The Los Angeles synth-pop duo Frenship doesn’t ask for much: They just want you to still be playing their music 15 years from now. “That’s the thing with our music, we aim for timelessness,” says cofounder James Sunderland. “So if we’re going to write a song about the pandemic, we’re going to make it about something universal, like loneliness. So you can still come back to it years later.”
Frenship partners Sunderland and Brett Hite began as two actual friends who worked in a Lululemon store in Los Angeles together, bonding over their mutual love of synthesizer pop. Success came to them in a hurry when their 2016 single “Capsize”– a collaboration with singer Emily Warren, and only the fourth song Frenship ever released — became an online sensation, racking up 505 million Spotify streams.
“It changed our lives, but probably not as much as you’d imagine,” Hite says. “Had we known the ins and outs of the music industry we’d have done it differently — like we would own our houses now, and be driving nicer cars. Spotify is a weird measure of success, because it’s so much passive listening. It’s not like the old days where you went to a record store, held the disc in hand and consumed the whole branding of a band. So that felt strange to us.”
Adds Sunderland, “I’ll always gag when I hear an A&R guy say, ‘That’s a hit.’ I would say that the cocky young part of me wanted ‘Capsize’ to get to a large level and thought it had the accessibility to do really well. I knew it had the goal to be liked by a lot of people. But I wouldn’t have placed a platinum record on it.”
Painstaking as songwriters, they’ve released only one full album so far. They’re now touring behind a six-song EP, “Base Camp,” which includes a couple of previous singles (including the pandemic-themed “Lover or an Enemy”) and the politically slanted “Copenhagen,” about relocating there to escape the U.S. gun epidemic. “The ideas can come from anywhere,” says Hite. “We’ve gotten a little more patient with our songwriting, if something’s not working we don’t force it. It’s not like songwriting is some crazy skill we have — We can spend 16 hours in a room trying to come up with a verse.”
Though the EP includes an acoustic track. Sunderland still proclaims his love for the synthesizer. “Listening to Brian Eno was one thing that turned my head around, especially the [Eno produced] Coldplay album ‘Viva la Vida.’ That made me realize that a whole song can start out with just sound.”
Their current tour, which hits Brighton Music Hall Sunday, had a shakeup just last week, when they opted to let their drummer go and continue as a duo. “It messed everything up, but in a good way,” Sunderand says. “Our regular drummer couldn’t make the tour so we got someone else in who was a good drummer, but after 22 hours we knew it wasn’t working. So that threw us into a figure-it-out mode, and we’re still reimagining the show as we speak. We were kind of desperate to burn it all down and do something we haven’t done before.”