FRIENDS – February/March

New York’s swishest indie exports Friends dropped their debut LP Manifest! last month, and on Monday, single “Home” will be released from it. Here’s our interview with the band, which first appeared in Wonderland‘s February/March issue.

You probably don’t need reminding that pop culture is having a 90s moment – perhaps saying hello again to a Conservative government flexing its Europhobia, while trying to get your head around the unexpected return of the scrunchie is all a bit much. But here to remind us why we loved that decade are Bushwick’s finest, Friends: they only formed last summer and their debut album’s not out until later this year but the blogs – and the rest of us – are already crushing hard. Working it like a back-in-the-day Madonna seasoned with Salt-n-Pepa-style sass, Samantha Urbani is the five-piece’s inimitable frontwoman and whether she’s rapping about right-on relationships (“I don’t wanna own him or control him,” she coos in the very fresh and very fine “I’m His Girl”) or delivering a sultry cover of the ’96 R&B classic “My Boo”, she’ll probably make you want to crook a ghetto blaster on your shoulder and take your moves to the streets.

“In the 90s there was still space for there to be really genuine, raw, passionate stuff in rock music and in R&B and pop music,” she reckons. “I feel like maybe that’s why a lot of people are getting really nostalgic about it – it’s been enough time now where we can have some perspective on it.”
We asked her, and her BFF bassist Lesley Hann, to give full rein to that nostalgia and talk us through their top ten 90s icons.

Samantha: “I don’t feel like TLC gets enough validation: they were cultural figures with a strong voice and their whole image was about female empowerment and social consciousness – one of their greatest hits was about HIV and you can’t say that for a lot of popstars of the time. They never did anything that compromised their integrity, it never got too cheesy and it always had a sense of humour about it. I loved Left Eye – she was really inspirational to me as a kid. It’s cool that she and Tupac were really good friends; I think neither of them are dead – I think they’re somewhere in Long Island, reading philosophy books to each other and eating grapes.”

Leslie: “I don’t want to say Kurt Cobain because it’s obvious, but it’s obvious for a reason: I just think something happened during the 90s with rock.”
Samantha: “The thing I like about Kurt as an icon is that he didn’t really have any kind of pretence. He was always really genuine and his vulnerability wasn’t contrived. So any time I listen to an interview with him it feels like somebody’s just speaking to me.”

Leslie: “I think there was a conversation in the band the other day: ‘Have you ever heard anyone say they don’t like David Bowie?’”
Samantha: “I’ve been obsessed with him since I was a little kid. His whole concept of being alien is something that I think is relatable to a lot of artists: just feeling out of place and like you have to create a culture of your own. But he was able to do that in a way that’s just really likeable, regardless of what you’re into.”

Samantha: “Her androgyny is what’s really cool to me – I just don’t think that gender should be a qualifying, definitive thing all the time. She not only is just such an exotic, amazing, powerful creative force but her whole visual aesthetic is art in itself. Yeah she had that presence. She’s so funky.”

Samantha: “It’s a Nickelodeon show about two brothers who are both named Pete. I think it’s the only show that I can watch now that gives me a nostalgia I feel in the pit of my stomach.
It was just these kids, in the middle of nowhere, in the suburbs of America, just trying to grow up without being totally miserable and trying to get along with their parents and each other and figure out what they want to be.”
Leslie: “That show embodies what my childhood was during the 90s: here was just something weird and dingy and kind of off, but still somewhat carefree and hopeful about that time.”

Samantha: “Her whole story is really cool – she just climbed her way to the top and knew what she wanted and got it because she felt so empowered.”
Leslie: “I think her first job when she moved to New York was as a coat checker and my first job when I moved to New York was as a coat checker. I remember being really, really excited about that.”
Samantha: “So Leslie’s basically Madonna.”

Leslie: “Yesterday we got back from this tour and as soon as we hit the Williamsburg Bridge we put it on and it’s like: ‘We’re back!’”
Samantha: “It feels like home.”
Leslie: “When you listen to the records it’s not just like you’re listening to the music – you feel like you’re hanging out with them. They were really tough but not afraid to be really nerdy at the same time – I think that’s so human. Because who doesn’t want to be both?”

Samantha: “Her iconic vibe to me is all about the artistry of actual singing. She never had any big political statement to make, she never had any strong stylistic aesthetic, so you could kind of undermine her as a cultural figure because of that but pop singers have a craft and she just has one of the most amazing voices in history. There’s something so emotive about it. You kind of get butterflies thinking about it.”

Samantha: “Kim Gordon’s a badass and I ended up becoming friends with Thurston Moore, which is crazy. I would see him at shows in Brooklyn and he was always super-friendly and personable. He doesn’t have a huge ego at all as far as wanting to stay at a level of supporting DIY community. For a couple of generations of art punk people, they were like the power couple of alternative music, but I totally respect that they separated now – they could have hidden that in order to maintain their careers. But everything happens as it should and I hope that they both end up real happy.

Leslie: “She’s sort of like a 90s Bette Davis. The whole attitude is coming from a similar place.”
Samantha: “She is just true soul music and she also has a strength: just her showing up to the Grammys with her Dead Prez shirt and a giant afro embodied a lot of cultural pride that had been more present in the 70s. Her whole image was more natural and raw but still sexy and very empowered and prideful. We both grew up with parents who taught against prejudice since we were little kids so we’ve both felt really strongly about it. That’s why I really look up to women who stood up to those things. I feel that strength and I admire it and I know that I’ll raise my kids in the same way.

Words: Hermione Hoby
Photographer: Greg Lewis