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Tom Freund comes ‘home’ for gig at the Folk

Journeys are among the most potent raw materials in great art; Grief, growing up, letting go and falling in love, depicted in the best music, film, fiction, painting and poetry, can foster healing, commiseration and understanding.

Acclaimed singer, songwriter and musician Tom Freund is part of this continuum. His journey has run from his hometown of New York City to Claremont and around the world.

He’s been chronicling his voyage since his days at Pitzer College in the early 1990s. Now with more than a dozen albums under his belt, the well-traveled singer, songwriter and musician—just back from a Japanese tour—brings it all back home Saturday night when he plays a 7:30 p.m. solo show at the Folk Music Center.

“It’s always special in there,” said Mr. Freund of the Folk. “It’s a super nice, intimate place to play. I always re-meet people from past there and I always run into people I haven’t seen in a while.”

One has to hope Mr. Freund will dig into his latest, “East of Lincoln,” a melodic, smoldering masterpiece of Americana, folk and rock driven by his distinct laid-back vocals delivering lyrics rife with poetic imagery on metamorphosis and the changing nature of life at 50.

The title track, a laconic shout out to disappeared lifestyle, namechecks the de-facto north/south dividing line between Mr. Freund’s longtime adopted home, Venice Beach, and the neighboring communities of Santa Monica, Mar Vista and Marina del Rey. Much of the disc chronicles the shifts and changes—not all of them for the good—in Venice.

The former hippie enclave, once home to a community of poets, artists and musicians, has in recent years been overrun by corporate and other moneyed interests. Mr. Freund, like so many other former residents of modest means, has been pushed east as Venice real estate has gone through the stratosphere. Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice’s cultural center, now feels more like Rodeo Drive. He currently lives in Palms, a few miles inland from Venice. “It really did shift,” he said of the city’s vibe.

For years he performed weekly shows at the much loved but now closed Abbot Kinney venue, The Stronghold. There he welcomed friends and musical guests like Jackson Browne, Brett Dennen and Ben Harper, who would sit in with him and his band. In 2013 he released a live album, “The Stronghold Tapes” in tribute.

“It was a very special place,” he said. “It also marked the end of what Abbot Kinney was. It altered forever.”

But he’s had little time to lament the old neighborhood’s transformation. His cinematic songs have always been in demand from television music supervisors, showing up on Better Things, Parenthood, One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek, to name a few. He also had a bit part in Judd Apatow’s hit 2013 comedy, This is 40, playing a member of legendary British rocker Graham Parker’s (a friend with whom he’s also collaborated and toured) band.

In the age of the disappearing record industry, “mailbox money” from film and TV is a key financial component for any independent artist. “It’s pretty darn important these days,” Mr. Freund said. “It can keep you alive.”

When the COURIER spoke with him this week in New York, where he was performing, he had just got word that the animated show he’s been writing music for, Pete the Cat, was just picked up for a second season by Amazon.

“It should be super cool,” Mr. Freund said. “The people that got involved in it as we got going were pretty great.” Some of the folks he’s been working with for the show include Elvis Costello and his wife Diana Krall, KT Tunstall, Jason Mraz, Brett Dennen and Don Was.

He co-wrote Pete the Cat’s theme song with the show’s creator, Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, who also created the popular Phineas and Ferb cartoon.

“It’s pretty bonkers,” he said. “Elvis Costello’s singing it, and I’m playing a lot of the instruments and singing background [vocals] with him. All the messages are good,” he said of the animated series. “That’s the cool thing about it.”

Pete the Cat isn’t Mr. Freund’s first foray into the kid’s music market. In 2007 the father of a now 15-year-old daughter, Delilah, released “Hug Trees,” an album of children’s music. “[I had] one rule: make sure the parents are happy, because they’re going to hear the CD 20 times on the way to school,” he said. “And if they don’t like it, that could be terrible. You could go a little batty. That was my rule, to make it groovy for the parents, man!”

The diversity of his workday, writing and recording for TV and film as well as his singer/songwriter career, and playing shows around the world, is a long way off from his day-to-day in 1991, when he enrolled at Pitzer. While there, he met another nascent musician, Ben Harper.

The pair teamed up and released Pleasure and Pain in 1992. The disc launched both of them into the music business, with Mr. Harper signing with Virgin Records and Mr. Freund setting off on a five-year stint playing bass with pioneering alt-country band The Silos. In 1998 he released his solo debut, North American Long Weekend, which put him on the map with fans and critics. He’s been consistently upping his game ever since, even as the landscape has shifted around him.

“It’s kind of me, myself and I doing everything at this point,” Mr. Freund said about his website. “ [Fans are] really getting you instead of the third person thing. I am doing a lot myself. That’s the plight and the fun and the challenge of the indie artist right now.”

Tomorrow’s show in Claremont, where he found his sea legs in music, is more than just another gig, he said.

“It always feels good with the alma mater of Pitzer College, and the even more pronounced Claremont scene that I was integrated into by meeting Ben [Harper] and the Folk Music Center and playing with some other people in town. I think I was kind of straddling college and town when I was there, which was lucky for me. I don’t think a lot of other people at the Colleges got into the town situation like I did. I had a lot of fun in both worlds. It’s nice to keep returning, and it’s nice that Ben and I have stayed such great friends.”

Tickets are $15 for Tom Freund’s 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 8 show at the Folk Music Center, 220 Yale Ave., Claremont. They are available at the store or the door.

More info is at tomfreund.com.

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com