According to Jefferson Starship member, the legendary 82-year old David Freiberg, most listeners wouldn’t know the difference between Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship and Starship, an evolution spanning the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, that enthralled fans with the likes of ‘White Rabbit’ (1967), ‘’Jane (1979) and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ (1987) respectively. For avid aficionados of the bloodline, the voyage of the Jefferson Starship continues, carrying the legacies of eight gold or platinum albums between 1974 and 1984, travelling through the sonic wormhole from trippy analogue to the digital age.
Close to fifty years since the formation of Jefferson Starship, the band are still touring extensively, recently releasing their eleventh studio album — their first in 12 years —, Mother Of The Sun, in August 2020. Sparked from the back of a women’s march, the first single of the seven-track album, ‘It’s About Time’, was co-written by Jude Gold, Cathy Richardson and former member Grace Slick (who performed in all three bands), exploring the significance of female contribution and leadership. While the album feels thoroughly modern, the classic nostalgic grooves of Jefferson Starship are a constant undertow in all seven tracks.
Sheldon Ang spoke with the only remaining original member of the Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship franchise, Freiberg, about their latest album, his tenure at Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, the scoop surrounding his early departure from Starship and life in some of America’s most iconic bands.
Sheldon: Jefferson Starship have been around almost 50 years, you were an original band member. This is not about fame or money is it?
David: It’s about playing wonderful music; we have the huge catalogue to play from Jefferson Airplane to Jefferson Starship to Starship. And we want to express something for Jefferson Starship and we just want to get some music out.
Sheldon: Let’s talk about the single, ‘It’s About Time’. It’s perhaps the most up-tempo track on the new album, Mother Of The Sun.
David: It’s about having something to say about the times. We decided to do a pick-up tempo to begin with, and the message is about let’s get our act together and treat the female of our species well, give them the opportunity to lead as well. When women are given a chance they do just as well, if not better, then men can do.
Sheldon: Does the song have anything to do with the November 3rd presidential elections?
David: Well, it has to do with the current times and that maybe has something to do with the elections.
Sheldon: This song does have the Jefferson Starship DNA at the same time as being contemporary.
David: I think we just play the way we play, and I think it changed because Jude Gold was writing, and Cathy Richardson was writing about having women have a taste of ruling.
Also, Grace Slick wrote some of the lyrics for it. Actually, Cathy and Grace saw one of the women’s marches so they said maybe we should write about women’s rights. Grace said, ‘That’d be nice’ and Cathy said, ‘Do you want to write some [lyrics]?’, and some months later Cathy opened up a letter from Grace Slick, and we used that for some of the lyrics on this single.
Sheldon: ‘Runaway’ is a very poignant song.
David: Cathy wrote the lyrics, it sounds as if it is someone who is very independent. If you try to hold onto her, she’d be gone.
Sheldon: And then there’s ‘Don’t Be Sad Anymore’.
David: It’s about telling your mate that everything will be alright no matter what you are going through now. No matter what you go through right now, it is going to be fine because I’m right here. Everything will be cool, so don’t be sad anymore. For me, it is between a man and a woman, but it could be about anyone.
Sheldon: I thought it might have been a song about Paul Kantner’s (Jefferson Airplane co-founder) passing?
David: It could be about that too. That’s a nice thing about lyrics, there should be enough room for every listener to interpret them, that the way you feel. You can’t be too specific and really successful songs can mean a lot different things depending on who you are and how you are feeling.
Sheldon: Jefferson Starship have been around for so long, is this new album a conscious attempt to pull in some new fans perhaps?
David: I certainly hope so. If it’s universally good music, it should. And when I go out to play, I noticed that there are old folks and there are young people as well, and I really think that good music should be timeless. And I hope when you do this, things will be successful.
Sheldon: David, apparently you are in your the early 80s, but you sound so youthful on record.
David: Yeah, I’ll be 82 on August 24th.
Sheldon: What’s your secret to still being able to write, record and tour at 80 plus years of age?
David: I don’t know. I keep moving, it’s important to keep those bones moving. I get onto the treadmills everyday and just keep walking and keep your heart going.
Sheldon: If you don’t mind, let’s go back time. What was it like to be in one of the most iconic bands in a 70s and 80s — in Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship?
David: It was a lot of fun. And every band goes through a lot of strange changes. There were a lot of personnel changes at times; we took a lot of good from the bad. It is always nice to get together when you’re successful and you’ve got a hit song, everybody in a band realises that: ‘I am the reason it is a hit song’. You’ve got to get past that, and you have to realise that we are the reason why it is a hit song. Not I. Sometimes ego can be the problem. I tried to watch that. I know that it is a team. So that’s my motto. But I had a really good time. Just getting to play. Who could ask for anything more?
Sheldon: Is sex, drugs and rock n roll a thing, or a myth?
David: It can be that, if that’s what you want to do. I can’t say that I didn’t do any of those. But I must say that I’m not like that. Especially now. I’ve been married for 35 years (chuckles).
Sheldon: There’s so many favourites like ‘Jane’, ‘Miracles’. Do you have any personal favourites?
David: Yeah, I brought ‘Jane’to the band, it is about my girlfriend at the time — I have to claim that. It’d better be a favourite (chuckles). But I love ‘Miracles’, some of Paul’s (Kantner) songs.
Sheldon: I’m surprised that ‘We Built This City’ and ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ are mentioned in the press release. I thought those were Starship hits?
David: Because we play those songs on our show most of the audience do not realise there’s a difference between Jefferson Starship and Starship. And they’d be disappointed if we don’t play them…what if ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ was in their wedding? Because the Jefferson Starship compilation has them on, as well, but they’re really Starship songs, and the record company put songs from both bands. Kathy and I split the vocals in concerts.
Sheldon: And finally, why did you leave Starship?
David: I wasn’t in any of their recording because, before we stared recording, we had a band meeting. I wasn’t really happy, there was a point that they became a corporate band. The producer was in charge and the band didn’t write for Starship, the songs were written from the outside. We weren’t used to that. The band was used to doing everything for themselves. So, a producer would do the thinking for you and even played those parts, and reproduced the record and people have recorded tracks played along with them to fill it up. We didn’t do that before.
Sheldon: And so you left?
David: And I left. It was a mutual thing and they thought I didn’t belong there. I didn’t mind and it was probably their idea if I remember right. So, I left I went to my Quicksilver and I met my wife, the love of my life. There she is. So if I had not left Starship, I would not have met her (chuckles). And it wouldn’t be like this, and I love it here.
Sheldon: No regrets then?
David: No regrets.