Friends: “We are all very open people who have a huge variety of musical interests and influences”

Friends’ songs I’m His Girl and Friend Crush hit the airwaves late last year to much acclaim, and having just released their debut album Manifest! vocalist Samantha Urbani discusses ‘90s bands, having your apartment trashed by squatters, and their upcoming appearance at the highly touted Splendour in the Grass festival.

Any situation with bed bugs is rarely positive, but a terrifying encounter with night mites brought musical kismet. Urbani says that the domino effect of disaster eventuated in the band’s formation: “Lesley [Hann] and Oliver [Duncan] just coincidentally needed a place to stay for about a week because they got bed bugs, which was totally horrendous,” she explains. “My place was also totally fucked because while I was gone in Berlin, there were these sub-letters who took over my apartment. My place was completely destroyed and they threw away all my stuff, painted all the walls and traumatised my home. It was really crazy, and my apartment was robbed as well, so cameras and things I was making visual art with were stolen too.”

It seems all’s well that ends well for Friends, as Urbani mentions the musical success that ensued from the terrible chain reaction. “When they moved in I played them my demos and they all liked it and wanted to try and play together. The first night we jammed it happened really quickly, my songs were initially really simple so we learnt to play together really quickly, and we’ve just kept going ever since then,” says Urbani.

“It was a way to procrastinate because I wasn’t feeling inspired by college anymore”

“Lesley has been in a lot of bands from when she was young and she’s self taught on all instruments. Matt grew up in a hardcore scene in New Jersey; he played in a lot of punk bands and went on tour from the time he was really young, and Oliver and Nikki [Shapiro] have also been in bands,” says Urbani. “I’ve been writing songs my whole life, but I was very private about it up until about two years ago when I recorded some demos on my computer, and I wanted to finish them and see where they could go… It was a way to procrastinate because I wasn’t feeling inspired by college anymore. I found a group of people I trusted, and Matt and Nikki really liked what they heard and were very encouraging. I had never been in a band before so it seemed quite alien to me”.

The ‘60s have been done, the ‘80s are still doing the rounds, but the ‘90s are making a comeback, and Friends have no problem with being aligned with that revival. “I love Neneh Cherry. That record Raw Like Sushi is really good, and I’ve listened to it for a few years but I never intended to write music which sounds that way, but I think it’s fucking cool some people think Friends sound like that,” says Urbani. “I can see why people reference us as an ‘80s or ‘90s tribute band, but that’s kind of close mindedness. At the end of the day though, people feel the need to compare and make references for music, and they are entitled to have opinions.”

It is that forward thinking which infiltrates the way Urbani perceives life, and in turn, the music Friends creates. “I grew up with very forward thinking parents, not like pretentious, snobby intellectuals. My mum is like a freaky gypsy artist who has an incredible energy and dances a lot and makes artwork, so I had perspective to not be close minded,” says Urbani.

“I chose to go to college to get the social experience, and I took a few years off and travelled a lot by myself, and then I decided to apply to one college and I got in with a number of grants and scholarships and stuff. I got what I could out of it but I don’t really need a degree. I value education and you can educate yourself… I think it’s a weird environment and it’s not conducive to independent thought whatsoever. I think you can get a lot out of an academic setting, but I think it shouldn’t be viewed as the way to learn and develop; it’s just a way,” explains Urbani.

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