First published on 13 Jun 2012. Updated on 31 Jul 2012.
Most bands exploit social networks for publicity. But Brooklyn’s newest indie darling first tried Twitter while tripping out on 'shrooms.
Her name is Samantha Urbani. She fronts Friends, a dance-punk quintet whose breakout single ‘Mind Control’ was dubbed the “hottest record in the world” by BBC Radio 1 back in April. NME magazine included the band on its top 50 artists of 2011. And the accolades continued after the release of their debut album, Manifest!, back in June.
But Urbani had already started a zanier self-promotion campaign in January 2011. The band had arrived in California as part of its first tour, and the frontwoman was ready to get giddy. “I was with my friend Cole, he was in another band that we were touring with. We ate a few grams, and he decided to open a Twitter account for the first time. We were just, like, laughing at how absurd social networking is. We tweeted a lot of stuff that didn’t make any sense, things like ‘Where is my Twitter?’ again and again. And we knew it didn’t make any sense, we weren’t tripping so hard that we didn’t know.”
But things have never quite made sense to Urbani. Consider Friends’ contract under Rocket Music Management, a business transaction that still leaves Urbani’s head spinning – because the business’ owner is her hero, Elton John.
“Yes, we have met him – I kissed him on the mouth,” Urbani says slyly of meeting the Rocket Man at his management company’s 2011 Christmas function. Then she clarifies the particulars of that introduction. “He kissed me on the mouth actually. It’s a friendly thing they do, in Britain I guess. Not a sensual thing, obviously. Just a nice jolly smooch.”
She couldn’t shy away from any of it, even if she tried. After all, in a year Urbani has gone from playing dive bars and typing out inebriated 140-character nonsense, to critical acclaim and puckering up to a rock legend. It’s the same warm embrace she’s used to meet any and everything in life.
“I’ve always been overwhelmingly empathetic to other people… One of mum’s closest friends killed himself when I was three, he shot himself in his car, and my mum was really honest with me, she never sugar-coated anything. So I became really aware of death. When I was 16, my older brother died, he was 19. We were extremely close. Then two years later three of my closest friends died – all unrelated drug overdoses – which was shocking and the most sad things imaginable each time.”
It was a lifelong marathon of trauma, which makes her overnight success in Friends all the more overwhelming. Now Urbani has bound those polar opposites together – her lauded lyrics becoming her only coping mechanism.
“I miss my brother incredibly,” she says of what prompted therapeutic tunes like 'Ideas On Ghosts’, from Friends’ debut. “It’s very alienating to have a sibling that died. It’s a stigma. There’s a name like ‘orphan’ for children who have lost their parents, but there’s not a name for a person who’s lost a brother or a parent that’s lost a child. Those things are seen as unspeakable, horrible realities that other people don’t even want to think about. Writing about it is me having this dialogue with myself to deal with it, because I don’t believe anyone else can help.”
Drinking and drugs didn’t help either, despite the fact that she loves to indulge and take to her Twitter account once in awhile.
“Alcohol is a drug that can completely dull your senses and take away your psychic awareness. It can ruin your appreciation of feelings. I have experienced a huge range of feelings in my life and still do from day to day. I’ve had tragedy occur and reoccur pretty regularly, and you just have to appreciate it all. Because if you didn’t feel that, you wouldn’t be human."
Friends play Splendour in the Grass as well as their own sideshow.