She’s not really rapping on any of these songs, but she still has this sort of “hood rich” attitude about her vocals. She’s definitely singing aplenty, but not in that cutesy, teen pop way (like Britney) or in that grungy, indie way (like Bethany). In fact, it’s safe to say it’s somewhere right in between. Whatever it is she’s doing, she’s having a good time doing it. She is Samantha Urbani, the singer-songwriter who “moves around and touches people,” of the Brooklyn group Friends. For the front woman of a band, Urbani is somewhat vague and mysterious when I speak to her on the phone, but her music is the exact opposite. It comes off as confident, gritty, and brutally honest. This is merely one of the paradoxes surrounding Friends.
Friends is as straightforward a band name as it gets today. “We wanted to keep it simple, rather than over-intellectualize our name,” Urbani tells me. Is “over-intellectualize” even a phrase people use? It doesn’t matter; Urbani says this so urgently that I have to believe it. “Friends has plenty of meaning to be interpreted if you are creative enough,” she adds.
The Brooklyn troupe came to fruition through motivation – and the digital age. “I made a few songs on my laptop,” Urbani explains, “showed them to Matt [Molnar] and Nikki [Shapiro], and they both encouraged me to get a band going. I didn’t really play music with people, but everything just sort of progressed naturally.” Everyone’s heard this story before: Band gets on Internet, people find band, yada, yada, yada. However, Urbani never saw it that way.
“We’re big fans of all analog media,” she contends. “I’ve always thought things were great when they just got spread by word of mouth, and through real-life experiences. You don’t need to stare at a computer screen to know what music is good. We just wanted to do our own thing, and here we are…” In a time when computer screens tell us virtually everything, this statement seems a bit bold, but when it comes down to it, the Internet is nothing but word of mouth. And the real-life experience is what draws us in.
There is no true formula for Internet fame. You just have to channel who you are into what you love, and if it’s unique enough, people will come flocking. This is a familiar ideology for Urbani and Friends. It’s also worked to great effect. Last year, the group issued a 7″ of “Friend Crush”, which sold out instantly. They followed that release in November with another 7″, this time for “I’m His Girl”, once again to equal acclaim and fervor. On the road, they toured with Ganglians before the year wrapped up, and attracted enough critical eyes to be named a finalist in BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll. Not bad.
So where does this sound really come from? For one, Urbani doesn’t necessarily worship her idols directly. “I don’t feel like I have any direct influences,” she explains. “We all listen to different stuff.” She riddles off various genres, but discusses ’90s music at great lengths. “It was the last wave of pop music that had a lot of heart and soul in it,” she says longingly. “People compare us to that era, but we’re not retro.” As for other arts and social influences, she also has very few to list. Her answer, however, is quite interesting. “Sensory,” Urbani declares. “Flickering lights or good smells. People need to be in tune with the senses; there’s a bounty of cool stuff around.”
When it comes down to it, Friends are just about doing what they love and not necessarily having to over-exert themselves while doing it. “I’ve been questioning myself lately, and what my message is,” Urbani states. “Music affects people powerfully, and what people need to know is nothing matters. Everything is up to you; be your own friend or God.” Confidence swells in her manner of speech; you can tell it’s a major factor in her life. “You can do anything you want in life,” Urbani finishes. “You can make up words when you have nothing to say, and you can take your clothes off if they are feeling uncomfortable. Do what you want to do.”
There’s little else to argue.