Every newly-formed band with big intentions can only wish for the kind of first 12 months that Friends ended up experiencing. From a plucky, positive first practice session, the Brooklyn five-piece went onwards and upwards at a frightening speed. One month in and they were in the studio. Six months in, they’d put their name to a single, released across the U.S and Europe. A couple of months afterwards, they stepped it up a notch, unveiling ‘I’m His Girl’ – a fresh, timeless pop song which seems to have taken a lot of people by surprise. Within a week of its emergence it managed to make daytime radio playlists over in the UK. And when speaking to The Line of Best Fit, whilst browsing over the hectic last year, frontwoman Samantha Urbani shares her excitement of touring the world in 2012. To say things have gone brilliantly would be a gross understatement.
And yet Friends were just a close-knit bunch of people, coming together on a whim, liking the results of their early sessions and taking things on from there. Every part of Friends’ remarkable rise seems organic and far from manufactured or part of a spectacularly ambitious two-year-plan. There are no shameless references to today’s popular music; no tagging along with trends or flash-in-the-pan genres – every inch of the band’s output to date feels like a pure result of the listening habits of five twenty-somethings, as they’ve grown up. Although originally in the context of describing a solid relationship, a lyric in ‘I’m His Girl’ sums up Friends’ ethos perfectly: “It’s not domineering, it’s endearing – what we got”…
Samantha’s early, self-recorded demos are in stark contrast to the current output and indeed, in the space of 12 months we’ve seen Friends sidestep the looming pigeonhole by moving from percussion-based pop (‘Friend Crush’, ‘Feelin’ Dank’) to something with a heightened gloss and sheen. ‘I’m His Girl’ hints at a trajectory towards simple, gorgeous pop but in our interview, Samantha assures TLOBF that there is no grand plan so to speak and that this has always been the case since the band’s emergence. Urbani sums up her day in a slightly pessimistic manner, explaining that it’s been a good day because “nothing bad has happened…yet”, but it’s not long before she frantically runs through the band’s short past and potentially enduring future.
You started out as a band only a year ago. Could you somehow sum up that first year, because it has been pretty crazy, right?
Samantha Urbani: Totally. I’m sure it’s a cliché but it’s really gone by fast. I can’t believe it’s even been a year. So much has happened in that time and it probably couldn’t be going any better. I think people are reacting really well to this new song [‘I’m His Girl’], especially.
So what were your initial ambitions as a band?
Samantha: Well, I’d never been in a band before and it’d always been something that I’d wanted to do. I’d sort of been holding myself back from doing it because I’d been putting my time into other things like visual art and college. As soon as I started the band, I dropped out of college! It just felt like what I needed to be focusing on. And I guess we all wanted to play as many shows as we could. It was more of a fun thing that we all felt stimulated by rather than any kind of plan to get popular.
Did every single member put all of their energy and time into the band as soon as it started?
Samantha: Most people kept their commitments as far as having to work or do the things that they had to do in life but the band became everyone’s number one creative project, sure.
How much of the support that you’ve ended up picking up relied on playing those initial, frequent shows?
Samantha: It’s a huge, huge part of it. We played our first show a good six days after our first practice and we continued to play three or four shows every week after that. I think it’s been a win-win situation because we’ve enjoyed it all the way through whilst accumulating all our fans and building a little community. The live shows have a great energy; we always highly encourage people there to dance to the point of catharsis that they’ve never before experienced! (laughs)
Was there a particular moment that told you Friends were going places?
Samantha: It’s funny, I was just talking to Matt and Nicki (fellow band members) and we were remembering one of our first practices, where we kind of just felt like we had such a good initial chemistry. It felt like we had some really solid dynamics. I guess the real turning point was when we first went in and recorded four tracks a month to the day after our first practice session. We recorded ‘Friend Crush’ and ‘Feelin’ Dank’ and it felt really magical; like we’d made something that was very, very listenable.
Have you grown up with pop music, specifically? Because your most recent songs (‘I’m His Girl’, ‘My Boo’) are very pop-orientated.
Samantha: It’s interesting because it feels like as a band, we’re almost building a trajectory or alluding to where we’re gonna go next, but that’s not necessarily the case. I write so many different styles of songs and not all of them feel like they should be Friends songs. So Friends definitely have a pop orientation but I feel there are so many different styles of pop that we seem to incorporate at the same time. I grew up just really loving rhythm and loving melody. My mom always tells me that I was dancing in the carseat as a baby, whenever the radio came on and that as soon as I learnt to talk, I could remember the lyrics to something really well and there’s videotapes of me, singing along to Mariah Carey songs when I’m like two or three years old! So I always felt really related to music. It felt like a spiritual thing to me. So as I grew older – and my Mom influenced me in a lot of ways – I ended up listening to world music as well as cool, soul music, punk music, psychedelic rock. But with pop music there’s a timelessness to it. There’s an instant ability to relate and to remote and receive emotions with pop music.
The b-side to your single, Ghost Town DJs’ ‘My Boo’ – did that song itself form a big part of your of upbringing with pop? Is that why you chose to play it at shows and eventually record it?
Samantha: I always liked listening to the radio as a kid. I mean, we always had a cool record collection in my house but there was something about the radio; wondering what song would come on next; hearing the same songs all the time but as a shuffled playlist. But I’ve just been forever obsessed with that song! I think there’s something really special about it. For us, we took it and made it a little harder, more dishevelled, more post-punk and it just felt like it wanted to do that. It’s got great bass and a strong rhythm all the way through with some really minimal instrumentation, too.
Have you heard the Balam Acab remix of it?
Samantha: I have! It’s really funny because it came out a month ago and we’d recorded the cover a few months back and we knew we were gonna use it as a b-side. And then somebody texted me saying “oh dude, you totally got beat!”
Balam Acab though, his stuff is really cool so I’m not mad! He’s got a totally different take on it to us. I think it’s a cool coincidence how multiple sources from the current indie/underground scene have shown the same feelings of nostalgia for a certain track.
Tell me about ‘I’m His Girl’. Are the lyrics personal on any level?
Samantha: I really like this song. I care about it. The lyrics are definitely personal. It’s funny because the hook (“if you see me walking around with him, I’m not just another chick, I’m his girl”) is so simplistic in summing up the togetherness and sense of possession in a relationship. It’s funny; the song itself I started writing while I was watching a band play and they had this brilliant rhythm going and right there, I went into this different zone and started singing along. It’s cool that from there, it surfaced into this song and everybody likes it!
So after this single, you’re definitely going ahead with an album in the future?
Samantha: Yeah, we’re recording it in October. I’m really excited for the record to come out because like I said, we’re exploring so many different things within the genre that we’ve created for ourselves and so for all that to be compiled and also, for people to be able to see the full spectrum of what we do in our live show – that’ll be awesome.
Do any of your older demos make the cut?
Samantha: I actually think I’m gonna release those separately. I really like the way that those sound. The scrappy, homemade feel – that’s the aesthetic that I really like. That sound is really natural and organic. With most of them, I don’t really feel like they’d sound great in the setting of an album.
Is there a coherent feel for the whole album, then?
Samantha: Not intentionally, necessarily, but there’s some interpersonal subject matter in regards to relationships, as well as a few songs that go into the themes of death and spiritual ideas, if you will. You know, things get a little bit deep in the Friends world!
‘I’m His Girl’ is due out on Lucky Number on 31 October.