FRENSHIP: “THERE ARE BIG SHIPS AND SMALL SHIPS BUT THE BEST SHIP IS FRIENDSHIP”
WORDS AMY MACKENZIE - PHOTOGRAPHY FILIPE PHITZGERARD - FASHION SOPHIE EMMETT
We caught up with LA-based electropop duo FRENSHIP - James Sunderland and Brett Hite. Meeting whilst working in Lulu Lemon and making music together, the pair have gone on to tour the world and work on collaborations with Yoke Lore, Bastille and Emily Warren who featured on their breakthrough single ‘Capsize’.
Both were keener on football than music in the early days and Brett even had to make a choice between a professional football contract and a career in music. They have a strong relationship and comment openly that whilst they disagree about plenty of things, they are at their best when they are on the road and playing live.
Amy MacKenzie: How are you guys? James Sunderland: Pretty good. Tired today but pretty good.
A.M: What have you guys been up to? J.S: Flying over here, it’s kinda far [smiles]. LA is an 8-hour difference so jet lag also doesn’t help. We’re sleepy but can’t really complain.
A.M: How long have you been here? Brett Hite: Two days, this is day two or three.
A.M: Do you like it here? J.S: Yeah of course. I’ve been here five or six times, it’s old news!
A.M: Oh so you’re not a newcomer. Has the novelty of London changed or is it still the same for you?
J.S: Nah, it’s still the same. We love coming here, we’ve got our little favourite Indian, Iranian spot we go to.
A.M: Nice, where’s that? J.S: Dishoom.
A.M: Classic. B.H: So classic. J.S: We’ve done it three times already…in two days.
A.M: And you’re on day two... J.S: Pretty messed up. I’m probably tapped out, he’ll probably go again if I had to guess. B.H: Yeah! I will! [Laughs]
A.M: Ok so I’m gonna take it right back to that start and ask where did you both grow up? And what was it like? B.H: I grew up in Spokane, Washington and then kinda lived in Seattle for a bit which is a similar vibe or climate to this. Yeah, and James is from Colorado. J.S: Yeah, I grew up in kinda outside Denver, right by Red Rocks Amphitheatre. We probably both grew up as outdoorsy people first and were into sports. We both played soccer, football rather and, the music was in the background for us for most of our lives but eventually it made its way to the forefront.
A.M: That’s really cool. And what kind of music did you listen to growing up or was it really not there at all? J.S: Man, I mean kinda everything, you know; whatever your parents play is probably the honest answer. My parents were listening to like Bonnie Raitt, B-52s, like weird shit, classical music, a lot of choirs based stuff because I grew up in choirs so I ended up just listening to that stuff. Umm, I don’t know, the first album was Sublime, one of Sublime’s albums, I don’t know. How about you? B.H: Michael Jackson was there a lot. J.S: Yeah, he was there as well! B.H: Tracy Chapman was played a lot in our home. My dad’s Hawaiian so he was always playing Hawaiian music. Then all my friends and my step brothers were into hip hop so I was always listening to that as well and then when I went through my high school years it was rock, like Metallica and all those kind of things. I revisited the 80s a bit as well as like Godsmack and some weird harder things.
A.M: So when did you realise that music was the way that you wanted to go with your lives? J.S: For me, it was kind of probably building up for a long time. Like I said I grew up in choirs and then I was in musicals and stuff in school from a very young age and then through college. Then in college I started tinkering with Logic and some other music programs and I wanted to try out with the production side of it and I used to make fake disc songs to my friends and stuff and that’s kinda where it started to kick off for me but once I left college I wasn’t good enough to go on in soccer like a pro. I got a degree in sociology and to be fair, I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do.
James and Brett both wear artists' own clothing by CARHARTT
A.M: I did sociology too J.S: Yeah, well I don’t really know what I want to do with this. It is still a midterm to me.
A.M: Can’t really do anything! J.S: Brett did sociology too if I remember correctly; like., what the fuck can we do with this? So I went home and I had a weekly meeting with my dad and he was like “what do you wanna do?” and music kept coming up and eventually he was like “why don’t you just try and do music?” so I was like “ok”. So I went to a music school in LA and that’s what kinda kicked it off, a production school. I can say that that was the start of my professional journey, I suppose.
