It’s seven years into the saga of euphoria-pursuing indie pop band Fickle Friends. Over an expansive half decade that began as a five-piece band in Brighton who went on to sign a deal with Polydor, they dropped their sparkling, electronic-infused debut album You Are Someone Else in 2018 that broke the charts Top 10, before making a decisive exit from major label life to pursue a record and aesthetic solely within their control, in partnership with new label Cooking Vinyl. The band packed out gigs up and down the UK and across the pond in the US and Canada, sold out Shepherd’s Bush Empire rallied festival crowds from Reading to Bangkok, and remained a firm fave on Radio 1 roundups (with specialist support from Huw Stephens and Jack Saunders, to the daytime spins of Scott Mills, and Greg James) and Spotify’s top alternative playlists.
Earlier this year, they weathered the departure of their guitarist Chris Hall and powered on as a four-piece, with frontwoman Natti making the move to London. Through a turbulent, soaring series of peaks and troughs, the band feel at their strongest and most kinetic yet, bolstered by a vibrant forthcoming album due out in 2020 that’s a true testament to their place in the current sphere of pop. “We’re a lot less eager to please this time,” Natti Shiner, frontwoman of the band asserts. “And we’ve definitely found our groove.”
That groove is an 80s synth-pop, guitar-sprinting hyperdream. Fickle Friends’ sophomore album – due to be released on Cooking Vinyl – sees the group delve deeper into themes of identity, all-consuming love, and social media-aggravated anxieties that played out on their first record, but with maturity and independence providing a glorious level up. Dancing along the shimmering, sun-drenched synths and coming-of-age movie guitar runs are reflective issues, prised open with the introspective lyrics of Natti, a delicate songwriting touch and warm, enveloping vocals that call to mind Danielle Haim and The Japanese House. With DIY indie still at their beating heart, this record expands on polished pop sounds, following in the footsteps of The 1975 and MUNA. “We’re going for alt-pop – we know what our roots are as an indie pop band, but we’re really excited to explore those slightly outside-the-box pop songs, the off-kilter, ones that make you sit up and pay attention,” says Natti. “Of course, we’ve got the classic Fickle Friends songs too for good measure!”
The group’s lineup sees Natti on vocals, Harry Herrington with bass, Jack Wilson on synth, and drums by Sam Morris. Natti and Sam embarked to Brighton after studying at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, meeting Jack and Harry through friends on the local creative scene. With a shared love of American indie pop and Paramore, and growing up on Two Door Cinema Club, and French house legends Justice, they honed their killer stage presence and energy on the town’s open-mic nights and sweaty DIY band scene. Across the years, they’ve garnered a passionate, dedicated following that dubbed themselves the “Fickle Fans”.
While production is still ongoing on the album – with trips between their homey Brighton studio in Jack’s loftspace where they have all of their own gear, and London for meetings– it’s been a worthwhile exercise in creative control and grassroots DIY spirit once more post-major label. This time, production and songwriting is led solely by the band, only passing the buck for mixing and mastering. Natti recalls their time in the Cali valleys with “shitty” songwriting experiences, and inconsistent producer sessions marking it as a lesson in creative autonomy that they’ve sworn to stick to for future records. “Everything is from scratch, down to the live drums this time, and it feels more flexible, so much more us,” says Natti. Natti and Jack have also spent time in the last year writing and producing for other industry acts, honing their craft and tapping their own individual styles.
Album 2 riffs on the insidious aspects of life that can consume you from within – whether it’s a difficult to navigate relationship or an internal battle with self-worth. As Natti reflects, “sometimes you can suppress what’s going on, you can try to forget about it and fill your life with other things, but then things manifests in weird ways and infiltrate your behaviour.” The first single from this upcoming record is “Amateurs”, a reflection on feeling totally out of your depth in an intense love affair, and a sour-sweet taster of things to come. “There’s moments on this record that were born out of feeling really mentally depleted, others were so emotionally cathartic to just get on a page,” Natti says. “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” is a sweeping, cinematic banger with fizzing guitar licks, born of frustrations about not feeling truly understood, while “Own It”, Natti says, is an intimate, reflective love-letter to her own body. Mental health is a seminal influence on the shape and skeleton of the new album – “We were falling apart after the last record,” says Natti. “It’s a miracle we’re not killing each other. Instead now we’re so close we finish each other’s sentences!” Her lyrics go deeper into her ongoing struggle with mental health, while she’s working on overcoming the panic attacks and stage fright that dominated the band’s last tour cycle – including the group’s seminal Shepherd’s Bush Empire show. Social media’s ilk is dissected on the LP, but it also proves to be a vehicle for connection with fans – Natti especially has found being more open on FF’s socials with her struggles has proved incredibly raw and meaningful.
Other tunes on the new album traverse a variety of personas and perspectives for fictional, narrative songs – ”Pretty Great” recalls the uninhibited spirit of Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night”, but with a pulsing undercurrent that’s replacing facing IRL problems with partying and recklessness. They pull from the big-room energy of Bring Me The Horizon as much as the unpretentious pop lilts of Sheryl Crow. The band comes most alive in their nostalgia-driven, future-facing takes on ballads: “I just love writing love songs!” says Natti. Having been with her boyfriend for four years, songwriting has been a therapeutic place to write herself out of self-sabotage and “the weirdest spirals you can catch yourself in, even when you’re in total love.”
Going forward, the group continues to interrogate how they can be a better band for the planet. They’re passionate about climate activism – attending the strikes with peers Wolf Alice and Black Honey – and they collaborated with PETA to spread the good word at their gigs. Natti’s been successfully running Swap Shop, a sustainable event for swapping and recycling clothes in an upstart challenge to fast fashion, and has plans to bring it to their upcoming shows. They’re also working on sourcing vintage shirts to print on for an environmentally conscious Fickle Friends merch line.
Aching to get out on the road and test new material, Fickle Friends are kicking off an intimate, week-long sold out UK tour this December. With the album set for the Summer, they’ll blast into festival season “We’re rebuilding the buzz again,” Natti says. “And we’re a festival band, that’s where we are totally alive and thriving. That stage is home! I can’t wait to show everyone this living embodiment of what we are.”