Coming Up Next: Fickle Friends

Nobody likes fickle friends who are temperamental and inconstant, but it’s a different story when it comes to euphoric indie-pop band Fickle Friends. There’s nothing fickle about the British four-piece, with a Top Ten debut album, millions of streams and sold-out tours all over the globe, they have proven themselves to be consistent in their ability to dazzle an audience with their bold sound. Their latest series of Weird Years EPs is testament to their talent; they’ve returned with a new record label and a new perspective as they navigate the transition into their late twenties during a global pandemic, and sound better than ever. The Fickle Friends we hear now are well and truly in the driver’s seat and have never been more confident in their creative vision.

Whilst they finish up their second album, FRONTRUNNER spoke with lead vocalist Natti Shiner about (lots of) new Fickle Friends music, happy accidents, blaming Saturn for a quarter-life crisis and more.

Fickle Friends press

How did you guys start the band?

I spent a year in Liverpool because I started going to uni there; I went to drama school and I thought I wanted to do acting and music, and I ended up playing in loads of people’s bands, but I’d always written my own music and I wanted to start my own projects. I met Sam, our drummer, there, because we were playing in a lot of the same kind of groups, and we both moved down to Brighton and I started studying song-writing. As soon as I moved down, I was like, ‘I’m going to start a band!’ And I started it and there were a few random people from my class in it, and then eventually we switched people out and in, and Fickle Friends was kind of born. I feel like when you start uni in your first year, everyone’s still feeling each other out and trying to figure out what they want to do, but I’d already had a head start, I was like, ‘I know what I want to do and I know I want to start this band.’ So, we got going really quickly and we were already gigging in that first year and then into our second and third we were already touring.

Who were some of your guys’ musical influences?

When we started the band, we were all listening to, or at least obsessed with, Friendly Fires and Two Door Cinema Club. And we loved Phoenix and Daft Punk and a lot of French music. And it was just that early noughties, 2010s indie music that was so, so great that is kind of having a bit of a revival at the moment.

Can you remember the first CD that you ever bought?

Yeah! Woolworths was still open, and me and my best mate used to always go in and they would have all the singles, which would cost a pound, so it was all I could afford with my pocket money. I remember I bought the single of Lucky by Britney Spears, I bought Gorillaz – I can’t remember what single it was – and I also bought the Madonna single Hung Up. A nice mixture! I remember that I got Let Go by Avril Lavigne in my stocking and I cried so much I just loved her so bad. And in the same stocking I also got the Big Brovaz album too – that was a good record!

You guys have been super busy recently with the release of Weird Years Season One in January, and then Weird Years Season Two which came out in the first week of May; has it been important for you guys to keep creatively busy this past year?

Yeah, definitely, I really hate being complacent. I think when COVID first happened and we literally couldn’t leave the house or go anywhere, and so music kind of came to a standstill, at that point we’d already kind of, in our heads, gotten into album campaign, because we did Pretty Great and Amateurs and Eats Me Up and then we had to put a stop to all of it. Jack lives down in Brighton, well, Shoreham now, and I live in London, so I was commuting down all the time and that’s how we worked, and I couldn’t do it. So, those few months, I was just at home and I think everyone sank into a bit of a depression. It was really weird – there was just no goal, we didn’t know what we were doing. And then we went through this management transition, so it was really messed up for a bit.

Fickle Friends press

But as soon as we got on the ground again and we planned this Weird Years role out, it was like, ‘oh, we actually have something to work towards’. And it’s definitely given us a bit of something to live for. I think that’s why there’s so much music, because it’s kind of the indefinite situation that we’re in with we don’t know when the tour is coming back, at least creating is something that we can do, so that’s why we’re churning out the music.

Have you felt any pressure working on and releasing new music after the success of 2018’s You Are Someone Else?

Yeah, there’s definitely pressure, but we’re all going to lose our minds if we’re chasing this album one dream, and the realisation of the fact that we were on a major record label and there was so much money involved in the marketing and the making of everything, I think going into this second album with the same expectations is foolish because we’re with an independent label now and we’re doing everything ourselves. So obviously, we’re pushing, we’ve got a certain expectation, but I’m certainly not under some cloudy umbrella of chasing album one. I obviously want it to do well, but we’ll see what happens!

Speaking of album one, Swim has been streamed on Spotify over 25 million times and you first put that track on SoundCloud back in 2013 – how does that feel?

