Interview - Friendly Fires ready for summer festivals circuit
UK act take Balearic bliss of second album Pala on the road
From the sound of their second album Pala, you could easily imagine life in Friendly Fires being a constant summertime carnival. Washes of Balearic blissfulness mingle with Mardi Gras percussion, Ibiza beats and euphoric choruses. The most rapturous moment, ‘Hawaiian Air’, finds vocalist Ed Macfarlane daydreaming of boarding a Honolulu-bound plane and ‘taking a ride to another clime’. It’s as if the band are constantly soundtracking a rave on some sandy, equatorial beach, wearing shorts and shades and sipping piña coladas.
‘We were on a beach, but it was in Rye, down on the south-east coast of England,’ reveals guitarist Edd Gibson as he slouches on a sofa in the trio’s dressing room, having just finished sound-checking for a sold-out show at The Arches. ‘It wasn’t particularly carnivalesque. More like horizontal rain.’
Far from enjoying a tropical conception, the follow-up to the Hertfordshire band’s Mercury and Brit award-nominated self-titled debut album, which has gone gold since its release in 2008, was created in their native Costa Del St Albans – specifically their singer’s parents’ garage – in deep midwinter. But that’s the secret of its sun-kissed success, or so reckons Macfarlane, Friendly Fires’ politely-spoken, tucked-in sensible shirt-sporting frontman. ‘We were secluded and away from everything and it was kind of bleak weather,’ he explains, ‘that’s when we could really dive into the creative process without any distractions.’
The steady rise and rise of Friendly Fires’ first LP took them to countless exotic locations – Mexico, Australia, Singapore, across the States and all over Europe (the video for ‘Kiss of Life’ was filmed on an Ibiza cliff top with a troupe of samba drummers). But it was only once back in the driech UK that they found themselves ‘kind of in the right place’ to reflect upon and channel all of those experiences. ‘Our music is really bright and vibrant and colourful,’ says Macfarlane. ‘Perhaps when you’re not surrounded by that kind of environment you crave it more, and you put that energy into the music?’ he muses.
Energy is hardly something Friendly Fires lack: their live shows are a breathless, sweaty rush that reduce Macfarlane to a blur of disco dancing. On one level they’re a classic pop band who play positive-sounding tunes with big choruses. Yet they’ve got sufficient indie cache too in their shoegazey guitar soundscapes to appear on the front cover of NME, and sufficient dance credibility to look as at home on the line-up for Creamfields as they do mixing it with Lady Gaga and Black Eyed Peas at Radio 1’s One Big Weekend.
It’s a clever fusion informed by all from the post-disco grooves of Liquid Liquid and ESG to the feedback drench of My Bloody Valentine and a misspent youth playing in hardcore punk bands. Macfarlane describes Pala’s joyous lead single ‘Live Those Days Tonight’ as a ‘celebration of club life’, something else that informs Friendly Fires’ music heavily (their singer’s a familiar face at hip London nightspots including Plastic People, Corsica Studios and The Eagle pub’s Horse Meat Disco). ‘I really don’t like the attitude that people of an older generation have to modern dance music,’ he states, sounding like a man on a mission to teach the squares how to move. Does Macfarlane dance in a club with the same abandon as he does onstage? ‘No’, he laughs, ‘I do the Berlin shuffle, which is just like that hardly moving at all, head down, bobbing thing. I think if I danced in a club like I do onstage, I’d probably just get punched in the face.’
‘Oh, I’d take him out,’ deadpans Gibson.
If Friendly Fires can avoid beating up their frontman first, The List speculates it wouldn’t be out of the question to see Pala delivering them all the way to arenas – somewhere few new credible dance-pop bands have ventured since the likes of The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk rode the crest of big beat. ‘I think that’s definitely a goal of ours,’ states Macfarlane, boldly. ‘If you’re not ambitious, then why are you here, why are you writing music?’
Gibson: ‘I think it definitely translates itself to that level live. I mean, we can’t help but write songs that seem to get grander and grander as they go along. The choruses are all epic. We fall into that – that’s just how we like to write music I suppose. I could see it working on a big stage.’
They’ll get a chance to prove it this summer, as they dive headlong into the festivals circuit for what could be a string of defining performances. As punters, Macfarlane and Gibson had their formative music festival experiences at All Tomorrow’s Parties in their late teens. ‘I’ve got loads of fond memories of taking mushrooms for the first time and watching Russell Haswell,’ says Macfarlane. ‘All these warped, bizarre, scary sounds, and people with masks on.’ They’d love to curate their own ATP, but Macfarlane concedes it’ll ‘never happen’. ‘We’re far too pop,’ he admits, quite contently.
Friendly Fires will perform at all the major UK al fresco music weekenders this summer from Glastonbury to T in the Park, mention of which prompts Macfarlane to crack a smile. ‘I remember last time we went to T in the Park,’ he says. ‘Our bus arrived at the site and there were loads of Scots just giving us the finger and swearing at us as we went by. I was like, “Yes – it’s going to be a good one.”’
Their own idea of festival heaven is the rather more serene and civilised-sounding Calvi on the Rocks in Corsica. ‘It’s quite a small, boutique thing, where they have people like James Murphy DJing, then in the evening you head up to the castle, which looks over the ocean,’ enthuses Macfarlane. ‘It’s just really pleasant.’ Sometimes at least, life really is a beach for Friendly Fires.
Friendly Fires will be playing at T in the Park on Sat 9 Jul.
To celebrate the release of Friendly Fires' new album, Gucci is releasing 1000 exclusive vinyl records of the band’s evocative cover of Depeche Mode's 'Strangelove'. The haunting rendition was originally created for the Gucci Guilty campaign. Now this soundtrack is available as a bonus track when you buy their new album Pala on iTunes. Enter now and you could also win the chance to fly to a concert in Spain with a friend to meet the band in person.