Fryars (real name – Benjamin Garrett), is a London-born singer/songwriter who is currently supporting Lily Allen on her UK ‘Sheezus’ tour. His second album Power has just been released and I sat down to chat to him about his new album, Mandarin Chinese, his Latvian fan base and how Glasgow is a shittier version of Berlin.
So I was listening to your set earlier and it was really great!
Where did you get the name Fryars from?
I just wanted something you could Google. I was pretty young, I’d just made some music and I just chose something that wasn’t a word. I added an ‘s’ to make it ambiguous because it’s not a band, it’s just me…but that confuses people. People can make of it what they want.
Your last album was five years ago, how has your sound changed since then?
Yeah it’s totally different. Before, I used to write with a mouse and it was really blocky and not that musical or melodic. It’s much more melodic now, much sweeter sounding.
Do you think your music style has matured then?
I guess, in a sense. For me, every record I do I want to be completely different from the one before and so the idea is that anything new will never bear a resemblance to my previous stuff.
Your latest album is called Power, what were the reasons behind this title?
I started the album with a script and a concept. The whole thing is about a guy who builds a power station and so that’s why it’s called Power. It’s about his wife having huge ambitions for him and driving him on to do stuff, so it’s also about the power of relationships.
That’s really interesting. I saw the Mandarin Chinese on the album cover, is that a translation of the word power?
Yeah, it’s meant to be but some guy on Facebook told me it actually translates as ‘power button.’ That’s cool and funny because it’s essentially wrong…but I can pass it off as deliberate because it’s more of a symbol if it means power. So I think I’ll probably be forgiven by most Mandarin speakers for that one!
Do you have a favourite track on your new album?
There’s a few. I like ‘On Your Own,’ ‘China Voyage’ and ‘Sequoia.’ The whole thing is meant to run from start to finish but those are particular favourites.
Is this your first time in Glasgow?
I played here with Goldfrapp at the Royal Concert Hall. I remember Andy Murray was playing tennis that day and that was it, we watched that. We went out for dinner, it was quite nice because there’s quite a posh bit of the city and that was kind of near there. Whereas this…fuck knows, I went to sleep on the bus at 5 and woke up in Glasgow and I was just surrounded by pavement. I was in Berlin yesterday and it kind of reminds me of a shit version of Berlin!
So you’re touring with Lily Allen now, how was it collaborating with her on her latest album?
Yeah, great! I mean we sort of constantly do stuff. We have a very easy working relationship.
Were you a fan of her music before?
Yeah, sort of…I mean I don’t listen to that much in the way of straight up pop music. Back in the day, when she was on Myspace, she gave away these mixtapes that she did and posted them out by hand. I think she did two-hundred and I actually got one of them and I would talk to her on Myspace when I was 15 or 16. She went off and did loads of stuff and then she heard a track of mine – ‘On My Own’ and we started working together.
Lily Allen’s music is very much focused on lyrics and I wondered how important lyrics are to you, are they the main thing you think about?
No, but I don’t think that makes them any less important. I’m way more obsessed with melody and arrangement but I think I’m a total perfectionist with words. It’s not that they take me ages but if there’s something that’s not quite right then it pains me. I agree about Lil’s lyrics though. It’s not been a huge set of massive hits or anything like that but it’s all about her and the words.
Have you got any plans for the New Year, after you’ve finished the tour?
Yeah, just do some more writing and for most people now (when they release a record) it’s based on week one, you try and get everything going on then. Whereas with this, the idea is to put it out and get people listening to it and talking about it. Ultimately, just to get people to listen to the album and hopefully not just by playing live.
What were you doing before you started producing music?
I was at school and I was 16 when I left and started doing music. I’ve not really had a real job. When it’s over, I’m gonna be screwed and I’m just going to have to gamble it all away and end up in the gutter!
I read that you’ve had problems with your record label and that you had a long period of producing your next album?
Essentially, it didn’t come out quickly and then I moved onto other stuff. I don’t think I can point any fingers at anyone, I don’t think anyone did anything terribly wrong but it’s just the system of how these things work. It’s partly that week one thing. Unless, there’s loads of momentum or whatever…and actually there was a point where there was a lot of Radio 1 play with my song ‘Cool Like Me.’ Then there’s more momentum to put an album out then than there is now…but the majors will wait for a certain point where they deem it worthwhile. I get that, but most people don’t make albums now with majors that are a body of work that’s worth listening to. The idea of the album (before I started writing the songs) was to make a long piece of work rather than just a bunch of tracks.
Where do you draw your musical inspiration from?
I guess, on this album its things like Brian Wilson, that sort of melodic style. The truth is, I don’t really listen to that kind of thing to death or whatever but that’s just the style of melody within the record. I listen to a lot of stuff and it’s more about each thing suiting an idea or song. Sometimes, I’m referencing other artists but most of the time it’s just someone else who sounds like the stuff I’m producing and not because they’re an inspiration.
I don’t know if anyone has ever told you this but I really think you look like Mark Ronson!
No they haven’t! He’s a better looking man than I am though. There’s a picture of us on Instagram in the back of a car together on Halloween.
What do you do to fill your time in between being on tour and producing music?
Basically I’m always writing or producing whether it’s for myself or someone else. If not then probably just having really protracted meals and sleeping quite a long way into the day and then going out quite early.
Did many of your friends go to uni? Did you ever go and play in their student unions?
Yeah I visited them and played in student unions. I always just got this weird feeling, even when I was really young and wasn’t doing anything with music that it wasn’t that I really wanted to go into music. From the age of eleven I just found school easy and therefore boring. I wasn’t acting up or behaving badly or anything, I just didn’t know why you would want more school at the end of school. For me I really don’t have the patience, I need to be doing something different constantly.
You live in London, do you play there a lot?
Not really. I’ve probably played more in Europe more than I’ve played in London and that’s still not very much.
Do you think your music suits certain places?
Yeah, Latvia! It’s small enough that if they play it on the radio there, which they do, then there’s enough awareness that when we go people know the music. There are some good vibrations there. It’s good because when I’m down and out, I can just go back to Latvia and be like…hey..remember me?!
Well, I’ve had a great time interviewing you and it was really nice to meet you!
Thanks, you too!