Friendly Fires began their North American campaign last week, stopping in Washington for the second date of their tour. I was able to grab Edd Gibson (guitar; above left) and Jack Savidge (drums; above right) for a brief chat backstage at the 9:30 Club before their show in DC Thursday night (review to follow at 2 PM today at this link) to talk a bit about the wonderful world of sampling (not the dodgy way, the Friendly Fires way), the early reception of ‘Pala’, a social gaffe with Muse and more. I also get a North American news exclusive. Read the whole interview below.
So ‘Pala’ just came out here in America 2 days ago (24 May). The cover is really colourful. Tell us how you decided on the cover.
Jack Savidge (drummer): The full saga is that…basically we decided to call the album ‘Pala’ after having the written the song, Ed (Macfarlane; Friendly Fires’ lead singer, synth player and bassist) had written the lyrics and come up with the concept from Island (the Aldous Huxley novel). Then we went round through tons of…
Edd Gibson (guitar): …like nice-looking photos, just nothing that grabs you.
Jack: Yeah, a bit bland-y…kind of…
Edd: Like a kind of Kings of Leon-style, that shore and palm tree (of ‘Come Around Sundown’), that kind of nonsense.
Jack: And none of it was really working. I dunno, and then we’d been through tons and tons of tedious meetings about it. And then Ed said, “there are parrots on this island. Why don’t we put a parrot on the front cover? A massive fucking parrot.” So then we searched to find a good parrot photo from anywhere on the Web, trawling all over the place. And then Phil (Morais), he’s our manager, one of his friends is a photographer. He linked us up to that set of photos that were done by this guy called Sølve Sundsbø. He’s a fashion photographer. These are from his private collection, and it’s like a whole series of photos and action shots of this very vivid parrot.
Edd: And also film, so we’ve used other shots and some of the film. We’ve been able to use Solvay’s projector on the back, so he’s really helped us have a proper concept.
Oh, are we going to see some of that tonight, then?
Jack: You’re not going to see some of that tonight.
Edd: We couldn’t afford to take our lighting guy (on this tour)…
Jack: …but absolutely, I think next time when we come back in the autumn…we’ll definitely have him with us.
(in a whisper) …ooh, you’re going to be back in the autumn?
Edd: Hell yeah. That’s an exclusive!
Jack: I think that’s been announced?
So how do you view this album compared to your first (‘Friendly Fires’, 2008) in terms of how you wrote and recorded?
Jack: I dunno. I don’t think we consciously approached it any different from the first album. I think we did…most times we set ourselves to write something, we end up coming to it in a roundabout way, with different kinds of formulas of writing. Yeah, I don’t think anything consciously was that different. [looks at Edd] What do you think?
Edd: When you look back, you realise what the actual actions that took place. Some songs we started differently and different methods we never tried before. Before (on the previous album), there weren’t chats like, “right, now it’s time to chop this whole song up and get little samples, and make a hook from that and play on top of that”.
Jack: But I suppose that’s one of the things we did explore more on this album is sampling. You can sort of hear that on…’Live Those Days (Tonight)’, ‘Blue Cassette’…
Edd: ‘Chimes’, ‘Hurting’…you name ‘em.
Jack: ‘Pala’ has plenty of them. I dunno, it’s kind of like…sampling is always exciting. Even though you can get in trouble over it, as obviously we haven’t ever found! [Jack grins, Edd laughs] But with someone else’s pieces of music, you get weird flecks of inspiration you would never come across yourself. That’s not to, sort of, big up stealing other people’s music. But there’s just something amazing [in sampling] you could never get out of it.
Edd: You could never write it a specific sound from a pinpoint chop of a whole song. It’s an element of chance of whether it will work. It’s quite fun, making this collage and then actually seeing, stepping back to look at the drawing again.
It’s like taking the best bits of other things and making something better.
Jack: Yeah, kind of. That’s not to say we’re doing the sampling in the way that I guess…
Edd: …Black Eyed Peas…
Jack: Black Eyed Peas, where you take the whole chorus. It’s more of little touches. I think there are ways to do it which are artistic and there are ways to take people’s music and totally rip them off. [I laugh]
So how many shows have you done with the new material so far? The two that come to me are the two London show this month (May 2011), XOYO and Heaven. I had friends who went to see you and they all said the lighting was amazing, the sound was amazing. How has the reception been? Essentially, the album’s just come out, so you haven’t toured the album that long.
