Freese was born in Orlando, Florida. His father, Stan Freese, conducted the Disney World (Florida) and Disneyland (California) band, and his mother was a classical pianist. Freese began playing the drums when he was 8 years old. He started playing professionally at the age of 12 (in a primarily Top 40 band at Disneyland). He played electronic drums in the teen-and-tween rock band named Polo, a Junior Star Search winner. Polo already had a drummer before joining the Magic Kingdom, band founder Jimmy Keegan, but they found room on stage for the son of Disneyland's Director of Bands, Stan Freese. Other bands on the same stage were limited to performing Top 40 hits, but such constraints did not apply to Polo. The band recorded and released an eponymous EP that received some airplay on KROQ, the premier alternative music station in the Los Angeles area.
In 1998, Freese recorded a number of songs that he wrote and performed himself (including bass, guitar, keyboards and vocals). The result is the lo-fi, 6-song EPDestroy Earth As Soon As Possible, released under the name 'Princess' by T.O.N/Stone Lizard Records.
Josh released his second solo album, Since 1972, via his website on March 24, 2009. Since 1972 was distributed similarly to the value-added packages offered by Nine Inch Nails's recent releases. Freese's album was offered as a $7 digital download, and a $15 CD/DVD on his website. As a marketing stunt, the website offers unique incentive packages at prices up to $75,000. Publications covering the offer include Suicide Girls, The UK's Guardian,NPR, and The Boston Herald.
Freese states on his purchase page for the album: "I'm not expecting to sell any of those ridiculously priced packages but I sure did get a lot of good press and attention to the fact that I'm putting out a record because of it! Mission accomplished."
Freese started his drumming career in a Top-40 cover band at the Tomorrowland Terrace Stage at Disneyland from 1985 to 1988. Freese has since been a member of punk rock band the Vandals since 1989, and has played on all the band's albums since then, with the exception of 2000's Look What I Almost Stepped In..., on which current Avenged Sevenfold drummer Brooks Wackerman deputised due to Freese's commitments with A Perfect Circle. In 2004, the Vandals released a live DVD as part of Kung Fu Records' The Show Must Go Off! series. The DVD is of particular interest to Josh Freese fans thanks to the inclusion of the Josh Freese-cam, a camera focused on Freese for the entire duration of the show, also including a picture-in-picture of Freese's kick drum pedal.
In 1999, Freese drummed on Mike Ness' first solo album Cheating At Solitaire, but was replaced by Charlie Quintana when it came to live performances. In 2011, he drummed on Social Distortion's seventh studio album Hard Times And Nursery Rhymes. After the album's release, David Hidalgo Jr. became Social Distortion's current full-time drummer
Freese was the session drummer on the 2003 album Fallen by Evanescence and on the Acroma album released on Universal Records. He has drummed for A Perfect Circle since their first album, and is considered one of the core members. As of 2006, the band is on hiatus. Since then, founder Billy Howerdel has started up a new band (Ashes Divide) with drums contributed by Freese. Freese took over from drummer Ron Welty for the recording of the Offspring's 2003 album Splinter after Welty's departure from the band. He is credited for playing drums on the album, but Atom Willard later took on the position as the band's full-time drummer. In July 2007, it was announced Atom Willard had left the band. He would be replaced by Pete Parada. In the meantime, Freese was called upon to record the new Offspring album, Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace. In January 2011, he mentioned on his website that he was working with the Offspring again on their next album Days Go By.
Freese participated in Sting's "Broken Music Tour" in April 2005 with guitarist Dominic Miller and guitarist Shane Fontayne. The tour kicked off April 1 in San Jose, California and ended on May 14 in New York. Josh also appeared with Sting during the record breaking 'Live 8' concert in London's Hyde Park on July 2, 2005. In fall of 2005 he recorded new material with Sting in Italy at the singer's Tuscany estate but plans for release have yet to be set.
Freese contributed drum tracks for Lostprophets' third album, Liberation Transmission, recording all his parts in two days. Travis Barker was originally earmarked as the session drummer of choice for the album, but producer Bob Rock, who had worked with Freese before, wanted him instead. Freese has worked on and off with Paul Westerberg since 1992 and provided the drums on two Replacements tracks, that appear on their greatest-hits package, "Don't You Know Who I Think I Was".
Freese toured with Nine Inch Nails on their 2005–06 With Teeth winter arena and summer amphitheater tours after the illness of drummer Jerome Dillon. He contributed live drum tracks to the songs "Hyperpower!" and "Capital G" on the Nine Inch Nails album Year zero, released in 2007. Freese continued touring with Nine Inch Nails throughout 2007 in support of Year Zero, mainly outside of the U.S. In 2008, he worked with Trent Reznor in the studio on The Slip and signed on for more extensive North American and overseas touring with the band through 2008 on their "Lights in the Sky" 2008 tour. He left the tour at the end of 2008 in order to spend more time with his family and long-time girlfriend, who was pregnant with the couple's third child at the time.
He played on drums for a small selection of Hollywood Undead songs on their debut album, Swan Songs. According to his website's "True or False?" section, it is revealed that he "played on a Courtney Love record but then had his name removed after realizing that he was a jerk and a phoney for taking the blood money". He also played some shows in early 1998 with the band 311 as a fill-in drummer. Chad Sexton, 311's drummer had broken a hand just before a show on 1-31-98 in Honolulu. In 2000, Freese played in pop punk supergroup Fliptop, self-releasing a five-track EP. The band consisted of Jason Cropper (Weezer) on vocals, guitars, and piano, Dallan Baumgarten on guitars and vocals, Scott Shiflett on bass, and Freese on drums. The band played in LA and managed to play on some local Warped tour shows.
Freese performed with Weezer in their support of Blink-182's 2009 tour, as Weezer drummer Patrick Wilson played guitar for 90% of Weezer's set. He continues to tour with Weezer in 2010 as well as appearing live with Sting, the Vandals and Devo.
Josh has also recently played drums on Japanese Mega-star Ayumi Hamasaki's 2009 album NEXT LEVEL, which can be heard on the track "identity".
On August 3, 2010, Josh Freese posted via Facebook "I'm happy to report that A Perfect Circle is waking up from its 6-year slumber...and we're going to be "doing stuff" soon."
Freese has been touring in 2012 with Sublime with Rome after Bud Gaugh announced his departure from the band. On October 2, 2012, Josh Freese announced via his Twitter page: "After 13 years, I've decided to leave A Perfect Circle with no plans of returning." He played drums in The Replacements in August and September 2013 as the Replacements played their first gigs in 22 years (Riot Fest 2013), and continued playing in The Replacements in their 2014 and 2015 shows. He appears on the 2014 Bruce Springsteen album High Hopes, playing drums on "This Is Your Sword".
"My set up never gets that crazy or out of the ordinary I don't think. You can pretty much always count on starting off with the basic Ringo 4 piece set up and add from there. With the Vandals that's all I use. With Devo add a second rack tom. With NIN keep only 1 rack but have 2 floors and a 3rd floor off to the left of my hi-hat (with NIN the drums are all about 2 inches bigger than I normally would use... 14 rack. 24 kick, 18 and 20-inch floors... 16 off the side of my hihat. With A Perfect Circle 2 racks and 2 floors, 2nd snare off the left of my hihat... more cymbals with APC too. With Sting there are 3 racks but smaller sizes and only 1 floor. Never too many cymbals (except with APC I guess). In the studio my drums are usually something really basic a 4, 5, or 6 piece kit with lots of snare and cymbal choices."