When Fickle Friends were gearing up to perform at an industry showcase gig in 2014, they believed they were on the brink of making it. The initially-intrigued A&R representatives that were in attendance, however, thought otherwise and left the show unimpressed and with no intention of pursuing the Brighton-based band any further. In hindsight, those ‘industry professionals’ made the wrong call.
Back in 2014, only a year after Fickle Friends had formed, the Brighton five-piece started to gain attention as a result of their debut release, ‘Swim’. In an inexperienced state of naivety – something that is channelled by most new bands at the beginning of their pursuit of a career in music – frontwoman Natassja Shiner and her fellow indie pop band mates were ecstatic to hear that various A&R representatives were going to be attending one of their shows.
“All these A&R came down, loads of them were just talking about us, we were like ‘Yeah, we are going to get a record deal, sick!’” says Natassja – aka Natti.
Sadly, however, that wasn’t the case. As Natti informs me, ‘‘The show was absolutely terrible,’’ and as a result, generated no interest from the A&R representatives who had made the trip to go and see them. At the time, the band felt that their world was falling apart, but really, it was ‘‘just the beginning.’’
Three years on, and things are very different. When I sit down with Natti in the greenroom of the Sheffield Plug, Fickle Friends, at the point of interviewing, are on their biggest UK tour to date. It’s clear that Natti now has a far greater understanding of the complexities of the music industry and has humbly grown since the start of the group. And although she laughs off her band’s previous naive disposition, she’s quick to offer some mature advice to any new band that find themselves in a similar situation.
‘‘I think you kind of start a band being like, ‘we’re gonna try and get a record deal straight off the bat.’ But it’s going to be so much better for you in the long-run, in terms of getting a record deal, if you actually put in the groundwork first.”
And ever since that early setback, putting in the groundwork is exactly what Fickle Friends have done. Since signing to Polydor Records, the band have been relentlessly touring the UK and beyond, and writing material in LA. And now, judging by their latest releases at least, it seems as if the band are on the cusp of greatness. Their most recent single, ‘Hard To Be Myself’, for example, is arguably their boldest, brightest and most memorable output to date and received daytime airplay on BBC Radio One on the day of its release.
“I think the response [to the track] seems to have been good, but it’s always difficult to tell in the first couple of weeks because it’s kind of like happening now, as we speak. And when you’re on tour, you’re kind of a bit like desensitised from what’s going on in reality.’’
“I shouldn’t be anyone’s fucking idol.”
‘Hard To Be Myself’ isn’t their only song that permeates pure happiness. Tracks such as ‘Glue’, ‘Hello Hello’ and ‘Sugar’ make even the most socially awkward individuals want to dance. If for whatever reason they don’t take your fancy, there are seven other currently released songs to pick from. But was it always the plan to make indie-pop bangers?
“In the beginning it was a mess. But we still wanted to make party music really. Our favourite bands when we were teenagers were, Friendly Fires, Two Door Cinema Club and Phoenix. They were always these really cool indie pop bands and Friendly Fires are my favourite band ever. Their live shows are crazy and their music is really kind of rhythmic and they draw so many influences from so many cultural rhythms and things. It was like a whole mess of stuff, and that’s what we started doing.”
Clearly it has worked out. In addition to being playlisted on the likes of Radio 1 and playing major festivals such as Reading and Leeds, the band’s unique blend of indie and danceable-pop music has also gifted them some famous fans. When Pete Wentz’s manager phoned Natti out of the blue, he let slip that the Fall Out Boy bassist was a huge fan of Fickle Friends. Before long, Natti found herself being personally invited to Fall Out Boy’s Wembley show, and having drinks with him and the rest of the band afterwards.
‘’I was like ‘what the fuck?’’’ says Natti, still in disbelief. ‘’Pete text me saying ‘I got your number from Patrick. We are going here for drinks.’ So we went and hung out with them. They were like ‘we just love what you’re doing with your music’, and I said, ‘this is so mental.’’’
Shortly after, the group flew out to record in LA with producer Mike Crossey – famed for his work with the likes of Arctic Monkeys and Wolf Alice. After setting up a home studio and spending a day writing with Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, the band recorded ‘Brooklyn’ and ‘Cry Baby’.
“The first month we were out there, there were only a couple of us. We were doing lots of writing – it was so surreal. We have never spent anytime in California before, but LA with Mike was really cool because we had the luxury of spending so much time on one song, where previously, we were always so rushed.”
Natti is an interesting and versatile character, not only onstage, but off-stage as well. Prior to pursuing a career as a musician, she worked in the music industry as an A&R scout, so she is fully aware of how demanding it can be if you are signed to a major record label and the pressure to succeed. Yet, Natti is certain it is all worth the extra stress, even if many of her friends’ bands have sadly perished at the hands of the music industry.
