Friendly Fires, not content with the huge wave of support generated by their debut effort, are back with a brand new album, the much anticipated ‘Pala’.
Gigwise caught up with the group at Brighton’s Great Escape Festival to discuss recording, touring, faulty carnival floats and doomed utopias.
So you’ve finished your album and are finally out of the studio. Its rumoured you were starting to suffer a touch of cabin fever. Is it a relief to be out?
Ed: We’re still trapped, only now it’s a tour bus.
Jack: It’s a mad house on wheels right now…
Mobile cabin fever then?
Ed: I think we work well in this stage, between comfort and cabin fever, but after a while you have to move on.
And being back in the live arena must be a relief?
Jack: Yeah, that’s why we make music. It’s great to tear apart these songs we’ve had under a microscope for the last two years, to let go and be as raw as possible. To see how they work in a live context is interesting.
Ed: It gives you new things to worry about. You can obsess over the light show and the atmosphere, as a break from slogging away at writing. It’s good to return to it.
Talking of returns, a lot of the album seems like a return to more innocent times. For instance the influence of 90’s pop culture that prevails on the album will have been the soundtrack to the childhoods of many of your fans. Even the lyrics to ‘Blue Casette’ talk about digging up an old tape and being comforted by it…
Jack: I think for me there’s a certain nostalgia to certain tracks. The way there’s a warped warmth in there, the way the synths aren’t very straight. It’s not like we wanted to write a record that sounds like it’s from a bygone era. Most of our influences are current, things we hear around us.
Ed: People talk about the record being quite 80’s sounding. There’s this show on Radio 2 where they just play exactly what was in the charts 20 years ago to the day. We’re not part of that, that endless loop.
This album is a new experience for you, in as much as, this time around, you’re a well known, Mercury nominated band. Does that change things?
Ed: Not as much as you’d think actually. This feels like a debut record for us in many ways. A lot of the last one was written and even released on EPs and singles before there was any record label involvement at all.
Jack: This is the first album we’ve done that will represent a cohesive body of work from a single time period.
This feels like a true pop record. In alternative music there’s often a bizarre sort of merit attached to being inaccessible. Do you worry about backlash?
Jack: I think some people get annoyed when we describe ourselves as a pop group because they have very different ideas about the limitations of the genre. It’s such a vague term anyway, it doesn’t mean anything. For me it just means something hook based that’s catchy. We’re not into exclusivity, or any scene, or anything like that.
Ed: That said, we came through an indie structure, being a live band and self releasing records. We were quite self sufficient at the start. Indie is now a genre, but originally it just meant doing things on your own. In that sense we’re an indie band, I guess.
Care to explain the album’s title, 'Pala'?
Jack: It’s the name of an island in an Aldous Huxley novel. It’s a doomed utopia, it’s a temporary paradise, so the idea of the name is to celebrate the here and now.
Have you had to change your live set up to match the more expansive sound of this album?
Ed: Not really. We try and strip the songs down live. We don’t want to replicate every noise on the record, that’s a bit soulless. There’s more energy in not thinking too much about fidelity to the recording.
But you’ve been touring with a brass section?
Ed: That’s right yeah, they don’t play on every song but they add a certain something to it.
The Maccabees did the same thing on the tour for their second album, are you at all tempted to add a bit more orchestral support?
Jack: I love that idea of having more people on stage, eventually. At the moment things are very cohesive at least.
Is it strange to be playing smaller venues again?
Ed: When your touring it’s always varied between big and small shows, ups and downs.
Jack: We were embraced by the fashion world quite early on, so we’d go from big gigs full of fans to doing private parties for some brand where no one knows or cares who you are. We’re used to fluctuations.
You sing about glamorous locations quite a lot. ‘Paris’ was a hit and there’s a song called ‘Hawaiian Air’ on this album. Where’s your favourite place you’ve played?
Jack: Paris was a let down the first time, it’s only now I’ve grown to love it. I think Brazil with a Helicopter flying above us. That was really surreal, to think we were there because of our music.
Talking of Brazil, this album has a pretty strong carnival feel. What are your summer plans?
Ed: We have some ideas for some slightly different live shows. As for the carnival thing, we’ve been there and done it.
Jack: We did Notting Hill but it didn’t go that well. We were stuck behind a broken down float in the backstreets playing the same songs over and over. It was boiling hot, we did our entire set about four times.
Ed: There’s no denying that a big percussive force on stage is impressive though, that interests us, it’s really atavistic.