AFTER eight years away, Friendly Fires’ third album, Inflorescent, finds them more confident than ever.
After taking time out to reassess what music meant to them, singer Ed Macfarlane says he has revaluated his priorities.
“I believe in what we do more than ever,” he says.
“As a band, we have a service to do — to go out on stage and play these songs and create this positive atmosphere for people so they can get together and share a positive moment. We need that in the world today.”
After 2011’s Pala, which peaked at No6 in the album charts, crippling anxiety threatened his future in the band alongside Edd Gibson and Jack Savidge.
Macfarlane says: “Panic attacks started during the second part of the tour. I remember being in Toronto when it kicked in. I was on the tour bus and everything shut down. I didn’t know what was going on. It was weird.
“We did three shows at Brixton Academy (in London). I walked on stage and straight away had a feeling of dread. I was hiding away, thinking, ‘Oh God, I’ve got to do this again’.
“It wasn’t until a year later when I realised what a big thing it was. I burst into tears and said, “We played three sold-out nights at Brixton Academy — that’s f***ing amazing’!”
Macfarlane says he started to see a therapist, which helped him understand what was happening to him mentally and physically.
‘NO TURNING BACK’
“Therapy helped and I started to see the signs — but it wasn’t a case of getting help and suddenly everything was fine.
“As well as dealing with my anxiety, it took a lot of time to gain perspective of what this is all about and why we are doing this. That took quite a few years.
“We had to step away from music because the thought of playing live filled me with dread. I wasn’t aware of the good things about being in this band.
“All I could think was that we were about to get booed off stage. And I’d got into the habit of needing a drink to get on stage.”
As we meet in a café near Friendly Fires’ record label HQ in North London, Macfarlane looks happy and healthy. He is keen to chat and enthuses about their comeback.
“I didn’t think we’d ever make an album again,” he says.
“The shows we’ve played since we’ve come back have been brilliant.”
I’m a perfectionist, I guess, so I’m never going to be satisfied
Their 2008 self-titled debut received widespread acclaim and saw them nominated for the 2009 Mercury Prize.
Macfarlane says of that period: “The success and attention we had was amazing. They were fun times. But at the back of my mind was the idea that this could be the last time we ever do this — so I’d start indulging and going out getting wasted all the time.
“Then I’d wonder why the next day I didn’t sound so great. Of course it was because I’d been up until 4am.
“This kept happening until I freaked out. The self-doubt came from that and I worried I wasn’t a great performer.
“Then the anxiety got out of control. I’ve always been stupidly over-critical about what I do. I’m a perfectionist, I guess, so I’m never going to be satisfied.”
The time out meant Macfarlane didn’t see much of his bandmates.
It left him to reflect on what the three friends — who had met at school in St Albans aged 13 — had achieved as a band.
It took a while before the trio began to enjoy each other’s company again. They had to become friends again first.
Macfarlane calls the shows that followed “the best of their career”.
He says: “Seeing people on others’ shoulders, singing along, has been really emotional.
“We’ve been away for a long time and we are genuinely really appreciative of the support and reaction.” New music came late in 2017 when the band had the skeleton of the song Love Like Waves.
They had started meeting up, hanging out and writing. That song kick-started their return.
Macfarlane says: “We played that track to our manager and he said, ‘That’s the vibe you need’.
“Then we had Almost Midnight and Can’t Wait Forever and were ready for the next step.
“We wanted to put Love Like Waves out immediately and book a show. So things started moving and we knew there was no turning back. We needed to do that to make it real.”
Inflorescent is a vibrant, celebratory dance album with plenty of arms-in-the-air moments.
They include the upbeat Heaven Let Me In, the infectious Kiss And Rewind and a cover of 1988 house classic Lack Of Love.
Macfarlane says: “Lack Of Love was one of those tracks we always loved, so covering it was a real honour. Heaven Let Me In is essentially about not caring about things. Initially I had this idea of being underage and trying to get into a club.
“Someone spending ages in the mirror, double-checking what you are wearing and being self-conscious — and so they’ll never get in like that.
“It’s a message for myself that when I focus and am not distracted by all the other stuff, then we do a show and that atmosphere is perfect. It makes it all worthwhile.”
Macfarlane admits recording the album sober was a challenge for him at first. But he said the results are all the more rewarding.
“It was empowering to face something with a clear head,” he says.
I love that people aren’t just watching us on stage — they are dancing and are in the zone with their friends
“We binned about eight earlier tracks once we found ourselves in this confident and creative space.
“We found our sound and vibe and knew we were on to something.
“The tracks Silhouettes and Offline came from me listening to a lot of Seventies Brazilian music, funk and disco.
“It’s celebratory and positive. That’s the mood we felt. Silhouettes is a great single as it’s so in-your-face.
“It was great to find where we were going, what the next step was for the band. We have this real energy again.”
Inflorescent marks a welcome return for the dance trio and Macfarlane says it is only now he can look back and appreciate the difficult times they went through to reach this positive place.
“You only get good at things by failing,” he says.
“Life is practising. You never get to a point where you’ve fully achieved your potential and can sit back.
“We are enjoying writing and performing again and we have so much more still to come.
“This ‘Spotify generation’ are always absorbing new music all the time and that suits us.
“I think our new music has been going down incredibly well — if not better than some of the old stuff, to be honest.
“It’s really reassuring. And we’ve learned that our live shows are better by NOT being perfect. Our live show has this energy and I can appreciate it now.
“It’s not about perfect singing or dancing but experiencing a feeling. I love that people aren’t just watching us on stage — they are dancing and are in the zone with their friends. My dancing on stage is just a way of encouraging people to lose their inhibitions and get into the zone, too. It’s all about capturing a moment.”
Lifestyle changes — and learning to stop beating himself up — have put Macfarlane in a very positive frame of mind over Friendly Fires’ future.
He says: “In the time away, I’ve learned to have a more objective view of what the band is about and what fans get from us and our music. Before, I’d worry, ‘Am I going to be remembered as the guy who dances around on stage in a funny way?’
“And I no longer need a drink to get on stage. I can just get on there — and people are either going to like it or hate it, but they know what we are about now.
“We are in a great position where we are really free to do whatever we want.
“I’ve spent too much time worrying about things and it stopped me enjoying music.
“Now I want to make the most of it all and am loving every minute.”