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(May 9, 2008) PCM's Melissa talked to Freddy Wexler, formerly of Freddy Wexler and the Dials. They discussed his Freddy and the Gas Money Tour, his work with radio host Kidd Kraddick and his opinions on record labels.

F: Hello

M: Hiiiiii! This is Melissa at Pop Culture Madness. How are you?

F: Good, how are you? Did we speak last time, or no?

M: Uh no, you spoke to Kristyn last time.

F: Okay, cool. What's going on?

M: Um, not much. How are you doing today?

F: I'm doing great.

M: So, a lot has happened since we last talked to you at Pop Culture Madness. First off, I was wondering how you became involved with Kid Kraddick Radio Show.

F: Sure. Um, let's see. He caught me up on MySpace a couple of months ago and was just talking to me, was a fan of the music. He said, "I like the tunes, I like your voice." By the way, I'm a DJ. So that was really it and I wrote him back, said "Cool, want to play some of my songs?" Then he never wrote me back, so I figured, "Ok, he's just another one of these people who gives me false hope." And then, about three weeks later or so, he writes me under the Kid Kraddick MySpace and we started talking. He's a really awesome guy who's a true believer in music - probably one of the few left. So I wrote some songs that connected with him, connected with me, and I just kind of decided to take a chance.

M: Great. So how did you come up with the idea for the Freddy and the Gas Money Tour?

F: That was Kid's idea. I think, umm… I'm kind of delusional right now, so I can't get out - I'm going to stutter, okay?

M: Okay.

F: I'm just throwing that out, if you don't mind.

M: That's fine. Go ahead and stutter.

F: Um, it was Kid's idea. What happened was, he called me - It was a total surprise. He called me on a Friday morning, woke me up. I was so tired that after he said, "Hey, this is Kid Kraddick in the morning. You're live on the air." I go, "Oh, can you call me back? I'm just really tired and I'm going to sleep."

M: (laughs)

F: He called me back 10 minutes later and I had really thought it was a dream. He starts talking to me, going through my story, confirming all the details. And he's asking me about the music, who owns what, "Are you the writer?" [I said] "Yes, yes, whatever," and ultimately, he said, "Okay, look, I'm going to make a proposition to you. I really believe in you and want to give you a second chance. My show is the largest syndicated music morning show in America." Err, I should probably check on that. Oh, maybe it's the largest Top 40 music morning show in America. Yeah, I think that's it right there.

Kid suggested that I come to Dallas and I play on the same stage as so many stars, from Bon Jovi to Avril Lavigne played on tour. And I said, "great," then I asked him if he would send me plane tickets. He responded, "Hell, no! Drive! I'm not going to be like one of these moguls and fly you by private plane." And I said, "Private plane? No! Just get me a coach ticket." And he said, "Nope," which was a problem because he was unaware of what had happened, of the history with the last record deal. My experience with the music business, starting at the top and ending at the bottom, was just a sudden, unexpected journey that took a real toll on me. So much so that my parents literally had to come to Los Angeles, pick me up and take me back home to New York. So having to ask my dad for money to support a second endeavor in the music business was not really going to fly.

M: Right.

F: So Kid said, "Well, why don't you drive. And while you're at it, earn money along the way along the way by playing shows so you can get money for your gas. And from that moment Freddy's Gas Money tour was born.

I drove in a U-Haul truck. Oh, while this conversation was happening on the air, Yamaha called - makers of the best pianos in the world, the undisputed best piano makers in the world - came on the line and offered me a piano. They offered to endorse me, which is crazy. I thought I'd lost my dream in the music business, and now I have a Yamaha sponsor, which I didn't have when I had everyone in the world chasing me, which is pretty ironic. And they said, "Hey, you can have a piano for the tour."

M: Great.

F: So I got my piano and put it in the back of a U-Haul truck and I drove from Philadelphia, where I attend University of Pennsylvania, all the way to Dallas, playing shows along the way. All I said at the beginning of each show was, "Hey guys, thanks for coming out. I'm going to play for you now and if you're feeling generous and want to give me a couple quarters or a couple dollars for gas, that would be awesome." And, long story short, I guess I made around $6,700.

M: Wow, that's fabulous.

F: It was really cool.

M: Okay, so what did you do with that money?

F: Actually, I ended up donating that money to Kidd's Kids, which is a kid's charity, a really big name, for terminally-ill children. And Kidd's been doing it for years and years. He rents out a 747 or one of those, and he fills it with terminally ill children and their family. And he flies them to Disney World for five days. It's a really cool thing. And I kind of actually thought my decision to go and do this again after all the bad stuff that had happened was knowing that he was involved in that, which is a really cool thing. So I donated the money to that when I got there.

M: Cool. You have any cool road stories from your trip? Any people you ran into that were strange?

F: Okay, let me think. There's lots of cool road stories. Anything from four cars who followed me all the way from Birmingham to Baton Rouge, Louisiana was an amazing story. Totally unplanned, a bunch of girls who kept coming. One of them was a massage therapist named Joanna who was such a cool, just a really good person. She didn't change what she was doing - she was in law school but she decided to be a massage therapist. She said, "You know what, music makes me feel good; I'm coming for another two days."

And it was just really cool, you know? I've never been in that situation before and it was a pretty amazing feeling to know that people were that into the music to come drive from city to city. And just the things that were donated. I mean, I would play for food. I was in some unknown little town in Virginia playing - well, I don't know if it was unknown; I just think it makes the story better. Anyway, I was in some place in Virginia playing for a turkey sandwich, singing a ballad to the owner of the gas station for gas. So I just recall waking up from the bottom of my U-Haul with a blanket around me, negotiating for a GPS unit so we wouldn't get lost on the way to Dallas.

