Five years after forming in Brighton, tirelessly-touring pop purists Fickle Friends are about to release their debut album, ‘You Are Someone Else’. Their European and US gigs include an in-store at Resident on the same day as their largest show in their home city yet, at the Concorde 2. Singer Natti Shiner tells us about hotdogs and dodgy cars.
How do you feel Brighton has influenced the band?
We rent our studio in Brighton – that’s where I am right now. Brighton’s very much our home, where the band was conceived. It’s the only place where I can walk down the street, see people and say, ‘what’s up?’ The rent’s cheaper than London and if I get writer’s block I can walk down to the seafront. I love being able to go to The Hope, eat a vegan hotdog, chill out for a bit and then go back and hit the session again with new ideas.
We’re surrounded by friends who are in bands, too – it’s a really creative place. Going out and seeing our friends who are in Royal Blood or Black Honey, you get the sense that we’re all in it together. It’s that feeling of not having to talk about what we do but appreciating each other’s success or where we’re at. It’s the best place I could imagine being a band starting out.
One of the weird things about your schedule is that you haven’t played that many gigs here.
We spend a lot of time writing songs in Jack [Wilson]’s bedroom but we haven’t really been here much. Because we came out of BIMM Brighton, our first gigs here were at Green Door and the Albert, where the crowd is basically people off your course, your friends. It took us so long to get out of that and build a proper fanbase in Brighton. It’s really weird. We’ve kind of held off playing here because of that.
Tell us about your songwriting process.
Jack and I and Harry [Herrington], our bassist, make demos to quite a high standard. It gets to the point where once we’re happy with a demo we can start using it to track over. We might track live drums over the samples we’ve used, and we retrack the guitars and bass through amps to make it sound really nice. Then what’s always worked best is taking what we’ve got from there and sending them to our producer, Mark Ralph.
We’ll tidy everything up, go through all the samples, make sure all the sounds are right, track all the vocals – it’s a mix from there. The process can be quite quick, but there’s a lot of back and forth with Mark.
That must take a fair bit of emailing.
It’s been a bit all over the place with this album because we did half of it in LA with Mike Crossey. And then trying to get him to finish the mixes while we were also doing other mixes…stuff like that’s been going on for so long. Then we’ve got mixes done by Dan Lancaster, who does Bring me the Horizon, Don Broco and other stuff that we love. Mark does all the pop stuff.
It’s been a bit mental. It’s not anyone’s fault but people get so busy. We’ve been waiting for stems of songs for backing tracks from Mike for eight months and it’s like, ‘oh my god, we’re playing shows.’ But it’s fine, we always get there in the end.
You’ve played hundreds of shows over the last few years. Bands always say there are pros and cons to touring…
We absolutely love touring. I love the adrenaline and excitement of shows, and meeting everyone afterwards. We really love going to new cities because we’re really into coffee and three of us are vegan, so we love finding the best vegan cafes.
We’re suckers for vintage stores. We spend our buy-out money there instead of on dinner.
Sounds like a bit of a dream.
Neat idea, right? Means we don’t really eat, which could be a good thing. Being in a van can be a bit ‘urgh’. There are quite a few ups and downs. We’re away for pretty much three months, except five days in between tours. Not seeing people and feeling like you’re not watering your friendships…it sounds lame, but it is a massive thing.
I’m lucky that we’re a really tight-knit group of five friends. If I can imagine being a solo artist, it must be so lonely.
We’ve also noticed that you release your music in cassette form.
We really wanted to release our stuff on cassette. I thought about our target market, which is 15-25 year-olds, a lot of people who are learning to drive and have their first cars. My first car was this shit Ford Fiesta with a tape player, so I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if we did a tape?’
It’s also a cheap way of making our music available to young people who don’t have much money. Especially if they’ve got a 2001 Ford Ka. But also it’s just a cool little thing: I love physical albums, I hate CDs – I think records and cassettes are really important and just a nice thing to have.
You seem to put a lot of thought into your artwork.
Art is super-important to us. If you buy an album you want to frame it on your wall, have the most striking thing you possibly can. The aesthetic of the band is really important to us. It’s a steep learning curve of maintaining it. Mat Maitland does all of our artwork and stuff.
It took us six months to settle on a guy, to realise ‘yeah, this is the guy who gets it.’ The vinyl’s awesome and the insert has all the lyrics and the meanings of the songs. You’re getting what you pay for.
A faceless girl seems to be one of the themes of your artwork.
It was kind of my idea that I came up with. The main themes running through the album are being a millennial, growing up and feeling uncomfortable but learning to become comfortable in your own skin. Sometimes it deals with not recognising who you are and feeling a bit alienated or lost.
I saw a picture on Pinterest of a girl covering her eyes and I felt like that sort of sums up those themes, for me. We said, ‘how about in the all of the artwork, you can make it as cool as you want, but what if there’s this girl and her face is distorted in some kind of way or distorted?’ It’s a bit tenuous, I guess, but it makes sense to me. I really like the album artwork.