Devil’s Brigade: Halfway to Hell

Posted October 12, 2010 in

Matt Freeman has been the man to beat on bass for years. Since the late eighties he has put his signature driving bass lines to work in Operation Ivy, Rancid and various other bands, and has been happy to fill the role of side man. Now with over 20 years of career to look back on Freeman is looking forward by taking his side project, Devil’s Brigade, out on the road to support their self-titled debut release.

Even though Freeman’s sledgehammer vocals are present all over Rancid’s material, Devil’s Brigade marks the first time he takes center stage, with an upright bass replacing his usual fender jazz bass guitar. Devil’s Brigade began as a project between Matt and Rancid’s Tim Armstrong as they began exploring psychobilly and roots music. “I’m a fan of all kinds of punk rock and even the stuff that leads up to punk rock, that’s how I got into psychobilly,” Freeman said. “I really like what they do with the upright bass, that hyper slap thing they do. I mean some of those guys are just insane. I wanted to play that and get a record that represented a lot of different sides of punk rock, rock n’ roll and roots music.”

Devil’s Brigade first reared its head in 2002 on the third Give ‘em the Boot compilation from Hellcat Records with “Vampire Girl,” a scorching psycho tune that left many of the Rancid devoted wanting more. Devil’s Brigade released a pair of 12” vinyl singles over the next few years, but after Rancid become more active, a short stint filling on bass for Social Distortion, the birth of his first child and being diagnosed with lung cancer, Freeman had no time for the side project. “I had smoked three packs for years and had quit 18 months prior, but it was too late and it caught up with me,” says Freeman. “Originally the first doctor I saw told me I had full blown lung cancer, but after getting the full story it turned out that it was only this malignant mass in my throat and with surgery they were able to remove it, but I came awfully close to losing a lung.”

With both his lungs still intact, he decided to work with Armstrong and finally put a full-length Devil’s Brigade record together. “Tim had this concept of a musical about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, and specifically about the Halfway to Hell Club which is what they labeled the unfortunate workers who fell to their deaths during the construction,” said Freeman. “We grew up working class in the bay area and so many of the songs hit close to home for us.”

Before Armstrong and Freeman entered the studio they discussed whose style of drumming would best fit such an abrasive yet eclectic record. “I remember saying to Tim how great it would be to get someone like DJ Bonebrake play drums, and he thought about it and came back and said, ‘Why don’t we just get DJ to be on the record?’” Freeman said, “I have always been a huge X fan and I actually got to be in a short lived band called Auntie Christ with [Bonebrake] and Exene Cervenka, so I called him up and he was into it. DJ did such a great job, and was telling us he plays vibes so we had him bring them in and we put him playing vibes on a few songs.”

Matt looks forward to playing in Salt Lake, as he has a history here along with many friends including Rancid’s drummer Branden Steineckert who resides in Orem. “Yeah, we spent some time recording demos at Branden’s house for the last Rancid record and of course our booking agent Stormy Shepherd lives in Salt Lake,” said Freeman. “It’s just always been a great town to us, and the mountains are beautiful. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Matt Freeman is one of the best bass players in the world today. He’s throwing caution to the wind by putting down his electric, picking up an upright bass and fronting his own band for really the first time. Devil’s Brigade surpasses the standard we’ve come to expect from members of Rancid and their side projects, so don’t be surprised when you’re blown away. Devil’s Brigade will be playing In the Venue October, 22 with the Street Dogs.