Friendly Fires have been away for a long time, and they’ve been sorely missed. Coming out of hibernation after almost six years for some shows earlier this year, a Friday night slot at Truck marks their return to top billing on the festival circuit as part of a busy summer. Before they hit the stage for a triumphant, rain-soaked fiesta, vocalist Ed Macfarlane and guitarist Edd Gibson sit down with Dork to talk time away, getting back into the studio and firing up their formidable live show after six years lying dormant.
Having faded out of view after touring their tropical second record ‘Pala’, Friendly Fires burst back into life in April with a run of shows and a new track; the infectious ‘Love Like Waves’. “We felt like we had exhausted ourselves by the end of the second record [2011’s ‘Pala’], touring,” Ed explains. “The idea of going back to it and trying to do a better version of what you’d done before just felt really unappealing; we wanted to do other things.
“Edd and I have a side project [The Pattern Forms] on a label called Ghost Box that’s sort of weird, quirky pastoral, psychedelic electronic folky stuff, so we did that. Jack was doing a lot of work with other artists, so we were busy doing stuff, but stuff that was a bit more out there and not pop.
“We were still hungry to create, but the things we were doing would have perhaps disappointed a Friendly Fires fan base. It’s not necessarily that we don’t want to attach the name to it, but it’s still out there if they’re die-hard fans.”
Luckily for us, the trio always intended to make a new FF record at some point, and in late 2017 things came together, and they announced their live return. “It felt like if we left it any longer, it wasn’t going to happen, and we did really want to do it again. We left it at a good place, did three nights at Brixton [in 2012]. I was really pleased with the record [‘Pala’], really pleased with how it was received. It just felt like it would be sad to just do that [album cycle] one more time.”
Since that announcement of Friendly Fires return last year, Ed, Edd and Eddy (nah just kidding, Jack) have written and recorded over an album’s worth of songs, but they’re continuing to play with new songs as they test things out live.
“It might be that we scrap four of the songs and put four better ones on,” says Ed. “There will be a time limit at some point but I feel like we’re just getting back on our feet again and it keeps getting better and better. It just feels like we should make sure that it’s just right. We’re going to have to play it live a lot and anyone that’s seen our band live knows that we have to be into the music to really go for it.”
An hour later when they hit the stage, Friendly Fires remind everyone just how vital a live band they are, strutting on to a jubilant ‘Lovesick’, complete with brass section. Despite playing through a biblical downpour, they bring a joyous energy that belies their sodden surroundings. Macfarlane whips off his loafers and embraces the deluge, showing the audience just what’s expected of them as he gyrates along the stage, while his voice sounds stronger than it ever has.
In terms of the pure ecstasy they can transmit from the stage, there are few bands in Friendly Fires’ league, and there certainly aren’t many who could turn the cascade into a fiesta. Rather than scurrying back to their tents, the crowd throw caution to the wind and reward the St Albans trio with as much energy as they can give. That goes for the new songs in the setlist, with hooks sticking by their second refrain, and the crowd dancing like they’re old favourites.
“They’ve been fitting in well; we’ve been playing three a night,” Edd acknowledges. “It’s not too inspiring to come back and say, here’s the old stuff. We want to push this forward, we’re glad we’ve got an arsenal of tunes that people do like, but we’ve been noticing that the new ones have been going down really well.”
Any new fans they pick up over the summer festival season will have to wait just a little longer to hear the new Friendly Fires record. “The plan is to put it out early next year. We have two singles that are going to be coming out ‘til then. We’re kind of just writing every day, recording every day, between playing live.”
“We’re very good at starting things,” Edd laughs. Although they have a traditional album release planned, both men seem relaxed about the exact how and when of putting out new music going forward. “We’re enjoying a different climate of music where people are less concerned with an album and more just releasing track after track after track. And I mean, we could do that if we wanted,” Edd suggests.
“Yeah,” Ed agrees. “We recorded a track with Disclosure, and that took us like an evening’s work, really easy to finish it and it’s going to come out soon.
“It’s nice just to do that and not be like, ‘Let’s put it in the pile with all the songs’ and then think ‘Is this one a single?’ It’s just like this is it, this is the song, and see how people receive it.”
“We probably won’t even put their name on the song,” Edd clarifies. “It doesn’t sound like a Disclosure track it sounds like a Friendly Fires tune, and it was just writing music with mates.”
Having started out aiming for the indie disco, and branching into more exotic sounds on 2012’s ‘Pala’, the band are continuing to explore new sounds as they approach the release of their third record. “There are lots of fantastic things to pick and choose and make a beautiful library from, so it’d be foolish to just limit yourself to one thing in particular,” Edd offers.” We’ve probably just drawn inspiration from weird polyrhythm and brought them back into ultimately our band playing them. So wherever you take inspiration from it’ll sound very different by the end of the process.”
While the music cup is firmly set to ‘runneth over’, writing lyrics for Friendly Fires has been more challenging for Ed this time around, partly a result of his age. “It’s made it harder, definitely. The older you get, the more cynical you get, the more self-critical you get, the more ‘oh who gives a shit’. That voice in your head starts appearing. I had that after ‘Pala’ came out, that voice was in my head, but now I’ve crossed beyond that, and I don’t care anymore.”
“I mean, I find writing music in our band in that format way more personal and way harder than writing non-pop music,” confesses Ed earnestly. “Because it means a lot to us and we’re passionate about it, and that’s why it’s kind of stressful at times but more rewarding in the long run.”
“I like singing about things that mean something to me. It’s not like political things, nothing like that. Our band’s never been a political band, obviously. I like music that… is not so much escapist but - I like songs that are universal enough that it appeals to everyone rather than depending on how someone feels about the world.”
Edd nods enthusiastically. “It’s nice to not be particularly elitist or exclusive, that’s important to us. It’s not so much whether something is divisive or one side versus the other. But being too snobbish isn’t helpful when you’re writing pop music.”
“If you’re writing snotty post-punk, I guess it kind of makes sense, but that’s not us,” Edd laughs.
Across an hour at a sodden Truck, Friendly Fires deliver a tropical paradise fit for the Amazonian downpour, which does nothing to dampen the celebration that marks their return to the place they truly belong: the frenzied festival field. A final one-two of the irrepressible ‘Hawaiian Air’ and the Latin carnival of ‘Kiss of Life’ see the trio off into the night having set a stratospheric bar for the weekend and a benchmark for all other touring acts. Friendly Fires are back, for the time being.
“I’d say take it one record at a time,” Ed offers.
“Because ‘back for good’ means ‘‘til we DIE!’,” Edd chuckles.
With a new clutch of songs burning a hole in their pocket and the rust shaken off their phenomenal live show, the party is just getting started.
Taken from the September issue of Dork. Order a copy below.
Featuring Spring King, Idles, Slaves, Friendly Fires, Our Girl and more.