Talent to burn: Friendly Fires are no flash in the pan

Their math-rock-infused pop has won high praise from the music press
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The Independent Culture

The three members of Friendly Fires sit around a table in central London club The Social, laughing. But it's hard to hate them for their affable sweetness. They are who all the boys want to be and all the girls want to marry, albeit in the limited arena of math rock fused with dance-pop.

The band's profile has been rising steadily since they released a much-lauded EP in June 2007. Successful tours in the UK and US followed earlier this year. And now they've released their eponymous debut album.

While Friendly Fires claim that their music defies categorisation, a series of Eighties-influenced, hooky signature tracks such as "Climbing Aboard", "Paris" and "Photobooth" show a clear intention to go beyond the fringes of electro-pop. Tracks like "Jump in the Pool" and "Lovesick" from the new record will surely make it a staple addition to playlists of taste in the immediate future.

The group – Ed Mac, 24, lead vocals and guitar; Jack Savidge, 24, drums; and Edd Gibson, 23, synthesiser – met at Hertfordshire's private St Albans School, united by boredom and a passion for diverse music. "There wasn't a hell of a lot to do in St Albans," says Mac, "so the band became important to us. None of us were musically proficient. Edd didn't have a guitar until we started the band. Jack was head of the choir, though."

"Yeah, there was only really one pub that would have us, The Horn," says Savidge. "We had a gig there every three months, maybe even less than that. We made sure we were rehearsing two days a week, long before we appeared, so we were really ready for it. Those tiny gigs were really important to us." Mac chimes in: "We were only playing to about 20 people and they were our friends, who were obliged to turn up."

"That's when we started trying to do something musically interesting," says the lead singer. "We started to do guitars with math-rocky rhythms. Then we got into Mogwai and tried to write post-rock songs. But it was all mixed into a directionless mess. There was no structure to it, we were just writing songs, only because we had nothing better to do."

These early gigs were instrumental in cementing their dance/rock cross-over style. "There were long instrumentals that didn't really have a point or focus," says Savidge. "But it was fun and it made sense to us."

Mac continues: "I suppose we were constantly bouncing music we listened to off each other from the ages of 14 to 24. At that time, you are bound to listen to lots of different styles. We never really ditched any type of music we listened to between then and now."

They realised they wanted to write for the mainstream at a 2004 gig at Dublin Castle. "It was there we first did 'Photobooth' and we thought, 'Yep, we can actually do this'," says Mac. "It was more of a challenge to write a classic pop song. But we did not make a conscious decision; we just ended up doing it."

Friendly Fires - 'On Board'

Mac has strong opinions about the current state of pop. "It is strange now, when I think about truly experimental stuff there is nothing that blows me away. I always know they have used this plug-in or that pedal. When grime came out I was blown away by that, but to me now I find I am more interested in something that is going to capture the imagination of a lot of people."

After whipping people into a frenzy with the first tracks that circulated on the internet, their first official gig was at the Old Queens Head in Angel, north London in September 2006. "There was a bit of clamour," explains Savidge. "And then we would pop up in Music Week, and there would be an article saying, 'Watch out for Friendly Fires, they are going to be huge in two weeks.'

"And then when we went and played that gig and it was full of people from the music industry and we did two good songs. The PA didn't work and you can imagine people drifting off thinking, 'Nah.' People said it was full of energy which I think was a euphemism for poor."

In the long run, it was for the best. "I am glad we didn't get signed off that first hyped gig because we would have been forced to write an album that would have had probably two good songs on it," says Mac. "I'm glad we had that two-year period to get everything together."

They signed with XL Recordings in March after a bidding war. They're now on a UK tour until mid-October, before heading to the US where they are performing alongside Lykke Li.

Gibson says: "For two years we were struggling away, doing it all ourselves. It was a slog but it gave us the opportunity to mature and to come out with an album that we think is worth putting out rather than a flash-in-the-pan band that is here one day and gone the next."

'Friendly Fires' is out now; touring to 18 October (www.myspace.com/friendlyfires)

Friendly Fires - 'Paris