Much bravado, and more bullshit, has been spoken in the name of the like-minded 'free spirit' amongst the underbelly of indie-cool hopefuls in NYC's hippest borough, Brooklyn. Putting all that aside, the nascent quintet, Friends, is quite probably the finest & purest embodiment of said aesthetic.
Formed on Sept. 12th 2010, Friends played their first show for lead singer, Samantha Urbani’s birthday party in her backyard, 6 days later. Thrust into a showcase at the annual CMJ bandfest shortly after, having played in Connecticut earlier in the same night, Friends have received offers to play hotspots amongst NYC’s ever-expanding DIY circuit, like ‘Silent Barn’, & ‘Death By Audio’, ever since. They hit the road for a national tour with Darwin Deez in January 2011, and will finish at the Bowery Ballroom in Feb. 19, having had plenty of opportunity to grow up in public.
Urbani, 23, was obsessed with Bowie & Mariah, aged 3, & was singing into a boom box recording original songs, aged 7, for her ears only. Being home schooled, by a free spirited, artistic single mom in the suburbs of Connecticut, she was always encouraged to express herself through all forms of art, from puppetry to sculpture.
In the spring of 2010, based in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Urbani recorded a batch of songs “bubbling out of her brain” onto 'garage band.' Over the summer, Samantha spent time studying in Berlin, living in ‘Kopi’, a graffiti-etched commune, housing legalized squatters since the early 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. With two concert halls, and a free cinema, Kopi has a regular flow of cultural produce. The singer describes it as a “fertile living situation,” and, as her first trip abroad, one that expanded her horizons. The communality and experience of new subcultures, instilled a sense of sharing and creativity in her, one that clearly seems to inform what 'Friends' has become. No longer with a need to sing in private, Urbani needed a band to realize her ideas into something bigger.
Friends was formed naturally by the friends surrounding her at the time. Self-taught, play anything musician Lesley Hann, 22, a striking performer of bass & keys in the band, whom Urbani had known from childhood, and stand-up drummer, Oliver Duncan, 23, were playing in a rock band together, & crashing on Urbani’s couch, to avoid their bed bug problem. Close friends Matthew Mulnar, 28, and Nikki Joe Shapiro, 33, worked, together with the singer, at the now locally-notorious vegan restaurant in the east village, ‘Angelicas’, where Darwin Deez was also ekeing out a living, & so, the quintet was complete.
Friends are informed by sources drawn from poets, philosophers, politicians and film-makers, as well as your more typical ‘artists’, sources as open as the aforementioned Carey, Can, Prince, T.L.C., Mike Patton, King Crimson, Dead Kennedys, The Blue Nile, Woody Allen, David Lynch, Henry (Charles) Bukowski, Bill Cosby’s personality (& jumpers?!), together with a feeling for the sexiness of Abe Lincoln’s beard. Friends are full of distinctly colourful characters, comfortable with the play of swapping instruments, & giving their all to the collective cause of performance. Rather than slavishly adhering to influences, they are more naturally embibed with the naked enthusiasm of cult party bands like fellow New-Yorkers, E.S.G., & the Tom Tom Club, happenings that, like themselves, could only come from a particular time & space, & a synergy that exists between themselves & their environment. They perform a self-described concoction of ‘weird pop’ & ‘tropicool’, African-inspired rhythms splashed with a tropical dash.
Exhilarating on the eye is the leader, Urbani, especially on stage, where her presence commands attention, & simultaneously you see her effortlessly divining lyrical inspiration from sources outside the present, but still in the moment. She is as likely to be seen dancing furiously at another band’s gig as performing her own material, an example that she hopes inspires others. Apathy is not that cool” she says, and, upon listening to their debut release of 'Friend Crush', who are we to argue? Instantly, from the immediate tape hum you know you are dealing with a living, breathing collective. B-side, 'Feelin Dank', furthers the band's horizons. It’s a spacious arrangement of organic freestyle, with claps, bongos, and what could be African call-and-response lyrics concerning 'dreams', 'daze', and the mix of 'feeling good' and 'feeling dank' amongst the decadent sentiment "I don't wanna go home." It's a heady brew, but built with nursery rhymes that could fit into a hip re-imagination of Lincoln Chase/Shirley Ellis’s 'the clapping song.'
So far, in uber-fashion conscious NYC, Friends has established itself quickly, despite having just a handful of recordings. At their Delancey CMJ show, the band didn’t have any music to sell, but instead handed out striking hand-crafted badges, which have since become collectable. Friends offers something transcendental, and yet exuberantly now. Perfect for this era when life seems tough enough to require regular reality checks, alongside our dreams of escapism and overachievement. “I am hoping we will dominate the search engine,” says Urbani, “There’s definitely space in pop music right now for something more genuine.” Well, here it is