The electro-pop duo's new record, Vacation, is an upbeat reaction to the tinsel town grind.
FRENSHIP, aka Brett Hite and James Sunderland, sprang from an unlikely set of circumstances about seven years ago.
The duo is embarking on a multi-city tour of the U.S. in late May following Vacation's release. They spoke to Popdust about their new record, and how the duo came to be so talented in crafting pop records.
So you guys are calling from LA?
Brett: Yes. Yes, we are.
Do you live there?
James: We do! I'm in Silver Lake and Brett's in Sherman Oaks.
A friend of mine looked you up on Wikipedia - which as a self-respecting writer never occurred to me to do - and he said you guys met while working at a Lululemon store??
Brett: [laughs] Yeah, that is true. It's pretty absurd.
How did it go down between the two of you, then? Did you start chatting about music standing around selling yoga pants?
James: I started working there about a month and change before Brett, in 2012. I was coming off a shitty DJ career and Brett was coming off a singer-songwriter thing he was kinda fried on. We were two of maybe three guys who worked in the entire store, so naturally, we were drawn to each other. Then all the girls were like, "You both do music, you should try doing something together." So we listened to each other's stuff and thought it was cool but weren't really motivated to work together. But we hit the town together for two or three months, pretty hard. We drank that town dry and eventually decided to try and make a song. That first was "Kids." Brett used to say, "What if we did Mumford and Sons meets Skrillex!" We didn't land there at all, but we were trying to combine our two paths. And that was it! Love at first sight.
When was that first track, "Kids," completed?
Brett: It was February or March 2013, I think. We presented it to people and they indicated it was better than anything I had done alone.
Sometimes people need a Lennon or McCartney to complete their musical vision.
Brett: Yeah! That was such an important part of it: James is coming from a DJ world but grew up singing, and he had a more eclectic musical upbringing than was reflected in the music he was doing on his own. The world I knew was the guitar and songs I was writing in my bedroom. I was interested in more electronic elements.
Tell me about the name of your project.
James: Frenship was birthed out of those few months together hanging out in Santa Monica -
Brett: With all the other white people.
James: [laughs] Yeah. I don't know where I heard it first but a mantra we repeated was, "There's big ships, there's little ships, but the best ships are friendships!" We used to yell that across the bar to each other. I think I learned it from a preschooler back in the day.
So it's basically how a five-year-old would spell "friendship."
Brett: Mmhmm. At the time it was sooooo cool to pull out all the vowels out of a name, so we thought we'd one-up them and pull out a consonant, too.
I see you're touring on your new album starting this May. There may be no reason for this, but why are you starting in San Francisco?
James: S.F. is one of our stronger markets. We know we can sell the first one out.
What venues have you played there?
Brett: Last time we were there we played The Independent. I was so sick for that show that I was in the hotel right up to start time and then went right back when we walked off. So I don't really remember it that clearly.
James: We played [San Francisco music festival] Outside Lands in 2017, as well.
Did you guys have a good experience there?
James: Yeah it was great! It was fucking slammed.
Brett: We weren't too thrilled with our set time, a Sunday afternoon. We thought nobody would show up, but it was super crowded, one of the biggest we'd played for.
Going back to that fabled Lululemon shop: what were the commonalities in terms of influences that led to you becoming bandmates?
Brett: Susan Boyle.
Brett: Josh Groban.
Brett: [laughs] Just kidding.
James: [laughs] I don't think there were that many commonalities in the early days. In our Venn diagram, our little sliver is really tiny. I think we both got on board with Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, we both listened to Disturbed growing up, Sublime, a little hip hop, Biggie.
How about more electronic stuff? Like, I don't know, Air, Daft Punk...
James: I listened to a shit ton of Daft Punk growing up. I thought they were rad. That 2007 album was a great one for me.
Brett: There were some weird local things that we agreed on. There was a band called Love Life that was around for a minute. Cape Boy from Sweden. Even though our music is pretty pop-oriented, we tend to not listen to what's on the charts. These days we can predict what each other will like. In the early days we tried to force our own thing into it; it took us a second to realize that what Frenship is is different than what I would make on my own or what James would make on his own.
