- 09 Sep 19
Ed Macfarlane of indie-dance heroes Friendly Fires discusses overcoming tensions, escaping politics, and their long-awaited comeback album, Inflorescent.
The world’s a very different place since Friendly Fires last put out an album. In the eight years since the release of Pala, their country has seen three Prime Ministers and a referendum that shook the world. In the camp of Ed Macfarlane, Edd Gibson and Jack Savidge, however, things are as bright and bold as ever.
While their sound is often summed up as easy-listening, escapist dream-pop, frontman Macfarlane reckons that embracing simple positivity in these trying times is nothing to be scoffed at.
“We take having fun really seriously,” he smiles. “It can be hard to find that euphoria, especially at the moment. You turn on the radio first thing in the morning, and you’re bombarded with a load of Brexit shit.
“We may not have a big political message,” he considers, “but we’re writing music that’s upbeat and makes people want to dance and let go. Me dancing on the stage like an idiot allows other people to lose their inhibitions, and that moment has an impact on their day-to-day lives. It took me a long time, in between the two records, to realise that.”
Since their self-titled debut brought them to international attention in 2008, the St Albans band have managed to avoid any major controversy – no doubt owing, at least in part, to their tendency to avoid touchy topics.
“We’re pretty strict about making sure we’ve no strong political agenda in our music,” he says. “We’re not Boris Johnson fans, but no one wants to hear me being annoying and harping on about hating the Tories. I want our gigs to be as inclusive as possible, too. I want people from all political persuasions to come together and just take some time out.”
That being said, Ed claims that their new album, Inflorescent, is their most direct work yet.
“Lyrically, the new album is the least escapist record we’ve done,” he notes. “In the time between the second album and now, I was going through my late twenties. At that time in your life, it’s fairly common for guys like me to have existential crises. You start questioning what you’re doing, and the point of it all. With this record, there’s a lot more looking inwards.”
It may be more introspective than their previous work, but Inflorescent is chock full of unabashedly cheesy ‘80s grooves and disco-funk beats. The album also sees Friendly Fires dipping back into the early ’90s rave scene of their childhood – particularly on ‘Love Like Waves’ and the Disclosure-produced ‘Heaven Let Me In’.
“Obviously, I was way too young to be involved with the rave scene when it was really happening,” Ed says. “But we’ve always had an affinity with that world, and we’ve embraced it more on this record. I’d sit at the computer, and try to create something that made me feel the euphoria of those records.”
Clubbing culture also provided an opportunity for the band to reconnect, and overcome tensions after their hiatus.
“In order for this record to be made, we definitely had to become friends again,” he says, “and that involved going out and clubbing together. We had to delve back into that world again, having spent a lot of time not really hanging out.
“We were booking in studio sessions, and there would be a bit of a formal atmosphere in the air – which meant we weren’t able to get into the zone. We needed to learn to become friends again, and be able to express our opinions in a way that doesn’t create a silent, resentful atmosphere in the room.”
Having played together since they were 13, the group’s hiatus was in many ways inevitable.
“We hadn’t had a chance to work out what our lives were outside of music,” Ed reflects. “It was important to do that, at that time. Edd and I had a side project called the Pattern Forms, which let us focus on different subjects. It felt good to do that, and get that out of my system. It helped me understand what the point of Friendly Fires is, so I could approach it in a more objective way.”
The record also reflects the beginning of a new direction in Friendly Fires’ sound, in which they’re stripping back the layers and embracing a more honest approach.
“We’re toying with the idea of doing something that’s really stripped down and minimal,” he muses. “Just vocals, one synth, one drum machine and no guitars. There’s something kind of freeing about those kinds of limitations. Sometimes, having a wealth of synthesisers and effects can cloud your vision.
“Music that’s a bit more bare has the most passion and strength behind it, but it’s also the most nerve-wracking kind of music to release, because it’s the honest version of who you are. I’m in that phase right now where I want to write that kind of music.”
• Inflorescent is out now. Friendly Fires play The Academy in Dublin on November 4.