Fickle Friends are just like your mates – funny, self-deprecating, likely tipsy – except they perform at sold-out festivals. Seven years and one Top 10 album in, they’re just getting started.
There’s a video online that sums up Fickle Friends pretty well. It’s the BTS for their recent single, Eats Me Up, which they shot and choreographed themselves. In it, lead singer Natassja (Natti) Shiner sits cross-legged on the dreamy, purplish set, firing off names of yoga positions: Urdhva Hastasana, Chaturanga Dandasana. She demands a shot. The band’s drummer, Sam Morris, jokes as he sifts through almost empty bottles of absinthe, and their bassist Harry Herrington drops in to slurp an imaginary shot out of a vague kitchen appliance. Meanwhile, Jack Wilson, producer, keyboardist and avid hat-wearer, is trying to get some angles on the hired camera.
There’s sudden news of vegan cheesecake available on Deliveroo, and excited uproar ensues. It’s chaos; a group of friends in fuzzy socks and sliders goofing off with a haze machine. If it wasn’t for the high quality, the footage would look like it was pulled from someone’s Snapchat story. Then the song fades in. Confident vocals against crisp, precise pop production that feels deceivingly effortless.
Fickle Friends exude personality.
I catch Shiner over a fuzzy phone call in the wake of her two weeks of self-isolation. “Yeah, I got the virus,” she says from her flat in London. “I was riddled with the Rona!” She’s almost entirely recovered now, but the symptoms – achy body, a bad, dry cough, total disappearance of taste and smell – had laid her out for almost nine days. “You know when you do a roly-poly in the swimming pool and accidentally get water up your nose? And it’s like that horrible, horrible feeling. Up in your sinuses. Every time I inhaled through my nose, that was the feeling.”
Despite being ill, Shiner has been bursting at the seams with creative energy. With the rest of the band quarantined in their respective flats around Brighton, they’re still trying to figure out how to work remotely. She’s kept her mornings busy with – and often filming classes of – yoga, lifting her legs above her head, forearms firmly planted, as her black cat Sue scurries across the frame in confusion. The remainder of the day is spent illustrating photos her Instagram followers have sent her, learning covers on her guitar and reading books tackling race and class warfare.
The rest of the band are coping similarly, though Herrington yearns for a game console to kill the time and Morris briefly contemplates challenging himself to devour several packets of Oreos. Shiner exudes a blithe sort of brightness, that girl at the festival who somehow pulls of a bucket hat and handles hard liquor like a champ. It’s no surprise that her band, then, delivers such bouncy, thrilling, synth-pop bangers.
Shiner formed Fickle Friends seven years ago. Initially embarked on a musical theatre course at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts — she breaks into a self-deprecating laugh at this: “I love thinking that I ever thought I could do that, mental,” – she started writing songs, and met now-band member Morris. “I was like, right. I want to start a band. It’s gonna be my band, and it’s gonna be sick.” she says, then, directed at Morris. “I thought, you’re a drummer, you’re the only person I know. You can be in the band.” That was that. They’d both moved down to Brighton to pursue music school, where she was paired up with Wilson for an assignment.
“He was just like this guy in my class who was a bit of a flirt,” she laughs. “So, I didn’t really know if I liked him or not, but we just really, really clicked. It was really weird. I think we were playing songs from the Lion King, or something. Harmonising. And it was this movie pitch-perfect moment, and we were like: ‘Oh my god, wow, this is sick,’ and we just kind of joined each other’s bands as key players. Then Fickle Friends became more of a thing.”
Finally, they were introduced to Wilson’s school-friend, Herrington. She goes on: “We kind of had a guy who played bass, but we weren’t super clicking with him. Then Jack was like: ‘My mate can shred,’ and we were like, ‘Ooh.’” Since then, the four-part band has toured all over the UK, sold out Shepherd’s Bush Empire, performed at Reading, and had their debut album You Are Someone Else break into the Top 10.
That hourlong album flies by. With smooth transitions across tracks and an energy that offers little reprieve, Shiner’s mature lyricism opens up each chorus to an 80s-esque euphoria-chasing landscape. Some highlights being: the vocal echoes of Brooklyn, the electric summertime zing of Swim, and the ultimate stuck-in-your-head melody of Glue. Their most recent singles, which feel slightly more explorative, are even better.
Shiner recalls how she and Wilson found Pretty Great at the bottom of a whiskey bottle: “Jack and I spent, like, a 10-hour day working through different ideas and putting pins in everything, like: ‘This is crap, this is bleurgh,’ and then we just opened a bottle of whiskey at maybe 8pm, and were just going to be like: ‘Oh, we’ll have a drink, we’ll go to bed and we’ll start fresh tomorrow.’ Then, I don’t know, it just came about, in about half an hour. And we wrote the song and were like,” – she tells me, now slurring her voice to mimic the moment – “’Is this amazing or is this like really crap?’ We’ll see in the morning. And I woke up singing it, and I was like: ‘Yes!'” The verdict is compelling. The cut’s charming, relatable lyrics urge you to sing them into your nearest hairbrush-microphone: “Now I’m alone and I feel so dead/Wish I could be talking to you instead.”
Their evolving sound, however, has not been without criticism. There is a very real tension for ever-developing bands between albums, having accrued fans used to a certain, specific style. “This record is super varied. I mean, maybe we’ll lose a lot of fans because of it,” says Shiner. “I’ve had so many comments recently, about people being all: ‘Oh, I used to love your old stuff. Hopefully, you’ll get some new fans because I’m not gonna listen to you anymore,’ and stuff like that. Which is just like: ‘Woah! Knife to the heart.’
“We’re not constantly like, ‘We need to sound like Fickle Friends,’ whatever that is. I think [change] is happening really naturally. It gets boring doing the same things over again. And we’ve done that swung drumbeat, we’ve done Brooklyn, we’ve done Glue, and those songs – I love them. But we’re not gonna do a new, watered-down version of that, because our heart wouldn’t be in it.”
Shiner’s favourite song, however, isn’t even out yet. “Classic. Sorry,” she says, laughing in earnest. With festival season cancelled and their tours pushed back, there’s major gig-withdrawal in the form of wistful tweets and a fixed focus on putting out singles. “There’s a fresh track. It’s called What A Time to Be Alive. Very apt. Very of the time. We listened to Mura Masa for two weeks straight, and then we were just like: ‘Let’s do a fucking out-there, kind of wacko, Fickle Friends but like dirty, dance track,’ and then that came out. I think it’ll probably be the next single we release. An anthem for everyone in quarantine.”
The grocery list of inspirations – Phoenix, Bombay Bicycle Club, Gengahr, Phoebe Bridgers, Lennon Stella – indicate an unyielding love for music itself, promising an exciting time ahead as they rev up for wider mainstream popularity. With almost half a million monthly listeners on Spotify, Fickle Friends remain a firm favourite across Indie Pop playlists. I anticipate a sophomore album that’s even sexier, riskier and more eclectic than the first. Whatever the ‘Fickle Friends sound’ may be, one thing is certain: we’ve only had a taste of what they have to offer.