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Premiere: Jefferson Starship Debuts ‘Setting Sun’ Music Video (& a Chat with David Freiberg)
The band’s roots go back to 1974 when Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady left Jefferson Airplane to perform as Hot Tuna. Guitarist Paul Kantner formed Jefferson Starship with members of the Airplane that included vocalist Grace Slick and singer-guitarist David Freiberg. Freiberg had been a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service before joining the Airplane. Marty Balin, who died in 2018, joined Jefferson Starship soon after it formed.
Today’s Jefferson Starship lineup has been together since 2012, when Kantner was a member. Freiberg joins singer-guitarist Cathy Richardson, keyboardist Chris Smith, guitarist Jude Gold and drummer Donny Baldwin. Original member Pete Sears contributes bass on three tracks. The EP is dedicated to Kantner, who died in 2016.
“Paul Kantner was our bandleader and the visionary who kept Jefferson Starship going through so many eras,” Richardson said in a statement. “He inspired so much about this record, from the messages in the lyrics to the title and album art to the collaborative process of creating music as a band with some of his original muses Grace, Marty, and Pete. Mother of the Sun is dedicated to PK.”
Today, Rock Cellar is premiering a new music video for one of the EP’s songs, “Setting Sun.” Featuring Freiberg on lead vocals and led by some tasty slide guitar by Gold, the blues-rock anthem penned by Richardson and Freiberg tells the story of a fugitive on the run.
Enjoy the video below:
“It’s About Time” was the first single from the EP. The anthem of women’s empowerment was written by Slick, Richardson and Jude. It recalls the songs the band recorded in the past demanding social justice and revolution.
Richardson takes the lead on “Runaway Again,” a ballad that recalls those sung by Balin on early Jefferson Starship LPs. “Don’t Be Sad Anymore” first appeared on Balin’s 2010 solo album Blue Highway. “Embryonic Journey,” the Jorma Kaukonen acoustic instrumental from Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 Surrealistic Pillow, is transformed into a live electric performance by Gold. “What Are We Waiting For?” was inspired by one of Kantner’s favorite phrases.
We spoke with Freiberg about “Setting Sun” and the Mother of the Sun EP; the return of Jefferson Starship to the recording studio; and what we can expect from the band post-pandemic.
Rock Cellar: You’ve said the album is dedicated to Paul Kantner. Tell me about what Paul brought to Jefferson Starship’s music.
David Freiberg: He brought the explorer vibe. To go where no man has gone before. He was so well read, he could pull a thought from anywhere. And his brain just worked very strangely. Some of his songs, and we sang them for years, he had no idea what the words meant [laughs]. They sound good together.
Rock Cellar: Why did you decide to release new music after 12 years?
David Freiberg: Oh, we wanted to do it for a long time. We’ve been working on it on and off. We live in such disparate places. Donny’s up in the mountains, about three hours away from me. Chris and I live kind of close. Cathy’s in Chicago and Jude’s in LA. We were touring so much, there was just no way to all be together to write except at sound checks, to actually get together with our instruments and play together.
So eventually we found a couple of days and we played together at our studio, my wife Linda’s and mine, at my house and just started playing. And we just recorded it.
We got all kinds of songs there. We haven’t finished some of them still but when it came time, we said, “Well, we’ve gotta get something out, let’s do what we’ve got.” It just seemed like time to get something new out there because we were feeling like “It’s About Time” and “What Are We Waiting For?” really needed to be sung right then. It was all done pre-pandemic. “It’s About Time” and “What Are We Waiting For?” sound like they were written today.
Rock Cellar: How did “It’s About Time” come to be written?
David Freiberg: That’s Jude and Cathy and Grace Slick. We were playing in the LA area and Cathy and China, Grace and Paul’s daughter, they’re actually pretty good friends, they’re kind of like sisters. At that time China was staying with Grace in Malibu and so Cathy stayed at their place. It was January of 2017, they were watching the Women’s March in Washington on television. Cathy was watching it with Grace.
And they said, “Boy, it would be nice to write a women’s anthem.” And Cathy said, “Yeah, it’d be nice. Want to write some lyrics with me?” And Grace said, “Hmmm … that sounds like a good idea” ’cause we had just played her a rough mix of “What Are We Waiting For?” Grace loved it.
That was 2017. A couple of months later, an envelope arrived and had a whole pile of lyrics in it. Grace said here, use what you want or throw it away. And Jude had some changes and Cathy put it all together and it turned out to be a great tune. I love it.
Rock Cellar: Is there a personal fugitive story that inspired “Setting Sun”?
David Freiberg: No. We were jamming on some changes and I just started singing stuff. Cathy said, “Sing the lyrics, David!” So I just started singing. And I believe that riding into the setting sun was part of it. And then Cathy put it together. She’s more responsible for it. I sang the title of it. I love singing that song. That was so much fun to sing.
Rock Cellar: Why is it fun to sing?
David Freiberg: It’s challenging because it’s real high. I have to do songs that other people with really high voices sing so I attempt it, so it’s fun. And I just love the way it came out, it just sounds nice. The whole band really sounds good. And we had Pete Sears playing bass on it.