It goes back to that Lennon-McCartney "greater than the sum of its parts" idea.
Where did you guys grow up?
James: I grew up in Colorado and Brett grew up in Washington state.
And when did you move out to LA?
James: I've got almost ten years under my belt. Brett?
Brett: I moved out here in 2012.
I was reading some of the press material and it mentioned your attitude towards L.A. as being kind of love-hate. And that was somehow expressed through the single "Capsize" [released in 2016 on Colombia].
Brett: We both grew up in the mountains and the trees, outdoors. At least for me, there's a sense of restriction, confinement in L.A. I've recently gotten into cycling because it creates a sense of freedom. It's such a weird place. Everyone comes to "make something of themselves." The whole idea of L.A. and Hollywood isn't really our cup of tea, in spite of being in the thick of it trying to do the same as everyone else. [laughs]
James: Yep, trying to be famous. [laughs] When you're here for so long you realize it's such a bubble. Every conversation is networking. it's good to get out of here once in a while and be a real human.
Which brings us to your new album, Vacation. What is the significance of that title?
James: The songs were written over a relatively long period of time, a tumultuous one. "Capsize" had kicked it all off for us and we signed to a major record label, Columbia. The song did what it did [certified platinum in the U.S.] - we thought it could have gone further, but whatever - and after that, we were kind of forgotten about a bit; we didn't have a follow-up single that went platinum or double platinum. When that happens you go a bit down the totem pole at a place like Colombia. So that relationship got a bit difficult. Then they went through regime change and our guy got booted out. We stopped our deal mid-album. We gave up the rights to "Capsize" to get out of it. We were just tired of the game and of what the city was doing to us. So we just needed a vacation! And we ended up signing with [UK label] Ninja Tune. The songs on Vacation are the culmination of a really arduous part of our career, a frustration with L.A.
I noticed tracks 5 and 11 are GPS coordinates. What do those represent?
Brett: One is Spokane and one is where James grew up just outside Denver.
The idea being to kind of go back to a simpler, more innocent time from the complicated swamp of L.A.?
James: Yeah, that's a perfect way to put it. It's going back to who we are: good old fashioned mountain men. [laughs]
Brett: It's Brokeback music.
Where have you found the largest audience for what you do?
Brett: It's hard to say. Here in L.A. half the crowd is industry people with their arms folded so we always look forward to playing shows in San Francisco, Chicago, New York…
Brett: Yeah, yeah. People just show up and have a good time. Which is the basis for what we do. We want every person to feel they belong and be who they want to be.
James: As far as the numbers, we've generally done well in Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Italy, Germany…
Brett: Everywhere! [laughs]
James: Every FUCKING country, man!
Brett: Yeah, the 12 researchers they have over there. [laughs]
What's the live show look like? What's the setup?
James: A lot of fire, pyro... cryo.
James: Tutus and pyro. [laughs] No, um, Brett's on guitar, I'm on bass, we both go back and forth singing, we've got a drummer and a keyboardist who does some backing vocals and track work.
Was that band involved with Vacation, or is it just you two?
Brett: The album is just us, mainly. But on the live shows, we have a band and we encourage them to bring their own "flare." I think it makes it fun and not so robotic.
Talking about [single and video] "Wanted A Name" and how it relates to your deaf fans. How did all that come about?
Brett: We were playing festivals and had interpreters for our shows. We were very captivated by them, we thought they were really entertaining. Sign language is so expressive, so interesting to watch. Through that, we learned a lot and the very idea of having deaf music fans!
Did you ever get a sense of how they experience your music?
Brett: It's something they can only describe to a degree. It's case by case. But Millicent Simmonds, the actress in the video, we asked her a bunch of questions. She hears to a degree but she really feels it. At home, she blasted the music really loud.
I've seen interpreters at shows and they're incredible. So kinetic and energetic.
James: Yeah, they almost upstage us!
What was recording Vacation like?
James: We produced a lot of it ourselves in Ojai, this hippy town near Santa Barbara. There's a couple of other people on the record, production wise. Our buddy Nick Ruth is on it, another guy named Robopop. But primarily we wrote and produced it ourselves.
