Hurtling out of England’s sleepy St Albarns with their self titled debut album last year, Friendly Fires earnt critical considerable acclaim for an ebullient effort which combined an optimistic outlook while successfully massaging multiple genres — afro-pop, synth-pop, disco — into a slick rock/pop whole. Ahead of a new single “Kiss of Life” included as a bonus disc on a re-issue of Friendly Fires and before wowing crowds in the country for Splendour in the Grass the two Eds (Edd Gibson and Ed Macfarlane) popped into the 2SER studio to speak to our man on the ground Chris Berkley.
On Static this evening, it’s a great pleasure to welcome in Ed and Edd from Friendly Fires. Gentlemen!
Edd Gibson: Hello there.
Ed Macfarlane: Hello, how are you doing?
I’m doing alright. How’s this Australian jaunt taking its toll on Friendly Fires?
Ed: Yeah we’re haggard, hanging on.
Edd: Jetlag just isn’t going away unfortunately…
Ed: [We] wake up at four every morning.
Ready and raring to go: that’s when you should be on stage isn’t it?
Ed: Yeah yeah, exactly! (laughter)
How do you guys in Friendly Fires keep your energy level up then when you have to go and do a performance?
Edd: Gin and tonic
Ed: Yeah, all the sugars of gin and tonic and then the fructose of the lime as well — itt all helps.
Slight crowd reaction here and there doesn’t go astray?
Ed: Yeah it’s good to kind of feed off the energy of the crowd: suck them like vampires. (laughs)
I mean for Friendly Fires being such an energetic band is it hard sometimes to psych yourselves up Edd or has it not been that big a problem yet?
Edd: Usually if I have an hour just to listen to a load of disco or kind of obscure techno then that’s fine, then I’m alright and I’m usually ready to get onstage and do my thing.
Ed: It’s on the weird occasion where you have to do an early morning session then that’s awful, that’s when everyone’s feeling a bit…
But you’re waking up at 4am Ed, this should be an evening out?
Ed: Well I suppose yeah it would be perfect in Australia, but elsewhere…
Did Friendly Fires start out as a live experience or was it equally as much of a studio thing when the band began making records?
Edd: I think we recorded three tracks before we played a gig and actually we had an EP ready to release before we played a show.
Ed: Yeah, that’s right, I think our first show was a radio session.
Edd: Yeah it was, it was a radio session.
What, the second one was a Royal Command Performance or something and it’s been downhill ever since then?
Ed: Yeah! (laughs)
But did you then have to think about how the band was going to translate live? Wasn’t it born out of the studio?
Edd: Yeah. I think, well, we kind of use the studio as a tool in itself to do whatever the hell we want and we don’t worry whether we can play it live or not. We’ll layer things up and will record all these parts that we know we’ll never be able to play live because there’s only four of us playing live onstage. When we play live we just try to do something that’s different from the record.
From the outset then was the Mission Statement: “Songs for Dancefloors”? What did you have in mind when you were putting the songs together then?
Edd: Not really songs for dancefloors at all, I think that whether the song is danceable to me is the least important bit of it. Mainly the most important thing is that it’s a good concise pop song that just does what it wants to do or needs to say within three and a half minutes.
Ed: But still has a bit of an interesting edge to it.
Yeah, but I mean there weren’t too many power ballads that came out on the first record either…
Ed: [We’re] saving them for album two! (laughter)
There must have been a bit of an idea that you wanted to do shows where people were jumping around?
Edd: Yeah, but I think it’s because we love dance music and disco that that influences our music. But we listen to a lot of other stuff as well and try to draw in as many different sounds or styles of music that aren’t pop and put them within a pop context.
Lyrically as well, the first album is awash with, if it’s not necessarily hedonism then it’s certainly songs about reckless abandon: like “Jump in the Pool”, and “Paris” are life-affirmative songs aren’t they? Was that an important thing too — to make an “up” [record]?
Edd: I think “Jump in the Pool” is really literal but I kind of like that in a sense, just because the chorus sounds really expansive and lush. Like the rush of jumping in a swimming pool, that’s the goal.
So no one’s ever walked up to you and said ‘I know what the real meaning behind “Jump in the Pool” is’?
Ed: Yeah Freud just showed up — returned from the dead to analyse it.
Well a lot of bands have to explain their lyrics when they mean something completely different, so it hasn’t happened to Friendly Fires?
Edd: No, not yet.
Ed: I think there’s no hidden meanings, really. It’s all pure escapism and dreaming [of] elsewhere. There’s too much of a scene for gritty realism in a lot of English music at the moment.
And have you been given the key to the city of Paris or something after writing a song for there?
Edd: Ah, no… It always feels really really weird playing “Paris” in Paris because it defeats the whole object of what the song is about. Which is about being somewhere better than where you are, and I think if you live in Paris you probably know all the ins-and-outs of the city.
The way to get over that Edd is for album number two you can write a song called “Sydney” maybe?
Edd: Exactly, there you go.
