With Jon Milton
Sheffield's workfriends emerged last year at the start of lockdown with their excellent single 'Man On The Run' and then promptly disappeared for the rest of the year. Before you could say the words 'one off wonder' though, they appeared again in February of this year with another belter in 'Sick And Tired' and then to top it all, released 'Stunt Doubles' last month, an absolute TUNE.
Despite their relatively subdued online presence (no major publication coverage as yet), we're not the only ones to have noticed them however, with Radio 1 and Radio 6 also getting in on the act. Given that it can only be a matter of time before the rest of the world wakes up to their talent, I thought I'd put a few questions to them and find out more about this mysterious band!
How did you meet?
We all met at the University of Sheffield and were brought closer together by very similar music tastes. The band started off as a bit of fun as each member of the group crammed into J. Hope’s halls of residence room to jam. This led to the creation of various threadbare tracks and demos, one of which would eventually become the band’s debut single ‘Man On The Run.’
Once we had all decided to live together in a shared house we were approached by a friend who had been asked if he knew any local bands that would be able to play a gig in a local venue in a week’s time. He told us that he had put us forward and asked if were able to do it. At that point we had to get our act together and become a real band in the space of a week by quickly practicing and writing new songs to fill out the setlist. The gig got a great reception and we were asked to do more gigs in Sheffield and York, all the while we were working on and recording new songs in our living room.
The reasoning behind the name ‘workfriends’ is now a bit of a mystery; some of us think that we chose it simply because it’s easy to say and remember, but some of us think that we chose it because we wanted to take something that most people encounter everyday and transform it so that every time people met or thought about their real life work friends they would subliminally think about us too. This way we would stay in the heads of people constantly.
Who is in the band?
The band is currently comprised of Sheriff Baker (drums), J. Hope (bass), T.Carroll (guitar/vocals), J.K. Henderson (general percussion) and Earl Gray (vocals.)
Who does all the songwriting?
The songwriting itself is a collective effort that complements each other's parts. For example. T.Carroll’s guitar work would not be complete without Earl Gray’s lyricism in the same way that J.Hope’s basslines are illuminated by Sheriff Baker’s drumming. In terms of the songwriting process, our music is patched together through various melodies and lyrics. Rather than sitting down and working out ‘verse, chorus etc’ many of the songs stem from a single guitar line that is developed as the song progresses. The vocals are usually added after the music is completed. We’ll usually sit down and work through lyrical ideas, so in that sense the songs are crafted with a lot of consideration. Throughout our music we always try to do the unexpected; each workfriends single is created with the aim of distorting and experimenting with the pop format. We love it when a song forces its listener to stay engaged by changing drastically over the course of its runtime and constantly surprising them.
Stunt Doubles is about ‘the paranoia of a man who has spent too much time alone with his spiralling thoughts,’ what was the inspiration for this, was it based on direct/indirect personal experience?
When writing ‘Stunt Doubles’ we wanted to filter the idea of a perfect pop song through a motorik groove. We wanted to write a song that contained no wasted space and relentlessly pushes forward with new ideas being introduced every second. Lyrically, the song itself was inspired by a late-night conversation we had about the unsung heroes of Hollywood. We were all obsessed by the strange and liminal position that the Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise doppelgangers of the world occupy. We then thought about a situation in which the stunt double became sick of their anonymous, unacknowledged existence and decided to start taking over the life of the very person they are meant to be filling in for. We decided to write the song from the perspective of the person who (whether real or imagined) believed they were being infiltrated.
Your songs sound like you have a lot of fun recording them, is that the case? If so, is it because you’re able to record in your house?
I think one of the biggest perks is being able to record at home. Doing it DIY means you have total creative control over what you are recording, which also gives you more time to add or fine-tune anything within the song. The worst thing about studio recording is perhaps spending ‘X’ amount of money on a finished article you’re not at all happy with; this is completely the opposite when doing it in your room. This lack of pressure makes it a really fun thing to do but it also forces you to think outside the box; we’ve had many a night where we’ve stayed up through the early hours tinkering with a song and finding makeshift, homemade methods to create new sounds and textures.
You’ve had airplay on Radio 1 and Radio 6, how pleased have you been generally with the reception you’ve had for your singles so far?
The reception has been really exciting for us. Receiving positive comments from esteemed DJs like Steve Lamacq and Tom Robinson was something that we never expected and are really grateful for. But something that has been even more unexpected for us has been the streams and feedback we’ve received from people all over the world. Only anticipating reception from friends and family made responses from places like Japan and Australia all the more surreal. It’ll be great to get back to playing our songs live as well, as we haven’t played a gig since before the release of our first single ‘Man on the Run’ over a year ago.
What are your main musical influences? The Velvet Underground, Neu! and DEVO seem to be up there, although your playlists are pretty eclectic!
We’re definitely influenced by the groups you mentioned, as I’m sure many bands are. I think as we continue to make new music, we’re trying to incorporate more of the stranger sounds that we’re interested in, which is hopefully evident from each new single we release. As the playlists we’ve made show, we all have a varied taste in music, even if we share a similar taste for punky songs with a driving rhythm. Living together has helped us share new music
with one another that maybe we wouldn’t have found otherwise. Of course, ‘Stunt Doubles’ would not sound the way it does without The Velvet Underground or The Fall, but maybe the same could be said if we hadn’t spent all year listening to Dean Blunt, Bjork and Yoko Ono as well (even if their influence may not be immediately apparent).
Three fantastic singles to date, what’s next for the band?
Thanks Jon, that’s really appreciated! As we’ve said, we can’t wait to get these songs (and some new ones too) in front of a crowd. We’re planning a busy few months in terms of gigging.
We have a show already announced supporting our good friends The Belishas at the Louisiana in Bristol and some really exciting opportunities to announce very soon. We’ve also been working hard on new material and have made a video for Stunt Doubles that we’re extremely proud of considering we’ve done it all ourselves!
There’s a lot more to come from workfriends.