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FreeSol on Justin Timberlake: ‘He’s a Guru’

Photo: Larry Busacca/2011 Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 01:  Free and 901 Tequila CEO and Founder Justin Timberlake and Executive Producer of Tennman/Interscope recording artist FreeSol perform onstage from their debut album "No Rules" at the FreeSol Concert sponsored by 901 Silver Tequila in Celebration of National 901 Day on 9/01 at Irving Plaza on September 1, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for 901 Silver Tequila)
FreeSol’s lead singer, “Free,” and Justin Timberlake perform at Irving Plaza. Photo: Larry Busacca/2011 Getty Images

Justin Timberlake shocked the world by actually singing in public last week. This raised at least two questions: Was he relaunching his seemingly abandoned music career? And just who was this band FreeSol he was performing with? We spoke with the group (whose new album No Rules is produced by Timberlake and Timbaland, among others) at their Irving Plaza show last Thursday, where JT performed songs including “Cry Me a River” and said from the stage, “For the record, I’m not trying to be a serious actor, you fuckers.”

Turns out, FreeSol was just another rock/hip-hop hybrid playing the Memphis party circuit before Timberlake first saw them in 2003. “We weren’t the type of band that was about recording,” said lead singer Chris “Free” Anderson. “We were about the live shows, the parties, weddings, whatever. Whatever paid. That’s what we were.”

Timberlake discovered FreeSol at a jazz club, and three years later, in 2006, signed them to his own label, Tennman Records. “He was like, ‘We got to turn what you do onstage into a kind of sound,’ Free remembers. “But it took us a long time to do that. And he was touring, becoming the legend that he is now.” Then, last year, Justin focused his attention on FreeSol once again. He pulled the band off the road and put them to work with an array of producers that included Mike Elizondo, Cool and Dre, Dave Tozer, Jim Jonsin, and Justin’s old hit-making pal Timbaland. The resulting album has Justin’s fingerprints all over it. He executive produced it, and he also sings on four tracks, among them “Hoodies On, Hats Low,” “Role Model,” and “Fast Car.”

“In the first session we ever had, Justin was like, ‘I’ll put a hook on that,’ and he did the hook to ‘Fast Car’ in three minutes, no other takes,” guitarist Elliott Ives told us. “He knows what he wants, and he’s very attentive. He taught me how to produce and layer and orchestrate guitar tracks, so you could make eight different tracks, and they’re all part of this one big guitar. He did the same with vocals. He’s a guru, man.”

“It’s flattering that someone like himself wants to play with us, wants to see us shine, wants to give us the opportunity, wants to put us out there, wants to stand behind us,” added Free. “It took a lot of time. I think it’s been a beautiful thing.”

FreeSol on Justin Timberlake: ‘He’s a Guru’