Published August 30, 2011
FRIENDS. PHOTO COURTESY OF EREZ AVISSAR
Brooklyn quintet Friends write rhythm-heavy pop music in the name of BFFs everywhere. Their songs incite the same fuzzy, tropical feeling one experiences when dancing in the midday sun on poppers. The band is fronted by Samantha Urbani, whose sultry stage performances are the sort that cause eyes to stop blinking and the backs of knees to well with sweat. Plus, she sings like a diva; her voice has more in common with Mariah Carey than it does with most of her indie counterparts.
Friends’ debut single, “Friend Crush,” came out on UK label Lucky Number earlier this year, and can be heard below. As of September 1, the group is embarking on a mini tour of the US. (Fun fact: live, they get nostalgic with a cover of Ghost Town DJs’s R&B hit “My Boo.”) We caught up with Urbani to discuss Bowie, sex, where her diva instinct comes from, and Google-ability.
NAME: Samantha Urbani
HOMETOWN: Suburban Connecticut
ON MUSIC: Music, as a language, runs deeper than verbal communication. This is why we can fall in love with the artists who wrote our favorite records, even if we’ve never met them—because they speak to us in a way that reaches beyond verbal and physical boundaries. It’s a spiritual connection. I’ve never been religious, but I have a strong sense of spirituality, especially in relation to music.
ON BAND CRUSHES: David Bowie has had a great career; he’s never fucked up musically. Sonic Youth, too. One band I love that still tours is Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. When I was 18 I listened to House Arrest every day. Man, he’s a babe. I met him through mutual friends last year—he’s short and was wearing clogs that made him look like a little Pan character with hooves. I’ve always thought of him as a magical little freaky god, luring nymph-y beauties with his music.
ON WRITING ABOUT CRUSHES: Certain friends of mine—one in particular—are total muses. Every time I hang out with them, I suddenly have new songs in my head. It’s like psychic channeling. What’s really surreal is performing live and singing about really private feelings, and the person I’m singing about is in the room, but they don’t know the song is about them. It’s like sending an anonymous love letter, but the roles are reversed: I’m totally exposed, but my subject is a mystery.
ON SEX: My sexuality is too fluid to fit within any simple paradigm. I think androgyny is really sexy, but I also think femininity is really sexy. I can’t be attracted to a person who seems like they’ve been influenced by society to live up to a certain gender standard. I think anyone who can subvert mainstream ideals about gender in a natural way, without being pretentious or trying too hard to be a freak, is really attractive. True freaks!
ON FRIENDS: The name is un-Googleable, yes. If you search “friends band” you find the band who wrote the “Friends” theme song. But I think that word “friends” is really interesting right now, as far as social media goes. We see it everywhere constantly, and it’s become so impersonal that it’s almost lost its meaning. I write songs about my friends, with my friends, for my friends, and I want to remind people that affection and true connectivity is still possible, and feels good!
ON BEING HOME SCHOOLED: My family were the crazy people in our neighborhood. My mom is exceptionally independent-minded, and for years she home-schooled my brother and I. She taught us about whatever we wanted to learn. We were interested in botany in second grade, so she took us on hikes around the woods to identify mushrooms. She wanted to expose us to different cultures and ideas, so when I was 10 she took us to live in Belize for a while. What was strange, though, was integrating back into public school in junior high, and realizing what kids my age where like at school. They were all really judgmental of each other—what clothes they were wearing, who they were “dating,” how much money they thought the other had. It blew my mind. I had just left a little peninsula fishing village in Central America where I had dreadlocks and wasn’t wearing shoes, and I went into school and all the popular girls were like, “Ugh, you look like a scrub!”
ON SOUNDING LIKE MARIAH CAREY: That’s such a compliment, thanks! Mariah’s voice is like a drug, it gets me so high! It seems as if “good singing” has become an indie faux pas—like it’s better to be a little whiny, or raspy, or tone-deaf, because it’s cooler to sound like you don’t give a shit. But I love to sing and use my voice in loopy, weird ways. I had tons of anxiety about singing in front of people when we formed Friends a year ago, but I would practice by singing along to pop music alone—to the radio as a kid, and more recently to the endless karaoke resource that is YouTube. Maybe that’s why my style ended up being so diva-ish.
FRIENDS’ NEXT SINGLE, “I’M HIS GIRL,” COMES OUT OCTOBER 31 ON LUCKY NUMBER. THE BAND WILL TOUR THE NORTHEAST AND MIDWEST IN SEPTEMBER, STARTING WITH SHOWS AT BROOKLYN’S ROCK SHOP ON SEPTEMBER 1 AND DC’S BLACK CAT ON SEPTEMBER 3.