Scott Freiman: He’s talking about a revolution
Scott Freiman’s Beatles lectures are such a hit that he’s become a regular on the lecture circuit. Freiman, a composer and producer who started putting together Beatles presentations four years ago as a way to entertain his musician friends, says those same friends pushed him into sharing them with the public. In 2013, Freiman lectured in front of some 15,000 people nationwide, including employees of theaters, museums and Pixar. He’s recently expanded his multimedia programs and is taking them on the road. We reached him via phone in Los Angeles.
How did you first embark on the quest to deconstruct the Beatles?
I decided to put on a talk in my living room for friends. That talk was to get a bunch of music guys together. They said that it was something that other people should hear. One guy knew someone at a college. Another guy knew someone at a college. I made some calls and started doing some lectures and it just took off. I try to add new talks every year and keep expanding. People seem to really enjoy them. No one has explained how the Beatles work creatively. There’s a lot of stuff out there but no one has put all the research together with audio and video. It’s quite fun.
And how did you develop your love for the Beatles?
I started listening to the Beatles when I was 11 years old. I was a classically trained pianist and they were my first exposure to rock ’n’ roll. I immediately shifted my focus from classical music to rock. I always enjoyed the music. Even from a young age, I was curious about how the sounds I was hearing were made. On “Lovely Rita,” there’s a strange swooping sound. I always wondered what it was. I later found out it was a paper and comb that made a noise like a kazoo. I remember being fascinated by the sounds and how they were written. I could play them on piano but I didn’t hear the same things I was hearing on record.
You taught at Yale back in 2012. How did the class go?
It was a seminar and I had 15 students from all over the world. They were all musicians to different degrees but most were not music majors. They knew Beatles music but didn’t have any context. We walked through the history. To take apart some of the songs rhythmically and analyze the production techniques was really great. They wrote some great papers. It was interesting to understand their viewpoints on the Beatles and see how each generation comes into it from a different place.
“Deconstruction” refers to a very specific form of literary theory. Have you read the works of Jacques Derrida?
I have not. It’s just a word I use. I do know about de-evolution.
Rubber Soul is now 50 years old. Talk about what you touch on in your expanded presentation about that album.
When I do the presentation in Cleveland, it will be the first time I do it. It was a really fun show to put together. I start with a great quote . . . Rubber Soul is like that moment in the Wizard of Oz where suddenly things turn from black-and-white to color. That’s what Rubber Soul is. The Beatles changed from a band you could dance to into a band you had to listen to. You had to think about the music. Their lyrics were getting more introspective and serious. They were exploring the sounds they were making and wanted to sound different on every song. There tons of guitars and basses and keyboards and percussion in the studio. They were starting to blossom as songwriters and really use the studio.
Why did they change?
Part of it was certainly drugs. They were heavily into marijuana at the time. They were soaking in what everybody was doing. They did that even pre-Beatles. They were taking the best ideas and incorporating them. You have a situation where they’re starting to get competition. They were no longer the clear leaders. You have the Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, The Byrds and the whole folk rock scene. They look at all this and realize that they have to up their game. The interesting thing is that they had one month to create this album. They came into the studio with nothing except a couple of song fragments. And they had a deadline. To be able to produce a masterpiece on a tight schedule like this and totally change their direction was pretty phenomenal. They weren’t satisfied with tossing off another song. They wanted to experiment with more advanced techniques in both their music and their songwriting.
The “White Album” was made during a tumultuous time. What does your expanded presentation on that release center on?
It has always frustrated me that there is so much music on the White Album and there’s not enough time to talk about it all. I could talk about it for hours. I started the presentation with “I Am the Walrus,” which is their last psychedelic masterpiece, if you will. They decided to get off of that and go back to roots rock. It’s nice to see the experimentation of “I Am the Walrus” and how they move from that to a totally different place with the White Album. It lets us about interesting things and great songs. We talk about the friction between the Beatles and spouses and girlfriends. We talk about the business issues that came into the studio. All of that influenced the album.
The music industry has changed so much in the past decade. Do you think there will ever be another band like the Beatles?
I answer that two ways. First of all, I think there are a lot of amazing bands out there doing really creative things. There’s innovation in music that continues. You’ll never have another band like the Beatles because music has become so fragmented in the way we find it and the way we listen to it. We went from singles in the 1950s and ‘60s to albums and now we’re back to single songs. We’re listening to one song at a time and not really listening to a collection. That’s not necessarily bad. That’s just different. The Beatles came out at a critical time when we all sat and watched the Ed Sullivan Show.
Will the album eventually just disappear?
The idea of a collection of songs we listen to as a group will continue. Some artists will do it and some won’t. Not to pick on Katy Perry or Taylor Swift, but you don’t have to listen to those songs as an album. But if you listen to Radiohead, there’s some value to listening to those songs as a collection. Going forward it may not be 40 minutes. It might be 15 minutes. It might be three hours.
Some bands are just updating their websites with new material as they make it.
One of my favorite bands is They Might Giants. They have been innovating since they first started with the Dial-A-Song. You subscribe to their website and they put a song up every week and they will take some of them and put them into an album eventually. Artists are trying to find different ways to get to their fans. It’s very hard. No one is making money selling music through streaming so you make money through selling to film and television, advertising or concerts. That’s the scary part — having a career as a musician has become much more difficult now.
See where Scott is presenting next here.