Bleeker, 29, is still the group’s leader — he sings and plays guitar, things he rarely does in Real Estate — but on the Americana-minded “Country Agenda,” he didn’t even write every song. Bassist and childhood friend Nick Lenchner penned “Portrait,” a sunny ballad he also sings, and lead guitarist Alex Steinberg wrote and sings “U.H.M.”
“It feels almost funny to continue calling it ‘Alex Bleeker and the Freaks’ because it really is such a band,” Bleeker says. “Casually, we [say ‘the Freaks’], but it’s hard to change the name.”
Bleeker started the Freaks in 2009 and the band settled into its current lineup, which includes drummer Dylan Shumaker and keyboardist Jacob Wolf, while touring behind 2013’s “How Far Away.” Bleeker spent most of 2014 on the road with Real Estate, then regrouped the Freaks to record “Country Agenda” at Panoramic House Studio in the West Marin region of California (where Bleeker, a New Jersey native, recently relocated). “It’s an incredible place,” Bleeker says. “The studio is on this hillside overlooking the ocean.”
The California sunshine and laid-back vibes certainly influenced the breezy, loose recordings, as did another band that spent plenty of time in West Marin: the Grateful Dead. Bleeker grew up listening to the Dead and going to Phish shows, so this summer’s “Fare Thee Well” concerts, featuring the Dead and Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio, were a dream come true.
“It was very surreal, very special and it just felt so good,” says Bleeker, who attended the Chicago run of shows. “The music almost didn’t really matter. You could feel this sense of community, everyone recognizing: This is special, we all love this so much and we’re all in this together.”
Bleeker has been staging special shows all year where the Freaks play Dead songs (he says the band will likely do a cover at DC9 on Saturday), and in August at the Outside Lands Music Festival, the Freaks did a Dead set with drummer Bill Kreutzmann in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, hallowed ground for Deadheads.
“It was just pure joy,” Bleeker says. “To play with somebody who is that experienced with those songs — it sounded like he was throwing rhythmic gifts at me.”
It’s the same feeling Bleeker hopes to evoke with the Freaks.
“It just feels good for the soul, listening to that kind of music,” he says. “To play that kind of music feels just as good.”
DC9, 1940 Ninth St. NW; Sat., 6:30 p.m., $10.
More stories about music: