When you’ve got a hit, everyone thinks your life is champagne and roses. Frenship struck gold in 2016 with “Capsize,” a summer-sunset jam that features Emily Warren, and has garnered more than 498 million streams on Spotify.
It’s a lovely song, and it certainly speaks to the duo’s lush and golden style, but behind all that success was a tireless struggle. While the release made Columbia Records millions of dollars, Frenship had to haggle with the label for enough money to post Facebook ads. It was quickly becoming what Frenship’s James Sunderland calls “a toxic relationship” — so they did the unthinkable. They left a well-known major to join the indie Counter Records.
“Columbia just made it very obvious to us that that wasn’t a relationship that we should carry on,” Frenship’s Brett Hite says, “but I think the emphasis should be on how positive this current relationship is. I don’t know if its because we’re like wounded dogs with new owners, but they are just so awesome.”
Counter welcomed Frenship and all their ideas, giving the pair an environment within which to flourish. Vacation is the result, a 13-track exploration of honest emotion and lyrical melodies. There are playful homages to the music they love most, and raw examinations of love and life’s most complicated highs and lows.
They’ve been through a lot, but they keep their sunny disposition, teasing each other like brothers throughout a conversation with Billboard Dance wherein they shared the true stories behind each and every track. Read all the realness below.
“Breathe Deeper, See Brighter, Feel Better, Hear Now”
Sunderland: At the time I was listening to a lot of Brian Eno, a producer that has done a lot of work with Coldplay and U2. I was getting really into soundscape type stuff. I was listening to The 1975. I never shut up about them. I’m a big fan. I was inspired by a couple of those things.
I usually don’t come up with lyrics first, but I think I just turned on the mic, and I said something that sounded like “holding God,” and he just grabbed that lyric. I’m not religious at all. We had this conversation that turned into this big long talk about religion. He got mad at me. I was getting mad at him.
Hite: Which is par for the course in our creative process.
Sunderland: We welcome those confrontations. I think that tension can create something really interesting a lot of times. It’s going to happen, and it’s okay.
Hite: I come from a Christian background, I’m not practicing Christianity anymore, but I definitely play both sides a lot. The idea behind it is more so holding what’s precious close. God is a different thing for everybody. Finding that sacred thing within normalness.
Sunderland: The original idea came from that pre-chorus: “Are you ever going to leave my side?” I am a very literal writer. My fiancée was talking to me and was going through some terrible time … She was feeling super down about everything in life and just kind of broke down, like, “Are you ever gonna leave me?” And I was like, “I don’t plan on it.” This was my response to that, the whole song.
Hite: I played guitar. In order for it to connect, I have to decide how that story applies to my life. I tried to relate it to my nephew. He was 1 or 2 at the time. Had just started talking and becoming a human a little bit. It’s the idea of looking down a road at of relationship, to look at the journey, the ups and downs, and the curiosity of where you’ll be later on.
Hite: I wrote that with a producer friend named Robopop. He has a real piano, and I have this habit that if there’s ever a real piano in a room, I just sit down and start playing it — no matter who it upsets.
Hite: I guess I came up with two chords. I don’t think even made it in the song. We recorded it and they sounded beautiful, and then James wrote about his fiancée again and ruined everything.
Sunderland: It’s a simple idea, the sense that if somebody needs to leave you to be happy or find themselves, you can’t control them and keep them back. You’ve got to let them spread their wings.
Hite: it’s the idea of love not suggesting ownership. You can love someone to death, but you never own them, you never control them, and they have to live their own lives.
“Keep You Close”
Hite: This one actually started in my court. I have also been with my girlfriend for five years or so. I’m a serial long-term dater, but I probably fall in love at the drop of a hat. It creates a real conundrum. My girlfriend is wonderful. I plan to be with her for a long time, but there is a sadness that comes with having a real connection with somebody else and knowing that’s all it’ll be. There’s a beauty in that sadness to me; humans connecting and like “you’re really great, but you don’t belong here.” That probably stands as the song I was the most uncomfortable to let my girlfriend listen to.
There is also a fun little trick I just wanted to play around with. John Mayer tweeted about the Miguel song “Coffee.” I think it’s the pre-chorus “pillow talk turns into sweet dreams, sweet dreams turn into coffee in the morning.” [Mayer] was commenting on the clever use of ending a line with one word and starting the next with that same word, and the tension that creates. I wanted to play with that, so the verses do that.
“39.5795° n, 105.1237° w”
Sunderland: I actually fucked up the game. I’m from Colorado, and I think it’s not the correct house. I think it’s a street over from where I grew up.
Hite: Therefore it has no meaning whatsoever.
Sunderland: I almost did it. That’s where I grew up, and then the other one’s were Brett grew up. The music is really connected to the following song. It should be like a mini intro to the song that comes so after. Mine is “Get Out My Way.” The other one is the precurser to “Anywhere But Here.” Hopefully that sets up the album real nice.
