Friendly Fires are back, and - at times - it feels as though they've never been away.
Clash has already caught the band twice this summer, playing storming sets at All Points East in London and NOS Alive in Lisbon.
Two very different festivals, two very different audiences, but the sheer energy onstage managed to bowl over even the most hardened of cynics.
Working on fresh material, Friendly Fires dropped new single 'Heaven Let Me In' a few moments ago, and it's a fantastic indie disco belter, a full creative collaboration with brotherly production duo Disclosure.
Clash picks up the phone to Ed MacFarlane to find out a little more on the studio process, and finds the frontman relaxing in Canada, taking a few days out to focus on music.
He chuckles, explaining: "I’m actually in a place called Lincoln which is in the wine district, outside Niagara Falls. I’m here for a few days, writing some verses, some lyrics for a few tracks. Tying bits together!"
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Friendly Fires have had a busy summer, with a host of festival sets. What’s that been like?
For me, I’ve never felt so confident in what we do. I don’t know why that is… I don’t know if it’s because I’m a bit older. I think maybe when I was in my mid 20s I need some sort of Dutch courage – with booze or whatever – but now I can just do a gig sober and dance like crazy and get into that character of who I am. And it feels really nice to be in that place, just to be able to have that confidence in what I do.
And all the shows have been great. I feel like towards the end of the summer we were getting towards that point of getting into our stride. It’s been great having a percussion player with us, and filling in those parts, whereas before we had backing tracks or shakers on with us. It adds that extra level, that extra layer we always wanted.
What can you tell us about the new single? It’s a co-write with Disclosure...
It’s a collab! I actually sang on Disclosure’s debut record, so it was nice for them to return the favour with our stuff. Initially the vocal idea I had, I’d sung on about five other tracks previously but the instrumental never suited the vocal concept.
As a band we’d started this instrumental which was a hark back to mid, late 90s French house that really connects to me. I love that kind of super positive, happy-sounding dance music. We started with that theme in mind, we had this instrumental but for some reason I didn’t think of that lyrical concept - ‘Heaven Let Me In’ - and put it with the track that we’d started.
We met up with Disclosure and played them the instrumental that we had started and they just took it and ran with it, basically. We ended up finishing the track really, really quickly. It’s really great when the songwriting process works like that. The lyrical concept is about not trying so hard, and enjoying the process, and accepting your flaws, and getting on with it. It works.
As a vocalist you’ve worked with a number of different acts, what spark is it that Disclosure bring to Friendly Fires?
I don’t know what it is! I guess in a broad sense we both write dance music that has a pop sensibility. I think we’re maybe more of a band, and they’re producers, but we have the same goals in mind. We want to write something that’s super positive, super hooky, super upbeat, and that makes you want to celebrate a moment, I guess. I feel like the new single really does that.
You’re out in Canada right now working on new material. Has that ability to set your own timetable benefited the band this time round?
The backbone of the record is done. We have the tracks there, we’re filling in the gaps now. It has been good to take our time with it. I think we’ve been very – I’m not sure if this is the right word – calculated with our previous records. We’ve never felt the need to just put something out because we have to. We want to do things that represent what we’re about as a band.
These club shows that are coming up remind me of when we did our show at the Coronet in Elephant and Castle, which is still what we’re about as a band. We like the idea that after we play the party carries on, and people play music that inspires us. I’m really looking forward to these shows and doing the same thing again. Even though it’s a smaller venue than, say, Brixton. I guess those kinds of things work better in that kind of a venue. I think our live show works in no matter what size of venue, really.
That crossover between indie and club culture is reminiscent of when you first broke through – nights like Optimo would showcase a band, then have four hours of techno.
I was thinking about this the other day. I was thinking about Live Club, which was a club night in Nottingham around 2006, and I guess you could say it was the birthplace Nu Rave…! (laughs) And weirdly I’m now nostalgic for that era! It was when dance music and indie music had merged in a really good way. The night would carry on after the band played. I do like that kind of a club night – I like the idea that it isn’t just solid electronics all night long.
It changes the energy for a performer, as well.
Totally. I like the idea of being able to curate an evening, rather than just a live set. I feel like that plays a big part of what we’re about. I find it really frustrating when we play festivals and there’s no music before we go onstage. People are just standing there in silence, and then the band plays. I feel like the evening needs to work a bit like a DJ set – it peaks, the band plays, and then it carries on. It shouldn’t be the band walking onstage, people watch, we play, and then people go home. That’s not what we’re about.
There are some great producers on the line up here – Space Dimension Controller, Ross From Friends – how did you go about picking these artists?
It’s just stuff that we like. People like Space Dimension Controller, and there’s a special guest from the same world, and has definitely influenced our approach to writing music. It’s what we would want to listen to after we play. I’m going to be dancing after we finish our set. It’s as simple as that – it’s what we like. It’s what we’re into.
This summer has brought some storming dance moves, Ed. Have you been relishing the role of a frontman once more?
I felt like I haven’t had this feeling of struggling to get into that mindset, I can just go onstage. People know what we’re about. People know what to expect. And I can go onstage and deliver, and if you don’t like it then you shouldn’t be watching the set.
It’s not like when we started, and people didn’t know who we were, and you’re less confident of who you are. Whereas now, it’s like this is our vibe, this is what we do, take it or leave it. It’s great. I can completely lose myself and do it confidently.
Will there be more collaborations on the record, or is it a Friendly Fires focussed affair?
I really don’t know. There’s still room for collaboration. Strangely enough, this time round I’ve wanted to get closer to that songwriter world. I’ve sold a tonne of my synths, and some really pointless outboard gear. Now I just have one synthesiser, a guitar, a bass, and a microphone. And I like that idea of getting more in touch with the songwriter in me, I guess.
A lot of the tracks, as they stand, are quite basic in production, but the core of it is there, the song itself has strength. So it could be that when it gets closer to the release date we end up taking some of these tracks to someone and it does become more of a collaborative piece.
We’ve been in the studio with Paul Epworth, as well, which has been great. Obviously he’s a long time collaborator of ours. We have one track that’s completely done and dusted that we’ve done with him, and we’re very pleased with it.
We did it in the Church… It was nice! It was like how ‘Jump In The Pool’ was written, in the sense of… we’re not normally a band that can write a song on the spot in the studio but ‘Jump In The Pool’ was done like that. It felt exciting, pretty daunting, but refreshing to be able to do that this time round.
How far along is the record?
We have a deadline that is pretty much right at the beginning of next year. That’s the hand-in deadline, and we’re on track for that.
That’s when the homework has to be handed in.
Exactly! It’s good to have deadlines, it lets you focus, and you don’t get bogged down in those production details.
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Catch Friendly Fires at the following shows:
28 Newcastle Riverside (with Justin Robertson and Vonica)
29 London Oval Space (with Space Dimension Controller and Vonica)
30 London Oval Space (with Ross From Friends (DJ), Space Dimension Controller, Alex Metric & Ten Yen)
1 Bristol Anson Rooms (with Paranoid London (DJ), Secret special guests, Alex Metric & Ten Yen)
For tickets to the latest Friendly Fires shows click HERE.
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