Brookyln-based Friends are making some pretty darn good impressions round these parts. Even without an album release, Zane Lowe’s already cottoned on and named their 3rd single release ‘Mind Control’ the ‘Hottest Record in the World’. Plus they bagged a shortlist honour on the BBC’s Sounds of 2012.
Since E4 canned the Friends repeats I’m missing my ‘bunch of New York mates have a jolly good time’ hit. So I’m pretty chuffed Samantha Urbani (vocals), Lesley Hann (bass), Nikki Shapiro (guitar, keyboards), Matthew Molnar (keyboards, percussion, bass) and Oliver Duncan (drums) have got it on.
Friends, named after the Beach Boys album, are pure hipster-pop: mixing funk-disco; honest, gritty, girly vocals; a touch of electronica with sassy-ass sexiness. Imagine Ladyhawke, Goldfrapp, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Peaches and CSS had a massive, glittery orgy and a few months later out popped a funky lovechild named Friends. Perhaps they all agree joint custody on alternate weekends, I’m just guessing. I don’t know the exact ins and outs.
I’m here, ahead of their Manchester’s Academy 3 gig watching the energetic sound check. It’s just me and the band, like my own very personal Friends show. At one point Samantha, the sunglasses- indoors wearing front lass, climbs on top of the monitors whilst jigging around in a gold sequinned top. Girl crush, hot.
Straight after, the band jump off stage for a good old chinwag with Silent Radio. I’m joined by Matthew and man of very few words, Nikki, as we take a pew on the stair well of the Academy and cover such bases as Manchester legends, touching Pete Doherty’s crap, stage invasions, selling out and Eccles cakes….
Victoria: Let’s take it right back from the very start….
Matthew: We started a year and half ago, Samantha and Nikki had been working together. Me and Nikki are two of a few people who heard her demos and ideas. We were really psyched on doing a band with her when she was ready. She went away for a summer to Berlin. At the end of August 2010, right when she got back, we started playing together.
A month after our first band practice we went into a studio and recorded four songs, two of which were Friend Crush, on the album and its B-Side. Oliver and Lesley were in a band together at the time and we swiped them. They were originally going to play some shows with us, but within a week of practising and playing they were ready to drop everything and do it. It was great. We put our first show on just a week into us being a band together.
V: So, were you all Friends before?
M: In different ways. Lesley grew up with Samantha in Connecticut. Me, Nikki and Samantha were all friends and Lesley knew Samantha and Oliver. These two different sides merged. That was the beginning of it. The rest is a lot of shows, recording and touring.
V: Was there a defining moment in your life when you thought – “Right, I need to make music, I need to entertain!”?
N: Yes, but it wasn’t about entertaining people, it was a decision just to be creative – anything else was just a by-product.
M: I’ve never wanted to do anything else, since before I can remember.
N: I hated the attention actually – I still do. I’m like “just leave me alone, let me play”.
V: (points to the camera) So, shit like this you don’t like?
N: No, shit like this is cool. Any recognition is fine, it’s nice. But that wasn’t the reason why I started.
V: The Guardian described your sound as “One moment it’s indie-pop, the next it’s mutant funk, then disco” – your turn….
N: That’s pretty accurate. We’re a confused band. We’re an ADD band
M: We have a lot of influences. We like a lot of different stuff, instead of trying to just be one little compartment of music style. If we did something else it would be us fighting what we naturally do. It would be bad and everyone would hate us. They probably will at some time soon anyway!
V: Are there any UK influences in your music?
M: Neneh Cherry a little bit. When I was a teenager all my favourite bands were all the classic Manchester bands. Stone Roses, New Order, Joy Division, The Smiths….
The first time we were here, we came to play a few shows in London, I’d never been to England before. I really insisted to our label “We have to play at least one show in Manchester, I don’t care if no-one shows.” It was really cool to have finally been here and played here, it was a dream comes true.
V: For the little teenager inside of you it must have been a bit of an OMG moment to think that you’d played a show where all of your heroes hailed from?
M: Yes! Right now we’re even right across the road from the The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus mentioned in The Smiths song Vicar in a TuTu. It’s really cool being here.
V: You played that Manchester gig at the Deaf institute in February. How did the Mancs treat you last time?
N: I don’t remember that show. I remember the after show.
M: It was packed, a sell out! There was a stage invasion, people didn’t leave…..
