Maintaining a Fiendship
“I just wanna have fun, but I’m allergic to sun,” sings Keith McFadden on “Allergies”, the first track on Best Fiends’ new self-titled record. For longtime fans of the Fiends, this sentiment might seem surprisingly dour. On Best Fiends, the group explores a new lyrical direction, and it brings them closer to replicating the frantic, fidgety fun of their live shows.
I met the three current members of Best Fiends – the band’s fourth member Halcyon Averill is “with us in spirit,” according to bassist Liz Robinson, though not in body for the time being (she is credited with performing “magic” on the credits for Best Fiends) – in their jam space on Windsor Street in the north end of Halifax.
At one point during our conversation McFadden says he makes music to have fun, but trying to make it as a professional musician can become spiritually draining. “I would love to be on tour all the time, but I don’t want to give in to the cliche of being a broke musician because I did it for too many years and it started to actually affect my PMA (positive mental attitude).”
Lyrically, the new record introduces anxiety to the breezier, more relaxed love songs from 2014’s EP. Best Fiends, released June 27 on Ottawa label Bruised Tongue, features a reconfigured lineup: McFadden still sings and solos regularly on guitar, over a rhythm section comprised of Robinson and new drummer Justin Crowe.
The recording of Best Fiends began last year, but was waylaid months by life and commitments. Once the group took space, and McFadden left several other bands, the group refocused their efforts and finished the album within a week. The result is a more nuanced take on the garage rock formula they began on EP. The new record showcases a more distilled idea of Best Fiends: one that deals with insecurity and anxiety, love and goofiness; manic pop songs played loud and inspired by Nuggets-era songwriting.
“I couldn’t stand being broke all the time, and I wanted more time to actually write new songs. I think I started to get more or less frustrated as far as creativity goes, because I didn’t have time to… really focus on my own songs,” McFadden explained. “I like to be able to wake up, grab my guitar, sit down, and be more creative.”
Check out our interview, where we discuss the new record, fitting in to a new scene, and the band’s very romantic origin story.
I was curious hearing the first track on the album “Allergies”, do any of you guys actually deal with allergies? Because I’m having a horrible month right now.
Liz Robinson: I sneeze all year round. I think it’s dust sensitivity and maybe pollen. I go to NSCC Dartmouth and I’m constantly sneezing, and people are constantly in fear that I am sick. But it’s just a poorly circulated building. My fingers will swell up like sausage fingers in a mall, or public setting and I don’t know if it’s a response to being around other people.
Keith McFadden: And that’s more what the song is about. Actual fear of public. It’s Friday night, there’s three shows going on, and for some reason I convince myself to stay home. Or it’s a nice sunny day, for some reason I just look out the window and shut the curtain. Not every day. Social anxieties make you have bad decisions.
Justin Crowe: Everybody has forms of anxiety deep down. Some people have hardcore anxiety, and some people have smaller forms. You’re looking forward to playing a show, and then you get there and you start seizing up.
Do you guys generally write your songs as a collective?
KM: Generally I start writing a song. Wherever I am I’ll record the idea on a voice recorder. I work a lot of nights, so when I do write a song it’s usually later at night. I’ll listen back, write it down on a piece of paper. I’ll flesh it out, then write the bare bones of the song. Then I show what I play on the guitar to Liz, and she makes up whatever on the bass. We’ll play it for Crowe, and he just jumps in.
LR: I feel like I’m stagnating more. With school, trying to get out whatever sort of creativity I have, or make sense of what I want. I feel like I’m a lot less experienced than Keith. But he’s better at facilitating what I need to get out. There’s one song that I wrote (for the new album) “Goldie’s Forecast.” We moved to Halifax two years ago. It’s a struggle with trying to fit in. Everyone has a tightly woven, tight-knit group. The scene is diverse, and you may play a lot of shows, but everyone is super guarded, and trying to fit in somewhere. We were all pretty outgoing when we moved here, and super receptive to other people, and wanted to make friends. So (the song is about) trouble with that, and it not working out. Hanging out with someone and it not working out. That disappointment.
Keith and I started playing music in Sackville. I went to school with Nick from Yellowteeth and Painful Shivers, and Kaylee Patterson from Dead Beat Poet’s Society and Zakary Slax. And we met Hal in Sackville. And a few of us lived in a house together, and we all spent a lot of time in that house. They’re all open and welcoming, and there is no gender divide, it’s not really cliquey. Anyone’s welcome. And now I sort of base all my friendships off of that. Leaving the Sackville bubble and trying to interact with people here, it takes a lot more effort finding a place.
Do you think it’s something about being in your mid-20’s where people stop looking for new friends? I don’t know if it’s me, or if it’s this time in my life, where people aren’t as outgoing.
JC: It’s a weird point because you either have friends you’ve had for years, or new friends you’ve just made. But you’re at a point where some people are getting married or having kids. They don’t stop being friends with you, but they are like “I don’t have time because I have kids and I’m married.” I don’t have that many friends who are married or having kids, but I do have a couple. And I’m not at that point at all. I’m in a relationship, but it’s not a married, settled down thing. I’m still so ready to go out and meet new friends.
Yeah, right. And you guys (Liz and Keith) are dating, right? You had talked about communicating as a band. Do you find it easier or harder, being in a relationship?
KM: It’s almost easier in a way.
LR: Some things are more intuitive.
KM: Because Liz can actually stop me, because she’s comfortable enough with me.
LR: There’s a level of comfort that I’m not afraid to be like “hey what are you doing?” So you can prevent outbursts, things like that. But there’s also sometimes it can get a little personal. You feel negative about it, things may not be going the way you want it to go, and it can reflect really negatively on either one of us. “Oh, you’re not happy with this? Is it something I did?”
I’m also in a long-term relationship, and there’s a stage where it gets difficult. Not in a way where you don’t want to be together anymore, but you have to work hard. I can imagine being in a band is somewhat similar. Another partnership on top of that.
JC: Bands can be like siblings sometimes. I mean that’s weird to say for you two.
LR: No but it does get that way. We share a bedroom, and we share everything.
KM: And I find I don’t put a whole lot of pressure, I do music strictly for the fun. I’m not a huge self-promoter. I do my own thing, and keep to my own. Not because I’m on guard, but so when we do that we don’t bring any personal feelings in to crack down on the band to sound tighter or whatever. It’s all fun, it’s part of the relationship.
The whole reason the band started is because in Sackville when I met Liz I wrote 3 songs about her, (“All Yer Luv,” “Chain Reaction,” and “Rock My Roll”) they were recorded basically just to impress her. We moved to Ontario so she could further her school. While we were there we had a house and the stuff to jam. We didn’t have anybody – I was playing with Astral Gunk off and on, we went for a tour that summer for a couple of weeks. But other than that I was in Ontario with no one else to jam with. She just learned the (new) songs on bass. And we just sat around the apartment drinking wine and playing the songs.
We never thought about playing any shows until Hal was like “I really want to move to Halifax, so do you guys, let’s all get a house together.” So we got a house together, and basically recorded the first Best Fiends EP here in the basement and the bedroom. It kind of got more based around the relationship because that’s what it is. The whole thing is based around us being best friends.