By Jeremy Essig
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By Nathan Smith
"I'm driving back to the Cheesecake Factory for the eleventh time this month, and I'm turning down other work because, yeah, I've got a guy flying down from Canada. People will call me for a session, but I can't show up because I've got to give someone a tour of the Queen Mary and a drum lesson, and then they gotta come over and pick stuff out of my closet."
Though Freese says he's only made a bit of money on top of the roughly $25,000 it cost to release Since 1972, the sheer amount of recognition is the real payoff. Within the past few months, Freese's name and story have appeared in news outlets across the country, from NPR to Wired, spreading the word way beyond the crazed NIN, Tool and Devo fans.
"I don't want it to be, 'Yeah, you can come and kick Josh Freese in the balls for $10,000,'" he explains. "I put these things together, they're selling, we'll have a couple of drinks at this bar, we'll get haircuts or take a tour of Disneyland, and that's it.
"I'm a clown, not a complete whore."
Paul James, 41, and his girlfriend, Charlene Mulharsky, 36, of Huntington Beach, California, wait with Freese in Float Lab Technologies. It's located in a nondescript, unlabeled storefront right on the world-famous Venice Boardwalk in Los Angeles, with its tourists, balmy weather, and sketchy dudes handing out their hip-hop demos next to smoking-paraphernalia shops and pop-up tents selling two pair of sunglasses for $10.
James, who has a shaved head, is wearing a green plaid top and Jack Purcells; Mulharsky, a L.A.M.B. tote bag, pink tee and cargos. At Mitsubishi Motors, where they both work, they're known as the "wild-and-crazy accountants."
After hearing about the fan packages on KROQ-FM in Los Angeles, James and Mulharsky quickly settled on the $500 listing. The Sizzler dinner sealed the deal.
"This whole thing is awesome," James says to Freese when he arrives. "Like, I mean, I was really fired up for the Sizzler. When I heard you on the radio talking about the Sizzler, I was like, 'I'm dooooown. I am so down.'"
After a quick read-over of the one-page sensory-deprivation-tank guidelines presented by the owner, known only as "Crash," James and Freese strip down (yes, totally nude) and climb into their respective tanks — which look like heated, glorified, darkened meat freezers — and disappear. (A glowing recommendation from Rick Rubin some five years ago had turned Freese on to the tanks.)
Some 40 minutes later, after the two emerge, Freese asks how James' float was.
"I was kind of scared at first," James admits.
"You know what the problem is?" Freese asks. "If I'm laying down there for a long time, the whole time, I'm like, 'What am I doing here?' I've got, like, 3,000 messages, man. I've got to go to lunch and a session; I can't just sit here!"
"I'm not much of a relaxing kind of person," James replies.
"Me, neither," Freese says. He pauses. "What are we doing here? Let's get out of here!"
After weaving through Friday-afternoon Los Angeles traffic, the group arrives at a Sizzler on Wilshire Boulevard. The three pose briefly for a photo-op just inside the entrance in front of a sign advertising new dinner specials.
"I hadn't been here in a while until recently, but I do enjoy it," Freese says while in line at the cash register. "You know, I love airplane food." He pauses for a chorus of ewwwwws and wrinkled noses. "I'm not being funny; I'm not being ironic. It reminds me of being twelve years old and putting food in the microwave."
He orders three steak-and-all-you-can-eat-shrimp dinners, cooked medium, with diet Pepsis and baked potatoes. The total comes to $58.27 (Sizzler's not as cheap as you remember), and everyone shuffles into a green vinyl booth by the drink station and the hot-appetizers bar.
Topics of discussion before the food arrives: feeling old at concerts, Freese having to lie to his fiancée about working too much, Keenan's winery, how both James and Mulharsky have been to an astounding number of NIN and A Perfect Circle concerts.
Just as James puts in his plea to get A Perfect Circle back together for a reunion, the three steak plates arrive. Freese wasn't kidding about loving the food there. He inhales the steak and shrimp as he gives diplomatic answers about which fellow musicians are "cool" and which aren't. It's really the ultimate fan opportunity to geek out with one of your favorites.
"Aaron North or Robin Finck?" James asks, referring to the former and present guitarists for Nine Inch Nails. (Answer: They're different people, Freese hedges, and he loves them both.)
James mentions that he and his girlfriend would be seeing three NIN shows within a six-day span.
Freese dives into his cheese bread. "I'm going for it, man," he says. "I'm really enjoying the Sizzler experience, by the way, guys."
"Mmmmhm!" James responds. "No, it's spectacular."
Forty minutes later and Freese announces he has to book it to Hollywood to make a recording session with Devo before rushing home for some family time.