Ads Top

Bassist, singer, ride-or-die friend: Remembering Stephanie Freeman, 1996-2021

Stephanie Freeman in Bad Mouth at Art Closet Studios, 2013. Photo by Dawn Foos.
Most of the people that I’ve become close with in the last decade of my life are those I’ve met through a mutual appreciation for music. In my first semester of middle school at California Trail, I made friends with Andrew Kellison after complimenting his Weezer t-shirt in health class. Around the same time, perhaps even the summer preceding that school year, I met Stephanie Freeman, who at the time was dating one of my rec league baseball teammates. Who was this cool girl showing up to our games wearing a 311 t-shirt? I can’t tell you the first time we talked, but I’m certain that afterward, I quickly added her on Facebook so I could see which song lyrics she was posting as statuses (and so she could see which ones I was posting).

Sooner or later, Stephanie, Andrew, and I had assembled our crew of music-obsessed teens in the Olathe East High School area and were off to the races. We listened to the radio together in the back of Andrew’s dad’s work van, wreaked havoc at the local Price Chopper and various fast food restaurants, and plotted late night hangs by arranging sleepovers at Andrew’s and other nearby friends’ houses, sneaking each other in through various basement windows and back doors.

Though we all ended up stoners at one point or another, most of what fueled all of these small friend group hangs and the occasional all-hands-on-deck blowout was a mini fridge full of soda and bags upon bags of candy and snacks. The giant rear-projection TV in Andrew’s basement was always switched on, hooked up to an N64 (we thought we were pretty cool for playing Mario Kart 64 instead of Call Of Duty). Nearby was an iPod dock, or if a CD needed to be played, a PlayStation 2 to throw it in. Custom playlists were loaded onto my iPod classic for the parties with input from everybody on the Facebook event taken into consideration (but other times not).

I specifically remember watching Tyler, The Creator’s “Yonkers” music video, my brain exploding, then quickly downloading Goblin, burning it onto a CD-R, and rushing over to show whichever combination of Stephanie, Roman, Connor, Rachel Joy, Quinn, Ian, Madi, Nicole, and others had convened at Andrew’s that night.

Facebook has already come up a couple times in this remembrance, but before social media was an all-consuming vortex of anxiety and capitalism, the site was genuinely useful for finding like-minded people in your general area, acting as a connector (particularly for introverts) and an archive of the moments you shared with your friends. There were a couple different incarnations of the group, but Stephanie and I shared admin privileges on a Facebook group called Good Fuckin’ Music where we and a few dozen trusted friends could share new music we found, remember old favorites, and inevitably argue in the comment sections (Warped Tour-era metalcore/scene music and dubstep were highly divisive).

Good Fuckin’ Music was also the first place I ever compiled a concert calendar. After Facebook removed the ability to create notes in a Facebook group, I moved that calendar to a Blogspot page linked in the group, and at one point or another, migrated it over to Shuttlecock’s blog as I slowly built out the website post-high school.

Our passion for live music was immense. Every summer we’d all carpool to Warped Tour (at least three years in a row), 311 (maybe four years in a row), Sublime With Rome (though we all recognized there was no replacing Bradley), and as many other all ages 96.5 The Buzz shows we could (before they started playing that indie pop bullshit, of course).

In addition to our shared fandom of punk rock, hip-hop, grunge, and reggae music, Stephanie was one of the first people I ever attempted to make music with. Stephanie was an immensely talented vocalist and bassist in her own right, but she was happy to indulge me and my desire to sing in a hardcore punk band. She played bass in the first lineup of Bad Mouth along with Sasha Betzer on guitar and James Foos on drums. After her passing, I rediscovered a video of one of our first shows at Art Closet Studios, opening an emo show. “We’re Bad Mouth from Olathe, Kansas and we’re here to ruin the emo show,” you can hear me glibly announce in the beginning of the video before someone in the crowd replies, “The emo show was already ruined!” The video, filmed either on a Flip camcorder or an Android phone by my friend Noah, shows us playing what I believe to be the band’s two best songs: “Intro/Bad Mouth,” the only song to appear on all three Bad Mouth releases (the third of which came after Stephanie departed the band) and “Censor,” which features an opening bass line from Stephanie that may as well have been a riff from a lost Minor Threat song.

Stephanie also spent a brief moment singing in Overland Park indie pop band The Amusement, which featured members that went on to play in bands like Loss Prevention and Fiction Department and later included singer-songwriter Hanna Albina (Hungry Foxes). I only caught Stephanie live with the band once, but as always, I was impressed by her abilities and proud to be her friend. She also posted many bass and vocal covers of popular rock songs on her Facebook and YouTube accounts over the years, most recently joined by her brother Kenneth on guitar. Seeing the two playing together was heartwarming -- the little brother I knew all those years ago was all grown up.

I hadn’t had a lengthy conversation with Stephanie for a few years; mostly just brief run-ins at concerts and parties where we’d say how happy we were to see each other, hug, and move on with our respective evenings. I don’t know if she desired to ever play music as a career or if she just wanted to keep it a hobby, but I hope she knew that bigger things would’ve been a true possibility for her if she had pursued them.

I think a remembrance written by most others who knew Stephanie would be less wordy and not contain the somewhat trivial details I’ve included, but I feel that it’s my responsibility as the friend group’s resident music journalist/documentarian to articulate exactly what made some of the things she created in her life special and important.

Many, many people spoke at Stephanie’s service (the room itself overflowed, with some mourners left standing in the doorways) about how she impacted their lives in the most positive of ways. I knew if I were to stand at the podium, even though I had written some notes the night before, that I’d be a crying mess and that it’d be best to express those thoughts in my preferred format.

Though we didn’t stay in touch very closely after high school (something I now regret deeply), I knew that Stephanie would always hold a special place in my heart. She was by my side for some of the best times of my adolescent years. She was one of the first people to believe in any creative endeavor I wanted to begin. The term “ride-or-die” has become cliche, but there really is no better way to describe the energy and genuine care that she put into every friendship she had. Stephanie was there to console me in any moment of sadness I experienced, regardless of its overall importance. She was also the first one to give me shit any time I was being a brat (that happened plenty of times), but I always knew it was out of love. She also possessed an open-mindedness that I frankly found bewildering in my younger years, but have come to appreciate more and more with the passing of time. (I was quick to snobbishly declare that I was “over” some of our favorite reggae-rock bands from high school. Stephanie never felt an ounce of shame in the things she enjoyed. Hopefully she got a laugh out of seeing me post some of my favorite 311 music videos last year after slowly admitting to myself that this is actually some good shit.)

Stephanie Freeman was passionate about art, curious about how the world worked (I’m glad she got to live in a time that I’m sure many will consider a golden age for conspiracy theories -- she loved that shit), and as I’ve stated before, an amazing friend. The world will be a less amazing place without her in it.

Look out for an upcoming fundraising project that we will soon be launching in Stephanie's memory.


Morgan, myself, Andrew Kellison, Stephanie, and Andrew Kramer at an Overland Park basement show/Halloween party, 2010.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.