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Art & Independence: A talk with Fickle Friends

 

Fickle Friends have been through the ringer already, and are showing no signs of slowing down..

The five piece band from the UK has had a knack for crafting infectious indie pop tunes with dark undertones since their debut single “Swim” arrived in 2014. The past few years have been quite a ride for the band; the signing of a major label deal, heavy European touring, a few trips to Los Angeles, a Mike Crossey recorded debut LP, and the nullifying of a major label deal. Emerging from the fray unscathed, the band has recently wrapped up their highly anticipated first North American headline tour, and are moving full speed ahead in a new era of independence.

 

Interview and Photography by Andy Gorel

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Video-Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQjbNrUCYA0

 

Andy: So you’ve been a band since 2013, and have maintained a pretty linear sound, but your sound is still very hip to what’s happening now. What was inspiring the music when you first started?

Natti: The stuff we were listening to was like Friendly Fires, Two Door Cinema Club, Paramore, The 1975, who was brand new at the time. We were already doing something like that, and that’s when this weird wave of indie pop music with 80s tinge was suddenly getting popular.

Andy: Yeah, you guys were definitely a little ahead of the curb. “Swim” has been a key song for you guys for over four years. What’s it been like growing alongside that song?

Natti: It’s been weird because “Swim” has always been very relevant for us. We’ve always had to play it. We almost always finish our set with it. And it’s not like it had its moment and got left behind. It’s still the song that streams the best. I love that song.

Jack: We had to update it a few times.

Andy: Yeah, I remember having a version of that song years ago.

Jack: Yeah, the first version was really cool. It was really raw, but your voice sounded different.

Natti: Yeah, my voice sounded really different.

Jack: Then we did another version.

Andy: Did you produce it yourselves the first time?

Jack: No, we actually worked with this guy who wasn’t a massive producer, but he was just into getting vibes. Then we just went to the studio and cut it.

Natti: It was way more live, then we produced it a bit more with the second version.

Jack: And then the third version was just me adding some samples and stuff – making it sound like current Fickle Friends.

Andy: Was that the song that got you guys attention early on?

Natti: Yeah! It was basically fuck all until we put “Swim” out the first time. It was back when music blogs were way more of a thing. It got a lot of blog love, and Hype Machine.

Andy: Did you have music before that?

Natti: We did, but it was just one song on SoundCloud. And we made a homemade EP once, but it never reached further than… nowhere really.

Jack: And then we got a booking agent in the UK and started actually playing shows.

Andy: So those first few singles that came out with “Swim,” what was the creative process like? Was it a band at the beginning?

Natti: No, it was production, but it was pretty live. Jack has always been the producer of the band, and he’s just gotten better and better. And that was like four or five years ago so obviously it wasn’t as good. It sounded less polished.

Jack: Yeah, and we used to record more live instruments, but kind of gradually shifted towards writing and producing as we go.

“We were in a bit of a rut. We were running out of money because we were doing everything ourselves. To keep going and face a whole other year of touring, and festivals, we needed to sign a deal. So we signed with Polydor and Universal Publishing.”

Andy: So you’re newly an independent band again, but in 2016 you signed with Polydor. How did that come about?

Natti: We got new management actually. We were in a bit of a rut. We were running out of money because we were doing everything ourselves. To keep going and face a whole other year of touring, and festivals, we needed to sign a deal. We had run out of people to borrow money from, or working jobs and getting fired. So we got a new manager, and had offers on the table almost immediately because our manager was more of a baller. So we signed with Polydor and Universal Publishing.

Andy: Were there any other offers?

Natti: Our manager basically invited a bunch of labels to come to our rehearsal room in Brighton, watch us play, and have a chat. So it wasn’t people offering us deals, but people were interested, and I think we were more in control of picking who to go with, as opposed to them offering it to us.

Andy: Were you playing live a lot up until that point?

Natti: Yeah, we had been touring for quite a while, doing it all ourselves. It had been a long haul.

Andy: Was signing to a major something you’d always seen as an option?

Natti: It was something we’d always wanted.

Jack: I guess that’s what you dream of, isn’t it?

Natti: It’s funny cause that’s what you dream of, and then doing it now, you realize you don’t need it.

Andy: So after that, you then went into the studio with Mike Crossey to do your debut album. How did you guys get in touch and what was it like working with someone like that?

Natti: Our A&R at Polydor also works with The 1975, who did their records with Mike. Also, my old buddy from university was Mike’s engineer at the time, and he had already mixed some music for us. So when we had a chat about who we wanted to do the record, our A&R was like, “I think Mike Crossey would be good,” and we were like (laughing), “Yeah, we do too.” It just kind of fell into place.

Andy: What was it like working with someone like that in the studio?

Natti: It was an experience. Originally, he was going to move back to London from LA, and he didn’t so we ended up spending about four months of the year in LA doing the record, in his weird little treehouse studio. We wrote a lot of music while we were out there. We had a lot of fun. It was really good. Mike is very very specific with the way he records stuff, and he wanted to try a lot of different things. We learned a lot.

Jack: We shouldn’t have gone out there that early. We didn’t have everything finished. He was really just recording us, we should have figured out ourselves more. So then we wrote more, and came back to record the rest over the next few months. We got some really cool stuff out of it.

“There were always people trying to make us compromise, and when we did compromise, it backfired and was shit. Then we’d be like ‘Well it’s our fault for compromising, again.’ I think you just shouldn’t be on a major label if you want to be in that much control of something.”

Andy: Like we said, you’re not with the label anymore. What happened there and why did you decide to part ways?

