Fickle Friends don’t play by anyone’s rules but their own. That’s how they’ve managed to create such an impressive path for themselves, founded on neon dance tunes with bite. As their long-awaited debut full-length You Are Someone Else looms on the horizon (March 16 on Polydor Records), the five-piece give Billboard the next piece of their expanding puzzle with a moonlit lyric video for album opener “Wake Me Up,” premiering today.
“We wanted to make a cinematic video that represented being in and out of control,” they tell Billboard. “I think sometimes relationships can feel like that ?? just like driving and being driven.” Filmed “through the night,” lead singer Natti Shiner takes center stage as her midnight rendezvous sees her weaving through sparsely-populated London streets, splashes of yellow hues dancing around her. The clip is directed by Raja Virdi.
“Wake Me Up” is just the primer for one of the year’s most satisfying pop albums so far. Elsewhere on their bold, 16-track bow, the U.K. group explore toxic friendships (“Rotation”), feeling worthless (“Useless”), grasping at straws in a relationship (“Midnight”) and mental health (“Hard to Be Myself,” “In My Head”). “A lot of the album is about the issues you experience as an adolescent and young adult ?? relationships and feeling alienated and learning to deal with that,” says Shiner over the phone. “Everyone f—ing feels that. You shouldn’t be worried about writing or talking about it.”
Rounded out by Harry Herrington (bass, vocals), Chris Hall (guitar), Sam Morris (drums) and Jack Wilson (keyboard), Fickle Friends position themselves as tomorrow’s leaders. Their sturdy brand of dance-pop touches upon irresistible recent trends but pushes the envelope even further. From “Glue” to “Lovesick,” “Hello Hello” and “Bite,” they never stray from giving the listener plenty to dissect on the glitter-soaked club floor.
Below, Shiner discusses writing lyrics when she’s miserable, anxiety and sexism.
You’re known for having shimmering production choices with some reliably impactful lyrics. Is that something you wanted to consciously push on your debut record?
It’s just something that happened naturally. I can’t write a song unless I feel miserable or when I’ve just had the sh–iest day ever. Then, I’m like “oh my god, I have so many ideas!” Yesterday, it was my birthday and everything was so wonderful. And I’ve got nothing to write about. [laughs] We always want to write upbeat dance music, and I can’t write lyrics that are happy.
What songs were written when you were the most miserable?
[laughs] Most miserable…I reckon “Rotation,” maybe. That song’s about how some people always have that friend who they remain friends with even though they’re the kind of people who only use you over and over. They only call on you when they want something. They never give anything back. I f—ing hate that. I was in a position where that was happening to me. “Brooklyn” is probably the main one. That song is deep.
The album might stand at 16 songs but it is such a quick listen.
All of our songs are f—ing short. [laughs] We were listening to the album right now. They’re all like three minutes, so for 16 songs, it does rush through quite quickly. When I listen to albums, I usually like three or four songs, really, and the rest, I skip. I don’t really think about it. I have to make a record where everything is constantly changing and feels fresh. Then, you’re back to the beginning again without realizing you’ve just listened to 16 songs in 51 minutes of music.
How did such older songs as “Say No More” and “Paris” still feel relevant to include?
They kind of don’t feel relevant. It’s really weird. They’ve been the songs that have sort of stuck around, and we’ve been playing them live since we’ve written them. It’s the stuff people respond to. Our live shows are such a big part of the way we do everything. “Say No More” is always the one that kicks it off, even though it never had its opportunity to really fly. We put it out as an unsigned, unmanaged band. It’s the song all of our core fans absolutely love. We re-recorded it and updated it a little bit, but it still sits next to “Swim,” which is another really old song. Then again, it can sit to a lot of other songs on the album, like next to “Bite,” and it’s not a million miles away.
It’s a bit surprising “Cry Baby” didn’t make the cut.
