This article was first published to The Edge on 18th September 2017
The rising stars of British Indie Pop, the Brighton-based Fickle Friends have gone from strength to strength in the past 12 months – signing a record deal, working with award-winning producer Mike Crossey, playing to 8000 people at Reading & Leeds, and most recently releasing their new EP Glue. Ahead of the band’s October tour and date with Southampton’s Engine Rooms, I spoke to singer Natt Shiner about old songs, new friends, and free booze.
You asked what songs you should open [the tour]with on Facebook, what did you get back from the comment section?
I mean everyone’s saying anything. There were quite a few people who were asking for our oldest song, ‘For You’, which I don’t think we’ve played in about three years. I don’t have the heart to tell them that that will never be brought back to life…
Hell no, I hate that song. I hate it. It’s like a reminder of being shit. I know that people do love it, but it’d make me cringe to have to play it again. And now obviously playing a gig is for the fans who I think can tell if you’re not having a good time, so we want to play everything that is amazing for us.
Every feature that’s been written about you says that you’re the 80s synth-pop band, and [NME] memorably said you want to lead “the alternative-pop renaissance”; was that intentional for you guys?
The 80s thing no, but we have a Juno 60, all this crap of 80s synths that we use in our music. In fact, if you listen to the charts at the moment, everything is drawing from 80s pop production. The thing about being a progressive-pop band is something that I’ve said to myself – we’re just super ambitious, an indie band that like pop music. I think [NME] picked up on that. It’s kind of a bold statement, but that’s something I said that is kind of true. It’s cool if people agree, but it could just be me being an idiot.
You meet a lot of people at festivals of course, and there’s a photo on Facebook of you and HAIM – what was that like?
They were super cool. I had such a “Girl Power!” blowout that whole weekend, because I’m really good friends with one of the drummers in Charli XCX’s band, so I was with them watching HAIM, and then with HAIM afterwards, like “This is so mental!” But they’re so lovely. I really bonded with Este because she’s diabetic, and my boyfriend’s diabetic, and they’ve both got this pump. She was like “Aw man, no guys wanna date me because of my fucking disease”, so I was just like “Well, they sound shit.” They’re just super, super cool. And stuff like that just happens, because you’re sharing the same backstage all day, unless you’re one of these people who thinks “I’m not gonna mix with the people who are first up on the stage, they’re below me.”
[On your October tour] you’ve sold out Bristol and Birmingham. It must be encouraging.
Oh yeah, it’s super encouraging. It’s rare that, and weird to think of a band like Royal Blood, whose tickets will sell out in one day of being up. Obviously, that’s the fucking dream. But even selling out shows before we go on tour, knowing you’re going to play to that – I remember going on tour for the first time and thinking “Oh we’re probably going to play to 30 people in Birmingham this evening, because no-one knows who we are”, and that’s a gut-wrenching feeling, knowing that you have to really win those 30 people over. So, it kind of makes me relax knowing that things are really selling well.
Have you played in Southampton before?
The last time we did a show there was at The Joiners… and it was amazing actually. I think it was sold out on the night, it was so, so good. I have high expectations for Southampton, that’s the one that’s going to sell out next, there’s only a few tickets left.
You were working on your debut album in February this year in LA… what happened?
I wish I had an answer, it’s kind of like [sighs]… we haven’t done things the classic way, where the band goes in with a producer, does the whole album, and that’s the album wrap. That was the initial idea; then we found this record deal, flew out to LA the month after, and we had all these songs, but we just didn’t have time to do more writing. No-one’s fault, but we went out to LA and we did loads of great stuff with Mike. We spent the best part of a year up there, and we came back and had written all this new stuff that we thought was really cool. And then our label said “Yeah, you’re right, this is the best stuff you’ve ever written.” And we thought “Well fuck, shame we spent the last year recording all the old stuff for the album” … We’re basically just trying to finish everything off now. You can’t put a 20-track album out for your debut. We’ve got to pick 12 songs for this album, and there’s too many to choose from.
What’s it like working with Mike Crossey?
He’s really old school. He comes from this rock band background, and the first thing he did that was really, really Pop was I guess, The 1975. Which is, I think, why we started working with him. It was so amazing, because we used to make jokes [when]we were broke, where we’d say “Imagine if this time next year we’re signed, we’re in LA, we’ve got our album with Mike Crossey”, that always the dream. And when we did ‘Brooklyn’ with him, we got to spend the whole week doing it in this incredible studio. I’ve never felt so pushed by a producer vocally before. He kind of squeezed the blood from a stone, which is what we respond best to. Speaking from experiences with other people who, after we do three takes are just like “Yeah, think we’ve got it!”, and they’ll tune everything. Which is not amazing.
You spoke with Radio 1 about being involved with Rebalance, to give girls more opportunity in the music industry. How are you involved with them?
I met the guys that run Festival Republic at Community Festival, because I’d managed to sneak my way into the private bar. And I’d drunk about five glasses of Prosecco, because I thought “I’ll probably be chucked out of here really soon, so I might as well just drink all the free stuff”. And I just got into a conversation with some guys, who turned out to be from Festival Republic. I have no idea what I was talking about, but when I get a bit woozy I get really, really passionate, and I chat loads of shit at people. I think the general consensus was that I’d love to be a spokesperson if they were doing anything to do with raising awareness of trying to get more women into music. [This was] because of the backlash that R&L got into the year before last about not having enough female bands and females in bands on the line-up. I don’t know if you remember that poster, where if you took all the guys off the poster, there w[ere]5 left. It was shit. And I thought, it’s not a sexist situation at all, it’s just if you think about comparatively how many men and women are in the music industry, if you look on PRS it says that 15% of songwriters are female. Which is baffling. There are so, so many girls I know who are incredible songwriters. So, I then thought about how I felt when I started a band: I [had]felt a bit put off, because “no-one’s going to take my band seriously because I’m a singer”, and it was when loads of male indie bands were doing really well. And I don’t want people to have to feel like that because it’s not the case at all, it’s just there need to be more women in music: more sound engineers, more producers. So that’s what Rebalance is, it’s basically this opportunity for more women to feel like they don’t have to be outweighed by loads of guys who are really confident – I’m not saying that women aren’t confident. It’s like a necessary discriminative thing, I don’t want it to be like “Just girls! Just girls! This is a really big opportunity for just girls!” It’s not that, it’s just that we’re trying to get more girls into the music industry, and make sure they know that it’s fine. It’s just the way that people have viewed things for so long, that it’s a very male weighted industry, and therefore women are less likely to apply to be in that industry, because they might think “It’s not really what I should be doing”… Tackling an age-old situation.
Fickle Friends are playing Engine Rooms on 8th October. Tickets are available here