Friends have recently been gaining a lot of hype, especially in the UK where their label is based. They played an exciting show at Raw Sugar where Ottawa learned why they’re gaining this hype (see photos here). Be sure to check out their website to find out for yourself.
Before the show, Ming did an interview with Friends lead singer Samantha, where we learn about cool spots in Brooklyn, why CDs are no good, how much she loves dancing, and more. Check out the audio here. Below is the transcribed and edited version.
After Ming says hi and tells Samantha he’s really excited to see them and Ganglians play, Samantha informs us she’s sometimes called Sam or Samandude (sp?), and then tells us how awesome Ganglians are.
Samantha: They’re really great, we’ve been on tour with them for about a week and a half, and they’re real fun to hang out with. They also put on a really great show, so you should definitely stick around and watch them.
Ming then wishes Samantha a Happy Thanksgiving, as it’s Thanksgiving in the US. Samantha tells us she’s trying to forget about that, and she’s in fact celebrating Thanksgiving in an alternative way, by fasting and calling it “Thanksgrieving”.
Ming apologizes for bringing it up, and then continues by asking if this is Friends first time playing in Ottawa.
Samantha: It is, first time in Ottawa. We played in Montreal two nights ago, and that was our first time playing in Canada. Last time we tried to get into Canada, they wouldn’t let us in, unfortunately. So now we are officially a Canadian accepted band, and it feels good.
Ming agrees this is cool, then moves on to ask the band a bit about how they started and what influences them.
Ming: How did the band get the name “Friends”? Please don’t say it’s from the tv show.
Samantha: (Laughing) No, it definitely has nothing to do with the tv show, I promise. It was kind of a joke at first, when we were trying really hard to come up with a band name and it felt like we were over thinking everything. So we were like, “oh, well we’re friends, we could just call the band “Friends”, because we’re friends”. So it was kind of silly at first, but then it kind of transitioned into having a deeper meaning than that. Our live shows are very personal, very interconnected with the crowd and the band, and every one switches instruments; it’s a very communal vibe. I like to try to break down what is usually a hierarchy between the band and the audience. I don’t like to think of the stage being there; I dance with the crowd a lot. I think that allurement and connectivity are important things to think about as an earthling. So, friends, that’s what it’s all about.
Ming: And who are your musical influences? When I hear the music, I think “booty shaking music”. Would you say your influences have a similar style?
Samantha: Totally. I like any music that has a good rhythm to it. I grew up liking pop music that my mom would play. I listened to a lot of Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Jackson 5. Also Prince, Madonna, Adam Ant, that kind of stuff. I’m obsessed with Adam Ant. But also I like hip hop and I like punk. I like anything that has a strong drive and rhythm to it, and you can kind of hear that in our music.
Ming: Would you say you have a New York or a Brooklyn kind of sound?
Samantha: It’s hard to say, I don’t know if it it’s necessarily a Brooklyn sound, because I don’t what defines that. I think that there are bands all over the word that have this kind of sound now, and so I don’t even know what that sound means, like maybe we put reverb on our vocals or something? I don’t know, what is a New York sound? Do you know?
Ming: (Laughing) Maybe more of a hip hop, ghetto-y type of sound? Something with more hip hop influence.
Samantha: (Also laughing) Well it’s interesting, because I liked that stuff way before I lived in New York. I grew up in Connecticut, and I think that it’s not necessarily fair to put certain types on places geographically, because a lot of people believe a certain image of Connecticut might be true, but I grew up in a very diverse community with a lot of different cultural stuff in music. So I don’t think our sound is necessarily definitively New York, it just happens to be that we’re from New York.
Moving from musical influences to venue influences, Ming asks what types of venues they enjoy playing in New York, and if Raw Sugar is really different from those. Samantha tells us they love DIY Brooklyn venues, then agrees that Raw Sugar is pretty different from those spaces.
Samantha: We kind of started out and continued to play at a lot of DIY venues in Brooklyn, which are venues where a lot of times people live there and the stages are home-made, and the venues themselves may not be legal. There’s a very punk community, with an energetic vibe to them. So with this venue, I don’t really know what to expect. It’s cool though, it’s intimate, and it’s like a coffee shop, so if people need caffeine to dance, this might be the place to get it.
Ming: So you enjoy playing house shows?
Samantha: Yeah totally, we love that, that’s kind of where we are in our element. I don’t like stages, I like to be able to play on the floor with people and engage with everyone who is there, and make it like the spectacle is where everyone is involved and not just the five people playing instruments. Our record might end up being something between a spectator and an artist, but our live show involves everyone who is there.
Ming would soon find out this is very true.
As previously mentioned, Friends are getting a lot of attention from the British music scene, so next Ming asks Samantha if the band is surprised about this, and what she thinks about differences between the UK and North American music scenes.