A.M: How about you, Brett? B.H: Yeah. I was playing football (soccer) in college. Before that, I kinda grew up in school bands and playing drums and marching bands. I’ve always had a guitar at home so I’d go in after soccer practice and would play my guitar. Then in college I blew out my knee and that was the first time I’d ever really been away from the field for that long so I was like ‘oh I’m gonna record some songs’ and I did and they were awful but I fell in love with the process and I ended up going on a little tour of like house shows and all through the West Coast and California and all that stuff. I was like ‘man that was fun, I enjoyed that’ like getting to meet people and that was the first time I was like ‘huh this could be a thing’. People do this for a living and I kept playing soccer after I came back from my injury and kinda had a pro contract on the table but I ended up choosing between that and music and I saw music as being the better long term thing I guess.
A.M: So when did your paths cross and when did this come together? J.S: So after a failed DJ career for me [Laughs] I decided that was not me and I needed money so I started working at a place called Lulu Lemon. I think you guys have it out here? It’s like yoga spandex. I started working there, it was like a couple of blocks from my house so it was literally a convenience decision. I needed money so it was retail and I started working there, then about a month later Brett showed up and we knew each other did music. We were some of the only guys in the store so all the girls there were trying to get us to make music together and we were like ‘yeah, whatever’ and we listened to each others stuff and were like ‘yeah, it’s fine’. We became friends first and got pretty drunk together for a couple of months and had a good time. We were mid-20s idiots for a bit and eventually we were like ‘we weren’t really drinking before we met each other really so let’s slow down and try to write a song’. So, the first one we did was pretty good and it kinda worked. Brett ended up sharing it with quite a few industry people and friends and people reacted to it in a positive way and it was better than any of our individual stuff. So that’s kinda what started it. Then we stayed in that job for a while longer, probably another year and a half or something. Accurate?
A.M: Do you agree that that’s your story? B.H: Confirmed! J.S: It took us a while to get out of the job but then we eventually made some of our music, a couple of songs. Then we signed a publishing deal out of that and that was kinda the first way to get away from working in a spandex store!
A.M: How did you come up with the name FRENSHIP? B.H: In that intermittent period, the initial phase, when our relationship was not about making music but seeing how much alcohol we could fit in our bodies, most nights, James would chant “There are big ships and small ships but the best ship is friendship”.
A.M: That’s so cute!
J.S: So cute! [Laughs]
B.H: And we decided, one of the worst decisions we could make but it had to stick with us now – call our band FRENSHIP.
A.M: And the spelling? B.H: Everybody was pulling out all the vowels of their band names at the time and we were like ‘oh let’s pull out a consonant and leave a couple of vowels in there but we will pull out one of the vowels too’, we were like ‘let’s just make it confusing’. We also probably considered Google and if you google ‘friendship’, proper spelling, you probably get a lot more results than if you misspell it a little. J.S: Just fucking with people. [Laughs]
A.M: So how do you guys work together? How does the process work between the two of you? And has it changed over time? B.H: Maybe. I think we recognised pretty quickly that this thing, FRENSHIP, is not 100% either one of us but it’s us that make up this thing so I think we lean into it. My strengths are, in a lot of cases, his weaknesses and vice versa. Things he’s best at are probably the things I’m not and I think we’ve…all the while trying to develop. Originally, James has got more of a production background, so when we started I was more of a topliner, singer-songwriter guy so that’s what we did naturally at the beginning. But we were both really interested in doing it all. Like I wanted to produce and he wanted to be singing more and writing lyrics and melody and stuff. I think initially we fell right into our roles, but then as we went, we were growing in confidence in that other thing, that we weren’t good at, at the time. Hopefully, we helped each other with those weaknesses. Initially, we were in the room together every single day working and now it’s a lot more independent but it flexes. We are always over critical of our process, so especially this album is very independent, we wrote it very separately and then would come in at different points and we’d be sending it back and forth, but more recently we’ve been working together every day, so we are back on that process. Sorry, that was a really terrible long answer.
J.S: I mean it really is just a clusterfuck. In terms of process, sometimes he will start an idea and then bring it to me and vice versa or it’s piecemealed together over a year or some absurdly long process. Like Brett said, now we’ve cracked into this “working quickly thing” but we used to hang our heads and be like ‘we can labour over an album for a year and a half’ we aren’t really interested in that anymore, we just wanna move fast and work together.
