Friendly Fires still burning bright after release of third album Inflorescent
- Credit: Dan Wilton
Friendly Fires have scored their second top 20 album success with the long-awaited Inflorescent. We spoke at length to singer Ed Macfarlane about the St Albans band’s latest release and their spell away from the music scene.
Friendly Fires finally released third album Inflorescent this month.
For fans of the St Albans trio, it has been a long wait. A very long wait.
Arriving eight years after their last album, the critically acclaimed top 10 smash Pala, new release Inflorescent contains 11 typically upbeat Friendly Fires tracks, including last year's comeback singles Love Like Waves and the Disclosure-produced Heaven Let Me In, plus recent single Silhouettes.
Even frontman Ed Macfarlane did wonder whether the band's extended hiatus would ever come to an end.
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By Ed's own admission, the band were "burnt out" following the relentless touring and promotion schedule of the trio's Mercury Prize-nominated self-titled debut and its 2011 follow-up, Pala.
The group needed a break - both from the punishing record-tour-record cycle and from each other - and the years rolled by, leaving some to question whether there would ever be a third full-length Friendly Fires album.
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"To be honest, there was a point when we didn't think it was going to be a hiatus," says Ed as we chat about Inflorescent.
"The fact we've actually done a record feels like a great thing."
Explaining the band's lengthy absence, Ed continues: "To be brutally honest, we were totally burnt out by the end of the second record.
"We'd done two touring album cycles with the first record because it seemed to be a slow burner and people seemed to pick up on it a little bit later than the actual release date.
"And then we obviously dashed straight into the second record and were doing loads of US touring.
"From when we started in 2005 to the end of the touring schedule in 2012 we were... [burnt out], me especially.
"I just didn't feel like I wanted to get in the studio and try to write another record straight away.
"It took me a lot longer than expected to get back into the right mindset to write this kind of music.
"I feel like there are a lot of variables that need to be in place in order for Friendly Fires to work."
Ed and fellow Friendly Fires members Edd Gibson and Jack Savidge formed the band as teenagers in St Albans.
Their debut album Friendly Fires includes singles Jump in the Pool, Paris and Skeleton Boy. Kiss of Life was added for the re-release that prolonged the record's shelf life.
Pala, featuring Live Those Days Tonight, followed in 2011.
"We needed a break from each other," says Ed. "We had to spend some time apart.
"We formed the band when we were 13 years old. I also needed to try out other things as well.
"When we first started the band I never expected it to get as far as it has gone."
After questioning his chosen career path, Ed finally reconciled that he didn't mind being "this dude that dances around in a stupid way on stage".
"It took me time to realise I am really comfortable with doing this," says Ed.
During the gap between albums, the band did occasionally book studio time.
"We pretty much recorded a whole album but it was missing something," says Ed.
"It was missing that positivity, that celebratory feel that is integral to what we do.
"I feel part of that was down to the fact we weren't hanging out as mates. We were meeting up in a quite formal setting.
"It required us to just get back together again as mates, hanging out every day, going out and listening to music, and sharing what new music we were in to."
Spending time together re-ignited the Fires' passion for making music.
The seeds of Inflorescent were sown when the band reconvened in Macfarlane's parents' St Albans garage - the scene of much of their early recorded output.
"We got back together in the garage every day, slogging away and being passionate about our opinions of what we think should be right for the song.
"And then we wrote Love Like Waves, and it felt like 'yes, we've got the right atmosphere, the right mood'.
"We basically thought 'let's just put this out' and say we're going to write a new record. And that way there was no turning back, the wheels were going."
A live show at Brixton was also booked.
"It pushed us to really take it seriously," admits Ed, who is happy with the results on Inflorescent.
"I'm never 100 per cent pleased with a record that we write. But I am proud of it [Inflorescent].
"We've been playing the tracks live, and it feels right to play them live and the reception has been amazing."
