If you attended any of this summer's festivals, chances are a Hawaiian shirt-clad Friendly Fires were there too, entertaining a huge crowd with their beatific indie-dance and a chorus line of hula girls.
With festival season over, and an extensive tour of Europe and America imminent, we grabbed Jack from the band to catch up about the inspirations behind latest album Pala, who he thought should have won the Mercury Prize and their plans for a steel drum-laced collaboration with SBTRKT.
Hello, how are you?
I’m good, yeah! Just got back from Bestival on Sunday and had a nice little lie around the house yesterday.
We were looking at your tour schedule and it’s completely mental: have you actually kept track of how many festivals you’ve played at this year?
Yeah, we counted them all up – it’s 37. I was thinking that, actually, we’ve done more festivals over the course of a year than most people go to in their lifetime. I’m actually not that sad to see the end of the festival season; the idea of playing some gigs in real venues really warms my heart. (Laughs)
So, which of those festivals did you have the most fun at?
We had great gigs at Benicassim, Glastonbury and Reading. Calvi on the Rocks in Corsica was really fun and Oxegen was pretty good too. Generally, what keeps us going on the road is the decent standard of fun we have at our gigs. It’s just the bits in between that are a bit of a trial, sometimes.
According to the strapline, the stage aimed to “celebrate the past, present and future” of dance music. Who, for you, is the most exciting dance act about at the moment?
Well, one of the best shows I saw at Bestival was SBTRKT’s gig at the Big Top. I’ve never actually seen him play to such a partisan crowd before and I think for him it’s just going to run and run. So, yeah, I predict a very bright future for him.
And we hear you’re planning to do a record with him – is that right?
Yeah, well we’ll see what turns out – we’re just going to get together and do a bit of mucking around... maybe with some steel drums or something! I think it’s all going to be an adventure and just something kind of fun for us to do. With all the touring, you sometimes lose the use of whatever muscle it is you use to make music – it’s good to keep that ticking over.
Speaking of which, have you started work on the follow up to Pala yet? There’s a rumour doing the rounds that it's due for release in 2012 and is called ‘Autoskying’...
Well we’re working on a bit of new music today but we’re not thinking about it in terms of an album yet – we’re just having a bit of fun in the studio, really. 'Autoskying'?! (Laughs) That’s definitely not true. I’ll look out for that rumour!
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with on the next album?
Well, we were trying to get something going towards the end of the last record with Andrew Weatherall but, sadly, there weren’t enough free hours in the day to complete it. Hopefully we’ll have some time to finish it, maybe in January.
Pala got some amazing reviews. How nervous were you preceding its release and how important is critical reception to you?
It’s like a big jump off a cliff, releasing an album: you can have as much confidence as you like but you don’t really know how it’s going to be received. It’s almost like it’s your first album really, because your debut is the culmination of all songs that you’ve ever done and then the second one is the first one you have to write as an “album”. You’ve got to trust your instincts and trust what you’ve done over the last year or so of recording. Nothing’s ever set in stone and obviously you want the very best for it.
Second albums are known as being notoriously difficult to write – did you find that to be true?
With any record, you’re very lucky if you’re riding high on inspiration the whole time that you’re making it. Most of it was enjoyable but it’s always hard work honing it and, with being your own critic, it’s easy to get your mind tangled up in it. But having Paul Epworth producing gave us a great overview on the whole thing: he could take a step back from worrying about the intricacies of it and see the whole picture of a song [and was] able to listen to it with a songwriter’s, a producer’s and a listener’s ears. And it’s the latter that's the most important.
And what were your main creative influences behind the record?
We just wanted to make a varied album – as varied as the first record was, where every song had its own environment and its own instrumentation. But I think we wanted to approach things in a different way. Paul Epworth brought an afro-ey influence and I think we’re as people tend to be in the internet age – broad listeners to all kinds of music, be it the 90s pop we grew up with or dance music of all types. We don’t tend to be purists these days.
Essentially, with all these components, we just wanted to create as bright and exciting and summery a record as possible. Last year was dominated by bands like The xx and in many ways that was an influence – we wanted to kick against that kind of gloomy sparseness.
If you had to pick a stand out track from Pala, which would it be?
I guess I’d pick ‘Hurting’ because I think it showcases something slightly new for us – a place that, musically, we haven’t been before. As a song, it flows really beautifully and I think the components are really interesting, being built around a sample. It’s just one that really seems to work together for me.
Ok, if you had to recommend one album released this year, other than your own, what would it be?
Probably the Metronomy album. It’s a shame that PJ Harvey made an album that was arguably as good as theirs, because I think it would have been a great thing for them to win the Mercury Prize. I’m sure your customers have probably heard it anyway, being the astute people that they are! So, it’s a dull answer but there you go!
What’s been the highlight of 2011 so far for you?
I think Glastonbury was a big moment for us. It’s always hard to make everything click at a festival – you’re bundled on and off stage – and it took us all by surprise how good it was. Even the weather cleared up just in time: the stars kind of aligned!
And finally, what ambitions do you still have for the band?
I suppose making a third record that’s better and pushes us to new places musically. With the first two there’s been a similar mood to them and, the way I see it, you can’t do that three times in a row; you’ve got to have a think and say “What’s the next spin we can put on this?” I think that will be an important thing and if we can manage it I’ll be very happy.