I think I’ve just got such a great love and a great appreciation for that song and how accidental it felt when we wrote it and how, at the time all the other songs that we were writing – they stank! And Swim was this crazy accident that I can’t explain that just seemed to work, and people reacted so well to it. That song is the reason for our minor success, and we wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for it, so it’s like my first child who will always be my favourite.

 

There’s a song that you’ve played live which has been very popular with your fans called Write Me A Song. It’s quite different to your usual style, and you sing the chorus, ‘shut up and write me a song that makes me lots of money.’ I was wondering where the inspiration for that song came from – is it to do with the music industry and record labels?

That’s so funny because Jack’s literally working it on in the next room! Yeah definitely. We had a really lush time with Polydor, and it was great and it’s the age-old tale of getting chewed up and spat back out again, but whilst you’re being chewed up you do have a nice time. We were living in L.A. for a bit and doing all this crazy shit, but I was always so conscious of not being that person who was going to get messed around or going to let someone tell me what to do. But they’re just really quite manipulative and you want to make people proud because they’re investing so much money in you, so you kind of make changes that you wouldn’t ordinarily make. It just felt so soulless, a bunch of non-creatives trying to direct your creative vision. And they don’t care about what a song means to you or what it took to write it, they’ll go away, and they’ll chop and change it around and do whatever they like, as long as they think that they’re going to profit from it. And that was basically what Write Me A Song was, it was like ‘shut up and write me a song that makes me lots of money while I’m sitting at home,’ because that’s what they do.

As you said, you were gearing up to start the campaign for your second album before COVID happened, hence why you’ve changed your plans and you’ve been working on these EP’s instead, so has this past year changed your idea of what you want the second album to be or what musical direction you want to go in?

Well, we’re actually just finishing the album at the moment, which is why we’re working on Write Me A Song, but yeah, it’s definitely changed because all the songs that we’d written for the album have now kind of turned into these two EPs. And so, we’ve had to spend the last two months writing our asses off and, I think our music will change gradually anyway just because it’s always influenced by what we’re listening to at that moment and what we love. But we’ve gone from being very, very, very pop to kind of drawing it back and making it a lot more guitar-driven, which is what we always wanted. We get so much more of a kick out of when we play a song live having everyone fully involved instead of Harry our bassist sat at his synth just playing the bass on a synth or whatever. So, that’s definitely been a big part of it. I think missing playing live has definitely influenced the songs that we’ve written, because whenever we write something, I imagine what it would feel like to play on like Reading Main Stage.

You’ve said on social media that one of the songs for this album was a happy accident – do you tend to have a lot of these?

Yeah, well, Ed Sheeran’s analogy is that with song-writing, it’s like turning an old tap on and it just runs with mud for ages, and then eventually the water will run clear again. And that’s all your good songs, so you wrote loads and loads of shit, and then you get the good stuff, and every now and again it will run with mud again and then it will run clear again. So, that’s kind of what it is, you’ve got to write the terrible songs in order to get to the good ones, and you can’t force these things.

I love that your Weird Years EPs are similar to the TV format with the different seasons. Where did you get that idea from? Are you inspired by TV or film?

Yeah, Jack especially. What have we been able to do in the last year? Absolutely blast through TV series and watch the things we have been meaning to watch for so long. And I love the format of 90s sitcoms and I love the way that they all have their own little blurb or like in the Friends episodes, each episode is like, ‘The One With The blah blah blah.’ And I just thought it would be a more interesting way to put out EPs rather than just like, ‘oh, here’s an EP with five songs on it. There you go!’ And we did all the press shots and the pictures so long ago when Pretty Great and everything was coming out, they just kind of happened to look like we were in our own TV show. But the actual concept behind all of those, I had made loads of mood boards based on Japanese 90’s adverts, and we were watching loads of them and we just loved them. So, I think it’s kind of all come together like that, but I just really love that format and we’re going to really run with it for the album and base it on more of an 80s, 90s horror movie concept.

Fickle Friends press

And the first single from your latest EP was Not in the Mood, which is about taking back your power; was there a reason why you chose that to be the first single?

We chose it because it’s pretty old school sounding Fickle Friends, it’s really indie pop. It’s quite easy-going to listen to I thought, and we always like to ease people in, we never put out our favourite song first. But it was just really fun to write; we wrote it with a couple of friends and it was a breeze, we literally wrote it in a few hours. It felt like the right song to start season two with – the rest are pretty heavy!

You’ve said that in classic Fickle Friends style, you’ve dressed up a sad song in party clothes, can you tell me about this?

