Interview with Friends

Samantha Urbani, "showing genuine energy" at Germany's Melt Festival. Image: Melt/Stephan Flad

Samantha Urbani, „showing genuine energy“ at Germany’s Melt Festival. Image: Melt/Stephan Flad

Samantha Urbani loves to drink Club Mate. She discovered this rather special liquid (which tastes like old people’s socks, in my opinion) while she lived in Berlin and whenever she is back in Germany now, she can’t get enough of it. It seems to losen her tongue somehow: In our interview backstage at Melt festival, she talks about her new boyfriend Dev Hynes, not liking her own record, the magic power of Darwin Deez’s hair, the loss of band members and her expectations of Friends‘ second album.

What do you think: Out of all the reporters that talk to you – how big is the percentage of those who have got a crush on you?

Samantha Urbani (laughs): I can’t really tell.

I don’t mean to be rude, but I am not one of them. But I know quite a few.

Urbani: That’s fine. I feel like everybody should have a crush on everybody in some sense, you know? Everybody should be curious about each other and fascinated, and that’s kind of what a crush is, isn’t it? I feel like my natural disposition is flirtatious. The way that I talk to people is always engaging and kind of flirty.

Was there ever a situation when you felt that some reporter was too obvious in his advances?

Urbani: If I feel offended or if I feel that someone is being inappropriate or sort of presumptuous or objectifying me I always say something about it. I wouldn’t let it go too far. If somebody was annoying me, I would just say: fuck you!

I assume it must be boring if everybody that you are talking to in interviews admires you.

Urbani: I prefer interviews that are more like a conversation and not just somebody going: “Oh, congratulations on your single, it’s so awesome!” Most people feel like they have to say that they like something, that sucks. And I feel self critical in everything that I do. If don’t love something, I don’t want to talk about that somebody else loves it. I really prefer interviews to be an intellectual dialogue and talk about things other than ego stuff.

Okay, I guess you will loathe the next question, but I promise to try my best after that one: Are you friends in Friends?

Urbani: Yes. Well, two band members left us last year.

That’s why I am asking.

Urbani: We are all friends in different ways. But the internal dynamics definitely did get complicated amongst Friends. Leslie [Leslie Hann] and Matt [Matthew Molnar] who left the band are still really close friends of mine. I was hanging out with Leslie last week, she has a new band. I’ve known her since I was 7, so I don’t think we could ever be estranged from each other. Me and Nikki are really close friends, he’s definitely one of my best friends. And Oliver – I feel like we’re a family.

Did it have to do with success or with hype that relation ships within the band got a bit tense?

Urbani: No. In a way it had to do with success because we were touring all the time. But it wasn’t like fame got to anybody’s head.

But that could have happened since Friends got much bigger than you expected, I guess?

Urbani: No. I don’t want to sound conceited or anything like that. But I think that anybody can manifest any situation that they see before them. I have a lot of friends who have been musicians. Since I was a kid I always hung out with musicians but kept my own music really private. So I watched other people do things that were successful. I didn’t try to follow any formula, but I knew that because I loved performing so much, I was going to play shows all the time, regardless of whether people came. You know, I was at this festival three years ago with some friends of mine. I drove from Berlin with them and I saw this guy, Darwin Deez. We used to work at the same restaurant in New York and I had no idea that he was a big deal over here. Then he played this show, and the tent was full of kids wearing his hairstyle, singing along to all his songs. It was crazy, like a different dimension. And that taught me: Anything can happen.

One more band-name-related question: What is the best thing that any friend did for you this year?

Urbani (thinks for a while): My new boyfriend Dev [Dev Hynes, aka Lightspeed Champion] has done a lot of amazing things. I met him when I was going through a really bad break-up. He asked me to sing on his album a bunch, he brought me to London. And he brought me to see Hanson, my childhood favourite band!

They’re still playing?

Urbani: Yes. They just put out a new album.

How old are they now?

Urbani: They’re in their late 20s, early 30s. I was obsessed with them when I was 10. They were my number one obsession. And he was obsessed with them, too, when he was a kid. And he surprised me by bringing me to a Hanson show. That means a lot: Somebody seeing that maybe you are a little bit down in your life and inspiring you, motivating you. He got me feeling much better this year.

When did you last regret being in Friends?

