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Interview: Brand New Friend


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The National Student caught up with Lauren Johnson from Brand New Friend midway through the band’s UK tour. The Northern Irish four-piece are still riding the wave of last year’s well-received debut Seatbelts for Aeroplanes and have big plans for 2019 ahead of the festival season.

Image courtesy of Brand New Friend via Partisan PR

Brand New Friend attracted the ears of Radio 1’s Annie Mac when she picked up the pre-album release ‘Girl’ for airplay in 2018. Lauren reflects on the swift recording process: “We were just recording a bunch of songs basically and we didn’t really have a concrete plan of what we wanted to do with the recording […] I think we recorded 13 songs in two days.

At the time we’d recently signed with Xtra Mile Recordings. They heard the recordings we’d done, and they said that they really captured the spirit of the band and that they’d love to go with this as an album […] We recorded them in Belfast at the Start Together studio with a guy called Rocky O’Reilly, a brilliant producer we’d worked with in the past.”

After reflecting on the origins of the band’s 2018 success, Lauren looks forward to a busy immediate future for Brand New Friend: “At the minute we’re on tour in the UK with Sean McGowan. We’re playing Live at Leeds, and London as well. We’re also going to be playing around Ireland as much as possible […] There’ll hopefully be new music coming out before the end of the year”.

Growing up in the same house (Lauren and her brother make up half the band) means the idea for the group’s moniker is a shared memory. Lauren says: “our dad was a big fan of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions and he had a song called ‘Brand New Friend’, so one evening me and Taylor were sitting listening to music with him and he was like, ‘do you know what, that would be a great name for a band’”.

Brand New Friend isn’t at all the 80s pop of their namesake, drawing more from the sounds of mid-2000s pop-punk, indie and emo. Lauren explains why the band sounds like it does:

The indie side of things is very much there with Taylor […] he grew up with Blur, Oasis and Brit Pop […] Personally, I grew up on the more emo side of things. I was the rebellious teenager of the family. I love Paramore […] Our drummer’s favourite band is The National”.

The band’s album Seatbelts for Aeroplanes is peppered with references such as in the very first track where Taylor sings, “The last record you bought for me was/In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” on ‘Mediocre at Best’. Of Neutral Milk Hotel Lauren says, “Taylor loves that band […] He loves putting in Easter eggs”.

The Streets also get a namecheck on ‘Sleep On My Floor’, referring to 2002’s Original Pirate Material. Lauren explains: “That’s a song very much inspired by Taylor’s memories growing up and going to house parties. That would be the kind of thing they would listen to”.

Lauren and Taylor grew up in Castletown, where the surrounding area is now known for being a filming location for Game of Thrones. Aaron and Luke, bassist and drummer respectively, are from Belfast, which seems to be a great environment for up-and-coming bands:

The music scene in Northern Ireland is amazing,” says Lauren. She mentions the band Hot Cops in particular: “They’re an amazing grungy kind of three-piece. Taylor says they’re kind of like Nirvana meets Pavement”.

Lauren also acknowledges associated act, Sean McGowan: “We really admire his work ethic, he just puts 100% in. It’s been a joy to be on tour with him.

The conversation then turns to dream collaborations. “I think we’d love the idea of being in the studio with Taylor York from Paramore, he’s an amazing producer. […] Halley Williams obviously as well.”

Having already discussed the origins of the band’s name, we return to the genesis of the group itself.

My brother had always been in different bands as a teenager. Then it started being a solo project with him recording demos in his room. One day he asked me to sing on one of them. I’ve always sung […] my whole life really, so I’d help him out with his recording. I ended up singing on more and more of his tracks. Then it became a bit of a duo for a while, but then we realised we’d love this to be a full band.

Lauren then describes how the duo became a quartet: “We basically met Aaron and Luke in Belfast […] Taylor was playing an acoustic show and he was first on the bill supporting Aaron and Luke’s band, so we grew from there.”

Off the back of their speedy success, Lauren shares some words of wisdom for new bands: “There’s the Oh Yeah Music Centre where people can get involved in lots of different projects. I was in a project where we’d organise all-ages gigs […] have a look and see if there’s anything like that out there […] If you have a positive attitude and you work hard, good things should happen for you.”

We close the interview by discussing what the members of Brand New Friend would be doing if they weren’t in the band. Lauren explains that they are all still juggling music with work and studies – “I’m a student […] If I wasn’t in a band, I would probably be going down the academic route in some way. […] Aaron would go down the production route. Taylor would go into management or something like that. Luke’s just a rock star.

Brand New Friend is currently on tour in the UK. The debut album Seatbelts for Aeroplanes is out now on Xtra Mile Recordings. 

The band will play Edinburgh on 25th February, St Albans on 27th, Nottingham on 28th, Bedford on 1st March, London on 2nd and Bournemouth on 3rd.

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