Brett wears jacket YMC; shirt URBAN OUTFITTERS; trousers DRAKE. James wears shirt YMC; jacket LEE; trousers URBAN OUTFITTERS
A.M: So let’s talk a little bit about ‘Capsize’. How did it come about? Did it always start with you guys and Emily [Warren] or did she come in later? Did you expect it to do as well as it did? J.S: It was always Emily. Emily is on our same publishing company and we were introduced to her via our person over there. They were like ‘we think you’ll love her’ and she’s great and we became friends with her first as well and then we did a writing trip to New York. We had the session the day she graduated from college, so we’d gone out the night before and had ourselves a very, very drunk late-night and I think she almost missed graduation from what I remember. But she got there and the session was at 1 pm, she comes in literally in her cap and gowns straight from it - what a workaholic. She’s a boss, she’s awesome!
A.M: Oh wow. That's really interesting.
J.S: Yeah, it is. So her grandma had left her a voicemail whilst she was on the way over or something like that, and she ended up just playing it out loud for us and we had a couple of chords down at that moment and it kinda choked us up. There’s a little snippet at the end of the song, but that kinda set the tone for this song that we were kinda envisioning her grandma walking through their home just after her husband had died and that kinda kicked off this idea.
A.M: There is this personal and real experience behind it, then? J.S: Yes, there is. We got the chorus basically that first day and sorted out the melodies, then we took it home for a while. Emily didn’t want to be on it at first, from what I remember. So we kinda pitched the song around and we had a version with her on it for pitch and then it sat in Rihanna’s camp for a minute and then it sat in some other big people’s camps. I think it made its way to, I don’t know, someone else, Kanye or Eminem’s people or something and people were like ‘yeah we’ll try it’ like ‘yeah, right’ but eventually we were like ‘screw it, let’s put it out, Emily can we keep you on it?’ We were trying to force her into an artist career at some point and then the thing came out and Brett can give you the numbers and dates and stuff because he remembers that.
B.H: April 15th, 2016, we were fighting and completely broke and beyond it...
J.S: Pot money was long gone at that point.
B.H: We had no money, couldn’t agree on anything except for the fact that we should put out music and see what happens. So we had four songs that we hadn’t put out, that we were sitting on and we put one out and it was kinda ok. It was fine. It did alright. Then the second one was ‘Capsize’. We’d put out a lot of music over the course of our lives, be it independently or as a pair, and immediately that one felt different. Be it the reactions or whatever it was, it’s kinda how crazy you can feel ‘oh this is doing something different’.
J.S: Prior to that, I think we borrowed like $1000 from my dad or something to put it into Brett’s friend’s PR company and she got it in some blogs and then it charted on ‘Hype Machine’ and that caught the eye of Spotify and they put it on New Music Friday. Then we thought that was like ‘eyy we made it’ and then he called us a week later and was like ‘we wanna put it in Today’s Top Hits’ and we were like ‘ok sure, whatever you wanna do’. It just took off from there, it was right there with Drake’s ‘One Dance’, it was performing right beside that or maybe outperformed it, I can’t remember. Total shocker! We had no idea it was gonna happen. We were ready to basically quit, to be honest, and nothing was really working so that saved us, in short.
A.M: So you’ve now left the major label bubble. Why did you decide to do that? B.H: We don’t have enough time. [Looks at watch, smiling] No. We put ‘Capsize’ out independently and part of that immediate impact was getting outreach from loads of labels. It felt like every label in the world. We were getting 3-5 emails a day from different ones. J.S: Labels we’d had meetings with for the past two years and played that exact same song. B.H: Yeah, for whatever reason we went with Columbia and they said all the right things up front and it all seemed well. It’s so true when you have a hit or a song doing well, everything’s perfect, there’s nothing wrong, but then I think you really get to see who you’re working with when you don’t have that. You are really put to task to try and recreate it. It was just so shocking what that felt like, compared to the high. So we consider ourselves lucky at this point that we were able to get out of there and especially over this last year or six months even, that we haven’t been there, it just feels like not a great place to be. The new label, Ninja Tune Records, it’s been very night and day, very 180, very supportive. And I don’t know, it’s 2019 and majors…
J.S: Fuck the system now.
