Free Whenever’s music sits somewhere in between form (saguna) and formlessness (nirguna). The band’s guiding philosophy and approach to making music is rooted in the ancient practice of long-form improvisation. The result is a unique blend of vintage psychedlia, dub reggae, eastern modality, and African rhythmic tradition that leaves listeners high — fully immersed in a synesthetic sound experience.
I sat down with founding members Neil Guleria and Trevor LaVecchia to talk about their earliest musical memories, how they started playing together and the making of their latest E.P. “Jam Junkies 2”. You can visit the bands bandcamp page here.
CMM: What was the first music that really made an impact on you all when you were growing up and what artist did you enjoy the most?
TREVOR: When I was really young (5 or 6) I was obsessed with Elvis. I didn’t play any instruments but I loved his pictures and the “O Brother Where Art Thou” scene with him. Then around 5th grade I specifically remember having an intense moment with T-Pain’s song “Buy U a Drank.” A little different than what I listen to now, I just loved that song so much it opened something up in me. Afterwards I got obsessed with guitar, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Red Hot Chili Peppers. But after hearing the Grateful Dead’s Europe ‘72 and Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way, I knew improv, freedom, and music that got me high was my path
NEIL: My first favorite band was the Chili Peppers without a doubt. I was about 4 years old when Californication came out and I remember “Otherwise” taking over my life at the time. My parents generally kept a lot of classic rock and 90’s and 2000’s alt rock / grunge era stuff around the house — everything from Pearl Jam and Soundgarden to Oasis and Goo Goo Dolls. My dad was also a big classic rock fan growing up. I vividly remember when hefirst showed me Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii and it completely changed me for good. The other big hallmark moment when I was young was when my uncle left the Gorillaz Demon Days CD at my house and I became instantly obsessed.
CMM: When did you all first start making your own music?
NEIL: We initially met back in summer of 2018 when our friend James connected us together to play a wedding gig in Vermont, but only hung out for a little bit that day and went our separate ways after the gig.
TREVOR: Yeah we didn’t really talk much that day, but we played a four hour gig and had some fun after! Then in the fall of 2019 I was walking around Ithaca and that same friend sent a track that Neil had made with him. I loved it. It had a clear Tame Impala influence, which aligned with my musical interests at the time. So, I hit him up, made the trip out to go visit his bedroom studio in Brooklyn, and from then on we were pretty much jamming, producing, collaborating multiple days a week.
NEIL: It was a really interesting time in our lives– we both happened to have a lot of free time with our day jobs being impacted by COVID. That enabled a cadence of us getting together almost daily to make music together, which eventually became the namesake of the band. And New York overall really became a different kind of place. Without venues, there was a kind of DIY cultural renaissance that started to take root with people attending drum circles, putting together apartment rooftop shows, and spending their whole days in public parks in Manhattan and Brooklyn. That culture definitely had a big impact on our music creation.
CMM: What led the two of you to start playing together and how did you all find your sound and the sounds you decided to expand on?
TREVOR: I would basically go over to his place later in the day and we’d sit in his room, jam, and tinker away with tracks. To this day, the routine starts with us sitting on the couch, drinking coffee, having a smoke, maybe listening to some music and chatting. Then after like 30 minutes or so we get to work.
NEIL: In the early days, we were doing it all. In the studio, we might be making house mixes and hip hop instrumentals, but then Neil would also come to my apartment that had a drum kit and we would have full force Hendrix-style jam sessions.
TREVOR: Yeah our first show was literally on Neil’s rooftop playing guitar and bass into Ableton and using a launchpad. We were covering Tame Impala, Washed Out, and previewing our synth-heavy computer music, which we eventually shied away from. But, who knows, maybe we’ll go back at some point.
NEIL: We’d switch instruments a lot too in the early days. We really didn’t know what we we were doing because we both like a lot of different music and played multiple instruments. Eventually we started to blend our disparate influences into a Pink Floyd-inspired stoner rock sound, which we honed into our first SoundCloud EP release. As time went on, our sound obviously shifted from heavy stoner rock to a more refined psychedelic style. For example, I did the drums on our early records, and I remember how conflicting it was to trade my heavy-handed Chad Smith rock drum influence for the light, tight hip hop sound the music was asking for.
CMM: Your latest release “Jam Junkies Vol 2” is nothing short of stellar. What was the creating and recording process like? Any particular gear you used that really helped shape specific parts of the recordings?
NEIL: Right, fast-forward a little – we’re actively trying to expand Free Whenever from a bedroom recording project to a full-time band. We went through about 4 or 5 different drummers over the course 2020 and 2021. It was hard enough to find players let alone ones with the level of musicianship and production-mindset we were looking for. We had guys who had great rhythm, we had guys with great chops, but it wasn’t until we jammed with Brendan for that first time that we had a drummer who we felt could truly take on the role. (NOTE: Brendan Steuart is the current live drummer for Free Whenever). We recorded that first jam session on my rooftop, and that eventually became Jam Junkies Vol. II. We even uploaded some of the videos of us doing it on YouTube.
TREVOR: It was literally the first time we had played together as a trio! We had a routine of taking instruments and a basic recording setup to Neil’s rooftop and just running the tape and seeing what happens. We were so influenced by improv psychedelia all the way from the Grateful Dead to modern acts like Electric Octopus. And I just want to add that we’re mostly inspired by the philosophies behind these acts; we have our own distinctive sound and it stems from our influence in how these artists approached making and releasing music. And that shows how the project has evolved and continues to evolve. Jam Junkies I was really a compilation of a lot of different jams, Jam Junkies II was literally recorded in one afternoon. We keep moving towards making the music immediate, raw, and straight from the source
NEIL: Yep, we record bass and guitar DI for pretty much everything to make sure we get a clean, consistent signal and can do it anywhere. Later in post, we re-amp those tracks to get the big sound. Drums were done with a fairly simple 4 mic setup, nothing fancy, and then we dubbed over the percussion in my room afterwards.
TREVOR: And don’t forget the drums were recorded outside.
NEIL: Right, we actually recorded all the drums on my Brooklyn rooftop for Jam Junkies II and Open Air. Great dead drum sound especially if you don’t have the luxury of a professionally acoustically treated room. Wind can sometimes be an issue haha.
CMM: If you could do a score for any film director who would it be and what would the film be about?
TREVOR: We’ve been told our music has some resemblance to the work of David Lynch. Neither of us are too familiar with his work but that separation always makes for a great collaboration. We’d do it in the same way Miles Davis did Ascenseur pour l’échafaud and the way we’ve done the Jam Junkies albums – live to a big screen of clips from the movie.
This is the first thing that comes to mind, but the plot would be about a restless boy wandering between the eastern and western parts of the world searching for God, only to discover he was in his pocket the whole time! It’d be weird like something from The Last Movie by Dennis Hopper. We’d def travel to a cool location.
CMM: What’s next for you all? Any new recordings/shows etc etc?
TREVOR: We have an upcoming show February 2nd at Heaven Can Wait in downtown Manhattan. And we’ve got another one at the Brooklyn Music Kitchen February 17th, as well as a couple parties and a fashion week event in between. We’ve also started livestreaming on TikTok more frequently so make sure to follow us there to see when we’re gonna play live next. We work really hard on making it sound and look nice so hope you tune in!