Ahead of their Heineken Green Spheres show with Casiokids and Thecockandbullkid in Waterford on Wednesday (Doors open at 9pm, First act 10pm – to accomodate the Champions League Final), Ed McFarlane of the funky/indie/shoegaze band Friendly Fires talks to State about recording a debut LP with one microphone, his ideal remix team, their funk and making electronic music based on cats..
A lot of Friendly Fires songs have an upfront funky element. Where does that come from?
Ed: It must be my love of disco! I think maybe my first taste of disco was when I was really young and I heard Off The Wall by Michael Jackson and it just kind of…it’s kind of a grey, introductory sort of album to pop music and disco music. I think it’s fucking amazing. It’s actually one of my favourite albums of all time.
You guys have been playing a long time together, so how has your collective music tastes left a mark on what you do. You started off as a covers band, probably fairly rudimentary stuff, so how do you progress from that stuff on to now?
Yeah I mean, we started when we were 13 and we’re…I’m 25 now, so I guess we’ve been playing for a fair while. I think when we were 13, our musical knowledge wasn’t the greatest at the time and I think we were probably covering cheesy pop punk tunes like Green Day and stuff like that. I think anyone who says they were into really cool arty bands at that age are..there’s something a little bit fishy about it to be honest. But yeah, we started off listening to cheesy pop punk records and then we discovered labels like Discord Records and like much better post-hardcore bands like Q And Not U and Fugazi…and then we started listening to lots of post-rock like Mogwai .and we tried to incorporate them in our music. And then we discovered Chris Clark, who was a local musician from St Albans who was on Warp Records. I remember sending him my first demo of my own electronic stuff. He really inspired us to write music on our computer and inspired us on the electronic side.
So do you still make electronic music yourself?
Yeah I mean, I put out a track on Skam records who released Boards of Canada.
Was that the compilation based on cat noises (called Skam Cats)?
Yeah, that was it, yeah. Yeah, I put a track on a friend of mine’s label called Precinct and that was a more tech-housey track.
Are you still in to that kind of stuff?
Yeah, I only really listen to disco, house and techno if I’m to be perfectly honest. I think the last indie record I bought was St Vincent’s Actor… and I really enjoyed that…it’s nice to hear someone singing interesting lyrics.
In terms of British music in general, there’s a lot of really interesting stuff happening at the moment. Do you notice that at all? Is it something you’re interested in?
I think a band that we all kind of agree on, and we all kind of like is Foals. We kind of get on with them on a personal level as well, they’re really great guys. We did a tour with them in Europe and it’s kind of great because they’re a band who actually are really fucking good live because usually, we play with bands and we always feel like we’re way better than them…and I mean, not trying to sound arrogant but like we’re much better live than the people we play with but when we played with Foals, it was like, fucking hell, this band are good. We had to try hard to impress.
There’s a general consensus over here that your album was a bit of a slow burner. So where did that come from and is that your experience?
Yeah…I kind of feel that maybe it’s because we never really threw a lot of money into it when it came out. We didn’t want like shop posters everywhere and billboards everywhere, we just wanted to see what it did on its own accord and, kinda, it’s great to know that the album has done all this one its own without loads of advertising. And it’s only now that we’ve started to put posters up for the album so…yeah, we just wanted to see what it could do without all that kind of press and advertising. That’s how XL works and that’s why I like XL. They’re not a major record label. You know, you could sell 30,000 records and you’d have spent 100 grand trying to promote your fucking record! I mean it’s like, XL know what they’re doing and that’s why we’re really happy to be on that label.
If you were to give advice to a band like yourselves, what would you say? The most important piece of advice you’d give a new band?
I think one of the most important things is…one of the things that I think would have been better for us, it’s my one regret, is maybe we shouldn’t have released ‘Paris’ so early on as a single. As much as I love Moshi Moshi, they really helped us progress as a band, I think maybe it would have been better if we had released it on XL as our first big single. And so my piece of advice would be if you have a really great piece of music, like, hold on to it and keep it hidden away, don’t like throw it around anywhere because I think as soon as you put a song on myspace, you’ve kind of technically released it.
There were remixes of ‘Paris’ all over the place last year and that probably helped you out, no?
Yeah, that definitely helped us. I mean, we’re big fans of dance music. We’re quite selective about who we have remixing us and yeah…as far as our proper formal releases we’ve been pretty strict.
So who would you like to remix you who hasn’t already?
Ed: Uh…we’ve got a wishlist of people but whether they’ll remix you or not is a totally different matter. I think I’d like to um, I’d love to have a remix by like SuperPitcher on Kompakt, Todd Terje, DFA, Loving Hand, all of that crew, I think they’re amazing. I think if we had a remix by any of them, I’d probably be a very happy man. I could die after I’d had a remix by them.
So with the debut album, did you self-record and self-produce that?
Yeah, apart from ‘Jump In The Pool’, which was, that was recorded with Paul Epworth in his garage actually so that wasn’t actually very different to how we did it. It was quite a laborious process…A lot of it is live drums with samples underneath propping up the kit. It’s kind of very much like a half-electronic / half-live record.
I think when you write, sort of, dance music, you’ve got a totally different kind of goal from writing a pop song. When you’re writing dance music it’s about, you know building up an atmosphere, and building up this sense of tension and developing it whereas, yeah, it’s a totally different ballgame. I think the kind of production side for when you’re writing house music you don’t have to worry about how it’ll sound live, whereas when you’re recording a band you want it to sound real, you want it to sound human. I mean like, the stuff that we’re doing now we’ve been using far less samples because we’ve actually got the money to record drums properly. Well, not the money really. When we recorded the album we only had one microphone so we had to do everything individually but now we’ve got an set of mics and we can work a lot quicker…
You only used one mic to record the album? One? Are you serious?
Ed: Yeah, we had to record all the high hats, all the kick drum, snare and toms individually. It was quite a painstaking process. But I think, in a way, it was kind of helpful because it meant we could isolate every sound and we could kind of make each sound as kind of, as good as possible.
How’s your live show? How’s it been progressing over the last couple of years?
We’ve started incorporating brass, we’ve got drummers, like, extra percussion, that come join us. Like, the live show is something that we really want to expand on. We want to make it as big as possible. I’ve forgotten the name of The Talking Heads video when they’re playing t Wembley Arena and they have like kind of about 15 people on stage just rocking out and…whereas when they did their first earlier albums, it was just like three of them. I like that idea.
Have you been doing some new song as well?
Ed: Yeah, we’ve got a brand new song that we’re finishing next week with Paul Epworth. It’s kind of a progression from ‘Jump In The Pool’. We’re experimenting with the samba drums and the carnival samba atmosphere. This new track is based around traditional samba loops and we’ve put all this kind of ethereal, washy sounds over the top. The kind of more Friendly Fires riffs over traditional samba stuff.
What are you plans for the rest of the year?
Well, this track, we plan to have released in August, as like a linking track to our first album and our second album. We’re kind of doing every festival I can imagine, apart from Melt Festival. I’m bitterly disappointed we’re not doing Melt, but we’re doing Benacassim, Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds, Hurricane, yeah all of them..