Samantha: It is kind of weird because we’re not there, but we have some huge presence over there. We just sold out an eight hundred person venue in February. It kind of makes sense though, because the label we’re with right now is based in London, so they know how to get the word out there and get our stuff on the radio. I don’t know if there’s really any true difference between human qualities of people over the world, but hopefully we’re not only going to get popular in the UK.
I know the market is kind of different between here and the UK. The UK is very singles driven, where as “indie music” here doesn’t really have a big presence on the radio, and over there it does. I feel the turn over there is kind of faster, they kind of go through bands faster, where as here there is more chance for longevity. But I’m just starting to learn about the global aspects of being a band.
Ming: I was watching a documentary about the music scene in the UK, and it seemed to portray it as a scene that you have to be careful of, because they may love you one day, but they’ll take you down the next.
Samantha: Right exactly, that’s what people have said to me, and I haven’t really seen that yet, but I am kind of aware of that. But I try not to let it affect the way that we’re doing anything, I just want to make music that we all like and don’t mind playing a million times. Hopefully people will get something out of it, but if not then they’ll find something else that they like.
Speaking of music that the band likes to play, Ming asks Samantha what some of her favourite songs to play live are, and places to play at are.
Samantha: I have really been liking playing “I’m His Girl” live, because it’s fun to play and some people seem to know it, which is cool. And I like playing “Friend Crush”, because I usually like to hug and touch people while I play it. There’s also a song we play called “Sorry”, where I do that usually every time we play. I get excited, jump into the crowd, push people around, touch people and dance with them. Also “My Boo”, the cover [of Ghost Town DJ's song] that we do, is way better live than on the recording, so it’s fun
Ming: And what about favourite venues?
Samantha: It always depends. You have these hometown venues, like 285 Kent and Shea Stadium, that are run by friends of ours in Brooklyn, and every time we go there it feels like we’re having a party. You just expect people to show up that we know and everyone dances. A lot of times we’ll help to curate the line-up and our friends will dj, so that’s always good. But I’m excited to experience more stuff. I know that if we continue in a set way we’ll probably play big venues and festivals, but I want to do everything I can to play small house shows and DIY venues and parties all over the world, because I feel like that’s where it’s easier to make connections and meet people.
In keeping with the subject of Brooklyn, Ming asks what Samantha would suggest to someone if they went to visit – take notes, I did.
Samantha: You should get a show paper, which is a one page newspaper. There are piles of them at every record store, book store, or cafe. They got these old newspaper machines and had a bunch of artists reinvent them, actually using metal and welding them to make new shapes and do paintings on them. So if you see one of those, there are show papers inside. The papers list every show within a two week period that are all ages, so you’re going to be able to find a lot of shows happening through that. And on the other side of the show listings there’s always art, a big piece of art, so you can put it on your wall and keep it. And if you’re into healthy living and yoga and meeting people, my friends just opened up a place called Body Actualized Center, it’s really cool, on Troutman Street. I’d say go there, it’s where all my close friends are, and you can maybe eat some raw chocolate and do some yoging.
At this point, the band is ready to do sound check, so Ming wraps up the interview with a favourite question – what’s Samantha’s favourite music format?
Samantha: Definitely vinyl and cassette tapes. I don’t buy CDs, and I don’t ever want to sell them, which is going to be hard because labels are going to disagree. I just think they’re a dead medium and they’re really bad for the environment. They have a life of 10000 years, so every CD is just going to end up in a landfill for 10000 years. And they’re nasty to make. It just doesn’t make any sense to me, because you’re going to rip it on your computer anyway. So if you’re going to use digital music, just download it. But vinyl sounds best, and for me I just have a fetish with the tactility of cassette tapes, I like to collect them. I have maybe like four, five or six Walkmans at home.
Ming: I have a Walkman as well. I think cassette tapes are coming back in some scenes.
Samantha: Yeah, I know, and it’s for a reason I think. Everybody is kind of detached from the tactile sense of having their music, and you get so ADD with iPods and iTunes now, because you can just skip to everything, you don’t have to listen to a full album. So it’s kind of ruining the art of an album. I feel like to listen to a cassette tape you have to let it play all the way through, unless you’re going to sit there and tediously fast forward and rewind and flip it over. It’s just more of an engaging experience with the full album rather just listening to whatever song is being pushed to you by blogs and commercials.
Ming agrees, thanks Samantha very much, and tells her he’s very excited to shake his booty during their set. Samantha says she really wants him to do so, and if he doesn’t, she’ll grab it and shake it for him.
Friends then went on to do sound check, and then the show started and the booty shaking began.
On behalf of Ming, thanks Samantha for the interview!
Transcribed and edited by Emily Robertson of Audiocassettetape Productions.