The Hardest Cover Band In The State


What makes Freak New Jersey's heaviest cover band?

Maybe it's the decorations strewn about the stage; maybe it's the cinder block mic stand for the freaky front man; maybe it's the blinding horror light show. Or, is it the costumes the lead singer dons night after night? Maybe it's the psychotic, screaming guitar licks, heart-pounding bass sound or colossal, hammering drums.

It must be the set list, comprised of Disturbed, Korn, System of a Down, and Metallica. Whatever it is, since 1998 it's made Freak the heaviest cover band in the state.

"We were all just friends and we came up with the idea to start a band," said Neil, the band's front man. "We wanted to play the music we liked: Pantera, Tool, Black Sabbath and so on."

"We didn't care what was popular at the time. We knew our friends would come see us anyway."

The band's name, although dark and somber, originated in a completely different way.

"We were all a little old school, had long hair and such then, so I was leaning towards Hippie Freak," Neil explained. "Joe liked just calling it Freak better though, then he told me to change my image."

Adding to the eerie atmosphere is an embezzled Freak shroud blanketing the wall behind the band, complimented by horror-show posters hung all around the bar. If scheduled to perform, Freak could transform a Starbuck's into a medieval gothic setting.

Neil leads the Freaks out in front as the dynamic front man. Clad in different costumes nightly, whether it's Minnie Mouse's dress, or just a thong, Neil mind punches today's loudest lyrics into the souls of the audience. With Marilyn Manson-esq eyes and a shrilling voice, he echoes through the club with vocals chilling the bone and hypnotizing the crowd.

Behind Neil is Joe on guitar, Erik on bass and Shawn on drums. Joe makes the guitar scream almost as loud as the crowd does when he solos. Usually clad in black and donning a stylish hat, his fingers savage the guitar as he hammers out metal riffs that reverberate the state. Melodically adding backup vocals while screeching out Metallica classics hints that Joe's talent is unparalleled in the cover band world.

Pounding bass into the hearts of the Freak following is Erik. Erik's style changes nightly, never losing its genuine toughness. He's a walking art form, covered in tattoos. His bass method is an art form as well. From the thunderous deep sound of nu-metal tunes to the sonorous speed bass of heavy metal, Erik delivers it all frightfully faultless. Chiming in on backup vocals with Joe and also taking the lead for Taproot and Black Sabbath, Erik is as multitalented as they come.

The thundering sound behind it all is Shawn on drums. Walloping the skins, generating synchronic crowd jumping from north to south Jersey, Shawn's style is unmistakable. Slinking out from behind the kit, Shawn takes the lead for a trifecta of House of Pain, Kid Rock, and Limp Bizkit. The members shift, all playing different instruments for the percussion professional's vocal performance.

Freak stimulates the senses with whatever they play. From laid back Pink Floyd to furious Drowning Pool, they cover every aspect veraciously.

Playbills spread throughout the bar gives newcomers to the show a quick overview of what to expect, complete with Freak disclaimer warning the pop fans to steer clear.

Freak coins their show as "a ritual of power, passion and emotion set to three generations of rock music."

In not one of the generations covered will you find the New Jersey cover staple, a Bon Jovi song. White Zombie, AC/DC, Godsmack - ear piercing sound and raw energy are what these guys relinquish.

"We play the music that we like," Neil said. "That's how it all started. We never conformed to what all the other bands were doing. We didn't care. Once our popularity grew, we added a few of the newer tunes, the ones the girls like, like Trust Company. Because, if the girls are there then the guys are there."

As loud and rough as they come, Freak is always looking out for the crowd; it's not unheard of for them to calm down mad moshers with a "Play that Funky Music" rendition. Once the crowd is calm, it's back to Marilyn Manson.

Freak's stage shows reigns the best among Jersey acts. Their crazy stage antics combined with the hardest rock on the radio and old heavy favorites by bands that never die put Freak in their own league. "The stage show is just all about having fun," Neil said. "Whatever I think is fun, whether it's a toy or an outfit or a stupid video, I bring it to the stage. We've all got our day jobs and our normal lives; when we play at night it's all about fun, which transformed into this stage show. Like this neon string light, it's my new toy for tonight."

Freak considers The Seagull in Hazlet, now known as The Steak Exchange, their first big break, which launched their popularity to the various venues they currently play.

"The Seagull became our official first big show," Neil said. "We just invited all of our friends, lots of them, and we packed the place. Eventually, there were lines down the block each time we played there. Long before that, we were playing biker bars to an audience of just all guys. A lot of it was self-promotion. We'd go to Ozzfest and hand out flyers, trying to spread our name. Once club owners got wind of how jam-packed we made The Seagull, they were interested and before you know it we're playing Bar A (in Belmar) and Tradewinds (in Sea Bright)."

The secret of Freak's success comes down to their desire to play the songs they personally like first and foremost. The chart toppers are included as well, but only if they're up to Freak standards.

"Right now, I think we're one of, if not the only, cover band out there doing what they want," Neil said. "We don't really rely on what's popular or what's ruling the radio; that's not what a Freak show is about. We're gonna continue playing what we want. Sure we'll add some new stuff, new ones will pop up here and there, and if we think they're cool we'll play them. When we started landing the bigger rooms, I was asked to change set lists all the time. Club owners telling me, 'you can't play that in here.' I was always against that and kept promising a crowd. And, sure enough, our following became bigger and bigger; so right now I don't foresee us changing our formula anytime soon."

Freak delivers the hardest rock all over the state year-round. But make sure you arrive early. Clubs are becoming more and more crowded each time these guys are there. Interested? The where's and when's are available on their site

Natasha McGrath

Natasha McGrath is a graduate of Rider University with a degree in Journalism. A web site content developer for an investment firm by day - music enthusiast and cover band connoisseur by night. "NJ being the mecca of cover acts, someone has to let Garden Staters know who's worth the charge at the door. Usually found near the stage ... I'm the one who knows all the words." In addition to writing for Chorus and Verse, Natasha is also Music Writer for