On The Record: We chat to Mystery Friends about their name, Washington, ‘Can’t Say’ and moderately dancable music

Hey, thanks for chatting to us . Could you tell our readers something about yourself that they might not find out otherwise?

I think we can start with the name itself. Back in late 2016, we had the hardest time trying to find a band name, and we kept finding ourselves at a standstill. The name “Mystery Friends” is actually the product of a random name generator (neon gaze and a few others came close). So we landed on this random name, and as an added bonus no one else seems to have it. But more than that, it’s a sneakily accurate name for how this band developed. Meeting in DC (itself a fairly transient city), we all became friends through other friends, through jobs, through circumstances, etc.,and the band formed around this funny network and luckily we ended up liking each other. There’s something poetic about  computer randomly nailing our real life circumstance. 

Where are you based at the moment?

 We’re all in Washington, D.C.

Does the city affect your sound?

Absolutely. So there are really two parts to this.  On the music side, DC often lacks the attention of New York or LA or the Pacific Northwest, but there is a really great and important music tradition here that is alive and well today.  When people think of DC music, they often think of either Go-go music or punk. Even though we wouldn’t consider ourselves a punk band (and the term itself doesn’t mean much these days anyway) we are certainly informed by the ethos and DIY spirit, and borrow elements of that tradition n creating our own sound. More specifically, we actually recorded this song with Don Zientara at Inner Ear Studio, which is an institution in DC. Don recorded acts like Bad Brains, Q and Not U, and most famously, Fugazi in the very same studio. We’re playing a different style of music, but we like to think we contribute a small part to this continuing lineage of DC music. 

Outside of music, DC is obviously notable for its most famous (or infamous) resident. We’re not a political band, but you cannot escape the swirl here. Sometimes people talk about “Washington” versus “DC” because in some ways they are totally different worlds.People almost always immediately associate “Washington” with lobbyists and power lunches and ill-fitted suits. In reality, DC is a big city full of people, the vast majority of which don’t live in that political world you read about. So when the news is scary or depressing, or just maddening, the music and arts scene in DC is at least a small way to have a voice or a creative outlet in what can be a pretty unsettling moment. 

How would you describe the sound you’ve crafted over your last few releases?

We often say that we make “moderately danceable music” which is both true to some extent but probably a little limiting. Our EP and our last single “Wide Eyed and Reckless” were more explicitly “dance rock”, but we’ve definitely developed music outside of that style, and Can’t Say is really more of a ballad. More than anything, we want people to feel something when they hear our music. 

What does the new single draw upon thematically?

The lyrics are very much “I’m an independent woman who doesn’t need you”-style breakup ballad. When you walk away from a relationship it’s nice to be able to look back and say “I’ll never forget the good times we had,” etc. This song is essentially saying the opposite of that. “I can’t say that I’m missing you or grateful for our time together. I’d prefer very much to forget all of it.”  Especially coming from a female perspective, there’s a realization that you don’t have to be polite or passive, that you deserve better and then can act on that. At the same time, the melancholy feel to the song contrasts the more assertive lyrics. I guess that could be interpreted a few different ways; maybe an undertone of regret or a more underlying feeling of sadness despite a tough exterior. 


Did the track evolve significantly in the studio from the original demo?

Oh man, yes it did. This was actually one of the very first songs we ever wrote, almost two years ago now. We had this little riff (that is still the guitar part now) but the song was in a different key, in a major chord, and almost had a beachy pop vibe to it. We had even planned to record this for our 2017 EP, and then ultimately decided against it. We just could not find a consensus on this song and it was becoming an outlier for its cheeriness. So rather than scrap it, we decided to slow it down, change the key, and see if we could find the winning formula that way. In the months that followed we added various elements to end up where we are here. And we recorded this track live (only overdubbing vocals) to actual tape with essentially no plugins or artificial effects. So this really is what we want this song to sound like and it’s what you would hear if you saw us play it live. In some ways its still the outlier to our other music, but now I think we all appreciate that as a good thing. 

Is it part of a larger project, an EP or Album?

Unclear at the moment. if you know of any record labels who would like to help us make said EP or album, we will amend this answer. 

What do fans have to look forward to over the next few months?

We’re heading back to the studio in July and plan to record some new material we’re really excited about. If this was the slow burn, the new songs coming out will be a much faster burn. We will certainly keep you posted!


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