“Get Out My Way”
Sunderland: This one came from my brain at first. I got a little wine drunk. I’m not perfect. Brett was working on a couple really weird tracks. He did his version of Bon Iver, who he’s a huge fan of. I was like, “Oh fuck, I wish I’d made that. I want to try to do my own version of this.” It started out with the vocoding, and at the time, I was really feeling depressed and down about our career. It was around the time we left Columbia. I don’t really get down very often. But this is one of the first times I actually felt sort of depressed about who I was, my career and where I was going. I felt like I sucked at making music, sort of. All my friends were buying second houses and I left a major label. I felt like I was dragging everybody down around me.
“Run II Me”
Hite: My girlfriend came up with us for a few days [for a writing session], and then I went and dropped her off at the nearby train station. We’re always saying goodbye to each other. She dances for another band, and she’s always traveling. so goodbye is a very common thing for us. For whatever reason, it got me in that one. I dropped her off, went back and started working on the song.
I was also. Craving something really cinematic. I ended up doing that here with that building, chanty, massive thing at the end. I’ve always been a fan of Alt-J vocals and the cool things they do. I remember thinking this is kind of like that. Not a direct rip off on it, but kind of fun. My favorite line is “What makes your lover the one to not let go of?”
“Won’t Let You Go” (feat. Bastille)
Sunderland: We went on tour with Bastille, opened up with them in Europe and became really good friends. We wrote that in Raleigh, North Carolina, when they were on another tour – that we were not invited to, but we made ourselves known anyway.
We worked in his hotel room for a couple days. We got like three three really solid ideas out, and then we sat on it for about a year. it had a totally different production. I was just beating the living hell out of it, and it wasn’t really going anywhere positive. Brett came over, slapped some guitars on it and changed the whole entire vibe. We were listening to a bunch of Sting at the time, and we were joking we got a shittier version of “Jessie’s Girl.”
“Wanted A Name” (feat. Yoke Lore)
Hite: “Capsize” was the first time we’d ever been on [Spotify’s] New Music Friday… and then I was going through, this Yoke Lore song was the only other song i really dug. I’d never heard of him before. Fast forward, we toured together, and he was a sweetheart. We got done with the tour, he was in L.A., and we decided to try and write something. We were all in a similar headspace, that weird feeling of being on tour and then it’s done. You’re a normal human again. Nobody’s screaming at you and making you feel special every night. It plays into the fragile nature of what we do
Hite: An appropriate follow up to “Capsize.”
Sunderland: That one has become one of my favorites. it just gives me a damn good feeling; driving up the coast, escaping and getting away, feeling really hopeful about your future. I really don’t remember what we wrote it about.
Hite: It might actually be the oldest of the songs on the album. I remember it was another moment of I’ve just being burnt out and really welcoming the rain. We’re from mountains and nature. We miss turbulent weather at times, just being in L.A. where it’s always sunny and 75 degrees. This idea of our cells being cooped up, like we weren’t living life. Moving out here is really weird, like you’re living inside of a cage almost, but we do it in the mode of trying to make a career. It is taxing, and we could finally smell trees and things that day in the rain.
“47.6588° n, 117.4260° w”
Hite: I never connected the dots that we say “Anywhere But Here,” and then we gave an exact location that’s actually near and dear to my heart.
Sunderland: Contrary and brilliant.
“Anywhere But Here”
Hite: That was also an older one we wrote with a buddy, Roméo. He is in a band now called Farr.
Sunderland: He sang it originally. He was in the same place, a little bit tired of L.A., too.
Hite: This is why the title of the album became Vacation. We were like, “Man, every song is about leaving.” All those we ended up diving back into that were older. you’re sitting on a bunch of music that you’ve written over the last few years. A couple just keep poking their heads and showing off, and like, “pick me.” I think those three in particular, “Swim,” “Keep You Close” and “Anywhere But Here,” there’s something about them that warranted driving back in.
Sunderland: It feels like its going to build up into something else. Right? My brother listened to it, and he was like, “This sounds like an intro.” And I was like, “No, that’s the best part. It’s an outro intro.” There’s a little airplane noise on the back of it. We’re being real cheeky there. I always envision it to be our walk off song. Most of the time with those kind of things, I’m just thinking about our live show. We’re going to take a little bow during that song, and then it’ll black out, and we’ll walk off stage; goodbye at the airport sort of thing.
Hite: The cute production trick is it pulls from the intro. Sonically, it has sounds from there. Again that was all James. I didn’t touch it.
Vacation is out now on Counter Records, and Frenship has been working tirelessly on live rehearsals. It’s on stage that the duo feels its music really shines, and you can catch Frenship on tour in support of Vacation throughout the United States. Check the full list of dates and listen to the debut album below.
Frenship 2019 Tour Dates
May 18 – San Francisco, CA @ Mezzanine
May 20 – Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
May 21 – Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
May 23 – Denver, CO @ Summit Music Hall
May 28 – Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Cafe
May 29 – Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall
May 31 – Toronto, ON @ The Velvet Underground
June 1 – Albany, NY @ Lucky Strike Social
June 2 – Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
June 3 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
June 5 – New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
June 6 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
June 7 – Carrboro, NC @ Cats Cradle
June 8 – Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West
June 10 – New Orleans, LA @ Hi Ho Lounge
June 11 – Dallas, TX @ Club Dada
June 14 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda Theatre
June 15 – San Diego, CA @ Music Box