other tiers of the promotion included a different limited-edition album for $75 and a simple $5 digital download. In May 2009, Reznor raised more than $645,000 for a fan in need of a heart transplant by offering $300 to $1,200 packages that gave buyers meet-and-greets, autographs, photos and even dinner backstage.

Freese, however, has taken things in a new, even Dadaist direction: $50 for a thank-you phone call; $250 for lunch at P.F. Chang's or the Cheesecake Factory; $500 to float in a sensory-deprivation tank followed by dinner at Sizzler ("Get your $8.99 steak and all-you-can-eat shrimp on!"). As the price increases, so does the absurdity: $2,500 for a drum lesson (or foot rub) and buffet at the Spearmint Rhino strip club; $5,000 and Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam will write you a letter about his favorite song off Since 1972; $20,000 gets you a game of miniature golf with Maynard James Keenan and Mark Mothersbaugh; $75,000 and you can take shrooms and cruise Hollywood in Danny Carey from Tool's Lamborghini.

The album itself, with its youthful vocals and carefree lyrics, shows off Freese's pop-punk Vandals roots and even echoes the Replacements, one of Freese's favorite bands.

What started out as a joke has exploded — fans are snapping up the packages. All 25 $250 lunches sold out in less than 48 hours; 300 phone calls have been made to people as far away as Australia and the UK; Freese has had dinner at the Sizzler five times, done the Spearmint Rhino thing twice and given a tour of Disneyland once. The $20,000 package is long gone. Only the $10,000 and $75,000 packages remain untouched. Amdurer has even been temporarily recruited as Freese's assistant, helping to field e-mails, phone calls and packages.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Vickie Chang
Contact: Vickie Chang