Up Close & Personal: Friends of Friends

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Up Close & Personal: Friends of Friends

Friends of Friends
Words by Mixdown staff

A chat with lead vocalist of Brisbane outfit Friends of Friends, Barnaby Baker.

Fresh from touring with indie heavyweights Slowly Slowly, Brisbane indie rock outfit Friends of Friends return with hard-hitting new single ‘Morphine’ and news of their own national headline tour. We caught up with lead singer Barnaby Baker to dive deep into his musical journey thus far – from his Garageband beginnings to landing a spot on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist.

Read up on all the latest interviews here.

Tell us a bit about yourself! Can you please briefly describe your musical journey to this point?

I’ve played music all my life, I was lucky enough to have parents that pushed me to pick up as many instruments as possible. Drums are my primary instrument by a long shot, and I fumble my way on guitar, piano and bass for the Friends of Friends records. A big turning point for me was finding GarageBand on my step-dad’s laptop. I was instantly hooked. Making sounds became my cathartic obsession. Now, I’m just stuck with that same desperate feeling of needing to create. 

Friends of Friends started in uni after meeting Tom. We were both studying music at the Conservatorium, not totally sure which path to take in the industry. We both went to Splendour In The Grass together the year we met, and as we were watching The 1975 on stage, we turned to each other and just knew we had to give a band a shot… He’s now playing guitar in, and managing, Friends of Friends, while I do most of the writing / production / creative – with Morgan on drums, and Frank on bass to complete our line-up. 

How would you describe your current sound? What’s your primary instrument? What direction are you headed in, artistically speaking?

Primary instrument is drums, and then I fake my way on keys, guitar and bass on the Friends of Friends records. Genre less gets thrown around way too much, but FoF’ tracks tend to sit in their own genres. It’s a mixtape of all my favourite bands and sounds, but overall we’re shooting for a future focused indie-rock. There’s a few curve balls on the upcoming EP though with a softer country inspired track, as well as some hard hitting industrial rock cuts.

Are there any artists or producers that you look to for inspiration? 

Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) is a big inspiration for Friends of Friends. He is truly the king of synths. There’s one episode on Netlfix’ ‘Song Exploder’ where he talks about making synths from overly reverbed string samples that changed the game for me. It’s all about getting those electronic sounds to feel like breathing organisms, and I’m here for it. 

Brian Eno is also a huge inspiration as his approach to music making feels revolutionary, and almost removed from traditional producing. From his oblique strategies to his work with randomisation, Eno’s perspective on creating texture really helps me get closer to the organic, experimental sounds I want in my work. Let your DAW do the work!

And Jack Antonoff (Bleachers) really hits the nail on the head with jovial experimenting in his production phase. It’s really inspiring watching him pass sounds through his tape-deck, manually manipulating sonics, and play around with arrangements and sounds until something feels right. He’s ok with starting again, and flipping songs on their head. It’s really helpful to not let things get too locked in too quickly, and he’s the master of it. 

In your own words, please describe your average production workflow and setup. What are you running gear wise? Do you have a space that you work out of?

I don’t run templates on my sessions, I always open something blank, and just start working. I’m not trying to get bogged down in mixing, so I let the workflow breathe and be fluid at the start, but there are some specific plugins and techniques I use. 

Almost every writing session I do will start with some kind of droning texture. Whether it’s from a soft synth that runs through some magic plugins, or a live instrument that gets re-sampled and warped, without fail, I have to start with texture. Sometimes these textures prompt chord progressions, or guitar parts. I’ll then start hearing things that aren’t there, like a guitar part, or little ear candy thing, and the song starts to flesh itself out.

Once that initial harmonic layer is down, I’ll hear a drum part at some point, and try a few things until I’m getting excited about the rhythm section. 

I’ve got a home studio that I work from, which always sounds cooler than it is. But I was lucky to find a house with a large room and wooden floors that lend well to production and writing. It’s minimally treated, with just some tall baffles in the corner. I think having a live-ish space is important for your writing and production to come alive in, more so than having the perfect room. 

Is there anything unique or special about your setup? How did you get to that point?

The most unique part about the setup is simply having everything in the box. It’s not that uncommon or different – and it’s kind of born out of a budget necessity for Friends of Friends (who has money for a LA-2A? I know I don’t…), but I’ve overly leaned into the digital mindset. Most of the sounds that go into sessions come from audio snippets I’ve collected, or using a bow on an electric guitar etc, and the magic is in manipulating, warping and bending them. 

I love to bounce snippets of audio out of my DAW, and throw them into a sampler and play them back as chords or random phrases. It can create some really unique moments in your tracks. I’d definitely be more lost without a laptop than a guitar – and that’s kinda weird when I’m making indie-rock. You can literally do anything in whatever daw you use nowadays. Try everything.

Do you feel this equipment/software has had an influence on your unique sonic fingerprint? If so, in what ways?

Accepting that your musical life now lives inside of a computer can be a little weird, but I try to use it to my advantage. Small things like committing tracks, and nudging them out of time can create some really great variations on riffs and synth parts that you might not have thought of. It can take something average and turn it into something special. Running reverbs into that sans amp plugin everyone has is definitely another trick I often use. I love that big, wall of sound feel, and just throwing plugins in different orders can be the difference between something sounding nice, and something sounding unique (even if you’re not supposed to)

For instance; I used Waves Tune on the verse guitar riff in ‘Morphine,’ just to try it and it warbled the notes off from where I was playing in the coolest way. That tuned demo guitar stayed in the mix, and it’s a testament to breaking rules. 

