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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