London’s Gentle Friendly—like No Age (but also nothing like No Age)—make rudimentary and noisy pop songs. They use old keyboards, potentially broken samplers and a drum kit to create songs like “Ride Symbols”, a mess of heavy percussion and fuzzy keys that initially inspired us to hit up the band to see what else they had in the works. In addition to a bunch of great older stuff, they sent us a grip of new songs including “Five Girl Night.” We’re not sure if “Five Girl Night” is some British slang or what, but whatever it is, it sounds like graduating from high school and spending the next 24 hours trying to forget everything you’ve ever learned (or something like that). After the jump, read our interview with Gentle Friendly as they talk about making their music with taped-up instruments and being threatened with knives.
Download: Gentle Friendly, “Five Girl Night”
Can you tell me how you guys formed the band?
David: A friend of ours found a drum-kit and a lot of high quality coffee in a skip, so Daniel and myself got together some very old keyboards and started making songs in my cellar with the coffee and drums. Eventually the noise became too much for the neighbours and they came round with knives, so we stopped playing down there.
How is it playing as just a duo? Do you ever use guitars?
David: It means we can work really fast, but also that we hate each other. When we first started as well as keyboards I played a guitar with all the strings taped together, it sounded like an amped thumb piano, like Konono Number 1. However, we ditched the guitar as soon as we realised one of us was going to have to carry it to shows, and stuck with using the much lighter Casio MT-40.
Daniel: I’m completely comfortable with it. It makes the whole creative process a lot less strenuous. I guess when we started we’d just meet in this basement in mile end and use anything that was lying around. There was a huge old Casio organ, I think it was a Casiotone CT-something. Anyway David had an old guitar too, he’d taped the strings together—it sounded like Konono No 1—we wrote one song using that and a few more on the organ. We couldn’t carry so much equipment so by process of elimination we became an organ band. In retrospect it wasn’t the most practical decision. I use an ancient Jen organ donated by an old peoples home and David uses an old Casio my friend from Minnesota stole from Birmingham university for me, if we lose either of them or they break, no band forever!
I’m kind of confused about your song creating process…are you sampling things and then playing them live? Are the loops you make live?
Daniel: We have this rule that any programmed samples should only be programmed as if they were played by a third member. There is some sampling going on but its super sparse because of this. I think it remains more organic or something that way. We use tapes that we recorded tons of rhythms, clicks and noise onto and have that running through some effects boxes which plays pretty much continually throughout our set. We never know what it’s going to throw up though, so again its quite organic. It can work really well if it rhythmically matches up or the notes match; conversely it can just spit out jarring white noise, it’s sort of interesting I think.
David: It’s all over the place—we rip off our own songs to make new ones, cannibalize parts and build from them, or just close our eyes, start playing and “feel it.” When we play for people for the most part it’s all live noises coming from drums or electronics—onstage I loop my voice real time here and there, but we don’t really loop a whole lot in fact, we’re just repetitive.
Who are some of your influences? I hear a lot of ecstatic singing and yelping that reminds me of Animal Collective…
Daniel: We have mostly been listening to a lot of hip-hop, gamelan and minimal. We have our staples like Bruce Springsteen, Arthur Russell, Paul Simon, stuff like that. I really dig AC but David hadn’t really listened to them at all until we started getting compared to them.
David: Yeah, any yelping you hear must be coming from Dan. We like to see great things created from not much, like the huge clunky techno that was made before good keyboards and sequencers were invented, or Arthur Russell doing 8 things at once with just cello and voice, or the ‘90s home recording boom. But you never know what’s getting in there; but I have heard Total Eclipse of the Heart 100 times this week at my bar, which I think is also taking its toll.
Is there any scene that you feel a part of?
Daniel: There are a ton of bands we really love from London—Banjo or Freakout, Fuck Buttons, Please, Hands on Heads…I don’t know If we really feel a part of that or even if that can be called a scene in itself. I think the uniting factor is just that these people are making music with substance— it’s worth making. Speaking for myself I don’t really have too much time for the London fashion rock troupe.
I noticed that between your earlier and newer stuff, you guys jumped quite a bit in terms of making catchy songs with structure. What brought about that change?
Daniel: I think its just a case of evolution, It wasn’t a conscious decision to make songs structured or catchy it was just taking it a little more seriously. When we started we just wanted to make noise together, I guess when people started to offer us shows we decided we should try to work a little more seriously.
What are your release plans for the future?
Daniel: We are about to release a 4 track vinyl EP with our good friends at No Pain In Pop and we are releasing a 100 issue limited edition tape with the super charming kids at Stop Scratching. It’s a collection of our more lo-fi recordings. Were both really proud of it and would like to see it released at some level.
David: We are sitting on a mountain of songs, but you can’t just slap people with all that. We’ve been talking about just documenting the stuff we’re making month to month though, which we might start putting out as mailorder CDs, alongside whatever else we’re doing.
Is there any place you would love to play? Any band you would love to go on tour with?
David: We are so excited about touring with Ponytail in September, that billing couldn’t be much more perfect for us—we used to listen to Kamehameha back in the basement, so it feels like fate. I would also love to play our tiny keyboards in stadiums and sports arenas, all covered in smoke and dry ice, spotlit and dwarfed by 100 ft amplifiers, that would be great to see.