In Conversation: Fickle Friends

Natti Shiner on rejecting the bright lights of Los Angeles for Brighton pier...

Fickle Friends are here to stay.

The group’s stunning alt-pop vision has a rare sense of creative abandon, with each melody feeling gloriously imperfect while detonating with incredible grace.

With largely DIY origins – the band still kick about Brighton on their time off – Fickle Friends recently endured the culture shock of life in Los Angeles.

Flying out to lay down new tracks, they emerged emboldened, ready for the challenges set to come their way.

Set to spend summer on the road, Fickle Friends will play the Clash stage at this weekend’s Great Escape festival – so we got on the phone to vocalist Natti Shiner for a quick catch up.

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How are the band?
I sound a bit gravely, as I just got back from touring with The Kooks!

Ha! How was the Alexandra Palace show at the weekend?
It was mental. I’d never actually been there before. It’s like a maze!

Now that you’re off tour, are you able to head back into the studio?
I don’t think we’ve got time to head back into the studio, but we’ve got a home set-up. We need to finish writing. We’ve still got things to work on when it comes to the album. Since we’ve had so much going on, we’ve written better songs, we just need to record them now.

Where are you in terms of writing? Do you have something solid in mind, or are you just sketching out new material?
When we write new material, it’s less sketching, as we have a proper studio and Jack is good at producing, so whenever we write it almost always sounds like a finished product. When we eventually take the demo to the studio, we basically spruce it up, but everything is pretty much there. When you go away on-tour, you get to reflect on the stuff you’ve done, and how you can make things better.

What do you think you’ve learned from playing with The Kooks?
The tours that we’ve done before haven’t been ‘proper’ support tours. You’ve got these mad 15-year-old kids heading to the shows, and then this age bracket of 26 to 32-year-olds who loved The Kooks 10 years ago. Like, the post-Britpop crowd, and we’re getting on-stage and playing these shiny pop-songs, so the audience can be difficult to win over. That was the biggest task for us. It was a nice knock to the ego though, as you can get too used to playing your own shows. People don’t always respond when you’re supporting, so it usually leads to you to turn it up a notch.

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We’ve written better songs, we just need to record them now…

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How full-formed are the songs when you head into the studio?
When I was at Uni, I sold two guitars and bought some shit recording equipment. Weirdly, we still use the built-in sound-effects on the thing, and build our songs around that, but when we go into the studio it’s all there!

How important do you think Brighton is to the band?
Brighton is ideal. You’re not paying the amount you do to live in London. There’s space, and the amount of money you save from simply walking everywhere is crazy. The only money I’ve spent on transport this year has been the purchase of a new bike. It’s a lot easier to be creative here, and if I get a bit stuck, I can just stroll out of my front door and go for a walk on the beach. I guess you can escape anywhere, but Brighton is home for us.

What’s your favourite part of Brighton?
Everything! The people and the place. Spending all my money on coffee – it’s basically a place to hang out. Because it’s so creative, no one seems to have a day job. When you wander into town, it’s basically as busy as it would be at the weekend. The night-life – the bars and venues, it’s all very cool. It’s an easy place to just exist and not achieve very much.

Do you feel in competition with yourself at all, as a band?
Definitely. We’re perfectionists, and we’re in competition with ourselves. We always have a target. Like, “we really need to push this single and get it on Radio 1” or “we need to sell-out The Forum in London”. Once we achieve these things, we move on. We’re never satisfied, and I think that’s where that comes from. Our manager’s always like “Can’t you just be happy about this for one-minute?” but we’ve got to move onto the next thing!

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The next thing I know, we were out in LA for four months recording this album…

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When are you going to get a chance to really focus on music?
There’s always time around festivals. Weekdays are pretty free! We’ve got this goal to finish the album over the next month and a half. We’re 80% there already, so we’re not far off!

Has it been a fluid project?
It’s been quite tough. We got signed last year, and immediately we were having to decide who we were going to work with on the album because it was all starting the following week! The next thing I know, we were out in LA for four months recording this album.

How was LA?
There were actually a lot of similarities between LA and Brighton. It was real cool for the first month, and then the novelty wore off. It was really fucking hot, and we were staying in the valleys. You can’t walk anywhere. You’ve got to drive because everywhere is so far away. Those are the bad things, but the people and everything were a lot of fun, but I couldn’t live there. We’re small town.

When do you think the album will be ready?
It’ll be ready over the next couple of months. We’ve got these two brand-new songs, and the label are like, “Yes – those are the ones!” We’re kind of hoping they’ll do well, so we might have to put the album back. Right now, I don’t have an answer.

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Catch Fickle Friends at The Great Escape – tickets.

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