What's the breakdown between analog and electronic on the album?
James: It leans 60 or 70 percent electronic on most tracks. It's definitely a hybrid.
Have you guys toured enough to be jaded by the experience, or are you looking forward to this next one?
Brett: That's interesting because I was looking back at old videos of us on our first tour, and I was noticing a kind of purity and joy...I wouldn't say we're jaded now, but I think we see it differently.
What cities are you most excited about visiting?
Brett: Being from the Pacific Northwest I'm looking forward to Portland and Seattle. And Denver, Toronto, other cities where we do well.
James: We're really excited to see everybody. This is gonna be the best tour to date!
Brett: We won't mess up any of the lyrics this time.
Check out FRENSHIP's newest video, Remind You, below!
Frenship - Remind You (Official Video) www.youtube.com
Matt Fink lives and works in Brooklyn. For more of his work go to organgrind.com.
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Ideas are indestructible, and Anonymous was always—first and foremost—an idea.
Anonymous is back.
Today, the hacktivist group broke a long silence and delivered a few stunning blows to institutions of power. They briefly took down the Minneapolis Police Department's website and threatened to expose the department's "many crimes to the world". These crimes include the murder of George Floyd, which has sparked a wave of protests across the nation.
"Officers who kill people and commit other crimes need to be held accountable just like the rest of us," said an Anonymous narrator in a video originally shared on Facebook. "Otherwise, they will believe that they have a license to do whatever they want. People have had enough of this corruption and violence from an organization that promises to keep them safe. After the events of the past few years, many people are beginning to learn that you are not here to save us but rather you are here to oppress us and carry out the will of the criminal ruling class. You are here to keep order for the people in control, not to provide safety for the people who are controlled. In fact, you are the very mechanism that elites use to continue their global system of oppression."
Anonymous also leaked a long list of people alleged listed in Jeffrey Epstein's "Little Black Book," his collection of addresses of people who ran in the notorious pedophile's circles. Some of the implicated included Donald Trump, Mick Jagger, and the Royal Family. Some people on Twitter are also saying that the platform is deleting the documents shared by Anonymous, which include what appears to be an affidavit accusing Trump of pedophilia.
In response to this and to nationwide protests against the death of George Floyd, Trump designated ANTIFA—a leftist activist group loosely associated with Anonymous, if at all—as a terrorist association.
It's near impossible to know what's true or what's real right now, but one thing is clear: Anonymous is back, and with a vengeance.
But what is Anonymous? To answer that unanswerable question, we'll have to look back in time to bygone era: the early 2000s.
Once upon a time, the Internet was less a broken mirror of reality and more a diversion from it.
Maybe that's why prior to the era of identity monetization, blue check marks, and self-branding, anonymity was synonymous with power.
In the early 2000s, a group known as Anonymous sprung up across digital platforms, born out of a spirit of loose anarchism and disruption. "Anonymous" or "Anon" is an umbrella term, and like the Internet itself, the group was always slippery and amorphous.
Between 2003 and 2018, Anonymous's loosely interconnected network of digital hacktivists took on everything from Scientology to the Clintons to ISIS to Trump. At some point, they fractured, and it's unclear as to whether they still exist in any unified context. Was Anonymous an idea? A joke? A movement?
Attempting to answer these questions is a doomed enterprise from the start, because the group is (or was) so decentralized, so scattered, and so complex that it resists exact definition.
But perhaps Anonymous can also teach us something about our modern political moment—after all, the group was entwined with many of the major political forces of the past decade, from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring to QAnon. Maybe it can teach us something about the art of modern rebellion, especially in a rapidly digitizing and artificial age when information is poised to become the most valuable currency of all.
Welcome to the netherworld of Anonymous, where everyone can be no one.
Born of Trolls, Hackers Turn to Scientology
The hacktivist network known as "Anonymous" arose around 2003. Springing up on 4chan, the group began as a collective of tricksters harnessing the Internet to pull pranks and seed an ethos of trolling and general disarray.
Anonymous eventually gained global reach thanks to its appealing ethos of decentralized leadership and general anarchical spirit. With memetic virality, it spread thanks to broad, decentralized messaging techniques and an emphasis on both humor and justice.
