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October 5, 2011 / rocksandgravel

I/V with Friends

Written for The Stool Pigeon

FIVE PALS, ONE BREAK-IN, AND A BUSLOAD OF EXES: HOW BROOKLYN’S LATEST SASSY EXPORTS HOOKED UP

A s residents of Bushwick, Williamsburg’s notorious hipster enclave, Friends are the epitome of cool. Fresh off a plane from over the pond, the group appears artfully dishevelled in their thrift store wares, the jetlag etched on their faces only seeming to add another layer of mystique to their manifestly boho charms. Even the name, if you cock an ear in the right direction, sounds perfect: ‘friends’? Sure, why not — it’s post-ironic!

Peddling the sort of sass-talking, big-city pop sounds once made popular by fellow New Yorkers the Tom Tom Club and ESG, the band struck up after Samantha Urbani’s house was burgled last year. The group’s frontwoman lost all of her music save for a few bits and pieces online, which she resolved to plough into a new project with Lesley Hann (bass, percussion, backing vocals), Nikki Shapiro (guitar, keyboards, percussion), Matthew Molnar (keyboards, percussion, bass) and Oliver Duncan (drums).

Sitting down for a beer in Hoxton Square (a novelty, you can’t do that in NYC), we’ve come to hear the band tell us the story of how they put together their sound, and how their music is all about the boys:

* * *

Your style has been compared to that of Tom Tom Club and ESG, in terms of the sparseness of the arrangement and lack of rhythm guitar. Would you say they are among your main influences?

Lesley: That’s not intentional. We love those bands, especially Tom Tom Club, who I grew up listening to, but things just come together.

Matt: When Samantha first played me the ‘Friend Crush’ demo I felt an ESG vibe and I told her — turned out she hadn’t even heard of them before. Also, whilst we probably share some influences, we differ in others- from krautrock to old-fashioned punk and mainstream pop.

So you’re currently living in Bushwick, is it nice living there?

Samantha:  It’s a real community of musicians, artists and event curators who work together to put on shows, and there’s enough space for everyone to do their own thing.  We’re friends with all of our favourite bands at the moment, which is awesome — Caged Animals, Total Slacker, Greatest Hits and Beach Fossils. Darwin Deez personally asked us to come on a five-week US tour with them earlier in the year, after his band started coming to our shows…

Oliver: It’s how all of this became possible really — being in Bushwick. Serendipity plays a huge part.

Samantha, you spent a bit of time in Berlin. How was that?

Samantha: I went to Berlin last summer to get away from New York for a bit. I felt like the city wasn’t being very nice to me and wanted a break from it, so I took up a History of Music course and hung out in the squats, drinking beers and riding bikes late at night. It’s a really cool, laid-back creative culture and I got a lot from it — I was writing a lot while I was there. I also met a boy out there, he was lovely. I heard from him the other day actually — the song ‘Feelin’ Dank’ actually refers to my time in Berlin.

Then you came back to New York and just started a band?

Samantha: I returned to New York after an amazing summer away to find my apartment trashed, some tenants I trusted with it just threw out a bunch of my stuff and painted the walls. Then, I got robbed of my laptop and various bits of equipment, and all I was left with were some tracks that I’d uploaded onto the internet.

Wow, so your apartment got trashed and then you got burgled as well?

Samantha: Yep, really, it was then that I felt I needed a band as a way to make up for what I’d lost. I was pretty disillusioned with New York at that point.

We can only find a handful of songs to listen to at the moment. Have you plans for a studio album?

Samantha: Yeah, we’re doing it right now. It probably won’t be until the beginning of next year, but we have a really nice recording space… it belongs to my ex-boyfriend actually. He’s good friends with Matt.

Is there anyone you would allow to produce/co produce with you, or are you very precious about how you do things?

Samantha: It would have to be Prince or Adam Ant… or Jimmy Dupree (giggles). We do things a certain way and it just wouldn’t work very well to have someone come along and change things if they didn’t get it. We’re lucky because we’re allowed our own space to do things and it works, for now.

Your songs — notably ‘I’m His Girl’ and ‘Feelin’ Dank’ — seem to report on past relationships. You have a full studio album in the making — is it all going to be about relationships? If so, are all the songs based on real life events or are there embellishments down to artistic license?

Oliver: It’s all about boys.

Samantha: Yup, it’s all fact, based on boys — it’s basically like I’ve got my diary with me and I’m reading it out loud. There have been shows they’ve been at, singing and dancing along and I’m looking at them whilst singing it, and they’re just going along with it. I’m like, ‘You don’t get it, do you?’ It’s kind of a therapeutic process for me!

Am I right in saying that Matt and Oliver used to be in punk bands? Would you say this influences your creative process and live shows?

Oliver: Yeah, Matt and I used to be in punk bands. It’s definitely influenced the way I play the drums, I just go at it, give it a lot of energy.

Samantha: I think it can be felt in our live performances and in the roots of our music. I like to bring a punk vibe to our shows in the way that I like to interact with the crowd, but I also like a sense of intimacy, getting in among the crowd. No fighting, though — it’s not so much a mosh pit as a love pit. I want people to get abrasive and riled up, but in an affectionate way, and that’s what our music gives off — a sensual, funky vibe.

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