The Bushwick, Brooklyn, band Friends has only released about four songs. But almost immediately, Samantha Urbani’s bedroom project resonated with her, um, friends, as well as music bloggers. Songs like “I’m His Girl” (and its music video) presented a raw, sassy lo-fi R&B that fit snugly between Brooklyn’s garage-punk scene and a bygone world of soul 45s. The European label Lucky Number has released two Friends 7″ singles, and they will release the band’s forthcoming full-length. We caught up with Samantha Urbani by phone on her way to Ohio on the band’s recent tour with Ganglians, and talked to her about how to prepare for touring, getting over performance anxiety, and some advice for how to let go at a Friends show.
How has this tour compared with Friends earlier shows? Are you more prepared for the road now?
Our first tour was last winter and it was five weeks long. Pretty intense because I’d never been on tour before that and didn’t know what to expect. I feel like I’m just learning how to do it well now. I really wanted to take care of my health and it’s actually a difficult thing to do while you’re on tour. You don’t have a consistent kitchen, or a consistent place to sleep. So it’s challenging but it’s kind of a fun game to do the best I can to take care of my body, and my brain, and creative needs.
It seems like some musicians are built for touring, and others have to adapt.
A couple of my bandmates can drink booze every night, smoke cigarettes every day, stay up and get no sleep, eat shitty fast food, and be totally on point and keep doing it for months. Me — maybe it’s a psychosomatic thing — but I really prefer to make my own food and eat a really particular way. I don’t like to drink on tour. I end up getting sick. I had a crazy fever the other night. But it’s all part of the game; it’s stimulating to have to deal with bullshit. I think suffering is one of the most sacred sensations.
I’ve met a few people who have mastered the art of touring. People who have it down to a science.
I was just thinking that I want to write a little book on how to tour successfully and healthfully. Which is totally possible. I like to party in a higher consciousness type of way. I think mushrooms are a way better choice to alcohol when you’re on tour, particularly. But in life, in general, also.
The group started pretty spontaneously and caught on rather quickly. Has getting thrown into the music industry changed the band or changed the music so far?
I quit college in order to dedicate all my time to the band, figuring that it was going to serve as education and life experience. I did have some foresight that it would propel in this way, but I didn’t know what to expect as far as what that would entail. I don’t think it’s changed our musical sound, but it has affected our process of writing new songs. We don’t have as much time as we did in the beginning to practice. In the first few months we were super-dedicated [to practicing]. Now when we have time we don’t always use it to be productive together. We keep playing the same songs on tour and I love to write new songs all the time.
It’s very surreal. I’m still trying to get a handle on what’s going on and what I want to do with it. It’s such an intense opportunity to realize you could cultivate a big audience and say whatever you want to say to an insane number of strangers.
What were you doing before Friends?
I’ve always had this media-A.D.D., wanting to do everything because I know it’s possible for anyone to do anything. I worked in a lot of visual art when I was growing up — I’m pretty good at drawing, but that was boring, so I was doing a lot of conceptual multimedia installation work, but not showing it anywhere. Just doing it on my own because it felt like what I needed to do therapeutically to figure out my own thoughts and perspective.
I went to liberal arts college because I didn’t want to go to art school. I [originally] planned to design my own major in philanthropy. But then I went to the New School and took a bunch of weird, random classes, and it didn’t really feel like it was amounting to any sort of specialization, so it just felt like a really expensive version of what I was already doing on my own my whole life and also more confining. [Between] high school and college I took three years off and drove around the country by myself, and traveled to South America and Puerto Rico, and always had a desire to intake more inspiration. I always felt like [college] was a forced, confining way to do that. So I dropped out as soon as we started the band and now I’m on a different educational path.
Was music part of those years you just described when you were traveling?
Music has always been a really deep part of my life. I grew up not affiliating with any religion but feeling some kind of ambiguous sense of spirituality, and I feel like music filled that role for me. I grew up listening to all kinds of music — pop, punk, soul, experimental psych, world music. I could always pick out gems in every genre. When I was traveling around a lot, I went to tons of shows, and always felt really in awe of musicians, and was very hesitant to show anybody the songs I’d written, even though I’d been writing songs since I was a kid. It’s probably because I wanted to do it so badly, but I felt almost too precious about it — I would have to do it just right if I was going to show anybody anything. I also had insane performance anxiety. That whole time it was a secret love. If you can imagine being obsessively in love with somebody and not able to tell them, that’s how I felt about music. When we finally got the band together and we recorded some demos that people liked, it was very, very relieving.
So starting to sing and perform wasn’t as big of a deal as you thought it would be. When did that breakthrough happen?
It was towards the end of when I was trying to make myself feel interested in college and was finding new ways to procrastinate. So I started making little demos on Garageband, to see what I could do putting loops together. I had all these melodies in mind. I started showing it to people I trusted slowly.
And now you don’t feel any of that anxiety?
People tell me, “Oh, you’re a great performer. You have all this confidence.” But, for me, it’s not confidence it’s complete disregard. It’s [having] no sense of knowing what I’m doing, so nothing matters. It’s all a learning process.
What have the audience reactions to Friends been like?
I make sure to get involved in the audience at every show, because I think sometimes people need that straight-forward confrontation to loosen up and dance around. Usually people react well and are having fun by the middle of the set. That’s what I want people to do, to let go of the macro self-awareness. It’s really good to have a micro self-awareness and always have a relationship with yourself, but you don’t need to perceive yourself as an object ready to be judged by your environment.