Friendship: a state of enduring affection, esteem, intimacy, and trust between two people; a town in Maine and the name of one of Philadelphia’s best bands. A quartet based around the songwriting of Dan Wriggins, Friendship have been active since back in 2015 when they released their debut album, You’re Going to Have to Trust Me. After teaming up with Orindal Records for two further records, including the brilliant 2019 album Dreamin’, the band recently made the leap to Merge, and last week shared their latest offering, Love The Stranger.
Love The Stranger began with a process of the band demoing and experimenting in their own apartments, mapping out ideas for where the songs would go, long before they went into Brad Krieger’s Big Nice Studio in Rhode Island. The record feels like both evolution and revolution, a sound recognisable to those who already love them and yet one that pushes their ambition to new levels. Friendship have always walked the line between intimacy and relatability, take a song like Ugly Little Victory, the first to be shared from the new record. On the one hand, it’s a deeply personal vision of domesticity, making dinner together, music low, lost in something on your mobile phone, together but disconnected, on the other it is a universal musing on the difficulty of maintaining a relationship without losing yourself, “I need solitude, and I also need you, it sucks when it ends and it sucks when it had no end, what an irritating mystery”.
The record is dotted throughout by a series of instrumental pieces, similar to those that have been woven throughout Eels’ career, they feel less like asides and more like in-breaths, gentle moments of contemplation before the more traditional songs spring forth with subtle intensity. Take the gentle fizzing of Blue Canoes, a moment of calm before the record slides into the driving Hank, a song that presents a macho exterior hiding the hurt underneath, as Dan sings, “I’m usually lost and I’ve got precious little finesse, but I’m still the boss, I’m still tougher than the rest”. The theme of male posturing is revisited on Mr. Chill, reworked from Dan’s excellent solo EP of last year, a song about staying busy and avoiding our darker thoughts, it’s full of mindless work, “I’ve been picking up heavy things and putting them down”, and not facing up to your problems, “I can tell you stuff I can’t tell anyone else, because you don’t threaten to help”. The adage of men needing to talk has become so omnipresent, there’s something quite stark about the way the struggle that comes with doing that is presented here, particularly on the wonderful Ramekin, which finds Dan, “soaking in my briny defiance, famously over-analyzing”, before digging deep to the root of his struggles, “where I would’ve been without your love, in the alternate version I maybe would’ve had a more open heart but there’s no way of confirming”.
For a record that deals openly with the struggles of expressing emotions, it’s perhaps fitting that some of its best moments are when Dan lets the tap run wild, whether it’s Season, where over the swelling twang of guitars and complex percussive flourishes he openly wonders about, “how to hang on to the love you get and how to make it stretch, how to keep doing the things you should, how to hang on to the days you felt good”. My personal favourite is the stunning Alive Twice, a song inspired by the poet Linda Gregg and her dedication to her love Jack Gilbert, an all-caps inscription: “IT WAS LIKE BEING ALIVE TWICE”. It’s a message so perfect in its simplicity, that Dan borrows it almost word-for-word, as he concludes a song of twitchy electronics and ringing piano notes, “walking around with you or just hanging out in your room, didn’t matter what we got up to, every minute with you was like being alive twice”.
Love The Stranger feels like a big moment for Friendship, a band who’ve had a certain cult acclaim suddenly finding the world casting a glance in their direction. Much more important than how many people hear it, this is a record with the potential to mean the world to those who do, it is a record that offers a hand and invites you in, a stranger welcomed in with friendship and love into this record’s warm embrace, it doesn’t offer the answers, but you’ll find few better places to rest a while as you try and work them out for yourself.
Following the album’s release, Dan Wriggins recently took some time to answer my questions discussing signing to Merge, side-projects and why, “sustainable income from music still feels like a mirage on the horizon”.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who are Friendship?
Friendship is Peter Gill, Michael Cormier-O’Leary, Jon Samuels, and myself (Dan Wriggins). Peter, Michael, and I are originally from Maine. The band is based in Philadelphia.
FTR: You’re just about to release your new album, Love The Stranger, what can you tell me about the recording process?
We tracked it in about four days with Brad Krieger at Big Nice Studio in Lincoln, Rhode Island. Before that, we did a lot of demoing and experimentation with the songs at our apartments in Philadelphia.
FTR: What did you do differently in comparison to your previous records?
We messed around a lot more, stretched out. On Shock out of Season and Dreamin,‘ we were pretty focused on making something particular, maybe a little too focused on subtlety and understated arrangements. We’re still shaking that off.
FTR: The record is your first for Merge. How did that come about? Does it change your expectations for the album?
Our friend Shamir sent the record to the Merge folks, and they liked it! I’m not sure if working with Merge changes our expectations. It sure feels good! Kind of vindicating. Hopefully it means more people hear it. So far, everyone at Merge has been wonderful to work with.
FTR: Between Dreamin’ and the new record, you pursued some other musical projects, how do you think those endeavours influenced the sound of Love The Stranger?
Each of us has other projects we work on and write for. Peter’s band is called 2nd Grade. Jon plays guitar in 2nd Grade, and releases solo guitar music as JR Samuels. Michael releases songs under his own name, and composes music for his band Hour. The more music we make, the better we seem to get at it, and the diversity of projects gives everyone more perspective and skill. I think that’s apparent in the expansive color and life this album has.
FTR: I noticed that you reworked Mr. Chill from your solo EP. How did you go about making that track into a Friendship song?
“Mr. Chill” and “Season” both came from the Mr. Chill EP. We recorded them very quickly, and hadn’t really prepared an arrangement before getting to the studio. I remember thinking “We probably won’t include these, but lets try them out anyway.” They immediately sounded to us like they belonged, so we put them on the album.
FTR: I notice the press release speaks about creating a sense of community, which I think your music does really well. Are you conscious of connecting with the listener when you’re writing?
At some point in the writing process I probably think “will people be moved by this?” As long as you’re not conflating that question with “will people like this,” I think it’s important to ask. But also important not to assume you can intuit the answers accurately.
FTR: The name Friendship feels very fitting, where does it come from?
It’s the name of a town in Maine. I haven’t been there too many times, just thought it was a great name.
FTR: I love the sense of fracturing domesticity in Ugly Little Victory. Do you find it difficult to share these snapshots of your own life?
There might be moments of incidental nonfiction in some of these songs, but for the most part they’re made up. Even when a detail does happen to come from real life, I’ve never felt any difficulty putting it in a song. If it involves another person, an ex or something, that’s another question, and one I’ve found is best answered on an individual case level. I’m super proud of “salmon head in the sink/ wax paper turning pink” as an opening line, but it wasn’t me! In fact, I don’t eat meat. I’m stealing omnivore valor.
FTR: How’s the Philadelphia music scene at the moment? What bands should we be listening to?
It rules. SOUL GLO, Moor Mother, Florry, Flanafi, Katie Bejsiuk, Ylayali, Enchanted Forest, Nina Ryser
FTR: You’ve got some very busy touring plans coming up, what can people expect from the Friendship live show?
Peter and I have started standing up onstage. Jon has a clear head start on us in terms of swaying and moving around the stage and looking cool, but we’re hoping to catch up.
FTR: What are your aspirations for Friendship? Are you full-time musicians?
Michael is essentially a full-time musician/producer. The rest of us have jobs. Sustainable income from music still feels like a mirage on the horizon. Buy our record, and you’re like the clear, cool water of our oasis.
FTR: What’s next for Friendship?
I’ve got no idea what’s next. But we’re just getting started.