Natti: Well we spent two years with Polydor. A lot of stuff had been good. A lot of stuff had been shit. It caused us a lot of stress and anxiety to be honest. I think we just realized how protective we were over things, and how much of our vision we actually wanted to execute ourselves. There were always people trying to make us compromise, and when we did compromise, it backfired and was shit. Then we’d be like “Well it’s our fault for compromising, again.” I think you just shouldn’t be on a major label if you want to be in that much control of something. If you’re willing to work with a label, and you don’t really know what your image is, or your vision is, and they’re the ones who’ve got a team that’s gonna do it for you, that’s great.

Jack: Plus, we didn’t know everyone there when we signed. We just knew our A&R guy. We didn’t know who was going to be working there. Sometimes it can go really well if you read into it.

Natti: It was difficult because they’ll pitch a video to you, and you’ll be like “No fucking way.” But then they’ll explain why giving it a chance would be beneficial, and then you don’t wanna piss them off or let them down, so you say yes to it, and two months later, you’ve spent $15,000 on a video, but you’ve thrown it in the bin cause it’s shit and you hate it, which is what we did.

Jack: Just spending money. And to be honest, LA was ridiculous as well. Coming out to recored with Mike Crossey, back and forth.

Natti: And that wasn’t our fault, our A&R could have said..

Jack: “Look, this is your first record. We’ll shop around with some producers and find someone who can help you out, and we’ll just do it here.” Instead of just getting us over to LA with a massive producer, and just pay a fee.

Natti: There were a lot of mistakes made, and they expected different things. They would say things like “Oh, well this is the amount of money we spent on you guys,” and we’d be like “But you forced us to spend the money.” We just couldn’t be dealing with that anymore. We wanted to be in control again, and do our videos, and decide how much money we’re going to spend on promo for the tour, and what not.

Jack: They hadn’t given us any money in ages anyways. We hadn’t run out, but it got to a point where, they weren’t against us, but they weren’t putting any more money into it.

Andy: You’re lucky you got out of it.

Natti: It was very amicable to be honest. Our A&R wanted to keep us on, but we just kind of new. Doing a licensing deal is what everyone’s doing now. It’s just so much easier.

Andy: How long of a deal was it? One album?

Natti: It was one with three options.

Andy: At least you had experiences you wouldn’t have had without those funds.

Natti: Oh yeah, it was the best couple years ever. It was great. We did some very cool shit.

Andy: I was told you’ve started your own label now. Are you planning to release other artists as well, or just your own stuff?

Natti: Yeah, it’s our own label, it’s called Palmeira Music. We’re releasing our own stuff, but we want to release other people at some point.

Jack: I think it’s something we’re slightly excited about. It’s not like we’re like “Let’s start a new label and focus on that.” We’re going to do our band, but if there are things we can do to help people out, it would be quite cool.

Natti: It’s a new adventure for us.

“(It) was never a massive dream, not like “Oh I wanna sell out arenas,” I mean that would be nice, but all I’ve ever really wanted was to write music I love and be able to live off it, and keep playing shows.”

Andy: Do you want to tell us more about this new era of the band?

Natti: Well we just released a new song a few weeks ago called “Broken Sleep.” We’ve got an EP coming out in November. It’s sort of a transition into a new era, we’re not quite there yet.

Jack: I will say it just goes around this tour, and we’ve got a UK tour when we get back. It’s just something for us to be focusing on.

Andy: You’ve worked with a handful of different producers over the past few years, have you found any differences in working with Americans vs. Brits?

Natti: Well, we’ve really only worked with a few American producers, but in the UK there’s a type of producer, and Mike Crossey is the exception to the rule actually. We’ve worked with Mark Ralph, and Mike Spencer, they’re kind of these guys in their mid to late 40s who have been in the dance music scene, or bands when they were younger, and now they’re slightly kemp, but ballers (laughs).

Jack: So specific (laughs).

Natti: And they’re very very chill, and laid-back. I don’t know. Producers are funny.

Andy: So now you’re now touring North America. What has it been like touring as a band over the past few years?

Natti: I don’t really think about it honestly, it’s just like getting in a van with your mates, and doing a job really.

Jack: Yeah, today in the van was mental. We were going mental. It was just crazy. We know each other so well that we’re constantly trying to make each other laugh cause we get so bored. Yeah, we’re good friends.

Natti: It’s just weird. I don’t know if anyone else has anything they could compare it to – spending that amount of time with someone. Even if you have a 9-5, you get to go home and be done. Going on tour for a month is twenty four hours a day, sharing fucking hotel rooms, doing everything together.

Jack: I kinda compare it to being a kid. I have two sisters. It’s not like we’re friends by choice, although we are, we’re friends cause we’re in a band.

Natti: I thought we were friends by choice.

Jack: Well… (laughs). It’s like we do things and find each other annoying, but not in a harsh way.

Natti: You have to love them (laughs).

Andy: Has everything that’s happened over the past few years changed your attitude or aspirations as a band?

Natti: I can’t speak for everyone else, but mine was never a massive dream, not like “Oh I wanna sell out arenas,” I mean that would be nice, but all I’ve ever really wanted was to write music I love and be able to live off it, and keep playing shows.

Jack: We always used to say that, which I think is quite unusual. We’ve always wanted to be a band that’s kind of big, but only because we’ve done it for a long time as a career.

Natti: I’m really happy as long as it’s this gradual build of us being able to do it as long as we want to do it, and there are still people buying tickets and records.

Andy: Yeah, if you get a quick bump in popularity from something, that tends to fade quickly as well.

Jack: Yeah, and if you’re waiting for that quick thing, like when we signed, that’s what the label was waiting for. It doesn’t happen like that. But selling out shows and doing a tour in America is quite a big deal for us.

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