Following a string of dates in Australia this summer, the band returned to Hertfordshire music festival Standon Calling last month, 10 years after their previous appearance.
"That was a good show," says Ed. "We've got a real mixed age group at our gigs now, which I really appreciate.
"We've always wanted to create this inclusive feel to our live shows.
"We want everyone to come down and forget themselves for however long the set is and just immerse themselves.
"The main reason why I'm dancing around on stage is so that people lose their inhibitions and just get into it.
"I'm not even that bothered if they are not watching us on stage. Even if they are dancing in their own world while we play, that makes me feel like we're doing our job."
During the band's extended break, Ed moved into London but has since returned to Hertfordshire.
"I tried to see whether I could make it work," he admits. "It felt like that's what you do if you're a relatively successful musician.
"It wasn't until about three years ago that I decided that London wasn't for me and I've moved back out and I now live in a small village outside Hitchin.
"It just allowed me to get into that right mindset, doing what we do.
"I love London. I've learnt so much musically being right next to it, but I feel for what we do creatively it really helps just being out here in the countryside.
"I don't know why, it feels like a home base. It just feels like we can sort of cleanse our palette and just focus."
Ed eventually found London too suffocating.
"Where I was living was so claustrophobic," says Ed. "Now where I live is surrounded by fields, nature, there's calm, but I can still hear the A1.
"I know that if I want to get into London to see something I can.
"But I think if we were really in the middle of nowhere it might be too isolated and we'd lose our minds."
Being back in the county means Ed walks past Club 85 in Hitchin. He also fondly remembers the days of the band playing The Horn in St Albans.
"I always enjoyed doing our gigs at The Horn.
"It's strange though. While we're from Hertfordshire, I've never felt like we've come from a 'scene'.
"I've always felt we were outsiders and, I guess, we were outsiders to London.
"There was a strong pop-metal scene from St Albans with the likes of Enter Shikari and stuff like that, but we were never part of that world. We like being outsiders."
On the back of their celebratory homecoming show at Standon, Friendly Fires are off to America next month for gigs in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Then there's a UK tour later in the year with a London gig at The Roundhouse.
"We're trying to play as much as we can because that's what we love doing," adds Ed.
"We've got a US tour coming up, we have a UK tour coming up. The US tour is going to be fun.
"We've just got back from Australia and it's interesting seeing how loyal the fans are, and how they really missed us and appreciate what we do.
"The shows were really emotional, passionate, just the way we want them."
While the infectious dance rhythms of Inflorescent sound like a band rejuvenated and reborn, the music scene has totally changed in the St Albans trio's prolonged absence.
Streaming and social media have moved the goalposts, as Ed admits.
"It's just weird. Now it's not just writing a record and touring it. It's constantly thinking about social media content.
"You have to almost treat every aspect of the band like you are drip feeding people music, drip feeding people information about what you are doing. The album cycle idea doesn't exist anymore."
A positive, though, is that the band can put out new material when they like, and they are already planning an EP release following Inflorescent's arrival in shops this month.
"We are already working on new stuff. We are working on this new EP that we are going to put out.
"There's no time to rest on your laurels now because people want constant, I hate the word 'content', but that's what it is.
"They want to be constantly engaging with what you do."
On the flipside, Ed adds: "The good thing about that is you are free to just creatively try things that are a bit outside of the box.
"Because people want so much new music and they want it all the time, you can just put out an EP and it can be a bit weird and out there.
"And you can then write another thing a month later because it is going straight onto Spotify. There isn't this delay in manufacturing."
Referring back to the new album, Ed says: "We could have taken the band down this pretty out there, psychedelic route. And we were writing music that was of that vein.
"But it just felt like we were missing that positivity, that celebratory mood that we want people to get when they get to the end of the track.
"It took me a while to appreciate how important just dancing to music is for your mental health.
"If we are doing that at least we are providing a service of some kind that's positive."
Released via Polydor, Inflorescent is out now.