“For songwriting, I kind of like grey, miserable weather,” Friendly Fires’ frontman, Ed Macfarlane, explains, rather surprisingly, as November rain pelts down outside. “I feel like with our music, we could never write a record in Jamaica or somewhere like that. I think we need that kind of escapist element. We need to have a miserable view to feel like we want to transport ourselves somewhere else.”
He and fellow band members Edd Gibson and Jack Savidge have just returned from Mexico, and while they’re still jet lagged and have discovered that British winter has finally turned everything to soggy drizzle, he’s actually glad - it’s pushing him to get their new album finished: “It’s good to be back and getting on with making music already, just making sure we wrap up this record.”
Ah yes, that long-awaited third record. About that… “To be honest with you, after our second record, there was kind of conscious decision that we would either take a long hiatus or stop the band,” he begins candidly, referencing their infamous disappearing act after 2011’s ‘Pala’. “I think I just got exhausted with the whole live side of things.” Not only had five years of performing taken its toll, their thirst and appetite to generate further material had started to wane: “I just didn’t want to write pop music. You have to be in the right headspace to want to do that or it can feel like a really arduous, laborious task.”
The break - which also saw the band rebuilding their own friendship by “going out, going clubbing, listening to music again” - did the trick. “After about five years, I started missing playing live and missing what we do with Friendly Fires.” And so they decided to to give it a go again, with a date at London’s Brixton Academy, a show that left Macfarlane with mixed emotions. “[With] the Brixton show, great as it was, I felt an element of guilt. I felt like we had to really make it up to our fans. I think we did kind of completely disappear off the face of the earth. It felt like I just needed to do that gig and realise we were back and then get on with it.”
That fresh start also applies to their new music; while explaining that while he personally loved ‘Pala’, Ed admits it was “a very dense listen. There were just loads of different elements to it and quite in depth production. This time round we wanted to do something that was a bit more sparse, a bit more exposed.
“We had been listening to a lot of late 80s, early 90s rave music,” he goes on, referencing the influence behind already-released singles ‘Love Like Waves’ and Disclosure collab ‘Heaven Let Me In’, “and wanted to take that kind of aesthetic and the sound of the pianos and then give it our unique spin.” They’ve also being in the studio with Paul Hepworth again, who helped create their addictive 2008 hit ‘Jump In The Pool’.
“I feel like people still want to listen to music that’s upbeat and danceable and positive.”
The common thread that connects their new material and approach with the groundwork of their upcoming album is a certain simplicity hooked around the songwriting. “I feel like when I listen to those two tracks they are quite simple in terms of their arrangement, and I quite like that. I feel like it allows the song to breathe.”
Though he says they’re 80 percent there, he’s not ready to give too much away yet, only hinting at two possible collaborations, “which will be a really good addition to the record. We’ve been really fortunate to write with a lot of our heroes. We’ve collaborated with Andrew Weatherall, we’ve had remixes by Carl Craig. Things that been exciting me now are emerging artists who have been around for a long time but haven’t really had the recognition that I think they deserve. Hopefully two of those will appear on this record.”
He also explains that it’s set to be “a reflective record. There’s a lot of looking inwards. A lot of an element of seizing the moment and coming out of your shell and facing the world again and not being afraid.” They’ve even been brainstorming the themes as they go: “In my kitchen I’ve got this big cork board on the wall and we’ve been writing all of the songs, all of the themes, all of the kind of visual influences and we’ve been doing the classic bits of string attached to make the links. It’s been really helpful and useful to do that.”
Instinctively though - proven by the reaction to their live performances where they’ve already tested some new material - Ed knows “there is still a place for our band. I feel like people still want to listen to music that’s upbeat and danceable and positive. And we do really translate live. I’ve felt that in the shows that we’ve been doing. We all want to put this record out because it means we can get on with the next chapter or we can move on as a band. So I think it’s, we’ve been away for so long, it would just be amazing to say to people that we’re officially back.”