A version of my story originally appeared in IE Weekly.
Who needs social commentary?
Not England’s Friendly Fires, whose exuberant songs provide a welcome diversion from the world’s problems.
“I think we’re all fed up with bands that have this penchant for writing banal lyrics about petty things going on in people’s lives,” says guitarist Edward Gibson, from a Toronto tour stop. “You’re living all this crap anyway; you don’t need to be reminded of it. Just lock yourself away and try to escape while listening to the music.”
The young indie dance rock trio’s self-titled debut album is inching toward gold certification back home and was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize. Although Kasabian, The Horrors, Bat for Lashes and Glasvegas provide stiff competition, Gibson says a Friendly Fires win next month would see them throw “a massive party. I don’t think you need to use that prize money too wisely or sensibly.”
Recorded DIY-style, on a shoestring budget in the home garage of singer/keyboardist/bassist Ed Macfarlane’s parents, the sound is quite different from the musicians’ previous group as teenagers: a post-hardcore outfit inspired by Fugazi and Dischord Records acts. “We wrote instrumentals that went on and on. We probably enjoyed playing them more than anyone listening to it.”
When Friendly Fires formed straight out of college in 2006, they took musical cues from German techno, Prince, shoegaze and classic pop. “We wanted to include the same kind of intricacies [as before],” notes Gibson, “but shave them down to the best bits and core hooks.”
Stateside, selections from the album have been heard on TV (“Gossip Girl,” Nintendo Wii Fit and PlayStation Gran Turismo 5 commercials) and radio (KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic). The cool Ibiza beach drumline video to new single “Kiss of Life” has received airplay on several MTV channels.
A deluxe expanded CD+DVD version - due out Sept. 1 at digital merchants and a week later at regular retailers - will include that song, the band’s favorite remixes, outtakes and a concert filmed at London’s Forum.
From the airy synths and frantic Afro-Beat rhythms of “Jump in the Pool,” funky “In the Hospital” (think Prince meets Talking Heads) and frantic “On Board” - where singer/keyboardist/bassist Ed Macfarlane yelps in falsetto - to the percolating New Order-esque “Strobe” and lush “Paris” (featuring backing vocals by Au Revoir Simone), the highly infectious songs are guaranteed to get your feet moving.
Such was the case last spring at Coachella, when Friendly Fires, rounded out by drummer Jack Savidge, drew a packed crowd in the sweltering Gobi tent. Macfarlane did spastic moves and got right down in fans’ faces amid a memorable afternoon set that easily rivaled the headliners.
“Sometimes it’s best not to have a vast stage or do that sort of Iron Maiden ‘back and forth’ thing,” notes Gibson. “It’s horrible if you’re crammed in like a tiger in a little cage though. You need a bit of freedom.”
Each time an opportunity to play the main stage at a major festival comes along, Friendly Fires make the most of it. Multiple percussionists and Samba dancers with colorful headdresses joined them onstage at Reading 2008.
“It’s like nowheresville there, where [U.K. TV show] ‘The Office’ is set. To have a Carnivale brought to Reading is something very different…we don’t do it all the time, because it can get a bit gimmicky. But every now and then, it’s good to bust out a full troupe.”
Earlier this month at Lollapalooza, a live horn section was added to the mix. “We can’t [always] afford to fly the same people around with us, but we’ve got good hookups all across the globe,” explains Gibson. If fans are lucky, those connections will come through at the more intimate Pomona gig as well.
Friendly Fires plays the Glass House in Pomona on Sunday, the El Rey in L.A. on Monday and Cinespace in Hollywood on Tuesday.