That’s what everyone says. [laughs] If we put it on, the album would be over half of [previously] released music. People have been waiting for this record for a long time. I didn’t want to give them an album that was just stuff they already knew. I wanted to put as much new stuff on there as possible (within reason). I love “Cry Baby,” though.
Sixteen songs is on the longer side for a debut album. Did you ever feel that was way too much?
Yeah. Originally, we were going to do a 12-track album. Then, we counted up all the songs we wanted to put on it. We were like “well, that’s a whole album of music that’s already out…what are we going to do about the rest of the new music we need to show people?” Then, we thought, “F— it! Drake is releasing a 22-track album.” The way of the world has changed. Streaming has changed everything. We’re playing by our own rules anyway. We’re the slow-burner band. We’ve taken ages with this — 16 tracks, that’s cool with us.
What other things were you going through that fed into the “miserable” songwriting?
We were getting to the end of the point where we could try and be a band without any other help. We were touring by ourselves. There were a lot of financial stresses put upon us ?? trying to live in Brighton, be a band, give it everything we had and working four jobs and getting fired. I was suffering from some pretty bad anxiety at the time, and I had never experienced panic attacks like that before. It was so alien. I didn’t know how to deal with it. My best friend who I lived with was the only person I knew who suffered with it. But she was away for nine months. I felt so alone. A load of it is about feeling trapped inside my own head. That is such a big theme but it’s hidden within the lyrics a little bit. It makes it more universal. It sounds like a relationship with someone else, but it’s a relationship with yourself.
“Hard to Be Myself” is like that. I wrote “In My Head” when we were in America for the best part of a year. I’d literally fallen in love. I didn’t understand what love was until I met this person. Then, I had to go away for four months. I was really sad and had never really missed someone that much before. Another miserable moment. Oh, I forgot about “Useless.” I had to stop listening to it. It’s about whenever anyone has made you feel or you’ve felt that you just can’t change anything. My mum’s dad died, and I was feeling that there was just nothing I could do to help her accept it. It wasn’t even about that actually, but it feels relevant now.
“Midnight” is another standout.
We wrote that song so long ago. It was in “Swim” times, I think. That’s just a relationship song about being exhausted by someone else, but you have a connection that you think is worth holding on to. You are running yourself ragged.
Who is “She”?
She is any person that comes after you in a relationship. I wrote the song, and I remember being really confused by the lyrics and trying to make it more understandable. You know when you date someone, and it ends and you’re like “oh, f—, I’m glad that’s over.” Then, you see on Instagram that they’re dating someone knew. You’re like “oh my god, she doesn’t know yet.” There are loads of metaphorical lyrics in it. That song is super old, and I was going through a stage of “I’m so poetic” way of writing lyrics. [laughs] You’re constantly feeling cold and wet in this relationship. If you don’t water plants, they die, so you have to look after each other. It sounds ridiculous. It’s a little bit sh–.
What is your hook process?
Jack, Harry and I are the writers. We will honestly spend days on hooks trying to find that chorus hook. We’re always trying to better things all the time. Sometimes, I’ll just hear it or hum it, and it’s something I’ve recorded into my voice memos in the middle of the night. Other times, Jack will just be messing around on synths and hear something. What we love to do is when we’re riffing on some chords, we set up an SM58, and we switch on the AutoTune to max and get rid of all the notes that aren’t in the key of the song we’re writing. I literally hum into the microphone and riff around. Everything is completely in tune, and it creates melodies you wouldn’t normally think of.
What are you all-time favorite hooks from other artists and songs?
“Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore is one of our favorites. All of the melodies and rhythms in that song we have tried to rip off one way or another in our songs…in the most subtle way possible. [laughs] [sings pre-chorus] They’re so sick. We actually used some of that for “Swim.” We’re obsessed with all of Justin Bieber’s songs. There are so many hooks.
How are you handling anxiety these days?
