Fickle Friends: Smash Hits
Fickle Friends haven't taken the short route to their debut album, but they're packing the bangers to blow up big time.
Published: 12:00 am, March 16, 2018
A cheer goes up. One look around the open floors of the East London brewery and it’s clear where it’s coming from. Around one of the long benches making up the room, pitchers of lager are here, and they’re here for Fickle Friends. It’s a matter of days before the band head off on another extensive headline tour, something that’s become second nature to them, and spirits are understandably high. “I said to our manager jokingly to get a pitcher in, and literally one has come up,” points out Jack Wilson, as the rest of the band - Harry Herrington, Chris Hall and Sam Morris - begin to pour away. “Don’t worry,” jumps in lead singer Natti Shiner, “we’ll get on that later”.
They’ve definitely earned their moment for a few beers. For nearly five years, Fickle Friends have been leading their own charge, one of sun-soaked pop hooks and an ability to take everyday moments and amplify them to sizzling new directions. Searing with ambition, they’re dazzling in their anthems and unabashed in all their technicolour moves. A story that’s undeniably modern yet a throwback to doing things ‘the old fashioned way’, they were born to be a special band. Even if that does mean beauty sleep is hard to get.
Take Jack having a quick nap earlier today in the rehearsal room the band have in Brighton (“I drifted off, when I woke up where I had no idea what time it was”), or Natti nodding off on the train. There’s plenty of time for dreaming, and Fickle Friends are dreaming big. “My mind likes to wander and fantasise,” explains Natti, turning to Jack as they chat away. “Imagine if our album came out and we just became really fucking successful? Like people fucking loved it and then suddenly everything went crazy. That’s what I daydreamed about when I was having my nap on the train, but you’ve got to be realistic. We’re an indie band, and we’ve done things the old school way - we’re a slow burner.
“It’s kinda weird right now going from feeling so much pressure to write songs for an album, to now feeling the pressure of just waiting for it to come out and hoping people will like it. It’s been a long time coming.”
The story of Fickle Friends is one of time and determination, a coming together of mates down on the coast of Brighton and a never-relenting passion to be something more. There never was a proper game plan. “I never thought I would be in a band,” points out Natti. “I wanted to be Ellie Goulding really, do it all by myself. Then there was this realisation of like, I’m not good enough by myself to do this, and I was just terrified. So I started to pick people, saying I wanted to start a band and basically just asking around.”
As becomes clear when spending time in Fickle Friends’ company, this is a gang of mates who bounce off one another. Whether it’s laughing away at quickfire jokes, snapping polaroids or bringing up tales from the countless days, weeks and months on the road - it’s a puzzle that could only work with each of them in place. “I think I fell into this band,” offers Jack, remembering the moment he joined the fray. “I genuinely would never have pictured me being in this band when I was younger, but I’d always wanted to do music. I kinda wasn’t doing anything, so went to Uni to try and work out what I wanted to do and meet people.”
“I remember being at a party, and we were both really drunk,” continues Jack, prompting laughs from Natti. “At the time I was doing this solo project just as an idea, and Natti was doing Fickle Friends which looked really different to what it is now. I was looking for a keyboard player and someone to do backing vocals, and we were both there, and we were so very drunk. I remember we were talking, and we were just like ‘please be in my band’, and we agreed that I would be in Natti’s band and Natti would be in my band.”
“Oh yeah, I remember being really jealous because he got a song on When The Gramophone Rings,” picks up Natti, “which was my favourite blog at the time. I was so fucking jealous.”
While Jack’s solo project may not have lit up the world, Fickle Friends were here to stay - using any spare second they could to practice and write together. The excitement that comes from finding like-minded mates is a flame that set fire to Fickle Friends’ burgeoning ambitions - bolstered by a city where they were free to see shows every night, write whenever possible and work out who they wanted to be not just as a band, but as people too. Finding that clear path to what Fickle Friends would be, their influences came to the fore and soon they had the backbone they needed.
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Photo: Sarah Louise Bennett / Dork[/caption]
“It was a mess when we started,” notes Jack. “We were into different stuff, and we didn’t agree what a clear vision was of what we were doing. We just started playing together, and slowly it happened. We reigned things in and worked out exactly what we wanted to do and what band we wanted to be.”
“We would write a song acoustically and would just throw ideas at it,” details Natti. “Then we started getting into a routine where it would be me, Jack and Harry coming away from playing together and writing in a bedroom - and we all have very similar tastes in music, so things started to get a bit more consistent.”
“We started listening to a few more similar bands like Friendly Fires, Two Door Cinema Club and Phoenix and that was where it started off,” continues Jack. “At that point it was like, yeah - this is what we want to do.”
Quickly, things exploded. For many bands, the mad rush of acclaim and eyes on what you’re doing comes a few years down the line. For Fickle Friends, it was their first offering into the world that took off. ‘Swim’, full of effortlessly suave pushes and pulls, was met with the sort of reaction only a band on the cusp of a mammoth breakthrough could ignite, pulling Fickle Friends from the small bedroom sessions to one of the most talked about new bands on the web.
“We put that out, and people got really excited about us, but we had just started out as a band,” elaborates Natti, thinking back to that moment and how such a height had met with their early moves. “It was really, really weird. It was our first proper song, and it was on Billboard and shit - it was mental. From our side, we had just written another song, and we couldn’t understand why everyone was blown away by it.”