Urbani (laughs): I do all the time. I feel this dualistic thing all the time where I both love everything and hate everything. Like this. [She shows her leather jacket, on which she painted a ying yang sign] In certain ways being in a band is like being in a relation ship. You can’t just go off and do whatever you want to do. I commit to the band to a certain extent and then I live my life to a certain extent. But sometimes I do miss a sense of freedom and I do think: Oh, I could be doing other things, you know? I didn’t regret being in Friends today. I was looking forward to playing here. But there were times for everybody in the band when you think: Do we have to be on tour today? Why can’t I be at home and hang out with my Mom and my dog and my boyfriend? But I’m happy. I feel a lot of gratitude for how everything has gone.

Do you think things will get easier once you got a second album out?

Urbani: Last year, the whole buzz – as everybody calls it – was annoying. It was not like we tried to get that happening. It just happened. But suddenly everyone was asking us if we felt pressure. We were like: No. Should we? We had a lot of meetings, a lot of people were asking me to do a lot of fashion stuff, or asking me if I wanted to sing on their album and I was turning everything down. Now it’s kind of cool that the buzz has died down a little bit. That’s not what we wanted.

Do you dislike success?

Urbani: No. I do want success. I just don’t like this kind of annoying, swarmy success.

So what can we expect from your second album?

Urbani: I think that we have a lot of perspective on what we want to do now after the experience of recording the first album. Because, to be honest: I’m not happy with the first album. I like some of the songs a lot, but listening to it as a whole could have been a lot better. This time I have more awareness of how to do things the way that I want. We are going to work with some different people who are excited about us and just take opportunities.

Will it sound like The Way, your new single?

Urbani: A lot of stuff last year had that grainy, lo-fi sound and I love that sound. But only if it feels really genuine. I don’t think it makes sense to go into a studio and then trying to make it sound like shit. If it’s going to sound grainy it is because you should be recording at home on a four track tape recorder. We would rather go into a studio and use that access to equipment to make our songs sound epic and beautiful.

That is hardly what people expected, I guess. Not only sonically, but also lyrically.

Urbani: I am being more mindful about the kind of lyrics that I write, because I got really sick of writing songs that just feel like emotional bullshit. This new one is like a love song, but it is super meaningful. I went through a shitty break-up, but I am not going to write an angry song about my ex-boyfriend. That is not going to happen. I know it empowers people when they hear somebody going through the same thing. But a lot of love songs just perpetuate a sense of being pathetic, you know? Baby, why are we breaking up? If only you would love me more… et cetera et cetera. I think that anybody who has a voice that potentially millions of people are going to hear should take that responsibility and know that they are influencing a mass consciousness. You don’t have to get super deep or super political. But don’t force thousands of young girls to just sulk in their bedrooms. That is awful.

When will the second album be out?

Urbani: The songs are mostly written. We are going to record for ten days in London, and then do some more work in August in New York. Hopefully we will be done by the end of summer.

Is there a role model for the perfect second album? You know: The kind that keeps all the qualities of the debut album but evolves at the same time?

Urbani: I don’t know. Eminem’s maybe. Or Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins. But I don’t ever think about anybody’s career and then try to emulate it. I know a lot of people who do that, and it works. But I can’t to that. I don’t have that kind of recall memory. And I want to be satisfying myself. As long as I am happy with something, that’s what matters.

Would you mind if people listened to your second album and then tell you that they cannot recognise anything that they loved about the first one?

Urbani: I kind of expect that a little bit. We’re a different band, we even talked about changing the name of the band.

Wow. Which were the names that you discussed?

Urbani: There were no good ones. We wanted to include “Friends”, but nothing worked. New Friends? Old Friends? Friends Now? But this is a different band, a different set-up. Our drummer Oliver used to stand up playing drums, he has a full kit now. There is somebody on guitar and on keyboard and no one plays percussions any more. This really feels like a different outlet for me. I had to get out what I did then and now the medium has changed and I can get out other things, which is good.

How does that influence your live show? Will there be major changes, too?

Urbani: It has changed already. Last summer it was motivating me to connect with the audience more. We played shows within this intimate, DIY-venues, I was seeing people’s faces, there was no barrier and the stage was six inches off the ground. It was a room full of kids partying. Today, if we’re playing festivals like this, it is like ten feet between you and the audience. It feels like you’re so far away. That’s why I used to always run into the crowd, jump off the stage, get on somebody’s shoulders or kiss everybody. I don’t know if I’m really in the mood to do that so much these days. But some things remain important, like showing genuine energy. I get excited if other people get excited. If I see 1000 people or 8000 people having fun, I’m going to fucking give it.

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