We spoke to Fickle Friends singer Natassja Shiner about how the experience of recording an album and negotiating record label politics turned out to be trickier than the band planned for...
Brighton dance-pop fivesome Fickle Friends did things on their own for a long time. For the first two years of their life, they released a series of acclaimed singles, toured the UK and Europe and played a whopping 53 festivals, all without a label or publisher.
Wanting to take the next step, the band eventually signed to Universal imprint Polydor and got stuck into making debut album You Are Someone Else.
But, as the album comes to hmv stores, we spoke to the band’s singer Natassja Shiner about how the experience of recording an album and negotiating record label politics turned out to be trickier than the band planned for...
How did the experience of making your debut album compare to how you’d imagine it be?
“It was very different from what we had in our heads and it was a massive learning curve. We made a lot of mistakes, but I think we now know how we like to work. There were amazing times, especially being in Los Angeles with Mike Crossey, but mostly it just took f***ing ages, which is never what you want.”
Can you describe the process? Was it quite broken up?
“The intention was, at least in the weeks after we signed our deal, was that we’d go to LA and we’d do the whole album with Mike. We came back with an album’s worth of music, but while we were out there, because we had this drastic change of scenery, we ended up writing loads of new music. So we came back with an album and all this new music that we wanted to record and include. That broke things up a bit.”
How did you decide what songs you’d keep and which new ones you’d put in?
“It was just a feeling. Whenever you write a brand new song, you always think it’s the best thing you’ve ever done. But we could tell that our music was on a journey and our style was changing. We felt really strongly that our writing was getting better and we weren’t the band who wrote ‘Swim’ anymore. A lot of the songs felt old and dated and it didn’t actually feel too difficult to choose what to put on the record.”
You ended up working with a few different producers, there’s Mark Ralph, who did Years & Years’ record, Mike Spencer, who people will know from his work with Ellie Goulding…
“We’ve been so lucky actually. Mark Ralph is our boy, we absolutely love him and we want to do our second album with him. Everyone we worked with was quite different, but we weirdly clicked with everyone, but Mark especially. I’ve got no idea how these people make things sound so good. We do our demo and it sounded okay, then they just make it pop.”
How was working in Los Angeles? Did you fall in love with it?
“We loved it. We didn’t go because it was a dream or anything, we went because Mike Crossey was there, but we loved it. We had a month before recording to do some writing sessions, we spent some time with some really cool writers, like Joel Little who did all the Lorde tracks, and Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy, and to just hang out. The nightlife was awesome, we drove up into the hills and we went to Hollywood. In fact, the first night we were there, we were in this bar and Kim and Kanye just walked in.”
What kind of album is this lyrically? Are the songs linked by a theme? Or are they quite separate?
“There are all quite separate, but they do play into each other. All the songs are a big reflection on the last year decade of my life and my adolescent. Being in your early 20’s can be very confusing and that’s chronicled. It’s your first and second relationships, throwing yourself into them and getting manipulated, how that affects your mental health, it’s everything that can make you feel s**t when you’re 22.”
What kind of lyricist are you? Are you writing things down all the time? Or do you need a melody to work to?
“I write things down all the time and then I tend to piece them together when we’ve got a melody. I make notes all the time on my phone and I quite often wake up in the middle of the night and I’ll leave myself a weird voice memo. It can happen at any time…”
Is there a song on the record that you’d say took the longest time to get right?
“God yeah, ‘Hard To Be Myself’, I think we must have 50 versions of that song and we kept trying new things. We kept changing it, trying to get it right for the label, which, in retrospect you should never ever do, it was such a faff. We ended up doing that with Mike Spencer and we got it right, but the label were worried and they actually ended up sending it to other writers to try and write a new chorus, which is so mental. We told them, ‘It’s just a difficult song to get right, don’t give to other people, they aren’t going to get it’ and they didn’t. That whole writing process took about a year.”
Conversely, was there a song that took no time at all?
“‘Hello Hello’ came together in 28 minutes. It was the first song we wrote in LA, it was lovely and breezy.”
When did you come up with the album’s title?
“I suggested it first, I think it sums up the whole record, that idea of feeling a bit out of your body, but then we started to overthink it. The idea for a while was for it to be one really cool word, like ‘Freak’ or ‘Bite’, but then ‘You Are Someone Else’ came back around. It just meant more.”
Finally, can you talk us through your plans to take the record out live?
“We’ve got a big UK tour, then Europe and then America and then festivals start. We’re really busy, but it does hang a bit on what the record does. The response to the album will dictate everything so it’s a bit of a waiting game.”