M: (giggles)

F: A lot of different things. You can actually YouTube a lot of this stuff. But it was a great, humbling, funny, moving, modern-day adventure, and something I'll never forget. And I'm just so appreciative that I had that opportunity.

M: Okay. Can you tell us a little bit about what happened with the record label last fall?

F: Eventually I was offered - okay, let me think of how to say this. About a year and a half ago I found myself in a really huge bidding war. I had been an intern for Sony music for like three summers, and I've seen the extent to which record executives fought over and courted artists, but I had never seen anything to this extent, which was private planes to concerts every night for three months. And I ended up signing with - I was 19 and I ended up signing with one of the major labels. I was promised the world. I kept all the e-mails. It would shock you to know that I was dropped if you read some of these one-page e-mails, even though you could say, "Hey, don't believe anything a record executive says. Don't be naïve; they give it to everybody."

M: Right.

F: I don't think most chairmen of record labels would spend this amount of time on an artist, and I in no way feel I deserved it - and that should be clear. It was a miracle and it was lucky and it was timing, but nonetheless, it did happen and I signed to a label and I expected, at the very least, to have a record out. I'm not angry that I never had a number one hit record, I was just angry that I never had the chance to be heard. And I felt like if I had gone with one of the other four [record labels], maybe I would have.

M: Right.

F: I went with this one and I guess my destiny was that it merged with another label and they dropped all their new acts. I found out that this happened through a voicemail.

M: Oh man.

F: Here I am in L.A. and I'm being asked to write for everybody from Gwen Stefani to Kelly Clarkson. I was working with Nikki Sixx, co-producing a song. Just a lot of strange stuff for a young guy and then I'm like, "Wow, I have no deal anymore. No one's paying for the five-star hotel I'm staying in, no one's paying for the car that I'm driving. So what am I doing?"

M: Wow.

F: I had a little meltdown and - let me be clear. The meltdown happened hear. When I found out I had been dropped, I was actually okay and I called my lawyer and said, "Look." He said, "Are you okay," and I said, "I'm fine. There are still a bunch of other labels. They all offered me the same deal. They all said 'We believe in you 100 percent; we think you have a hit song.' So let's just go to one of them and strike a modest deal. I don't need anything crazy, I just wanted my music to get out there." And he said, "Great." And no one would sign me. And it was a crazy thing because I had only gotten better in terms of singing, in terms of my songwriting. It was a crazy thing based on the fact that all these people, just months prior, had been behind me. And I guess it goes to show that the music industry, for all its strengths and positive qualities, is also deeply rooted in the delicate egos of people running it. And that's a sad fact, I think. And so I looked into that fact and decided, "You know what? There's no way that I can win." Not that I didn't want to. I didn't give up because I didn't want to do it anymore. I gave up because I didn't think it was possible.

How can a pop act - how can a Justin Timberlake or a Britney Spears or a - I'm trying to think of an ultimate pop pop pop act - how could they break on their own? Well, the only way I guess is someone like a Kidd Kraddick, some huge radio personality who gets behind you not to rape you and release you of your record contract, but just to get your music heard and give you a second chance. And that's where I'm at. I'm at a place where there's a team of people that really believe in me, they're playing my songs and they're being paid for the purest reason, which is just, "We believe in him, so let's see how people react." And that's what it's been the whole time. It's about the fans that are listening. My whole thing is, "Hey, I just want to be heard. Tell me if you like it, tell me if you don't." I know now that a lot of people are feeling the music, but that doesn't mean I'm just going to make the songs that I think are perfect, I'm going to - let me rephrase that. The record label wanted me to just put out a record that I made in my basement that sounds great to me. I'm going to make that record that I think sounds great in my basement, and then I'm going to ask the fans what they think of it. I'm going to give them multiple choices and options. I'm going to let them choose the songs on my album. I'm going to let them do everything that a record label would do, because at the end of the day, a record label's job is to get what fans want. Why have them guess when you can just ask them themselves? That's what I've been doing and I think if it works out, it could just be the coolest thing ever because I'm here right now, opening up for Maroon 5, having gone to play in 70 different cities every day, just because of them. I think that's a really cool thing.

M: That is really cool. So are you still involved with the Dials at all, or are you just completely solo?

F: This is a funny story. And then I have to unfortunately wrap this up. I was always a solo artist. The Dials are a group of friends of mine, an amazing group of New York City session musicians who I asked to do me a favor. They used to play live with me while I did shows, but that was just under the name Freddy. After all the labels turned me down, I said, this is so fast. My gut tells me that if I send my song to one of these major labels under a different name, they'd want to sign me. So I said, "Can I put that I play with you guys on my website and make it look like it's this new band?" I did it, my lawyer shopped it to a major label and, of course, they made an offer. Until they realized it was just me and said, "We can't do this." And I said, "Why?" The answer was "Repercussions of not signing with us the first time."

M: Oh my god, that sucks.

F: And I think you should have the interview there. Because that's my story.

M: Alright then.

F: Or you could say, "That's a real quote and that's the reason why after last weekend the majority of both labels that wouldn't sign me reapproached me. I passed on the offer and I said, "I'm going to do this with just the fans, because I think this kind of mentality and this absolute grip over pop artists and music has to be shattered a little bit." Actually, just say, "So, are you like the anti-label guy?"

M: Alright. Are you the anti-label guy?

F: No, I'm absolutely not the anti-label guy and I think that there are amazing record executives and people who have great ears and great marketing people, etc. etc. It's just that my personal experience has forced me to become disillusioned with the music business and I'm just going to try to do it differently. And that's it.

M: Alright, well that sounds great. We wish you the best of luck in the future. Thanks for doing the interview with us, and have a fabulous afternoon.

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