N: Oh, yeah! Samantha invited people on stage…
M: They were there for a while, almost too long. I like it when people come on stage, but just for one song.
V: Did it get a bit awkward after a bit?
M: Yeah, they were drunk, young and having fun. But they were trying to get us to pose for pictures whilst we were playing.
N: …..and they were playing with our instruments.
M: We have a lot of hand percussion so it’s all around us…
N: I don’t blame them. If the singer invites them on stage, it’s a free for all.
M: I went on stage with The Libertines in New York and I didn’t touch any of their crap!
V: Tonight’s the fourth gig of the UK tour – how’s it going?
N: It’s going really well, the shows are good, it’s always a good crowd and they’re always there for us.
M: You guys are really good to us.
V: Is a crowd a crowd or is there a difference between a US crowd and a UK crowd?
N: I’m not answering that!
M: I’d say we’ve been lucky. The UK’s been picking up on us pretty quickly. There’s been really packed, sold out shows, or really enthusiastic shows. It’s not that we don’t have them in America, but America’s fricking huge. In the UK, we’ve already had a head start; we’ve had singles out here and press coverage.
V: The debut album Manifest! is out at the end of May…..
M: It’s just been singles so far, we’re really milking it!
V: Obviously you’re hoping for big success with it…
N: I haven’t even thought about it.
M: I don’t wanna think about it! We have no control whether people like us or not. I didn’t pick for people in the UK to like us.
N: I wouldn’t mind a quiet ascend into career-dom. Instead of ‘Ah this sucks’ and then everybody hates it…
V: There’s hundreds of bands out there wanting to make it to the big time, do you have any Friendly words of wisdom for them?
N: Get two good looking girls in your band.
M: Be different. I think too many bands are rough facsimiles of other bands. They’re gonna be like “Why don’t people like my band?”
Well, it’s because there’s been a really, really good version that’s been going for 10 years! If you do end up sounding like another band, it’s gotta be something that’s just come out, that second. If you’re just looking to ‘make it’ and have no soul about it, I think that’s the best way. If something’s just starting to get popular then just copy that, then they’ll be 10 labels just looking to sign you straight away.
V: So, the tips are to get two hot girls and jump on the bandwagon?
N: That’s if you want to be a sell-out. But the rest is just is just all luck. If you want to do something creative and get recognised for it, it’s pure luck
M: You really do have to put everything aside to do it. That was the thing within a week of doing this band. Everyone, without even thinking about it put everything to the side. Friendships, relationships, working.
N: It’s easy to commit when you have nothing.
M: Even just being a small band and playing the local circuit. If you just wanna get your art right and get better it takes a lot of practice, lot of shows and a lot of working at it.
N: Play as many shows as possible
V: I feel this is a good time to have a little stretch, loosen up…
N: Good idea (lunges)
M: A bit of yoga?
V: I feel top now.
V: You’ve got to do me a favour. Here’s the deal: take a look at this month’s Manchester gig-guide boys. Tell me who’ve just gotta go see. Your very suggestions will dictate who I go speak to next.
M: Definitely Grimes, she’s unreal.
N: Alabama Shakes are supposed to be good.
M: EMA’s really good; we played with her at South by South West a few years ago.
N: A Place to Bury Strangers…
V: Ok, so you’ve said everyone so far…
M: Definitely Sharon Van Etten, I’m friends with her from a while back, I’m really happy that she’s doing well. You gotta go see her; she’s way better live than on record, her voice is off the charts
M: I love The Horrors, Primary Colours is one of my favourite records
N: Miike Snow should be boycotted
V: Django Django actually brought me to you; they said you were “a great band”, how nice is that?
M: Cool! We played with them at a festival a few months back….
V: I’ve brought you a present…
M: A present!
N: No-one ever brings us presents!
V: Everyone eats these in Manchester….all the time.
M: Wow! I don’t even know what these are!
V: Eccles Cakes
M: Egg-less cakes?
V: A sweet treat, much like a scone. Every time you take a bite, it’ll be like ’oooo Manchester, that’s The Smiths in my mouth’.
M: They’re ‘Made in Lancashire?’ (sings) “there were four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire… And though the holes were rather small….
V: Smashing. So, now I’ve gone and bought you a present, are we Friends?
Matthew & Nikki: Yes, of course we are!
Friends release their debut album Manifest! on May 28th.