L.A.-based electro-pop duo FRENSHIP, comprised of James Sunderland and Brett Hite, first met while selling spandex at Lululemon. But since joining together in the pursuit of island-tinged feel-good pop, the pair has solidified themselves as one of 2016’s buzziest new acts.
First hitting the blogosphere with “Knives,” a collaboration with Norwegian producer Matoma, they soon followed with a one-two punch: hands-in-the-air single “Carpet,” which premiered exclusively on Billboard, and the nautical-themed “Capsize.”
Billboard caught up with the duo after the latter track went viral, streamed over 18 million times on Spotify within just a month of its release. The streaming service even named the song one of their top 10 picks for Summer 2016 — a veritable who’s who of song of the summer contenders.
Among stars like Justin Timberlake and Ariana Grande, FRENSHIP is the only artist on the list to have independently released a song. Billboard spoke with the duo about their recent success, their label plans, and readying for the mainstream.
How did the two of you go from selling clothes to making music?
Brett: Musically, we were working on projects individually. I was working on a solo thing and James was in a DJ duo, but both of us were looking for something a little more fulfilling. Eventually we started hanging out at night, playing each other’s music, and that evolved into one day experimenting together and making a new song. We were hesitant at first, but the point where things really clicked was about six months after we started getting together — we played a song for some friends, and got a good response. It took off from there.
What’s your songwriting process like?
James: There’s not a set method, just kind of what feels good. Sometimes I’ll come up with an idea and present it and then he’ll hop on it and vice versa.
Brett: I don’t consider us to be the most talented musicians out there, but our standard is to pursue something that feels genuine and honest. Instead of writing 100 songs to get 10, we write 1 song 100 times. We do a lot of re-writing.
Are there separate roles for who does what, or is everything pretty collaborative?
Brett: Well, James initially was in an electronic gig, so he wasn’t singing at all. I had been mostly doing vocals, and wanted to get into production and some electronic music. The first time we worked together, I wanted to produce more and James wanted to sing — so we fell into our natural roles.
James, you told Billboard back in March that your single ‘Carpet‘ was based off a time where you felt “like you couldn’t get your feet under you.” How do you feel now that you’ve earned such new heights of success with “Capsize”?
James: It’s definitely a weird thing to look back at. Right now we’re trying to enjoy the moment, because it’s been a long road and there have been some casualties along the way to get here. It’s surreal to consider how things were and be like, “Wow, those times were really the lowest of the low.” I think Brett and I hit low periods of our lives at around the same time.
Brett: Yeah, the year we started working together was by far my hardest year in life. It does feel really good to have things become easier, in terms of opportunities, just based on the success of a song.
Have you gotten any advice from anyone in the biz?
Brett: On the whole story line of being independent and that whole thing, we talked to Macklemore and he assured us that no, [labels] are not the devil — they’re not the worst thing ever. They can really help in terms of what you’re looking for, and if your goals line up with what the label can provide, it can be great. I’m a huge Macklemore fan, so that was great to hear from someone I look up to and admire.