Time Out Rio de Janeiro

5 Minutes with... Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires take on Rio for the first time this month - singer Ed McFarlane talks to Kim Taylor Bennett about boy bands and his inner dancer.

‘Live Those Days Tonight’, the first single and album opener, is pretty indicative of the beats and treats that lie within Friendly Fires’ latest record, ‘Pala’. The tightly coiled verses, the Balearic sheen, the percussive urgency building to giddy abandonment and lyrics that urge the listener to savour the here and now.

Recorded variously in France, New York, Sussex and Friendly Fires’ hometown of St Albans, with producers Paul Epworth and Andrew Weatherall, the follow-up to the slow- burn success of their Mercury- nominated debut truly ups the ante. From the ’70s disco-funk of ‘Hurting’ to the polyrhythmic freefall of ‘Hawaiian Air’ to the house pulse and heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics of ‘Chimes’, it’s slicker than a wet seal, sexier than a smouldering glance, with more uplift than a pair of ball-cupping ergonomic briefs.

Friendly Fires have always enjoyed a reputation for killer live shows, and Circo Voador should be the perfect venue in which to appreciate their Rio debut. Singer Ed McFarlane explains the new record.

Your album is named after an isle in Aldous Huxley’s ‘Island’. What was it that resonated with you?
The main thing I drew from it is this idea of a doomed Utopia. There are tons of points about how he envisages a perfect society to work which I don’t agree with, but what really drew me in was this idea of a temporary paradise and appreciating what you have as much as possible before it ends.

Did you feel like you weren’t embracing the moment? 
To a certain extent. On the first record, songs like 'Paris' were very much about escapism on the dancefloor. This is much more being brought back to reality and realising that all your hopes and dreams weren’t quite what you expected them to be. Having come back from tour I felt my life hadn’t changed that much. I realised being from St Albans and having my close friends around me is just part of who I am and I have to appreciate that instead of chasing this bizarre, superficial ideal of what it's like to be a rock star.

Given all the crazy situations you get put in as a successful musician, you probably should dive into those experiences and the excess that goes along with that, even if you ultimately decide it’s all hollow… 
Yeah, I agree with that. I don’t want to be old and regret not indulging, but at the same time you don’t want those things to affect you enough that you have to live in that world, which I feel like it does when you watch really big successful acts.

I heard that New Kids On The Block influenced ‘Show Me Lights’ and it all made sense. You do tread a line between cool melodies and super cheese. 
Yeah, I think that’s one of the challenges in the music that we make – there’s a fine line between a great catchy hook and a really effing annoying hook.

But presumably you didn’t listen to NKOTB at the time… 
No, and the same with NSync. We were probably listening to cheesy pop-punk, despising that form of music and thinking it was fake, but I feel nostalgic for that era of pop because I can relate to that a lot more than the pop that’s in the Top 10 now, which is influenced by a tired sort of trance-y electro. But Jack [Savidge, drummer] is getting annoyed about all these boyband comments being floated. I can understand, because I don’t thinkit’s entirely the spirit of the record, but what we draw from that is the instant, ultra-accessible vocal lines. Maybe that style of vocal is frowned upon in more snobby circles.

Your lyrics are unabashedly romantic. Do you ever think: Woah, that’s a bit much!
No. When I was recording in that cottage I was on my own for a long time without and maybe my emotions were exaggerated, but I’m glad about that. I love lyrics that are really open and direct, much like a lot of the house and disco music I listen to.

Your dance moves have become a talking point. When did you first find the balls to bust a move?
Our first few gigs I was a lot more introverted. I didn’t really know I could dance the way I do. It’s quite weird. Whenever I go to clubs I’m more of a Berlin shuffle kind of a guy, just doing the odd head bob. I didn’t know I had this quite slinky onstage persona – it just came out. It must just be a part of my very core!

Friendly Fires play Circo Voador on Friday 6 April 2012

Words by Kim Taylor-Bennett

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