Justin Timberlake has been on a very, very long hiatus from the concert stage. Heck, a lot of people seem to think he's completely thrown in the towel by now, despite a few sporadic charity gigs. So it took a very special group of young men -– namely, FreeSol, the hip-hop/rock/soul quintet he signed to his Tennman Records label — to get him onstage at two surprise shows last week. Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries, Kim's sis Kourtney, Amanda Seyfried, Emma Roberts and more turned up for one of the free gigs (which JT Tweeted an invite to for the world just hours before). The pop star took the stage to perform hits like "What Goes Around….Comes Around" to the spilling-into-the-streets crowd.
So who are these guys anyway? Us' Charles Thorp caught up with lead singer Free before the Memphis-based group's Steve Madden Concert Series show at NYC's Standard Hotel two nights earlier to let him explain.
US: So what can we expect from your upcoming album?
F: The name of the record is "No Rules" and I think that says it all. When we were doing our thing before we signed with Justin five years ago, one night we might play a wedding, the next night we might play a frat house, then we might have our own show in Memphis on Bill Street somewhere doing our own music. So we're able to do covers, then to do rock songs where I'm straight up singing Metallica. And then we could do straight Public Enemy or Slick Rick. There was nothing on stage that we weren't able to do to depending on whatever the crowd was into.
US: How'd he sign you?
F: We were just about to sign another deal when we heard from Justin. We ended up doing three showcases for Justin -– but he took to long to decide. When he finally called, we were actually on our way to move Atlanta. So what we decided to do was to turn back around in Memphis and see what was up with him. We actually pulled over to the side of the road, had a conversation and then as a group we decided to give this an opportunity.
US: What is it like working with Justin in the studio?
F: He brings a lot. And it depends on his mood, depends on the day, and it depends on the song. He even let us produce a song ourselves! There there was actually a night in LA when we turned in about 20 songs, and on 17 of them he was like "Yo, this is crazy. You cracked it!" In the studio, he showed us a few things,, but it was up to us to really turn this into is who we are. He let us lead the way, then he stepped in and then he put spices on everything. He brought a lot to the table. I feel honored to have learned so many tricks!
US: How was it filming the "Hoodies" video with Justin directing?
F: Laid back. We bring the silliness even more out of Justin. We're always laughing and cracking jokes with each other, so it was very playful. Justin being in charge, being the director, sometimes he had to take the smile off his face and he had to be serious every now and then, but mostly it was real cool.
US: I hear you guys do mean impressions. Do you impersonate him?
F: Oh yeah, definitely in the studio the way he moves, that's hilarious. I remember one time he came in the studio, it was kind of hot outside and he had a scarf on his neck, and he threw it behind his neck and we all started laughing. He's so quick to tease back, that's the cool thing about Justin. I do things like, call him little white dude from *NSYNC, but he can check your ass and he will roast you back quick.
US: So what's going on with his own music?
F: I know that I've heard some things that he's done, and all I can say is that he's amazing. Hopefully he will decide to put something out soon. I hope. I've heard ideas, I've heard concepts, I've heard pieces of things. I don't really think that's his interest at this very moment. I would like to think that FreeSol has something to do with him getting back in the studio and working on music again. I would like to take a little credit for some of that.
US: At the moment I think he's living vicariously though you guys.
F: I wouldn't count him out, though. He's just led by something else and I don't think that voice has just spoken to him yet. He really has nothing to prove to anyone so I think that for him to make an album again it would just have to be because he just wants to and feels led to it. Anything other than that, I mean no one's gonna be able to persuade him or push him to do it. He just doesn't have to do that. But he has so much in him that I would be willing to put everything on the table that one day… there will be another record.
US: When you guys are back home in Memphis where do you chill?
F: I have a daughter now, gonna be 11 months, so for me man I've been chillin' with her. I go to the park, take her to get some ice cream, hang with my family. During these successes I've just been wanting to get closer to my family to be honest with you, and when I'm not working I miss it, and I end up back in the studio. I enjoy a little golf.
US: Have played with Justin? He's good!
F: I have not played with him yet. I'm trying to get my game together first! I hit a ball almost 250 feet at the range, and that was one of my best games.