Today, two images are usually associated with Anonymous. There's the Guy Fawkes mask from the 2006 film V for Vendetta, which follows one activist's quest to end a totalitarian fascist rule in England; and there's the "man without the head" image that symbolizes the group's commitment to decentralized, anti-authoritarian rule.
Early on, the group embarked on helter-skelter actions and pranks, with mixed results. The group targeted the white nationalist figure Hal Turner in 2006, eventually exposing him as an FBI informant, and Anonymous first began to dive into high-profile political activism through an effort called "Project Chanology," a coordinated protest against the Church of Scientology. After the Church removed a video of Tom Cruise because they believed it portrayed them negatively, Anonymous hackers started a campaign to take down Scientology once and for all. They posted a video called "Message to Scientology" and launched a crusade against the church, which included a coordinated attack on the organization's website.
And so a movement was born. Thousands of people showed up in real life to protests around the country. "It was a very bizarre scene," the former hacker Gregg Housh said of the protest he attended in Los Angeles. "Here is a church created by a science-fiction author, being protested by people wearing masks created by a science-fiction author." Reality was bending; the simulation was showing its cracks.
For the next decade, Anonymous would harness the Internet in unprecedented ways, fighting for justice and destruction, for irony and distraction, and for change that would reverberate all the way to the top.
WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring: Anonymous Gets Political
Anonymous quickly shifted focus towards censorship and free speech. They used DDoS (Distributed Denial of Services) attacks to shut down websites they viewed as threatening to freedom. In 2010, they emerged to protest a censorship bill in Australia; and later that year, they collaborated to defend WikiLeaks after Amazon kicked Julian Assange's operation off its servers and Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal stopped processing donations to the group. (Anonymous later separated itself from WikiLeaks, due to Assange's influence over the organization).
Around the same time, a segment of the group decided that they'd collectively become too serious. They needed more "lulz"—LOLs, laughs, the trolling ethos that originally inspired the group. So a group called Lulz Security (or LulzSec) was born. They hacked the CIA's website. The next month, the FBI arrested fourteen Anonymous hackers for the aforementioned earlier attacks on PayPal, and Anonymous began to rise on the US government's radar.
In 2011, when the Tunisian government blocked WikiLeaks, Anonymous launched a crusade to support protestors in the movement that would eventually spark the Arab Spring. One of the more infamous leaders of LulzSec, Hector Xavier Monseguer (or "Sabu")—who would later become an FBI informant—and others also allegedly helmed a DDoS attack on the Tunisian government's websites. Anonymous was also integral to the planning of 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, which were somewhat similar to the organization in that they lacked internal structure and clear leadership and set goals.
Soon, White House staff became concerned that the group could destabilize the US power grids. The group became known as cyber-terrorists and anarchists. Perhaps out of necessity, or because its major players were being taken out or growing up and leaving hacktivism behind, Anonymous fractured around 2015 and 2016, leaving behind conspiracies and a legacy of rupture and chaos.
Still, Anonymous's penchant for social action continued throughout the 2010s. In 2013, Operation Safe Winter fought to raise awareness about homelessness. In 2014, a group called "Operation Ferguson" organized cyberprotests against the police after the death of Michael Brown.
In 2015, Anonymous shifted its focus towards the Islamic State. #OpISIS was a response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris; despite being a largely uncoordinated effort, they still managed to make waves. "For more than a year, a ragtag collection of casual volunteers, seasoned coders, and professional trolls has waged an online war against the Islamic State and its virtual supporters," writes E. T. Brooking. But they never lost their irreverence.
"Taking away the free speech from a group that is advocating the end of free speech is delicious fun," a member wrote on a Reddit forum about the Hebdo operation.
"They rise up most forcefully when it comes to Internet freedoms and technology, particularly technology that is being abused in some way," says Brian Knappenberger, creator of the documentary We Are Legion. "They're sort of protectors of the Internet. This is their territory, and if it's abused, they're personally offended."