Edd: We toured some of the songs even before we completed the album. We did two shows in America (in February 2011), an Australian tour and Tokyo. But since it’s actually came out, we’ve been to Europe – Belgium, Berlin and Amsterdam. They really seem to “get” it now. It’s been clicking and people have been responding to us far better than they ever did.
Edd: You can already tell people have listened to the record and not just the singles, so it’s good that people are already finding their favourites.
Speaking of when you previewed the songs, last summer you opened for Muse in Italy. Now what was that like?
Jack: [chuckles] It’s kind of weird, because you’re playing in broad daylight. And there’s more people than you’ve ever seen in front of you…
Was it in a football stadium?
Jack: Yes, San Siro in Milan. [Watch video #2 on this previous Video of the Moment post. - Ed.]
Edd: It’s like a fortress in the middle of Milan.
Jack: Everyone’s really static. You know, they’re obviously all there to see Muse.
Edd: We grabbed the opportunity, because Italy’s a notoriously tough place to be able to play. Most people don’t actually tour over there, unless they’re guaranteed a certain level response, like Muse. It was fun, because we got to meet Kasabian, who are fucking awesome.
Jack: Yeah, they’re really, really fun! Their band is okay, but as people, they’re fucking really fun.
Edd: And we got to chat to the Muse drummer, which probably shouldn’t have happened. [Jack guffaws loudly]
Dom Howard? Why, what happened?
Edd: I just embarrassed myself.
Jack: Edd asked him…well, he embarrassed himself, really.
Edd: Yeah, that’s the spirit! Well, I was pissed and stoned and didn’t get to watch the show, because I was too busy gasping on my knees. And I’d heard they had this huge sort of UFO that would descend on the audience.
I’ve heard about this…I haven’t seen it…
Edd: So I went to say hello and thank him for choosing us (as support), all of that afterwards, after the show. So I asked, “what happens to the UFO, then?” And he went on to explain how it gets deflated and packed away in a flight case and put on the bus…I obviously know that’s what’s going to happen with it. I meant, “during your show, what happens to it?” I didn’t say that! I was just, “hmm…”
Jack: Like, “ooh, yeah!”
Totally anticlimactic answer.
Edd: But to be honest, I shouldn’t have asked him. I should have just said, “I obviously saw the show. It was fantastic!”
Jack: “My favourite bit was when the UFO exploded!”
Edd: “Yeah, that alien was dead on!” [everyone laughs]
Jack: “And then the bass player came out with antennas on his head, whoa!”
Edd: “Hats off to you guys!”
Another big show you guys recently was playing the sold-out Brighton Dome at the Great Escape 2 weeks ago. So, how was that? Had you played the Dome before?
Jack: Yeah yeah, we have. It’s a really amazing venue. I think it had loads of National Lottery money injected into it, as it’s got amazing lighting rigs…
Edd: And downstairs, all the dressing rooms are signposted “Choir’s Room” or “Soloist’s Room”. It’s clearly designed for people of a level far above our own.
Jack: For pantomimes. And musicals and stuff like that. But yeah, it was good. I dunno, it was our first really big headlining gig in a long time.
And for the new album.
Jack: Yeah. I think it probably wasn’t as good as last night (at Webster Hall in New York City), but it was all right.
Edd: Yeah, we sounded better.
Yeah, tell me how last night went.
Jack: Last night was great. It was fantastic. I think that was my favourite gig for ages.
You’d played there before, right?
Edd: Yeah, we’d played there before with the xx. [They're referring to the Nylon Winter tour of 2009; we covered the Boston leg here. - Ed.]
Jack: Yeah, last night, the crowd was really…they had exactly the right attitude. There was no curiosity about it…
I think it may be because ‘Pala’ is a really good summer album and we’re just getting into summer over here in North America. And actually, we’ve had a very rough winter in the East. So I think tonight will be good as well because Washington got hit hard with the cold this winter too. Today was the first 90 F (26 C) day of the entire year so far…
Edd: Oh really? We seem to be taking it (the heat) with us, in all honesty.
Yeah, you’re taking the sunshine to everybody!
Edd: The XOYO show was the first really hot day in the UK as well. We’ve been playing a lot of shows quite early on through no choice of our own, like put before a club night. But last night was a headlining show of our own, and we didn’t get on until half past 10. I think it shows, when it gets closer to the midnight hour the people are more lively.
Jack: Maybe there is something. Maybe it has to do with climate? We should do an experiment…
TGTF would like to give special thanks to Catherine and Martyn for helping sort this interview.