Keep upping the ante. Apart from songs being energetic there seems to have been some opportunities to mellow out through the remixes that Friendly Fires have had done as well because the Aeroplane remix of “Paris” was a hit in itself wasn’t it? Has it been interesting to see what other people have done with Friendly Fires songs once you’ve farmed them out?
Edd: Yeah, we’re very specific about who we want to remix us and stuff like that, we only get remixed by people we like.
Did you say no to P.Diddy?
Edd: I would never say no to P.Diddy, that would be amazing! No, with Aeroplane we liked a track called “Caramellas” that they did, and some of their remixes, like their remix of Grace Jones and stuff like that.
That one’s superb.
Ed: We were really lucky to catch them before they went properly stellar, so it was great to be able to interact with them in some way.
Air France did one of “Skeleton Boy”?
Ed: Yeah that was really cool as well. We’re still trying to get a good — I don’t know — energetic remix.
You can say Bangin’, go on!
Ed: I don’t want to say Bangin’ because I think that’s got the connotations of what we want to avoid, first and foremost: that kind of mindless electro.
What I was kind of saying though is that most of those big remixes have slowed you down or taken you down a slightly Balearic road if you will.
Edd: Yeah, I think my favourite remix of us is the Wild Geese remix of “Jump in the Pool”, just because it’s got lush pianos, and it’s got that housey vibe that I really like.
You’ve also continued on a life-affirmative and upbeat fashion with the new single: “Kiss of Life”, which has got even more steel drums ahoy than “Jump in the Pool” and it probably out-Basement Jaxxes Basement Jaxx in a lot of ways. Did that come about on tour or is it a song you’ve been sitting on for a while? Because this is the first taste — post the first album — of what you guys are up to.
Edd: We started recording it in January and we finished it about a month and a bit ago, and it took us ages to finish it because I spose we were on the road so much that trying to find any time to write and record music was a bit of a task.
Ed: Shall we have lunch? Shall we use these ten minutes to try and get another bit of recording? (laughter)
Or should I have a nap?
Ed: Yeah it’s difficult when you have to weigh up your priorities.
And so how come you did that song on the road then, did you want to have something new to play?
Ed: Yeah, at least it gives us something new to play in all the two years we’ve been touring these songs, and something new for other people to listen to as well. It’s just good to prevent the cabin fever.
Yeah okay, and it will probably be played come Mardi Gras time in South America I guess in one of the street parades.
Ed: That would be good, yeah.
Edd: We’re actually going to Brazil after America so we’re all looking forward to playing it out there and seeing what the reaction’s going to be like.
And something else that’s happening in a couple of months [and it] is going to be interesting to see the way it falls is the Mercury Music Prize, because you guys are nominated.
Both Eds: Yeah.
Were your mums proud? It’s a big deal.
Edd: My parents — or my dad — doesn’t know what the Mercury Music Prize is and my mum doesn’t really either. So they don’t really care (laughs).
Ed: Yeah I dunno, they’re proud, but I don’t think they find it as important as perhaps we do.
Was it a big deal to find out you’re in the running? Does it still mean something in England?
Edd: Yeah definitely, I mean we kind of thought that it wasn’t going to be on the cards because the album came out last year in September and it’s been quite a while since it was released, but we’re really glad that it’s still on peoples minds and it’s made it on the list.
And do you have any idea of how the betting’s going so far? What are your odds?
Ed: We stand at 8:1 at the moment, which is, I think we’re in the kind of Division B. 5:1 is up there like Florence [& the Machine]…
Edd: …and La Roux, I think she’s up there.
Ed: Yeah it’s quite a lady fest, this year. There’s plenty of female artists getting recognized.
It’s been a long time since a female has won it though, I was looking at the winners and nominees in the years before.
Edd: PJ Harvey was it? The last?
It was Miss Dynamite
Ed: Oh yeah!
Ed: And where is she now? (laughter)
I was wondering, you know it might be a double-edged sword to win this thing.
Edd: Yeah, I think it probably is, loads of bands have been cursed by it, or artists like whatsisname: Talvin Singh — what happened to him? Roni Size didn’t do another album, or did a sequel album that no one bought.
Arctic Monkeys: it’s all over for them… (laughter)
Ed: Yeah, Elbow, no one’s heard of them!
Yeah, so if it’s going to be a lady fest, maybe you need to wear dresses or something on the day, you’ll have to work out your strategies.
Ed: Yeah I think we’re trying to push Jack [Savidge – drums] in to the surgeons. (laughter)
Well look, it’s great to finally have Friendly Fires down here, so how far along are you on album number two?
Ed: Not even begun.
Edd: We’ve got a few sketches on the computer, but they’ll probably be turned into something completely different by the time we actually start jamming things out in the studio.
Maybe by the time you go to Brazil there’ll be one hundred steel drums in a song?
Ed: Ha! Jesus! (laughter) Maybe there will…
We might have a listen to “Kiss of Life” right now. Ed and Edd — you guys look after yourselves, get a nap in between now and next time you’re here!
First broadcast on Static on 30/07/09. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).
Transcription: Chris Butler