The wave of adulation catapulted them to a stage that, looking back, they weren’t prepared for. “We were really excited about things going on, and you don’t really think at that moment ‘we’re not ready’,” recalls Natti. “Our manager at the time was showing us all these industry names who wanted to come to our gigs, and we would be saying to each other ‘OH MY GOD, Virgin are coming - Island are coming!’
“Your mouth starts watering a bit, but then if you actually think about it, there was no fucking way in hell any decent A&R person would sign our band at that moment. It was just one big mess with one good song. They came to the show, and we just fucked it up. Big time. They then left us alone, and then we kind started, y’know what I mean?”
Fickle Friends needed that moment, that point to stop and evaluate, to think clearly of what they wanted to do next and where they needed to get to. Clearing the slate yet building on the foundations ‘Swim’ had laid out, they cranked things up a notch. Unsigned, and with only the money they had in their back pocket, Fickle Friends were going to have to do things by themselves - jumping at every opportunity and working their way up and down the country whenever they could to build what they had.
“It was definitely a lot easier in our last year of Uni when they would let us go off and play all of these gigs, but we slowly stopped going with everything we had going on,” remembers Jack.
“We would jump at every opportunity,” continues Natti. “There was this gig in Dalston where our friend’s band was meant to be playing, and they had to drop out, so put up an ad on Facebook asking for a support band to slot in. We were like, ‘Yep’. So we jumped on a train with all of our stuff and played this gig. It was mental, we started playing so much, and we didn’t realise about the money side of things till after Uni, and we were like, oh fuck - we’ve got 30 festivals to do, and we also have to work. What the fuck are we going to do?”
They would push for everything. Applying to play shows through competitions on festival websites, racing to do gigs even if it meant horrendous journeys back late at night - the band was everything to them, and they were damned if someone was going to try and pull that away from them. As Natti notes, “we were driving ourselves everywhere and completely self-sufficient. No tour manager, just ourselves.
“We were saying the other day about this time on our first tour where we finished in Leeds, and me and Chris had to be in work at 9am in Brighton the following morning. So we had to be dropped off at the National Express bus stop in Leeds at midnight to drive down to London Victoria to then get the 6am train down to Brighton to then just walk straight into work.”
Jack cracks up in amazement at their predicament. “I remember waking up in Travelodge to look at my phone thinking, woah, they’re at work right now.”
Natti’s head falls into her hands. “Absolutely harrowing. It’s times like that when you think, ‘Oh my god, why?’ Absolutely horrible. Thinking about how you’re going to pay your rent the whole time... But there was never a moment where we thought, this isn’t worth it. We knew we were onto something.”
Something was right. Word spread quickly of Fickle Friends’ live prowess and the songs they were working on, building on that first moment where ‘Swim’ crashed into the world. Over the course of two years, the band played 53 festivals - following a similar story of doing everything themselves and driving across the country for shows wherever possible.
“There was a time we did Radio 1’s Big Weekend,” drops in Natti. “We had to put all of our stuff into wheelie bins, the massive ones, that we then rolled up to the BBC Introducing Stage with. No buggies or anything, people were looking at us like, ‘What?!’”
There was time in the studio that ended up being paid for by Jamie Oliver (yes, that Jamie Oliver). It all added to an evolution in the band’s sound that embraced the unabashed memories of pop, with heavyweight hooks at every turn and the sort of unfiltered hunger for the hugest moments. It’s been natural for the band and now dazzles spectacularly in everything they do.
“I always used to write songs that I thought I was capable of doing,” expands Natti, thinking back to those early days when she was writing singer-songwriter tales and now with the band big ‘uns like ‘Hello Hello’ and ‘Brooklyn’. There’s a clear line why.
“When you have a band, it completely changes. I think the sound has come from the fact that our writing itself has become more pop as time has gone on. It’s also just been what we’re listening to, like for example, Zedd released a track the other day, and we listened to it, and thought fuck that’s good. Then the next songs we wrote was almost a homage to that, but still sounding like Fickle Friends. If you have the luxury of writing music, you can literally write exactly what you want to listen to.”
Fickle Friends see a moment in time taking place, where pop’s credibility sits at an all-time high, and the lines between genres are blurrier than ever. “You can literally do what you want now,” points out Jack, “as long as the production comes across cool then nobody cares.”
“Like, fundamentally pop stands for popular music. It’s anything that is commercial at the time, and that’s such a broad fucking spectrum of music,” jumps in Natti. “I think of Fickle Friends as a progressive pop band, still very much a live band with indie roots but y’know, with pop music in those roots too.
“I don’t know why I think of this as a poignant moment of pop being credible, but when Justin Bieber released his last album and ‘Sorry’, previously he was considered as the furthest from being cool and then suddenly it completely changed.”
“He represents that change and transition,” notes Jack. “Like The 1975 represent that transition in indie music being pop, too.”
It comes at a prime moment for Fickle Friends, fused with lush sounds and fizzing energy, they’re ready with a soundtrack of being alive and growing as a young person in the 21st century. They’ve always captured that moment of freedom, dreaming and fear that comes from growing up, and across ‘You Are Someone Else’, they deliver on a dossier that could very well be the diary of every young person plugging into 2018. That vulnerability of openness is a constant throughout the record, whether it’s unsure of who you are, unsure of how you feel about others and unsure of what’s to come - all bathed under neon lights and confetti. Heartbreak, anxiety, devastation - but with the energy to pick yourself up and dive head first into life again, ‘You Are Someone Else’ captures it all and it’s why so many are hooked under Fickle Friends’ spell.
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