The Friendz giant

The Super Friendz reunite again with a show this weekend and a record in the works. Johnston Farrow gets an advance listen.

photo Greg Baller

After years of success, turmoil, multiple projects and occupations, The Super Friendz have kept it together. They’re back in the studio, recording their fourth full-length album, their first in more than three years. They will unveil some of their new songs on March 11 at the Grawood.

“Basically, we were going to play a show and we decided that if we were going to play a show, we should have some new songs,” bassist/songwriter Charles Austin says from his studio in downtown Halifax, Ultramagnetic Studio. “It seems kind of lame to play the same old songs. Then it becomes a nostalgia-based thing.”

Formed in 1993 by university friends, The Super Friendz—Austin, guitarist Matt Murphy, guitarist Drew Yamada and with a rotating cast of drummers—released two excellent albums, Mock Up, Scale Down and Slide Show. Catchy, original and talented, the group caught the wave of the Halifax pop explosion, shared a record label with Sloan and toured North America extensively.

The clash of songwriting styles and influences and the desire to pursue individual projects broke the group up in 1997. Murphy moved to Toronto and formed The Flashing Lights and, later, City Field, and also starred in the 2005 film The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico. Austin opened Ultramagnetic Studio (AKA The Mullet) and formed the experimental rock act Neuseiland. Yamada entered medical school.

However, old friendships die hard and the trio came together again to record Love Energy with Joel Plaskett Emergency drummer Dave Marsh in 2003. After a mini-tour and some promotion for the critically acclaimed work, the Friendz went back to their respective day jobs until they found time to record another album this past month.

Each band member brought in three songs. The new record—currently joke-titled Mick Mojo McKinzey Skunk—was self-produced in a matter of weeks.

“We wanted to try to do something that wasn’t as crazy involved,” Austin says. “We didn’t want to spend a ton of time working on this stuff, we wanted to keep it short and succinct guitar-bass-drums sort of stuff.”

The rough version of “Altamont” (a working title) kicks off with a repeated Rolling Stones-esque riff provided by Murphy. Then something happens that harkens to a new era in Super Friendz history—a horn section kicks in, adding a previously unheard dimension to the music. “Every Year” is an acoustic pop number reminiscent of peak-era Britpop with a pounding Marsh drum rhythm. “Home Again” veers into new territory again, incorporating a fuzzed-out guitar, a T.Rex/ Bowie ’70s hook and even a flute solo. “Shannon Park” proves that the Friendz circa 2006 are more ambitious than ever, with Marsh contributing a Kinks-style epic about growing up in Dartmouth.

Fans worried that the next record will be a major departure have nothing to fear. Songs with working titles “Local Heroes” and “Majesty of Rock” are pure Friendz stompers, the former reminiscent of the group’s minor hit “One Day.”

“This record sounds a little more garage-y maybe,” Austin says. “The last one was fun too, but I think we felt kind of weird in a way because there were all these new-wave influences that were floating around that we had years before. Now we feel free to cash in on those and it’s really something that’s entered into the songs.”

Although egos might have played a part in the early years, time apart and personal growth have smoothed over any rough edges that may have been apparent before.

“I feel like people used to be more protective of their songs because—maybe I felt this way—you were afraid that your songs were going to change into something else,” Austin says. “But now you don’t really feel that anymore. I think the dynamic is good because we have a limited time to do this and you realize that doing this kind of thing is a luxury.”

The Super Friendz w/The Self Conscious and Great Plains, March 11 at the grawood, 8pm, $12 advance.

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