You’ve probably heard one of Friendly Fires’s songs whether or not you’ve heard of the band themselves. For the past couple of years, their songs have acted as the backing tracks for all sorts of advertisements for companies such as Nintendo and Gucci. The English alternative funk trio is currently on tour with Theophilus London in support of their newest album, Pala.
The Daily Texan spoke with Friendly Fires’s lead guitarist Edd Gibson about going on tour, their writing process and their new album.
The Daily Texan: The last time you guys came to Austin, you played a bunch of shows during South By Southwest. Was that your first time in town?
Edd Gibson: Yeah, it was our first experience. We were terrified before it because we’d done CMJ [music festival] before that, where it was done in the wintertime and everyone’s fucking stressed. Around Austin, it’s just taking place on a couple of blocks, everything’s penned in, everyone’s just kind of milling about in T-shirts and shorts, drinking and eating good food, whereas in New York, everyone’s really stressed out, getting captured in the rain.
DT: Speaking of stress, I know you’re about to start what is set to be your biggest U.K. tour to date. How are you preparing for that?
EG: Well, we’ve been playing shows since before the record got dropped, we began touring in February. We finished off the last track, “Hawaiian Air,” in March, just before the record was mastered and released. Since then we calculated 37 festivals we’ve played. We’ve got this North American tour, we’ve got this massive European tour, hopefully all of that will gear us up for doing a good show — a tight show. We’ve even got our lighting guy sort of tracking down all these cool disco lights, just trying to make it a big atmospheric event, rather than just us performing.
DT: Are you recording for a third album even though your second just came out, or are you just kind of taking it easy on the road?
EG: We’re recording new stuff, but I don’t think it’s going to be for album three. For the U.K. tour we’ve got this awesome guy called SBTRKT supporting us, and we’ve played with him a few times in Europe before, so we’re just trying to do a song together so we can hopefully get it nailed in time to put it out with a limited release for the tour or something. We’ve also been trying to finish a track with Andrew Weatherall, and that’s finally coming together. I don’t know what we’re going to do with it, since we’re a week away from touring with it. We’ve never really stopped, we just like to make music. That’s our idea of a holiday anyway. We just pleaded with him to do a track with us and it’s finally coming to a point.
DT: What’s the production process like for you guys? I know some bands kind of hole themselves up in remote mountain shacks for writing, but I imagine it’s kind of different when you make music to dance to.
EG: No, we really need to just divorce ourselves from society for quite a while. I think we can get too easily distracted by socializing and going out. We began recording Pala in a little basement in East London. But we know lots of people who lived there, and there’s always something to do. It’s quite easy to say “Oh, maybe we’ll go out for a drink and come back with a fresh mind.” It wasn’t conducive to writing, so we went back to Ed’s garage where we did the first record and places like that were far more conductive.
DT: What do you guys listen to when you’re on the road?
EG: We always try to keep listening to new things. Jack, our drummer, put me onto this one electronic guy called Oneohtrix Point Never. He’s like Boards of Canada, you know. Sort of nice, with a lot of compressed beats to it. I have a really good compilation called Ghana Soundz, and there’s one I like to listen to before we play, it’s called “Bukom Mashie,” it’s by this guy called Oscar Sulley, it’s got the most incredible baseline, which sort of propels the track along, and the rest of the band just sort of freestyles over this one line. It’s such a good song, I think it could work on any dance floor anywhere.
DT: I think there are a lot of songs with heavy bass lines that make for really good dance songs, and that’s actually how I found you guys a few years ago. I heard “On Board” in a Wii Fit commercial, and fell in love with the bass line.
EG: Yeah, that was before we had a record deal, we weren’t even sure about going to America, we were just trying to get gigs in the U.K. We were offered the advert, and we just lept at it, since it’s almost like putting a little release out. But yeah, it was definitely sort of a bass track. I think that’s how we generally start writing most songs, we just start writing a generally solid beat and a bass line, and if we’re all dancing to that in the studio, you’re on to something catchy and whatever you put on top is just going to make it better.
DT: Was there an influence in naming Pala after an island in an Aldous Huxley novel?
EG: I don’t know how Ed came upon the book island, but originally it was just the name of the track. The more we talked about trying to come up with artwork for the record, the more that word seemed to stand out as something sort of simple, and something that embodied more than any other song title. I think initially, for us, it was as simple as “this is a four-letter word that looks good.” I think what Ed took from the book related to the experience we took from the first tour, and that is what we were writing about the second time around, that experience.
DT: It definitely feels like there’s a lot more of a tropical feel to this album as well. I mean, you’ve got the different exotic bird covers, and the song and video for “Hawaiian Air” — was there an actual tropical influence in there, or are you guys just big fans of Hawaii?
EG: I think we just now realized “Fuck, if we write a song about Hawaiian air, we might get to go to Hawaii when we do the video, so I think third album around is gonna be “Playing with Kittens” to track one, or “Getting Off with a Hot Girl” to track three, etc.
DT: You could even just write a song called “Going to Space.”
DT: What was your favorite song off the new album?
EG: It changes pretty regularly, I really like “Helpless” at the moment. I think we’re not playing it live at the moment, and that makes it sort of more precious, so I’m not listening to it night after night. I really like the mood that’s sort of captured within that with Ed’s vocals. They sound like very solid R&B vocals to me and that sounds like nothing we’ve really done before. I also really like “Pull Me Back To Earth,” I love playing that live. We just sound checked that and we have a live horn section playing with us, and the end part when they play it and go up an octave — I just love that bit, I get a bit of hair raising up on the back of my neck. I’d say those two.