“I have mates who got signed six months before us and then they didn’t do as well as the major label expected and then they dropped them. So, in a really negative way, you can kind of predict your future because of what you have seen happen.”
Worrying about whether Fickle Friends are going to get dropped or not isn’t the only thing weighing – subconsciously or otherwise – on Natti’s shoulders. Prior to our interview, she was speaking on the phone to someone with regards to the band’s debut album artwork and how it was meant to be finished two days ago. But seeing as the band are currently on tour, and no one can agree on what the album cover should be, the artist is getting annoyed. Not only that, but Fickle Friends are supposed to be recording an acoustic version of ‘How To Be Myself’, but it can’t be done yet because there is no studio available at the moment. Even for a signed band at the top of their game, life can be stressful. But for Natti at least, moaning isn’t an option.
“You have to stay positive and make the most of everything because we are living the dream – job wise. I’m in a band full time; it pays my rent and is super rewarding. I wouldn’t change it for the world.’’
There is no pretense or bullshit with Natti – she says it how it is and is humble about the situation she finds herself in. Even if she doesn’t understand how her fans see her as a beacon of hope or why they idolise her so much; a notion she admits to finding perplexing.
“They [fans] are all quite lovely. People make us mix CDs and bake us cakes and they make artwork and stuff. Nothing mental has ever happened really, but if people come and follow you around the country and are at every gig, then you’re like ‘this is weird, why have you spent all of your money, buying tickets to every one of our shows?’”
For any artist, interacting with fans can be a daunting and intense experience, especially if you have just performed a show that’s left you psychically and mentally drained. And for bands like Fickle Friends, who are more accessible physically than perhaps U2 are, the post show wind down can soon turn into lengthy meet-and-greets with loads of fans who all want to chat, have a photo and hang out – all at the same time.
“You just have to be in the right mindset for it, because sometimes you’re just like ‘urgh’. Have you ever seen that video of one of the guys from One Direction where he’s going to take photos with fans and he’s got a face like a smacked arse? In every single photo he takes with a fan, he is so kind of fake. I never want it to be like that.”
“It’s going to be so much better for you in the long-run, in terms of getting a record deal, if you put in the groundwork first.”
Thankfully however, throughout the band’s current tour Natti has been in high spirits after every show, and meeting fans has been a delight and a privilege, rather than a chore. And even though Natti doesn’t consider herself to be an ‘idol’, she understands there’s a degree of responsibility at least that comes with been idolised.
“We have to set an example now, because some of the kids are so young, like fourteen to fifteen-year-old girls, who are looking up to you. It is nice, really nice, but I find it so weird because they’re like ‘you’re my idol’ and I’m like, ‘I shouldn’t be anyone’s fucking idol!’’’
Despite currently being on their biggest UK tour to date – a tour that has seen them play sold-out shows in 400-capacity venues, Natti remains surprised as she is delighted about the amount of people who have actually been turning up.
“We have always had it in our minds that if we go out on tour, we are going to play to thirty people. We’d be like ‘it’s fine, thirty people is great. We’ll just put on a show as if 100 people are there’. So, playing 400-capacity venues around the UK that have sold-out, is something we could never have wished for.’’
As our interview starts to come to an end, I question Natti on the band’s debut album – slated for a March release – and their reasoning behind repeatedly postponing the announcement of the album’s release date. Natti is certain, however, that pushing its release back to 2018 was absolutely the right idea.
“It would have been a massive mistake to have put it out before. Because we’re like a slow burner this band, it’s not an overnight success, it hasn’t been a quick journey to where we are now, and it’s taken so much time and still is. We wouldn’t be able to put the album out next week because it would be a complete flop. So, we’ve got a lot to do in the next few months to ensure that the record hopefully gets heard by as many people as possible.”
The band hope to achieve their aim of getting their album heard by as many people as possible by hitting the road yet again next year – both pre and post-album release. Along the way, Natti promises me they’ll be doing all the in-store gigs they can humanly fit into their packed schedule and continuing to meet as many fans as possible.
“After every show on this tour, we come out and say hi. We sign everything and we want to keep doing that, as much as possible. It’s kind of the most important thing to do, when making contact with the people who have bought the tickets to come and watch you. Other than that, we’re hoping we can get to America and we’re doing a tour of the rest of Europe tour – which we have never done by ourselves before.”
After our interview concludes, I’m fortunate enough to witness Fickle Friends perform at The Plug in Sheffield. The performance oozes with charisma, a party atmosphere and an abundance of tropical dancefloor fillers worthy of a bigger stage. It looks like Fall Out Boy’s knack for conquering arenas might just be rubbing off on their Fickle Friends.
Volume Two Interview by Cameron Poole
Featured Images by Zac Mahrouche