With Friends Like These

Quasi-supergroup Filthy Friends aren’t resting on their other bands’ laurels

Sep 20, 2017 at 11:19 am
click to enlarge Filthy Friends - Photo: John Clark
Photo: John Clark
Filthy Friends

For the more deeply involved Indie Rock fan, Filthy Friends is a supergroup of sorts; relatively big names paired with relatively obscure names to create a versatile but intentionally unassuming band. 

Guitarist/lead vocalist Corin Tucker, still on hiatus from Sleater-Kinney, insists that Filthy Friends isn’t merely a busman’s holiday from the group’s other musical interests, but a bona fide band that has every intention of moving forward as a unit.

“I think we’re a real band,” Tucker says. “I feel like we have our own thing and the writing process has been really good, so it seems like the real deal. Too legit to quit.”

The seeds of Filthy Friends were sown five years ago when former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck was in the midst of his first solo album after the band’s breakup. He had met Tucker on a number of occasions and contacted her about singing the song “Nothing Means Nothing” on the album, which she readily agreed to do.

“I came in, sang the song and tried to just do it justice,” she says. “It worked really well and he was super easy to work with. A week or so later, he called me up and said, ‘Hey, I think the song turned out great. I think we should make an record together.’ And I was like, ‘Uh…OK.’ It was one of those things I felt frightened to do and then at the same time, I was like, ‘I have to do this.’ ”

Although Tucker agreed to the idea of working together, she presented Buck with the caveat that she wanted their work to be completely collaborative, with the two of them working together in person. Buck agreed enthusiastically.

“We started getting together once a week when he was in (Portland, Ore.),” Tucker says. “He would play me things that he had, different riffs or whole songs, and I came up with a couple of songs and it came together pretty quickly.”

The rest of Filthy Friends fell into place just as easily. Former Fastbacks guitarist Kurt Bloch, Young Fresh Fellows bassist Scott McCaughey and King Crimson drummer Bill Rieflin are all frequent collaborators on a variety of projects, most notably Minus 5 and Buck’s solo recordings (McCaughey was also a longtime R.E.M. utility player). 

“They were going to be there in the studio for Peter’s solo thing,” Tucker says. “I just got tacked onto those dates. They were all there together and we were trying out this new thing to see what happened.”

All of the songs that the newly dubbed Filthy Friends recorded at their initial session in 2013 have been released at this point. The song “Despierta,” which became part of the anti-Trump “30 Days, 30 Songs” project, and the A-side of the Record Store Day Single, “Any Kind of Crowd,” both appeared on Filthy Friends’ first full-length effort, Invitation, which came out on the Kill Rock Stars label at the end of August. The RSD single’s B-side was a cover of Roxy Music’s “Editions of You,” which is available on the group’s Bandcamp page. Given the number of styles in which Buck and Tucker chose to write in — and the length of time between sessions — Invitation is amazingly cohesive, a fact that Tucker credits to Rieflin’s involvement.

“He really kind of ‘got’ the album when we were just sort of messing around with songs and had this really basic mix we’d put together,” she says. “Bill came back to the album and was like, ‘You know what? This needs to be completely remixed. These are the songs that need to go on the album; this is the sequence that actually makes the album.’ And he was completely right.”

As noted, Buck and Tucker were the primary songwriters and it was their chemistry that would determine whether or not the band would see the light of day. Luckily, their working relationship blossomed and bore fruit quickly.

“Peter’s obviously very successful and I had no idea what the collaboration was going to be like, but it turned out to be really great,” Tucker says. “He’s one of those people that’s completely wide open to suggestions or ideas, he’s not uptight about things, and he’s totally cool with me saying, like, ‘What if we change the chords here?’ or ‘Let’s drop this part.’ ”

Invitation offers Filthy Friends’ take on early New York Punk, crunchy Indie Rock and swingy Glam, among other subsets of the quintet’s broad Rock experience.Rather than writing open-ended songs that could be shaped in the studio, Buck and Tucker wrote with a certain amount of sonic specificity in mind.

“(We) had a template in mind that was kind of borrowing from all of our favorite bands,” Tucker says. “For ‘Windmill,’ Peter definitely was like, ‘I have this Television riff.’ Then it was like, ‘Cool! What if we did this and this?’ For ‘Brother,’ I was like, ‘I have this idea that’s kind of Pixies-ish.’ I came up with really simple chords. then we threw things together and added the really loud parts and the quiet parts. With ‘Come Back Shelley,’ that one was definitely, ‘Let’s do something like T. Rex.’ That was really fun.”

With Rieflin’s return to King Crimson, the touring drum chair is being occupied by former Zuzu’s Petals/current Steve Wynn & The Miracle 3 drummer and velvet hammer Linda Pitmon, who had also played with Buck and McCaughey in The Baseball Project. Tucker is quick to embrace Pitmon as the newest Filthy Friend.

“She’s totally great to play with, and so fun onstage,” she says. “She’s got such a good musical personality. She’s got many more tricks up her sleeve.”

Given the incredible collective catalog that each member of Filthy Friends brings to the group, it might seem tempting to throw a few golden oldies into the setlist for the live experience. Tucker insists that the band’s aim is to be a band and not a jukebox of past glories.

“We’ve got a lot of songs, and we actually have new songs,” she says. “We did David Bowie’s ‘Rebel Rebel’ in New York, so we’ve definitely got stuff there. It’s more fun to play our songs and a few new songs that get everyone excited. We want to present ourselves like, ‘This is who we are.’ ”

FILTHY FRIENDS play the MidPoint Music Festival’s Masonic Cathedral Stage at 7 p.m. Saturday.