I think it’s something that we’ve always done. I very, very rarely write happy songs. Writing my thoughts and my agonizing situations down in music form is definitely like therapy for me. But yeah, we’ve always kind of written these sad songs but they’re always something that you want to dance to, and I love that juxtaposition. The reason you like a song normally, I would assume, is because it makes you feel something, or the way that the music sounds makes you feel something or the words mean something to you.

You’ve also said that Season Two is influenced by your own life and the idea of the astrological event Saturn Return, which is believed to spark a quarter-life crisis. Can you tell me about your experience with that and how that’s influenced the EP?

I think, probably exacerbated by the pandemic in the last year, but we’re all in our late 20s now and just the last year, I was like, ‘my life is falling apart’ and I’d hit rock bottom. I’d worked so hard to get to a place mentally with my mental health throughout being at uni and stuff that I thought that I was pretty rock solid. And I just lost the plot, I lost it. And I was kind of desperately trying to look around and grasp for an answer or a reason why I was feeling so bad. And I read an article somewhere about Saturn Return and the fact that it’s the return of Saturn to your natal Saturn, happens between the age of twenty-eight and thirty and you’ll feel those effects for two years. And I was like, ‘holy shit, that’s what’s happened to me!’ I lost my work and my job and the person I thought I was going to spend my life with, which has rocked my boat so monumentally, and it came out of nowhere and I didn’t expect it. But the whole record is kind of about that and it’s the good things that have come from it, the bad things, and I’ve never really been much of a cosmic stargazer, but it just completely made sense. And sometimes you just need an answer for a bad situation. You want something to blame, so I’m blaming Saturn!

It’s quite romantic as well, the year my life fell apart and then suddenly the stars aligned, and I became the person that I was supposed to be. It’s the awakening of knowing that you can never be completely in control of anything. Nothing is perfect and nothing lasts forever.

I noticed that you also have an Instagram account dedicated to your illustrations and that you created the official lyric video for Finish Line. Are you hoping to do more things like this in the future?

Yeah, definitely! I’ve always drawn, but when the pandemic first happened and I got COVID and I was in my bed, I couldn’t do anything except draw. So, I started putting on Instagram that I was doing pay what you feel art commissions and portraits and I started drawing loads of people’s pets and their families. And then I got into doing a bit of stop motion animation, which I really, really loved. It kind of started out by doing some silly little drawings, and then my friend runs this creative company and I ended up doing this D.J. Snake video, and then I ended up doing a music video for Ingrid Andress who’s this American country singer. And then obviously I’ve been doing all of the Fickle Friends little visualisers and I always wanted to do a full video. We tested the water with doing the Million lyric video, which was fun, and I was like, ‘I can definitely do a whole video if it’s really simple.’ So, I did Finish Line. It’s quite a storytelling song and it was quite important to keep it stripped back. I just imagined it being like the rolling credits at the end of a coming-of-age movie. I love that song so much, it’s probably my favourite from Season One.

You’ve posted illustrations about reducing plastic and cigarette waste, and vegan food, and you also set up Swap Shop London, which is helping to promote sustainable fashion. Is it important for you to combine issues that you’re passionate about, such as sustainability and veganism into your art and your music?

Everything runs into each other, I think. So, I started Swap Shop, which was really good, and we did three events before the pandemic hit, and it kind of came to a standstill, but it was really fun. The plan was to take that on tour with Fickle Friends and run Swap Shops in the daytime in the city and then do the shows in the evening. We started trying to offset our carbon footprint with touring by selling these tree pins and planting trees with Offset Earth, and we’re quite vocal about three of us in the band being vegan. And I’m not a preacher, I’m not a super woke person, but I think if you’ve got a platform, then talk about the things you’re passionate about. As you can probably tell, I hate to be bored and I always have loads of things on the go and I’m often very overwhelmed with everything!

My last question is what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

The best piece of advice I’ve had is to keep a journal, not only to write down what’s going on to actually remember things – I wish so hard I’d heard that when we first started touring and I had a log of all of these incredible experiences when we were eighteen and on tour and staying on people’s floors, I wish I had a diary from them – but also because it’s been so important for me to be able to empty my head in order to sleep. If I’m agonizing over something or going crazy and my brain is whizzing whilst I’m going to sleep, I’ll just write it all down and then I can sleep peacefully. So, that’s definitely been something that stuck with me.

It’s probably really corny, but just be true to yourself. I think the main thing is don’t be bullied by other people’s expectations or opinions. Art is so subjective that if you start trying to please everybody else, then you end up being so disappointed in your own vision. So, hey, if it means that we don’t get another top ten, okay, fine, but at least I know how meaningful this music is that we’ve created over the last year and that will live with me until I die.

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