B.H: But really there is just so much you can do on your own and you have to be scrappy whether you’re with the man, or, on your own, so why not reap some of the benefits of that on the back end. I also think that was the greatest lesson we’ve learned, but from putting that [Capsize] out independently and them not having to do much of anything with it, and then in hindsight you hear some of the stories of how little they actually did from people that were actually in the building and it’s just shocking. It still feels like we just gave them a bunch of money and technically are still in debt to them, despite all the money they’ve made of us. I don’t know, that model feels very antiquated to us.
J.S: They chase singles and hits and stuff and we are trying to build a 20-30 year career. You can’t really do that with every song and part of the journey has to be weird songs and things that fulfill you and not try to get to Top 40 radio.
James wears shirt DICKIES. Brett wears denim jacket ULLAC; t-shirt URBAN OUTFITTERS
A.M: That makes a lot of sense. So let’s talk about the album which comes out very soon. Why did you choose the title - ‘Vacation’? J.S: Really because we were so beat up from leaving that thing we just mentioned. So we kinda started a cycle with Columbia and then in the middle of it, we were like ‘this feels really bad’ and we didn’t feel supported so we obviously left, you know? The story we just told you. But yeah, really the album came together over a really tumultuous period in our lives and we felt like we needed a break. We felt beat up by LA and by the music industry in general. We were just kinda fried and we are not the youngest dudes any more and it gave us a lot of perspectives and we just needed a break. It felt like we wanted to get away and escape and ‘Vacation’ just kind of fit the vibe. I think it kinda has that tone that it’s all relatively uplifting and optimistic but we just needed to get out of town.
B.H: I think that was certainly the theme that drove the title, but since then we’ve probably identified a few other ways that it makes sense for the whole time period. I think when we are making music and playing shows, that is the moment to get away from whatever we are doing and yeah, I think that is our reprieve or escape from situations that we weren’t thrilled with I guess.
A.M: Are there any specific songs that you’re really looking forward to people hearing? J.S: Umm.
A.M: All of them? J.S: I mean yeah, of course, all of them. I don’t know? B.H: I think we look at this as a package and that’s what we are most excited - this body of work coming out and especially in a time when albums seem not to receive the same response. People don’t care as much as they used to. We do, and to fly that album flag is exciting for us.
A.M: I love albums!
B.H: Yeah, me too.
J.S: I’m excited to see if this song ‘Swim’, oddly enough, Capsize…Swim… pops off. I don’t know, I hope there are some hidden little gems in there that can poke their head out and be the subtle hit, maybe?
A.M: And you’re going on tour as well; so how do you think the songs are going to translate into a live experience? J.S: We just started rehearsing them last week. I think they’re gonna be alright live; it’s coming together. We’ve got a way to go. We are diving back into rehearsals when we get back and then yeah I think they will translate pretty well. I think, especially now, when we are writing, if you can’t picture it totally live it doesn’t really make the cut, at least in my head. Yeah, they’ve all got real instruments in them somewhere, most of them, so that makes it easy to just put it in the show. Should work pretty well I think.
AM: Do you like touring?
J.S: We love touring, yeah. We are very different dudes. We kinda find ourselves at opposite ends of the spectrum with every business move or with creativity whilst we are making stuff but I feel like we really come together and make sense when we are on the road and touring. It gives us a good perspective of why we do this and we can really actually affect people. I think that is when we are our best. The most FRENSHIP we can be.
A.M: What are the best and the worst parts of touring? B.H: The worst I think is just when you are driving for that long. J.S: Our country is huge. B.H: You’re busy driving and so you’re doing something but you’re not actually doing anything. I think that’s the part that eats at me the most. Really feeling like we are not doing anything out there. And then there’s the loading in and loading out. The thing I’m most nervous about is that I’ve kinda flipped my schedule since I’ve been home. I’m up at like 6 in the morning, every morning and working out and going to bed at 9 or 10 in the evening. Yeah, touring doesn’t really lend itself to the schedule that I’ve created. Although we’ve requested to go on early, at like 9 am, no not 9 am.
A.M: That would be really early. J.S: Yeah, pre-work show. People should do that.
A.M: Yeah, that should be a thing. J.S: I’d go to that.
