Band To Watch: Friends
After WU LYF’s post-midnight US debut at Glasslands Friday night, folks slipped into the venue next door, 285 Kent St., to catch the tail-end of a bill anchored by the band Friends. It was an impressive, infectious set — ESG-style polyrhythmic post-disco on a tropical-pop trip, with some Lykke Li in the mix — from a quintet of multi-instrumentalists fronted by Samantha Urbani and Lesley Hann (friends, fittingly, since 2nd grade) and forged last summer when a bedbug infestation forced multiple Friends to shack up for a week. This is how bands form in Bushwick. At least, it is how Friends came together: six days after a successful, casual jam session the new band played its first show to 30 friends (under the name Perpetual Crush); two weeks ago its debut single was released via the UK label Lucky Numbers, with a full-length due at summer’s end. That’s a proper timeframe, because this is summer’s music — sultry dance pop fit for, and a reminder that soon there will be, rooftop parties.
We sent Friends’ Samantha Urbani some questions to get closer to the heart of the project, and to put together a mixtape she’d offer as an ideal primer to this band. All of that follows an MP3 of “Friend Crush,” from their recently released 7″ of the same name.
Hear the b-side at Bandcamp, and some home demos at Soundcloud. There’s no label affiliation for the forthcoming full-length, which is a heads up to labels. Some Q&A with principal songwriter Samantha Urbani:
STEREOGUM: How did you guys get together? You all live in Bushwick?
SAMANTHA URBANI: I started recording a bunch of songs on my computer by myself last spring. I’d never had a band before, always had insane performance anxiety, but I’ve been writing songs constantly my whole life. I was finally at a point where I felt like I really needed to record, just to get stuff out of my system. I first showed the songs to a few friends, including Matt [Molnar] – he was so psyched on them, and really encouraged me to start a band with him… I went away to Berlin for the summer and kept recording there, always sending songs to Matt, and Nikki [Shapiro] too. When I got back in August, Lesley (who I’ve known since 2nd grade) and Oliver [Duncan] needed to crash at my apartment for a week to get away from a bedbug infestation at their place — thx for bringing us 2gthr, b-bugs — and one night I played them a few demos… We decided to jam on the songs just for fun… That first practice went so incredibly well, we knew we had something going on. We temporarily named the band Perpetual Crush and played our first show in my old back yard 6 days after that, to probably about 30 friends (video!!). After that we really threw ourselves into practicing almost every day, and playing 2 or 3 shows a week, only because we loved what we were doing so much. Everyone but Nikki lives in Bushwick.
STEREOGUM: I see Bushwick prominently and specifically mentioned in press clips on you. Assuming that’s at least partially your preference, do you have any specific thoughts or comments on the artistic community there and its distinction from Williamsburg or other artist NYC enclaves? How do you feel you fit into the mesh there? How has it been affected your band’s progress and evolution?
SAMANTHA URBANI: We’re really not trying to push some kind of Bushwick image, that just kind of comes with being based here I guess. The scene is really thriving though, so it is something cool to talk about. I think we’re all pretty proud of our community here… None of us have any extra money to throw around, so the fact that this is not only one of the most creatively active neighborhoods in New York, but also one of the least expensive, really works to our advantage. We practice sometimes where I live, at Market Hotel, but usually in Matt’s living room, where I’m sitting right now. It’s small, and neighbors complain sometimes, but it works. The best thing about Bushwick is all of the DIY venues- we have really good relationships with all the people running the spots and booking the shows when I’m not doing the booking, and also with the bands we play with. We love the guys at Shea Stadium and Silent Barn, Showpaper is really cool, we play a lot of benefit shows for them … Todd P’s a good dude/magic man, Vibes Management has amazing things going on, Weird Magic is “killing it” as we say … There’s definitely a really strong familial vibe, which is very special — it’s important to us. We’re all psyched to support each other and our community, and facilitate each other creatively.
STEREOGUM: Who are you some of your favorite bands from your immediate community of friends and showmates?
STEREOGUM: There’s a sort of tropical/warm climate pop vibe at play in Friends, early ’80s post-disco affectations, a fixation on dance music. Is there a stated aesthetic intention or mission within the band, or is Friends just a sum of your parts?
SAMANTHA URBANI: Our creative process is SUPER intuitive — whatever we sound like is just a product of us making music that we like to listen to. I think the tropical/dance music kind of vibe came about because of how I was originally making demos — just using drum loops and lots of vocal tracks with different effects — the band’s sound has always been extremely rhythm based. We love adding layers of percussion to build the sound of a song, rather than over-complicating melodies or instrumentation.
STEREOGUM: What are your musical backgrounds?
SAMANTHA: None of us are trained musicians at all except Oliver. He and Matt both grew up playing in punk bands (Matt was in Dead Nation, Oliver was in The Snobs), Nikki’s done a lot of solo stuff and has had a few bands as well. Lesley’s been in a few bands also over the last several years. This is the first time I’ve been in a band… I grew up loving to sing and having a lot of ideas for songs, but focused more on visual art until last year.
STEREOGUM: What’s your writing process?
SAMANTHA: Usually I come up with a demo to play for everyone- drum loops, vocals, instrumental ideas… Then we all work together to build on it piece by piece. Nikki, Lesley, and Matthew switch between playing bass, guitar, synth, and hand percussion, so it’s interesting settling on what each person is going to be playing as we’re writing a new song. We all have pretty eclectic taste in music- we all love different things- punk, post punk, kraut rock, prog, disco, afro beat, soul, r&b, new wave dance, dub, etc etc etc… but we all have a strong love for straight up pop music too. We have a lot of fun bringing all these genres together and building them into pop songs.
We’ll leave you with Friends’ five-song primer mixtape, complete with YouTube links and bonuses:
01 The Jackson 5 – “Lookin Through The Windows”
02 Shanice – “I Love Your Smile”
03 Adam And The Ants – “The Human Beings”
04 Tom Tom Club – “Genius Of Love”
05 General Public – “Never You Done That”
06 The Germs – “Richie Dagger’s Crime”
07 Time – “Can’t You Feel It” (CHECK OUT THAT SONG)