I’m so much better. I was put on what I call “happy pills.” At that point, I had spoken to my mum, and she was like “aw, don’t do that, meditate and be zen.” I was like “this is bullsh–.” I felt really bad. It was crippling some days. I wanted a quick fix for it, and it seemed like the obvious route. I was taking medication for it, and I had loads of Diazepam. It made me feel a bit numb sometimes. It meant I wasn’t getting panicky as much. For other reasons, it made me feel really weird. I was on it for at least a year. It did help.
After a while, when I saw things had leveled out a bit, I was in an overall happier place. I’d been in a sh– relationship prior to that. Also, since then, the band had also got signed. We were a little more financially stable. I was living elsewhere and felt I could wean myself off it. I went to meditation for a little bit, as well. I was on the train the other day, and I had had a really rough day. I could feel myself getting really panicky. I put my headphones on and turned on “Headspace” [by the Wombats]. I sat outside the toilet on the train and was breathing in and out and feeling my surroundings.
Did being on medication impact your songwriting?
I don’t think it really did. But it did certainly affect my relationships, which plays into that, I guess. That’s the main reason I just wanted to come off it. I haven’t thought about that, actually. We went through a patch of really struggling to write music. After a while, we started writing good stuff, and that was right around the time I came off it. I don’t think they are linked, though.
You’ve previously spoken about your involvement with ReBalance and championing equality in music. In announcing your 2018 tour and the supporting acts, you made sure to note how they represent both men and women equally. Was that really important to do?
It’s important for me to definitely promote that kind of thing. Unintentionally, I’ve become part of ReBalance and Festival Republic. I’m in a band with four boys, and I’m quite vocal about the issues that people are quick to judge ?? like festival lineups and people being like “oh, you’re sexist.” Well, no, the core of the issue is there aren’t enough women in music. Let’s tackle that. By showing how many bands there are with girls in them and bringing them on tour with us, hopefully, that will then make girls who are not wanting to get into music because they feel it’s dominated by men, maybe this will encourage them more.
They should be equally represented where possible. I don’t think that festival slots should be just given out 50 to the men and 50 to the women. It’s given to the people that have earned it and have records out that year or who is popular that year. There are more guys in bands than women. That’s just it. On the PRS website, it says 20 percent of the songwriters are women. It’s 80 percent men. It’s f—ing crazy. It’s an age old thing. Guys play guitars. Guys are in rock ‘n roll bands.
Another stat indicated that only two percent of producers are women.
When did it become such a blokey thing to be the one at the control desk in the studio and producing people? Everyone can do it. I’ve got my laptop open now, and I can just click on LOGIC and do something. I think things are going to change soon.
As the face of the band, have you, as a group, encountered sexism along your career?
Not that I’ve really known of. The only thing really is when we’ve pitched to tours before to support bigger [acts]. We don’t get given a lot because there’s five of us, and we have a big setup. But a lot of the time, the feedback is “oh, we don’t want another girl or female-fronted act on the tour.” I’m just like “oh, is it too many women on the tour?! What do you mean?” When would any guy band be like “oh, no, we actually don’t want any more guys on the tour. We’re going to look for a female act…” That wouldn’t happen. That’s the only time I’ve been like “ok, right…” It’s trying to say that female-fronted bands is a genre of its own. And it f—ing isn’t. That’s how it felt, though. People do do that ?? female-fronted playlist! “Male-fronted playlist” just wouldn’t be a thing. Honestly, I reckon if I type that into Spotify right now, I could find a female-fronted playlist. We wouldn’t call The 1975 “that male-fronted band!”
In writing these incredibly personal songs, do you feel you are giving up a part of yourself in order to move on from something?
I don’t think it’s giving up, but it is certainly therapeutic. For example, with “Heartbroken,” I was at my wits end, and it was making me really sad that we were pouring our heart and soul into songs and no one would give a sh–. It was make us feel so insignificant. Now, every time I go into that rehearsal room and play this song, it makes me feel better. It’s like punching a punching bag.