New York’s Freind is one of those bands whose debut release seems to have dropped from out of nowhere and hit the ground running, fully formed and ready to go. Now a group of five—all living in the same neighborhood in Queens—they met through common acquaintances, past schools and camps, and sheer luck, melding together an impressive repertoire of musical tastes into intelligent and experimental psych-rock.
Their first EP, Lemon, came out in January of this year and features five tracks that run the gamut of genres, tones, and meters. Sometimes it floats along like a hazy dream; other times it attacks with noisy screams or slides away in elusive patterns. Smart risk-takers, Freind keeps the listener on the edge of her seat with songs that seem to move towards chaos, but never lose their finely-honed tethers. That feeling, I’ve heard, is even stronger at live shows, one of which Freind will be playing in collaboration with us on May 10 at Palisades in Brooklyn. Before then, I caught up with the band over email to talk about musical Venn diagrams, the anxiety of influence, and a few other things.
ThrdCoast: Let’s start with some basics. Who are you guys and how did you all find each other and start playing together?
Andrew Emge: We're a band that plays varying shades of rock music. We met through mutual friends, a couple schools—mostly fate.
Vanessa Castro: I was introduced to Alex and Andrew through Gus. Jade, who is a close friend of mine from high school, joined when the band’s previous bassist moved out of New York.
Alex Daud: I met Gus at music tech summer camp in eleventh grade.
Gus Callahan: Alex’s summer camp band was called Bong Jovi.
TC: Where are you based now?
AE: New York. We all live in Ridgewood.
TC: Your music pulls together so many different strains of music—punk, psych-rock, pop, and even a moment of Bossa Nova. Who are some of your greatest influences?
AD: Josie and the Pussycats if Enya joined the band… I'm influenced by women like Annie Clark, Laetitia Sadier, Laurie Anderson, and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. I'm also inspired by ambient or textural music like that of Brian Eno, Stars of the Lid, and Julian Lynch, and I employ drones and noise wherever possible, even if they’re buried.
AE: I draw mostly from Stereolab, Deerhunter, Kevin Parker, Broadcast, Can... Also most projects involving Dave Fridmann. I think that shows in our production a bit.
VC: Gus is my muse. But actually, I started playing guitar because of Becca Kauffman. She told me two years ago that she had only started playing guitar two years prior to that, so I decided I had no excuses to not start. She’s just a great performer in general. I try to channel that performative energy when I play.
GC: I listen to a lot of drone and experimental music. Some of the bands that interest all of us seem to pull from a similar palette of ‘60s concrete, library, and experimental electronic music, which all fit into our collage of sound and influence.
Jade: I’m inspired by all the other trans femme performers out there doing their thing and pushing boundaries. I’ve learned a lot from listening to and reading stuff from Elysia Crampton, Juliana Huxtable, Quay Dash, Serena Jara, Anohni... I could list so many more. All of these artists have powerful visions of what the future could be like. As for specific bass playing influence, most of that comes from studying jazz and jamming with people. I like bass lines that are situated in the background, yet have an element of lyricism.
TC: Do you all have similar musical tastes?
VC: We're a large Venn diagram of musical tastes. I think with all five of us together, there isn't a genre that isn't covered; Alex and I are both Brazilian and geek out over Tropicalia music together, and, to the rest of the band’s dismay, Jade and Andrew like to break out in pop-punk jams during practice. But I think I can say confidently that we’re all big Broadcast fans.
AD: Our interests definitely align in certain areas, but I think we all listen to pretty different music as our go-tos. In the past months, I’ve pretty much only listened to Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Incredible String Band, The Books, Baaba Maal, Orchestra Baobab, and ‘60s/’70s Brazilian music. Freind does not sound like any of these artists.
AE: Direct Freind influences aside, lately I’ve been obsessed with Stars of the Lid and the 20-something Studio One compilations put out by Soul Jazz. They sound so good.
GC: I jump around a lot. Recently I’ve been listening to Dialing In, Bitchin Bajas, and Bill Callahan (we aren’t related).
TC: I think that relationships to influences and artistic forebears are always interesting, particularly in more experimental bands that seek to develop their own sound (which it seems that you guys have succeeded at in your first EP). There’s a real push and pull. When you write, do you have your influences in mind or are you actively trying to pave your own way?
AD: I wouldn’t say I write with influences in mind per se, but obviously everything I make is informed by things I admire. And there have been a couple times where I’ve named a demo session something like, “let’s rip off Deerhunter!”
GC: For me there’s no pressure to have influences in mind when writing; my parts usually form within the boundaries set by Alex and Jade’s drafts.
TC: I love the balance in your music between the untamed feistiness of punk and a more measured experimentalism that seems to get into the territory of art rock, or even math rock (I mean, the time signatures in “EarthBound” are seriously wonky and wonderful). How does that balance play out in the writing process? Are you more into exploration and improvisation or is your process more on the careful and deliberate side?
AD: Thank you! I don’t have a strict songwriting process that I follow. They all come together differently. I would say that I write more on the deliberate side, but that still includes exploration. I usually write by myself and record every part in Logic, so I can imagine what everything will sound like together, though our newest song I brought to the rest of the band with only a basic structure, chords, and vocals. I’m excited for people to hear that song; there’s some weird meter stuff going on in it. I like the challenge of making a song feel regular even when the meter is odd or in flux. I want our music to sound smart and sharp, but still approachable.
J: My process is more on the improvisational side (even though it’s got some deliberate elements), which is why it’s cool to work with Alex. I’ll improvise over loops I’ve made, and once I’ve fleshed out a lot of little loops, I’ll weave them together. When I’m structuring all the loops, preserving the spontaneity of the initial improvisations always feels important.
TC: Speaking of process, how do you share responsibilities in the writing process? Is it pretty collaborative?
VC: Alex has done a majority of the composing/songwriting so far… Jade and I joined the band when the EP had already been recorded, so most of the band’s songs had already been written for us. We’re slowly producing more material, and it seems like the more time we play together the more collaborative it gets; Jade wrote one, and used Guitar Pro to help develop the most recent material that Alex brought in, which was pretty cool. But Alex is definitely a songwriting wizard, though Freindbot will be writing our song lyrics from now on.
TC: How’s the New York music scene right now?
Freind: G bless G Toss.
TC: Do you have relationships with other bands in the area?
VC: Yes, most of our friends are musicians and/or artists. Shout out to all my homies in Period 4.
TC: Is there a story behind the title of your EP, Lemon? What about the incredible cover art with the floating desk?
AD: The name came from the art, which I found in an aromatherapy book that a friend gave me. It’s from the page about lemon oil.
VC: The music is pretty sweet and sour too, so the name worked out.
TC: What’s up next for you?
Freind: We have two singles that are coming out on June 30. Come to the release show!
Upcoming shows this summer:
May 10th in Brooklyn, NY @ Palisades with Laser Background, SOFTSPOT & Dougie Poole
May 27th in Manhattan, NY @ Cake Shop with Selva & Drama Section
June 2nd in Philadelphia, PA @ Goldilocks Gallery with Operator Music Band & Shakai Mondai
June 16th in Brooklyn, NY @ Shea Stadium with Moor Mother Goddess & Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk
June 30 in Brooklyn, NY @ Palisades with Maria Takeuchi, The Cradle & Flower Girl
July 7th in Brooklyn, NY @ Silent Barn with Transcendental Telecom, Very Fresh & Railings
July 16th/17th in Ridgewood, NY @ Out in the Streets Festival