"Major labels might know what sells, but we've realised we don't really care about that..." - hmv.com talks to Fickle Friends
Even in the years before lots of musicians were stuck at home with nothing better to do than pick up their instruments and noodle away, Brighton day-glo pop collective Fickle Friends have always been prolific. Very prolific.
Formed back in 2013, the band, who consist of singer Natassja Shiner, bassist Harry Herrington, drummer Sam Morris and keyboard player Jack Wilson, managed to notch 11 singles before their debut album dropped in 2018 and spent two years touring the UK and Europe, with neither the support of a label or publisher and over performed at over 50 festivals as they did so.
It's no wonder then that when the band's deal with Universal Music imprint Polydor didn't work out, the band carried out without missing a beat continued to release new songs on an almost monthly basis.
Their second album, the frank, soul-baring but also extremely fun Are We Gonna Be Alright? hits shelves today, and, ahead of that, we spoke to singer Shiner about their journey over the last two years, leaving a major label and why they're planning an extended break after they tour the album...
You're a band who are always releasing a lot of material, when did you decide it was the right time for a second album?
"We started writing the second album and then the pandemic happened. We were aiming to get it out in September of 2020 and it would have included 'Pretty Great', 'Amateurs' and all the singles we put out. But we didn't want to put an album out if we couldn't tour it. So we broke it into two parts and that became the Weird Years EPs."
"As things started to normalise a bit more, we decided then we'd write the second album. I'm glad we did it that way round because this album is way better. We've just taken the key tracks from Weird Years and the main core of the writing was in the summer just gone."
You're a prolific band in the sense that you're always putting out a lot of songs, are you equally as prolific in the songs that you don't put out?
"Oh yeah. There is a Fickle Friends song graveyard with hundreds of songs in it. I feel like after we finish with this record we might do a demo club where we just give everybody the songs. There's this huge folder. It does mean that there are always loads of ideas whenever you want to start something new. Sometimes a bit of time is the difference between thinking something is crap and going "Maybe that's actually great..."
Do you always agree on what to take forward?
"We always eventually agree. The things we all agree on are the ones we use. You'd never want to take a song forward that everyone isn't in love with. Songs serve a purpose too. We're of a mindset with an album that you can't have the same song 12 times. Every song needs to have its own place and its own flavour. We're all on the same page on that."
It's a different setup this time in terms of the label. Last time it was Polydor and must have felt quite big and shiny, whereas this time things are a little more DIY. Having always been quite a self-sufficient band, has it just been like reverting to what you'd done in the past?
"With Polydor, I spent the whole time thinking 'I don't like people bossing me around, I hate this', and now I find myself thinking 'God, it would be nice if somebody would give their input'. That's just the way your mind works though, you're never completely happy. It's been a lot less stress this time, because we could do it all ourselves. But we were only in a position to do that because we'd leant so much on the first album. Jack has become a phenomenal producer. Label wise it has been very hands-off, but, at the start of our career we had to hustle really hard, and now we have to hustle really hard again."
How do you look back on that experience? A major label doesn't suit every band, but you're always curious to see inside the machine. How do you regard that time?
"A lot of learning. I try not to have any regrets and there were really high and low points. It's a great label and we got to do so many amazing things. We got to tour America and we made the whole album in America and there was all this money to spend. I was in Los Angeles for four months!"
"In hindsight, you make an album like that and spend loads of money and you can make an album in your bedroom in Shoreham for absolutely nothing. It's quite polarising. Only you know your own music, major labels might know what sells and what's going to get on the radio. But we've realised we don't really care about that. We care about the people who love the music and getting more people to find it. Everything else is noise."
When did you decide that Are We Gonna Be Alright? was the right fit for the LP title?
"Very, very late. We had this song called 'Are We Gonna Be Alright?', which was due to go on the album, and then I wrote another song and called it the same name. Then we had some friends down and wrote another song with them and called it the same name again. We had no idea why we kept coming back to this song title and why it took so long to get right. I think it was the week before we had to hand in the album and our manager was after me for a title."
"I ended up looking through all the songs and trying to find out what I'm saying with the album. That was it. It's the question for the whole of the last two years. Constantly asking that question. I've accepted now that I'm going to do everything last minute. It's just who I am. I did my dissertation the day before it was due, I can't work unless I'm under severe pressure."
It's a title you can't interpret a few ways...
"And it is a hopeful album. I've been asked a few times if the pandemic has influenced this album, and, of course, it has. It's been two whole years of our lives and when you're in your 20's that's a massive chunk of your life. Through all of it though, we've always felt like something good was going to come from this and it has, people have been forced to take time for themselves and it's given us a lot of time to really re-evaluate what's important."
Jack has produced this album, was he always going to produce it or was it the fact that you were working remotely and couldn't get in the studio with anybody else?
"It was always going to be like this We did the Weird Years tracks in-house too. Through the first album we got to meet lots of amazing producers, but going through that process made us realise what worked. Jack has gone to a new level now and we're a well-oiled machine. We've been writing music together for 10 years now and he doesn't need to be bossy. The writing process is the same as the recording. We make the song as we go and we're very open. He doesn't need to tell me if I've done a bad vocal take, I already know."
Bands want different things from a producer, sometimes it's a specific sound, sometimes it's an adult in the room, but you guys don't need either thing...
"We didn't do so well with an adult in the room. We just want to do what we want. I like the set-up we've got now. We tend to get more outside help in the writing process, we get friends in to help with that. Between the Weird Years EPs and this album, we've basically done two albums, so we've hit a few brick walls and other writers help bring the fire back. You need that from time to time."
You're about to head out on tour, this might only be album two, but between that and all your EPs, there's a lot to choose from, how are you going to structure the set?
"It's been really hard to whittle it down. I always think of it from the fans' perspective. If I go and see a band, and they've just had a new album come out, I know it well enough, but not like I know their earlier albums. We're going to do 50/50 from the albums, peppered with EP songs. It's a really fun show."
How's 2022 looking? Are you busy for the rest of the year?
"We're going the tour and then there are a few bits after that, but we're actually going to take a year out. We haven't stopped and it feels like a good time. People are wanting to start families and do other things so it feels like the right time to press pause. The last two years have been incredibly taxing for people's mental health and we want to burrow away for a bit. We'll be back with album three at some point."
So no festivals, no touring abroad?
"No, no festivals until 2023 at the earliest. We're coming out of the toughest year ever. We need to take a bit of time for ourselves. We've been going hard and that's been our mentality since we started the band. But we've kept going, even in the pandemic, we put out a million songs. We've started writing for other people and we want 2022 to be the year we push Fickle Friends into other avenues."