Pete’s also playing on “Runaway Again,” which I don’t understand why that isn’t a single, I love that tune. The only thing is I wish it had a little longer guitar solo. Jude was just getting into it when it ended. I can’t wait to do it live.
Rock Cellar: The video was recorded pre-pandemic?
David Freiberg: We did all three of them in two days in Chicago when we were all there for a couple of extra days between gigs. That was fun, putting it together and getting the backgrounds, the video for the video screens. That’s Cathy’s editing on the “Setting Sun” video. It’s funny how she did it with everybody in boxes. That was before the pandemic. Now that’s the only way you can do it. She just thought it would be fun to do it in that form against the Western scenes in the background.
Rock Cellar: It’s impossible to replace Grace, but Cathy is terrific. She writes and plays along with vocals.
David Freiberg: There’s only Grace Slick but there’s only one Cathy Richardson.
Rock Cellar: How did Cathy come to join Jefferson Starship?
David Freiberg: She was in Love, Janis, the off-Broadway musical. She also toured with it and she was singin’ Janis. It came to San Francisco and she moved to San Francisco and as soon as she had leased the apartment, the show closed. Sam [Andrew] and Dave [Getz] and Peter [Albin] from Big Brother had heard her and asked her if she wanted to go on the road with them. It was the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, 2007, and so there was a whole tour that summer with It’s A Beautiful Day and Quicksilver. We put together a band that would do Quicksilver songs with me and Gary Duncan. And then Jefferson Starship and Big Brother & the Holding Company.
We did a whole bunch of touring together. And the first one, I think, was at B.B. King’s in New York. Cathy walked into the dressing room and said, “I’m so glad to meet you guys. I was the biggest Jefferson Starship fan when I was a teenager.” She saw us play when we came through her area.
And then we heard her sing. I was completely blown away by her voice. I’d just be sittin’ there watching her do it every night from the side of the stage, watching the Big Brother set.
And then Diana Mangano, our singer, was tired of going on the road and didn’t want to do it anymore. And I think Big Brother really didn’t like to settle on one girl. Because if they just kept one girl there… they’ve learned their lesson. It was getting a little bit tense so we heard she was available and I said it would be great to get her. Paul went over to her apartment in San Francisco and she got out all the vinyl that she had. She had pretty much every Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship album on vinyl since she was a kid.
And she knows the material better than we do. She knew Paul songs that he barely remembered. Paul brought his guitar and they sang one song together and she got the gig and she’s been there ever since. She’s been doing it with us since 2008. Chris Smith has been doing it since 1998.
Rock Cellar: You’ve said “What Are We Waiting For?” was a favorite expression of Paul’s. How did he use the expression and how did you translate it into the new song?
David Freiberg: When somebody was not quite ready to start a song, he’d say, “What are we waiting for?” He was always ready to go. On tour, he’d be the first one down when it was time to leave in the morning. He’d always be there before anybody else. And so: “What are we waiting for?” It happened quite often.
We were just playing and Donny started playing this mallet thing on drums and Donny started singing, “What are we waiting for?” We all got into it and Cathy took it from there. It’s about all these people who deep down know what we have to do. Why don’t we do it? What are we waiting for?
Rock Cellar: Songs like that and “It’s About Time” recall the old Jefferson Starship anthems.
David Freiberg: That’s what Grace said. When she heard “What Are We Waiting for?” she almost cried when we played it on the phone. She said, “God, it sounds like Jefferson Starship but newer.” She really liked it. That’s why she’s happy to do “It’s About Time.” She knew it was in good hands.
Rock Cellar: You performed vocals on “Don’t Be Sad Anymore,” a Marty Balin song written with Chris Smith. How did you choose that song?
David Freiberg: It was one that not very many people had heard. That was on kind of an obscure album that he had out. We just did it with nothing but piano and voice. Kind of do it like Tony Bennett would. The emotions of it really work when it’s just voice and piano. I don’t know whether we will do that live or not because it’s not exactly a rock song.
Marty was the ballad man. Marty was the man who could write love songs. I loved him. He wasn’t getting enough recognition. Really, he should have gotten more.
Rock Cellar: How was Jude’s take on “Embryonic Journey” chosen?
David Freiberg: Actually we were playing it when Paul was still alive and there were several times when he said his idea was to play the entire Surrealistic Pillow album. And Jude was going to play “Embryonic Journey” on that. Jude played it and Paul said, “You want to play it like you’d play it?” And he said, “Oh, OK.” It was so much fun, and it was so cool that he kept on doing it. And it seemed nice to put it on the album because it’s “Embryonic Journey” but then again it isn’t. “Embryonic Journey” goes to space.
Rock Cellar: Any plans to tour when the pandemic ends?
David Freiberg: Oh yeah, we have plans. We keep getting gigs booked and then they get postponed. Some of them are now in 2022. I think there might even be one in 2023 that we have booked already.
Rock Cellar: What kind of venues do you foresee playing?
David Freiberg: We like big venues if we can get hooked up playing with somebody else. Theaters and performing arts centers are great, they’re a lot of fun. Playing outdoors is always fun. All of those things we can do.
At least when we got locked in in March last year, we had finished the recording and the videos and everything. We said, “Well, I guess we’ll figure out how to put it out now. It will give us something to do.”
February 11, 2021