A.M: I don’t know if I’d go to that but I’d appreciate it from afar. B.H: The soberest crowd. J.S: Yeah, a little coffee. B.H: I don’t know, maybe there’s something to that, to get hyped for the day. [Laughs]
A.M: It’s kinda like pre-work workouts. J.S: Yeah, jumping around. Might be a hard sell but let’s do it!
A.M: So you toured with Bastille and now have done a song with them on the album. So how did that collaboration happen? Did you talk about it when you were touring with them? J.S: Yeah we did. We went on tour with them in Europe and then we did a short run in the US and then we didn’t get picked to support them on their US side of it, but we actually flew out during that tour and did a couple of days with Dan and wrote probably about three songs and this is the one that made the cut. It was in a totally different form and then I was kinda ruining it a bit at home and he was like ‘I gotta come over and help’. So he came over, reinvigorated it to its current form now. Yeah, we always planned on doing one with him and we’ve been close friends with them for a bit now. We are going to see them tomorrow and say “hi” and probably force us to get drunk, those guys drink a lot!
James wears t-shirt WEEKDAY. Brett wears t-shirt URBAN OUTFITTERS
A.M: There’s a running theme throughout this whole thing. J.S: Yeah, we are tired though.
A.M: Who would you love to collaborate with in the future? B.H: Bon Iver is my North Star. There’s something about him that’s so authentic and unique to me. All the things I think I strive to do as an artist. He’s up there but there’s so many. We happen to be fans of music in addition to being creators of it. J.S: I’m trying to think who’s top of mine. So his North Star is Bon Iver, mine is probably like old Coldplay and I like The 1975. I don’t think I want to collaborate with The 1975, I don’t think I’d like it but I like them. I think it would ruin everything for me. I’ll say Chris Martin…10 years ago [laughs]. Nah, he’s still a good writer, I’m just kidding.
A.M: So now I’m just going to do some quick questions. Favourite article of clothing in your wardrobe? B.H: These shoes, I haven’t stopped wearing these. I don’t know what they’re called, Nike Vaporfly, I don’t know. J.S: What am I wearing? I’ll say this Carhartt Vest I got yesterday.
A.M: Ok, Milk chocolate or dark chocolate? B.H: Dark. J.S: Dark chocolate, through and through.
A.M: Biggest pet peeve? B.H: I have a few, they probably rotate.
A.M: The one today? B.H: Lately, indecision is probably my pet peeve or that’s the thing that probably winds me up the most. J.S: I don’t know. B.H: [Laughs] This is it! J.S: I don’t think I have that many pet peeves, to be honest. Person-specific, how about that?
A.M: Yeah, fair enough. Favourite day of the week? B.H: I really like Mondays. J.S: I like Fridays. I like Friday morning because you’re really hopeful about what’s coming. Everyone’s buzzing on Friday. They’re buzzing on Monday too, in a different way.
A.M: And if we do that early morning gig on a Friday? J.S: Yes, great! B.H: I might…now I’m living in my pet peeve. But I ride my bike a lot on Saturdays, I usually go for a big long ride. That’s one of his pet peeves, me talking about me riding my bike. J.S: Yeah, ok, bike talk!
A.M: Cats or dogs? B.H: Dogs. J.S: Dogs, through and through. Got a dog recently - my girl!
A.M: Polka dots or stripes? J.S: Stripes. B.H: Stripes.
A.M: A country that you want to visit that you haven’t been to? B.H: It’s weird because we can chalk off a lot of countries but I don’t feel like we’ve visited them, we just fly through them. We’ve played a show in Milan but I would love to spend more time in Italy. Actually, I’ll say Greece or Croatia, I’ll say Croatia. J.S: Argentina for me.
A.M: Somewhere you have been to that you’d want to go back to? J.S: I love The Netherlands. Love Denmark, we are going back in a month. Love Norway, would love to go back to Norway. I’m really sweaty so I love to be North and not sweat! Anything high and up there. There’s a lot of places though. Love Scandinavia.
A.M: Lastly, favourite F word? J.S: Fuck, through and through. I swear so fucking much. Or fridge? B.H: Umm I don’t know - fun. J.S: Fuck fun!
Words: Amy MacKenzie
Photography: Filipe Phitzgerard
Fashion: Sophie Emmett
Fashion assistant: Elshadai Gore
Grooming: Charlotte Rose Wilde
Set Design: Katy Bennett & Elshadai Gore