Friendly Fires have had a pretty successful, if busy, year since their second album 'Pala' reached the UK top 10 on its release in May 2011. The St Albans band have been touring almost non-stop ever since, playing various destinations on the European festival circuit this summer before they start work on writing and recording their third album this autumn.
In between shows though, the band have found time to link up with up-and-coming R&B duo AlunaGeorge as part of the BACARDI Beginnings scheme, heading into the studio to remix the duo's recent single 'Your Drums, Your Love'. We interrupted sessions to speak to singer Ed Macfarlane about being bottled on stage, what it's like 'mentoring' a new band, and when the music they've been working on with legendary DJ/producer Andrew Weatherall might surface...
How did you get involved in Bacardi Beginnings with AlunaGeorge?
We just got an email through asking us if there were any new artists who were intriguing us or that we enjoyed and Bacardi offered to put us together in a studio on them. So we thought of AlunaGeorge straight away because we’d heard the first single when it came out on the internet. Then when we actually approached them about it, we realised Aluna is someone we’d known for ages in St Albans – we’d been going to her house for years previously and seen her different bands beforehand, so it was nice to have a little personal touch as well. Our old bassist used to live with Aluna and we both come from St Albans, so we’ve been in loose touch with her for around 10 years now, really.
How’s is going with them so far?
We’re remixing their most recent track called ‘Your Drums, Your Love’ and it’s going really good. Most of the hard work has been done for us, which is always the lovely thing about remixing. The vocal lines are there and you’ve got all the parts to pick and choose from, so we’ve just got to find something that will compliment it as best as possible. The actual track’s quite slow – it’s clocking in at around 90bpm, so it’s quite a slow R&B number. We’ve had about four different starting points for ideas, and we’ve chosen one which keeps the original r’n’b sound of it. It’s early days, but it’s sort of a nice kalimba-sounding synth that we’ve got over the top of it that seems to work very well. I don’t know... with the spirit of Timbaland production over the top of it, maybe it will come out sounding very different.
The scheme is billed as you ‘mentoring’ AlunaGeorge – is it a bit like something you might do at school?
The term ‘mentor’ is being bandied around as the idea for the collaboration, but I don’t really see that we really have much information to impart on them at all – they seem to have done pretty damn well without us so far. It’s just nice spending time with them in the studio and seeing how someone else works. Hopefully they might approach music slightly differently to how we do things, so it’s just nice to see how they operate as well.
Could you see yourself doing more mentoring in future? Is this the first step towards a position for Friendly Fires on the X-Factor judging panel?
I think so yeah. I’d like to see some very light entertainment where we all compete to turn someone’s life around for a year, and then ditch them and leave them on the slag heap. Then find another young hopeful...
I like the beginning stages of X Factor – they’re quite funny. I don’t really get the chance to watch much telly anyway, so if I do I’m going to be rewinding Father Ted rather than checking out the X-Factor.
You're receiving a bursary from Bacardi to make the collaboration happen - do you think this sort of thing could be a future financial model for the music industry?
I don’t know, perhaps. I think there are lots of bands who can be fairly self-sufficient in terms of being creative, but whether you can afford to get in a studio like the one we’re in today off your own back or not is a different matter. It’s fun for us to be doing it off someone else’s money for a change, because it alleviates the pressure. So hopefully that will go towards creating something a little more interesting and more fun because you’re not constantly worrying about the money draining out in the background. I don’t know how much Bacardi are going to get out of this…
Are you getting a lot of free rum?
There was lots of free rum, but that all seemed to disappear on the first promo day. But I’m hoping a few more barrels will be shipped in to celebrate and toast the remix.
What advice would you give to AlunaGeorge?
Just keep doing what you’re doing – it’s clearly working very well. Don’t bend to anyone else’s whims.
What piece of advice do you wish you had been given when you started out?
I suppose we were chasing a contract and trying to get signed for quite a while, and maybe we’d have been better off holding our cards closer to our chest. I think as soon as there’s something online then it’s essentially been released to the world, so make sure you only put out the stuff that’s your best really. Keep an element of mystery about your band and make everyone think that everything else in your arsenal is as good or better than what you’ve put out.
You’ve been playing quite a few festivals this summer – do you have a favourite?
Well we’re doing Bestival as the last gig we’re doing this year and I’m a huge fan of that. Whenever we don’t play it, I try and get down as a punter. It’s just very fun – it’s the best atmosphere.
Cher Lloyd was bottled at V Festival in Chelmsford recently, which you also played at – has an audience ever reacted badly to you onstage and thrown things?
I think it’s pretty par for the course up in Scotland. It seems to be a pretty standard greeting – to be hailed with hot lager. It can fuck up your equipment, that’s when it goes really annoying – when your lovely pedalboard gets coated in alcohol and stops working, it’s “Ok – Ok, Come on guys, fun’s over now… er, we can’t play the gig.”
Is that a greeting of appreciation or one of dislike in Scotland?
It’s hard to say. I know which one I would rather believe, but I don’t know whether it’s the truth or not. When we first started out as a band we were going down the route of playing club nights, so it was where people were, at three or four in the morning, properly oiled. And at most club nights, the last thing you want is a band showing up when you want to keep dancing to non-stop music, so we’ve had certain things thrown at us in the past.
People throw glow sticks a lot, which I just don’t like anyway. Someone threw a t-shirt at me once, which got tangled up in my arms, that was a set-back. Nothing horrible though – no urine, faeces or rotten fruit.
Do you have any advice for AlunaGeorge about playing live?
I guess just celebrate the actual live show. Don’t worry too much about recreating your songs perfectly – embrace live performance for what it is.
Any news on when the track you've been working on with Andrew Weatherall might surface?
We completed the track a while ago and it doesn’t really fit in with anything in particular. So it’s going to come out at some point, but in what format I really have no clue right now. For us, we’re still gathering ideas together, and we’re still in touch with him so perhaps we’ll be able to put a few more together, but we’ll see how it goes. It’s still so early to try and commit to the future.
Where are you at in terms of a new album?
I think even before the beginning. We’ve mainly got beats and a few ideas knocking about, none of which are sounding particularly like the other, so there’s no direction there. We’re not giving people deadlines of when they can expect a third record, we’re just going to knuckle down and keep writing and writing until things take shape properly.
Are these general ideas or rough sketches?
All of the above. Some of them are us, if we’ve loved a song, just trying to put our own take on it. We’ll try and copy it, and then you can find out how it was made and incorporate that. Just a new idea we’ve had, or buying a new pedal or a new but if gear and making some new sounds with that. Just experimenting with what you’ve got to hand.
Jack Savidge (FF drummer) has just set up the DEEP SHIT label with Foals' Ed Congreave - would you like to release Friendly Fires music in future on your own label?
Well we’re still in touch with XL records who are a fantastic label, so I wouldn’t want to anger them by suggesting that 'Friendly Fires Records' is going to eclipse them. But yeah, who knows what’s going to happen?
And finally, can St Albans become an epicentre of successful musical talent?
It’s a bit of a hotbed – there are little currents coming out. I don’t know. It’s good because it exists on the periphery of London, so it’s not so easy to be distracted by the bright lights of the city. You can probably just stay away from it all.
Friendly Fires play at Bestival on the Isle of Wight this weekend (6-9 September), before their collaboration with AlunaGeorge for BACARDI Beginnings - a remix of 'Your Drums, Your Love' is released sometime this autumn.
Watch a video of the two bands recording together in the studio below.