A Conversation with Friendly Fires Frontman Ed Macfarlane

For fans of Friendly Fires, their sophomore effort could not have come at a better time. Pala, which hit shelves last Tuesday, follows their eponymous 2008 debut by delivering more of their extremely danceable, and very sincere electro-pop. We caught up with Ed Macfarlane (pictured, middle), who fronts this talented trio, at the Hudson Hotel after-party following a recent, epic performance at Webster Hall where he talked about the importance of drinking before shows, losing his bassist to another band, and reconciling with New York.

The first time I saw you was in July 2008, at Mercury Lounge. I hated that. It was horrible. I remember having an awful cold, not being able to sing any of the songs, and halfway through the set I blamed my voice on someone on an airplane giving me a cold. You know the set is going shit when you’re blaming someone on an airplane. That wasn’t my favorite show.

Wasn’t my favorite show, either. Loved when you played with White Lies. And The xx. You’re a fan of White Lies?

Is that okay with you? Aren’t all British bands buddies? You hail from the same island, no? Island-based joke! No, no, we’re not buddies at all. I’m friends with The xx. Not so much with White Lies. Our bass player left and joined White Lies, so there’s a little bit of tension. I can’t help but hold a little bit of resentment.

When did that happen? About halfway through recording the second record. It’s annoying, because it slowed down the process. But, it definitely benefited it, because the record came out now, which feels like the perfect time. It sounds bright, summery and vibrant. Totally. And a lot of tracks are love songs. Personal experience? Am I in love? Is that what you’re asking? A lot of songs are based on love, relationships, loneliness, confusion about what love is. I always felt I was influenced by classic disco and house. Direct, open, honest. I like when a lyric might be somber, but the music might be uplifting. I love when a melody is happy and sad at the same time.

It’s a theme across several songs. Now, onto your moves. You dance your ass off at shows. Have you always dreamed of letting loose in front of an audience? I look back at quite an amusing video of me when I was younger, dancing naked with roller skates on. My dad’s filming it and I’m telling him to not film me.

Straight up naked? Straight up naked. The sun’s out. You’re a kid. You don’t give a fuck. I’m singing “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. For that era of kids who grew up listening to “Thriller” and “Bad,” dancing was what you [did]. I feel quite privileged to have been part of that generation, listening to music and dancing. I remember my brother and me when we were young. My brother pushing me over when I was dancing too much, or jealous because I was dancing better than he was.

Aren’t you always dancing better than everybody, though? Not at all. I think people latch onto the way I dance because I dance in a completely unprofessional manner. I dance like the drunk idiot at a party.

Do you drink onstage? All of us have to have a certain amount of drinks before we go onstage. There’s a fine line. If the audience can see someone onstage completely letting go, dancing in this ridiculous fashion, it makes them feel they can dance and not feel self-conscious. I feel like our shows have been getting better and better. People are getting into their own little world and losing themselves.

Can you tell me a bit about the production process? Three tracks we did with Paul [Epworth], two tracks he assisted and the rest of the album I produced. The reason I’m bigging myself up is because I don’t talk about how I produce stuff enough. It should be more apparent. I spend hours slaving over the way things should sound. I’m obsessive about equipment. I’m a total geek when it comes to that stuff. I may dance around like a flamboyant performer, but I’m obsessive about the science of making something sound really great through headphones.

What’s your favorite thing about New York? It’s taken me so long to learn to love this city. First time I came here, I fuckin’ hated it. It’s so big. You don’t know where to go. You’re confused. It seems cold. People are rude. It’s that big city mentality. I think it was when I [came here on holiday], avoided the bar scene [and visited art galleries] that I realized, this is nice. I like this. When you’re in a band, all you see is nightlife. You don’t see culture. There’s more to it. Now, I love New York. I actually felt that feeling when we touched down today.

Photo by Satoshi Minakawa.

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