By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Freya Wilcox.
The story of Freya Wilcox coming to America from Australia is, in a way, a modern day take on the classic immigrant’s quest for a better life.
Instead of rolling into Ellis Island, she flew to JFK with a work visa pending. The punk-blues solo musician comes from a small, unnamed town outside of Brisbane and although the United States is relatively friendly to Aussies living and working here, Wilcox says she “literally had to trek through snow in Canada” in order to build a life for herself in Brooklyn.
Wilcox ended up here for the same reason why so many young, hungry musicians do: for love, so that she can have something to sing about. Starting out with just her throaty, yet delicate voice and an acoustic guitar, she’s gone on to add two more members to her project, now calling it Freya Wilcox and the Howls. She hasn’t given word yet as to whether or not an orchestra is in her future, but she’s doing pretty well with her debut EP Dirt Music. BTR was able to speak with Wilcox in person as she was taking an extended lunch break from her cushy, non-rock and roll job that just so happens to let her live here.
Wilcox says she “ended up here by accident” after she “fell in love with an American… a very hot one too.” The two met at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras where Wilcox was accompanying a friend, while on line for the bathroom. Out of nowhere, she got “punched in the crotch” and naturally “that’s when I knew it was love.” She advises anyone who finds themselves in a similar scenario that “punching people definitely works.”
The two tried long distance, Australia to New York, which is really the longest distance relationship one could be in, for awhile. Wilcox was planning to move to Melbourne but it took a push from her father to say, “Seriously, what have you got going on here? Why would you not move to New York?” And so her mind was made up.
Wilcox can trace her musical beginnings to the aforementioned small town outside of Brisbane, Queensland when she was two years old and “wouldn’t stop singing in the car.” Her mom would take her to a coffee shop right across from a guitar shop and Wilcox would beg her mom to take her to that shop, though it has since burned down. Her family moved to “the beach” where she had a guitar teacher who became a primary female influence on Wilcox musically and life-ly. The school where she would practice had all the students sufficiently learn guitar and Wilcox opted to learn blink-182 songs, which is interesting for an Australian girl because that’s how most young punks learn music right here in the States.
After initially being introduced to blink-182 and Green Day, Wilcox says, “Then you move on to Nirvana and you have a metal stage, then eventually you come back around to indie and then you realize Bob Dylan’s pretty cool. I think it’s the same and I think that punk rock is probably effectively the same all over the world.”
“It’s a means to survive in a world where you just don’t feel like anybody understands you but everybody inevitably kind of does understand you and you’re just a wanker,” she continues, in the most poetic and Australian way.
Along with punk rock being the main driving force in Wilcox’s music, the blues is there in the mix as another blanket term. Wilcox had always fronted punk bands back in her home country and so she says that when she put out this EP, she had to “write a bunch of songs or rather change a bunch of songs that were rockin’ punk songs into being blues songs that I could pull off by myself.”
Listening to a young Australian woman with such a gruff and sweet voice, it’s hard not to make comparisons to fellow Aussie Brody Dalle (of Distillers, Spinnerette, and now solo fame). It might be bad enough making that comparison here and now, but Wilcox doesn’t shy away from juxtaposition.
“I started singing the way that I sing, loud and hard, and I was always getting comments about how Brody Dalle was somebody like, ‘Oh, you sound just like her’ and I was just like, ‘Well, I’m not gonna go and listen to it, that’s really upsetting so no.’ When I eventually did, I was like, ‘Hoooly shit, this is incredible but now I don’t feel original at all.’ I was working as a laborer for a time and I was spending 12 hours a day mowing lawns and the only way that I could manage to pump myself up to continue was listening to that. I literally listened to those records over and over and over again. I think that’s the point where I was like, I could weave a hook into a song and that’s not selling out,” says Wilcox on her unknown muse.
Freya Wilcox was a solo musician only until recently where she linked up with fellow musicians Craigory Shay and Khalin Vallee at the venue they all frequent, The Ding Dong Lounge. Shay quite desperately told Wilcox that he’d “love to play with [her].” He said, “I’ll do whatever you want” and ‘whatever’ ended up being a big, fat drum kit. Wilcox’s attitude with a backing band, (mysteriously named ‘The Howls’) is more “you do whatever you want and this is how I play this song, tell me if you think it’s fucked.”
Since gang violence is on the decline in New York, it seems that everyone still needs something to be part of. So they form artist “collectives.” What Wilcox and her merry gang of pranksters formed is called the Best Friends Artist Collective, comprised of “like 60 of us that are all in the same bands and in each other’s business.”
“They’re a great load of guys and I’ve gotten a lot of support from the community in the scene that’s expanding rapidly. The scene is definitely there. I didn’t fully understand how these things developed before but now I can see it, it’s awesome,” says Wilcox of her new BFFs.
With a little help from her friends, a tired and hungry Freya Wilcox took a chance on work visas and cross-continental love affairs to find the nexus of the blues and punk here in the ol’ US of A. Now she’s getting by—fantastically, might we add—by digging out a little space in the vast social network of New York for an Aussie girl to call home.
Let Freya Wilcox be the soundtrack for your 24-hour plane ride by clicking here.
Check out Freya Wilcox’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.