What is your DAW of choice? What is it about this particular software that lends itself to your workflow and artistic pursuits?

Pro Tools is my life. I’ve been using it since highschool, but it means I’ve become dependent on it. If I can hear it in my head, I can most likely make it happen in Pro Tools but I can’t do that in Logic or Ableton, and so I’m stuck with AVID (iykyk) for the time being. I don’t like wasting time when I can hear something I want to create. 

What are you doing for monitoring? 

Currently on Yamaha HS5’s. They’re pretty transparent, but also small which I think is important. I don’t have a treated room, so I try not to listen back to anything too loud.

In terms of front-end/recording, do you have a preference for preamps/interface/converters? If so, what’s your go-to and why?

Most of the final recordings (especially vocals) will be recorded in various studios, so it’s really important for me to have a good clean vocal on the way in. I find it way better for comping takes, and you can always send the audio somewhere else, even back into preamps if you’re chasing that sound. I just want it clean and mean. 

Is there anything really cheap or lofi in your setup? Anything that punches above its weight or produces something sonically unique or left-of-centre?

UVI’s Synth Anthology is a MUST have for me. It’s only $150, and has more synth machines than you’ll have time to hear. They use real samples instead of emulation, so what you get is what you get, but I love the limitation of that. UVI kicks some serious ass. 

Do you tend to work in short bursts or marathon sessions? Where do you usually start? How do you know when something is finished? Are there any production techniques that you feel are an important part of your sound or process?

When a song, or lyric or musical idea comes my way, it gets fleshed out really quickly. But I’ll spend a lot of time mulling over demo’s, listening to music, and chipping away at songs until something happens. I’m a big believer in not waiting for inspiration to hit to start something. If you don’t sit by the river, you won’t catch any fish… 

In an average mix session, which plugin gets the most use and why?

Fab Filter’s Pro-Q gets rinsed. I much prefer that eq tp anything else i’ve used. Not only because the UI is so easy and intuitive, but the EQ sonics itself are incredible. I can’t tell if it’s because its completely transparent, or if there’s some kind of algorithm that de-harshes everything. Idk. It’s magic and I’m here for it. 

What’s your go-to compressor? What is it about that compressor that you like?

Distressor. You could burn all the compressors in the world, and give me that one. I feel like it gets a bad wrap for being strong, distorted, and only useful for high transient content, but I’ll use that bad boy on everything. Even just for 2-3db of compression, it just has a great mid punch thing that excites anything you throw at it. It’s not too warm either, so it lends itself to our digital-meets-indie vibe. 

What’s your go-to Reverb or Delay that’s important to your sound?

I absolutely adore Slate Digital’s VerbSuite. It’s not a very clean reverb, but the IR’s in it are really fun. I like doing the Eventide +5 – 5 cents trick with it and it works like a charm!

Also the stock Pro Tools Mod Delay III can make some great faux space for drums or guitars. I do a little 30ms delay on one side, and 40ms on the other – running into whatever reverb you like. Really livens up sampled drums especially. 

If you could only use one type of effect for the rest of your life (ie Reverb, Modulation, Saturation, Delay etc) what would it be and why?

Hmm, that’s pretty tricky. Would probably have to go for compression over everything else. You could probably make some pretty unique tracks, whether it be a UK garage cut, or a softer sincere moment. (Would probably try and cheat with some long release pads to make some space, that doesn’t break the rules, right?)

What advice would you give to someone at any point in their music-making or playing journey? (Who might be starting out or encountering some issues or even thriving)

Don’t Stop! I’ve recently found that at the point that I’d usually stop working on a track because of discouragement, or feel like I’m not getting anywhere with something, it’s just before you make a breakthrough. Every time I’ve pushed on, I’ve gotten something I needed to make the song work. 

What’s your dream piece of equipment you’d like to own and why?

An outboard Empirical Labs Distressor. I need one. Let me throw it on everything. My mix bus, my vocals going in, the weird mono mic some people put on top of their kick drums, that guitar sound that’s not punchy enough, that weird little bell sound I’m trying to make sound like a glockenspiel. I’m sure it works on everything and maybe one day I’ll find out…

Is there any gear/techniques/ideas employed in your recording/mix process that carry over into your live show?

I really hate having dead space in our live shows, so our set has ambient transitions between tracks to keep the mood flowing. I’m a little obsessed with ambience if it hasn’t come across already…

Is there anything you have coming up or have done recently that’s exciting?

Getting onto New Music Friday and All New Rock on Spotify with our last track was a huge milestone for us! And then we’re about to hit our first headline interstate tour on the 3rd – 11th of Feb before doing a second interstate run in April which we’re absolutely pumped about! It’s turning into a busy year for Friends of Friends, and I couldn’t be more excited. 

Friends of Friends’  ‘Morphine Tour’ commences this Friday, find tickets here.

Friday 3 Feb – Brisbane
Saturday 4 Feb – Melbourne
Saturday 11 Feb – Sydney