After two singles that rocked the blogosphere in 2011, Friends were quickly tagged 'a revelation'. Now that their highly anticipated debut album is coming out, we spoke to drummer Oliver Duncan.
Friends are a five-piece from Bushwick, a neighbourhood in the north of Brooklyn that is slowly but surely becoming hip. Last year, they rocked the blogosphere with two singles, “I’m His Girl” and “Friend Crush”, on the back of which they sold out their UK tour, without even having released an album yet. They made a name for themselves with an utterly refreshing brew of post-disco, synth-pop, new wave, funk and much more - culminated on their first full-length, “Manifest!”, which came out last week on Lucky Number and Fat Possum Records. We spoke to Oliver Duncan, the drummer, a few days before their whirlwind performance at San Miguel Primavera Sound 2012. The origin of their name, a possible collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, and the requirements to be a true friend are some of the subjects we talked about.
"If people want to hear us in fucking Siberia we are probably going to go there and play for them"
How did you get to meet Samantha Urbani and the rest of the group?
Basically I was working at a music shop and Lesley would come in from time to time. We struck up a friendship. She knew Samantha from way back and we heard she was starting a band and they needed a drummer and I play drums.
How did the previous musical background of each five of you mix in the studio?
You know, that’s really a good question. All our music tastes overlap. We have a lot of discussions on different parts, but to be honest it mixes pretty good. We are very civil with each other. Me and Matt are kind of more into pop songs, we have a pop sensibility, I guess that’s what you could call it. Nikki, Samantha and Lesley are more into weirdo arrangements and longer songs. It’s like a battle between this two aesthetics and it’s kind of interesting.
How do you manage to catch the attention of the audience when your album hasn’t even been released yet?
Speaking for me, I try not to think that much about it. Samantha is really good at that, she’s got real good stage presence. We just kind of be ourselves. If we tried to get the audience’s attention it wouldn’t be as cool as going up there and doing our thing.
The Internet has obviously helped to build your reputation, but I imagine you have found some downsides. If so, could you please tell us what they are?
I think that the downside is that I’m constantly afraid that all this buzz is building up. Everything moves so quickly there, faster than real life. It’s so easy to be online - there are so many bands online - so sometimes I freak out thinking if an album is going to do good, if Pitchfork is going to review us good. It’s more to think about, more to worry about. But other than that it’s been great for us.
How can you explain selling out all of your concert tickets in the United Kingdom but not having the same popularity in your country?
It’s hard to put it in perspective. [Thinks]. It’s weird because I don’t really mind that much, it doesn’t bother me, I don’t think about it too much. If we are popular somewhere, that’s good enough for me. If people want to hear us in fucking Siberia we are probably going to go there and play for them. It’s the way it is. We obviously want to be popular here, because I don’t want to be away from America for a long time and I think the rest of the band thinks the same way. But every musician is willing to go wherever people want to hear what you have to say.
Speaking of Siberia. Now that you have toured a lot, imagine if you couldn’t play drums anymore and were forced to start a whole different life. Where would it be and why?
Gosh, that’s a good question! [Laughs] I would buy a ranch in Texas, have some goats and have a relaxing life.
"I thought it was the coolest band name and then someone reminded me there was a TV show with the same name and that kind of bugged me"
I’ve read that you got your name from Brian Wilson’s favourite Beach Boys album, but I’ve also heard that you chose it because you are all actually friends. Which is the correct version?
The Beach Boys thing is bullshit, we were just joking. I remember we were just talking and I think Samantha said: ‘Hey, why don’t we just call ourselves Friends because we are all friends?’ And it sounded cool, so we just went with it. I thought it was the coolest band name and then someone reminded me there was a TV show with the same name and that kind of bugged me.
Now that the whole friendship thing has changed a lot due to social networks, what do you think it requires to be a true friend?
It’s easy to think friendship has changed with social networks, but I think the requirements for being a true friend have always been the same and will always stay the same. You know, loyalty, kindness, common interest, being there for you. I don’t think they have changed the nature of friendship; they have changed the nature of communication. I have my real friends and the network friends. What you are talking about - the whole “friend” thing in Facebook - I think it’s just a word to describe a contact, an electronic identification of someone you are linked with.
What would you say are the main differences between Bushwick and other Brooklyn neighbourhoods?
It was cheaper when I first moved there. When Williamsburg got too posh, the weirdos that couldn’t afford the high rent - and didn’t want the Subway sandwich shop in their buildings - they moved to Bushwick. And it’s pretty cool.
There are some post-disco traces in your music and Giorgio Moroder has recently said he’d be willing to work with a female singer. Would you like that? How would you like that dream collaboration to be?
Wow! Oh, fuck yeah, are you kidding? The rest of the band aren’t here, but I can speak for them. If he was to work with Samantha we would all be fucking psyched. I think it would be great if he did the music and Samantha wrote the lyrics.