Music Interviews

Interview: Friends

Its all been a bit of a whirlwind for Friends since they first came to the fore with the supremely cool and infectious singles Friend Crush and Im His Girl. The Brooklyn five-pieces profile was raised even further when they were announced as one of the hotly tipped bands shortlisted for the critics poll, BBC Sound Of 2012.

While they are the latest in a long line of effortlessly trendy Brooklyn acts, there is something very fresh about the sound of Friends debut album Manifest! which suggests they will not fade into obscurity.

But guitarist Nikki Shapiro is not one for hype. Were the band honoured to be nominated by critics as one of the 12 acts to keep an eye on this year? Not really, he admits. Id never heard of it, so I didnt know what it meant or what it was. I dont really believe any hype, I still dont believe anyone actually likes us.

Despite his humorous belief that no-one actually likes the band, Friends have quickly built up a strong and passionate fanbase with their addictive tunes and energetic daytime performances on the streets of Brooklyn. Yet, Nikki is humble and its clear the bands success hasnt quite sunk in yet. It still feels weird to headline a show and know that everyone is there to see you.

When we speak, he is feeling the effects from jetting back to London after a set at Primavera Festival in Barcelona. We played Primavera last night and the whole festival went on until like six in the morning, he confesses. We had to get up at seven in the morning to catch a plane to London and nobody slept.

So, how is everyone coping with the constant touring schedule? Its unusual touring, because I lose track of what day it is, what month it is, what city Im in, but the more you do it the easier it gets. Its certainly something Friends will have to get used to, with the band set for a busy summer of gigs and festival appearances.

We all have our own influences that we try to push through and I think thats what makes us friends, the clashing of ideas. – Nikki Shapiro of Friends

They’re taking things in their stride though, and their laid back approach is demonstrated on their debut album. Manifest! sees the girl-fronted group infuse a wide range of sounds and influences to create an album perfect for the summer months, with its hazy lo-fi and sassy, funk pop. Its the culmination of the two years the band have spent playing together and practicing. Probably half of the album was written within two months of us being a band and then the other half was accumulated over the last year, explains Nikki. There was one song, Mind Control, which was the last song we recorded in the studio and we just threw it together out of nothing.

Was there a particular sound that the band wanted to achieve on the album? Its a completely natural and organic mistake, he says laughing. We didnt really plan it, we just did it. Nikkis matter-of-fact attitude towards the debut LP is partly what makes Friends so likable, and its something that comes through on the finished record.

But what is clear form talking to Nikki is that lead singer Samantha Urbani is the central creative force of the band. Her vocals are the focal point of the album and he reveals that it is how most of the songs start out. We typically base everything around Samanthas vocals, she comes up with the lyrics and melodies and we just try to keep up. The band then go through a process of fine-tuning their songs until they are happy with the result. We usually play songs over and over live, and work out what does work and what doesnt work, until we find out what we like. Then we tear it down and do it again, he says. The process is different every time, but the vocals are always first and we support the vocals with our own ideas.

Its also apparent that the bands dynamic, plus some previous endeavors with punk bands, has made the sound of Manifest! very musically diverse. We all have our own influences that we try to push through and I think thats what makes us friends, the clashing of ideas. In fact, one of the most charming aspects of Friends debut is its many idiosyncrasies, as well as an unwillingness to be tied down.

We werent trying to make an album that sounded like anything in particular, Nikki explains. For us, every song is a chance for us to do whatever we want, we believe in freedom. Is there a particular genre Friends would use to class their music? We dont want to play a certain genre of music, because you limit yourself to what you can do. Its nice to be able to go in with the anything goes attitude.

The name was a spontaneous decision, we were like, ‘What about Friends? Were all friends.’ – Nikki Shapiro of Friends

Nikki argues that each song encompasses a range of influences, while also sounding like a differently styled Friends song. I would describe the album as a mixtape of different bands and a eclectic collage of different sounds. Theres a lot going on and to me every song is just so different.

The band have certainly come a long way in two years. Back in 2010 they were a group of friends brought together by a bed bug infestation at Oliver Duncan and Lesley Hanns apartment. Samantha let them crash at her house and she played her demos for them, which she had played for me and Matt before, Nikki recounts. They liked them and we just started to jam on these demo ideas. A week later we played our first show.

And what about the name? The name was a spontaneous decision, we were like, ‘What about Friends? Were all friends.’ But were they worried about the name being associated or confused with the legendary American sitcom? We didnt even think about the sitcom at the time – and we hope no one else does either, Nikki jokes.

Friends must be one of the most relaxed bands around, taking each day as it comes. This is only emphasised by Nikkis response to what the band have up their sleeves next. Were so bad with planning and we dont even know what were going to do tomorrow, he says. God knows what the next Friends album will sound like, we just let the future present itself without getting in a twist about it.

The main thing for Nikki is that people are enjoying their music and the band make the most of their experiences together without it affecting their friendship. It might become a business for us or something; that part is scary. We just want to have fun and make interesting music.

Friends’ debut album Manifest! is out now through Lucky Number.

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More on Friends
Interview: Friends
Friends – Manifest!
Friends @ XOYO, London