In the latter half of the 2010s, Anonymous waged war against pedophiles and the dark web. In 2018, they lashed out at QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy group that stole Anonymous's branding despite a complete lack of alignment with most of Anonymous's central ideologies.
Some members of Anonymous may have gone off to join QAnon; it's hard to know. Though different from Anonymous, QAnon shares some of Anonymous's hatred of the government—its "deep state" paranoia echoes Anonymous's fears of totalitarianism.
Today, QAnon members often show up at Trump campaign rallies, and though Anonymous and QAnon have very different ideas about what constitutes freedom and free speech, it's clear they both believe they're fighting for it.
In the wilderness of the Internet, especially when so many layers of irony interlace with each other and when trolls abound, it's easy for ideologies to twist out of form. It's easy for trolls to be mistaken as criminals, too—just as it's easy for trolls to become criminals. On the Internet, at least outside the realm of corporate influence and bribes, identity is as fluid and amorphous as you want it to be. Anonymous members can become Trump supporters who can become Bernie supporters who can become QAnon supporters who can become FBI informants who can then rejuvenate Anonymous.
If the Anonymous movement shows us anything, it's that identity and ideology are not set. They're as fluid as the shifting landscape of the World Wide Web, which might just be a reflection of the shifting tides of the human spirit.
Remembering Anonymous in 2020
If you Google Anonymous, you'll see the question "is anonymous good"? pop up on the search bar.
A short search will reveal that most self-proclaimed authorities on the subject believe that Anonymous is neither good nor evil. Instead, it's a diverse group made up of people from all around the world, bound together by a shared symbol rather than a structure or hierarchy.
Because Anonymous never had a set ideology or leader, there's no one precise way to understand them. There's no way to know what's real, or if Anonymous was ever the super-group that the media made it out to be. Most likely, it was more of an idea than anything else, though it may still exist in pockets. There's also no way to tell if the group has just gone further underground or if it truly has been dead for years.
According to Gabriella Coleman, Anonymous was always about freedom and secrecy. "They dramatize the importance of anonymity and privacy in an era when both are rapidly eroding," she writes.
In terms of ethos, Coleman argues that Anonymous embodied an ancient trickster archetype, using old ideas about freedom, hedonism, and the randomness of the universe to cope with an increasingly unbearable modernity. "Nietzsche was attuned to the vitality of sensuality, myth, and art. Music, poetry, and even the mad laughter of the trickster Dionysus, who he championed, offer an aesthetic life of pleasure," she writes in her book Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. "They are pursuits through which humans can overcome their limits and the tragic condition of life: 'Not by wrath does one kill but by laughter. Come, let us kill the spirit of gravity!'"
Is Anonymous nothing more or less than an idea, which became a movement and an identity? Was it all just a story? Has the story ended, or has it fractured and bled into other movements and other corners of the Internet?
Someone in a Guy Fawkes mask is out there, laughing.
The Anonymous forum on Reddit is alive and well. A month ago, one Redditor mused, "Is Anonymous just a legend to teach us that we do not need a name or an organization to use our power?" Could Anonymous have been a myth designed to reveal that 'All of us can anonymously exploit the options that we have (elections, commercial decisions, jobs we chose, freetime activities) to change the world together?'"
A few months ago, #AnonHasBeenDeadForYears trended on Twitter. Some agreed with the hashtag. Some warned the world that Anonymous has never been dead—instead, it's everywhere.
These are the kind of conversations that Anonymous inspires. Half-ironic, half-imbued with radical visions—zombified, always mutating—Anonymous (or whatever remains of it) persists.
Maybe it persists in part because it, ironically, offered a form of identity, of differentiation, of meaning crafted through collectivity born out of a crisis of meaning. Perhaps in anonymity, there is identity.
"On the street...I am just another person in a sea of faces," writes a (fittingly) anonymous blogger in Dazed, in a piece that may or may not be a parody or a fake—we'll never know. "But in cyberspace we are different. We helped free the people of Egypt. We helped fight against Israel as it attempted genocide. We exposed more than 50,000 paedophiles around the world." Now they're fighting police brutality and the carceral state.
"We have taken to the streets to fight for the rights you are letting slip through your fingers," the blogger continues. "We are Anonymous."