Interview: Just Friends’ Return to NYC

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Just Friends are currently on tour with Save Face, The Sonder Bombs and Hotline TNT. Sarah was at their Brooklyn date to interview band members, Sam Kless, Matt Yankovich, Avi Dey, Brandon Downum, Brianda Goyos León, and Kevin Prachnow along with Tour Manager, Jacob. Take a read of the interview and take a look at the photos while listening to the band.

Sarah: So first off, I’m always amazed and impressed with the sheer amount of touring that y’all do, whether it’s hanging out with Prince Daddy or doing Sad Summer Fest, what do you enjoy the most about touring?

Matt: I just like being on the road I like traveling. I like being mobile. I feel that personally a lot of the time I don’t really do much at home because we tour so often I don’t really have a lot of time to get like a long-term job or like make a ton of friends and socialize. In my own Hometown community, because we’re on the road so often this is my community bro so fuck the opps, you can transcribe that shit.

Avi: So for me, touring is a great way for me to be able to hang out with my best friends. 2 years ago I moved to Seattle and I lost all my friends. I mean this community right here, so touring is when I get to really hang out with my family, you know? Also it’s like such a great escape from the full time reality life and I get to rock with my friends. Also I get to eat McDonald’s every day. 

Sarah: Just Friends needs a sponsor from Mickey D’s. 

Sam: I go on tour more than everyone cause of my other bands that I love. This is where I feel most myself, no matter what, like, being around traveling. I don’t have any possessions, I’m just staying out of my mom’s way at her house. I don’t want to be doing anything else. I’ll say what Joel says “I was here before everybody, I’m going to be here when everybody’s gone. I’ll do this forever”

Jacob:  I just started touring for the first time about six months ago. But for me the most rewarding part is driving through the night waking up in a different city, loading out, doing a dope ass gig and then doing it all over again.

Brandon: I love meeting new people and seeing old friends. Expanding the family. Just Friends are definitely the family that I’ve chosen and I wouldn’t be who I am without them and all of the touring that we’ve done. It’s just a blast to be on the road. Often times you run into situations or obstacles and I think learning how to overcome those together really pulls us tighter as a family and I just really love that aspect. Also just trying a bunch of food everywhere is always fun. 

Jacob: Also touring with Sam is wild, he gets a little crazy in the van. It’s just always a great time.

Sarah: Okay well all of you spoke a little bit about food, so are there any tour or rituals or snacks that you just always keep in the van?

Sam: Very much so to Chris Palowitch’s dismay, when we were in Europe we ate McDonald’s every single day. I’m not exaggerating. They have McVegan’s though and Veggie McChicken. You know how hard it is to make 9 or 10 people happy? Jacob sometimes has to go full TM (Tour Manager) all the time and be like “we’re going here”

Avi: When in Rome, eat McDonald’s. 

Matt: We have a mantra in the van which is, “I don’t want you to stop this ban until we get to a McDonald’s”

Sarah: As probably all of you know, you’re a very large band. Not your typical four piece or 3 piece. So with such a large band you all command the stage in different ways. Who are your performance idols or inspirations? 

Sam: A lot of my stage presence comes from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Brockhampton and Mac Miller. I mean the band sounds like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Honestly, Brianda, we had an album and was a touring band before she joined, and obviously were a way better band now. She brought dancing to this band and turned us from a wannabe pop-punk band to swag. So credit to Brianda. 

Matt: I just kind of channel everyone else’s vibe. I like to try to be our generations John Frusciante but nobody could ever be that. I mean, I don’t know, there’s a lot of different energies on stage lot of personalities and it’s just like you look at somebody else think I look at Brandon across the stage and he’ll be doing something and we make eye contact and start doing like the same moves and like throw the guitar around doing crazy shit. Kevin will sometimes walk over to stage left and you know like grind up on me while I’m playing a guitar solo or something so it definitely we definitely feed off of each other’s energy. I definitely think Sam and Breyanda have had the biggest impact in the way that we perform. Bruno Mars shout out. But, yeah we feed off of each other with the guidance of Sam and Brianda. 

Brandon: I saw Parliament Funk with George Clinton at a free park show in San Francisco with Ben and Ovia few years back and they just like threw a party on stage and I really like that vibe and so I feel like we channel that a lot. Also shout out to Kevin he’s added such a wildcard style to the stage presence. He did a kickflip in Columbus on Sad Summer that was pretty wild.

Sarah: All great answers, all wonderful. I guess building off of the performance style, your sound style is also unique to the pop-punk and emo-revival that we’re currently having. You are all friends with Mom Jeans and Prince Daddy, but your sound kind of takes on a different form. Can you talk a little bit about what the sound was going to be when you began, like on Rock 2 The Rhytmn and then graduating to “Fever” and “Stupid”? 

Sam: I mean the thing is, Rock 2 The Rhythm I wrote when I was pretty young and immature. I wrote by myself, there was a lot of me writing by myself and then bringing it to the band. I always wanted this band to sound like this. I can pick moments on R2R that if you only listen to those parts it’d make the next record make sense. It’s a reflection of us kind of finding our true selves. Back then I was really insecure and I have OCD and I didn’t really know how to handle it. I think through therapy and stuff like that, and growing up, and maturing, of course the sound is going to mature so I found out really who I was and I think I can say that about everybody. That is a direct reflection of the band’s sound. I always wanted the band to be like a Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Turnstile rip-off and then I found Brockhampton and it really was game over. With Chris Palowitch also, it’s always been me and him writing the songs but us having this thing back and forth and really honing in on what the sound is. We created something that really is extremely beautiful and unmatched with a lot of people. I care about the music. We care about the music a lot, we’ve gone toe-to-toe with other people and other stuff just to protect the integrity of the music. We all met in marching band or Jazz band so we have all of these amazing influences and have all of these amazing talents. Pretty much every person in this band is on 10 all the time and is always caring about their specific instrument. 

Matt: I’m trying to find the best way to say this so, it’s kind of what Sam said. We were trying to at first fit into this mold. We weren’t sure who we were and a lot of the bands that we were into ,were playing shows, all the bands were listening to, were a lot of pop punk and emo stuff specially were younger. Basically everyone in this band has a deep deep love of funk and soul music and R&B and rap and hip-hop and all that. For example, my Dad played Motown records and was a DJ in the late 70’s. He would play disco and stuff on the radio. So everyone in this band has always had a deep appreciation for that style of music. Sam’s favorite band has always been the Red Hot Chili Peppers since day one. He has a tattoo of the blood sugar sex Magik album art, I’m looking at it right now, and I never liked Chili’s until Sam got me into them. I never got it you know? But, I remember being 7 years old listening to Other Side in my mom’s minivan be like “this is cool” but, I never thought the Red Hot Chili Peppers were cool. Until one year we played Fest in Gainesville and did a RHCP set and I spent six months just studying the Chili’s and studying John Frusciante and his guitar playing style and that opened my eyes to a whole new world playing guitar. I grew up playing like pop-punk and metalcore stuff when I was a kid. Basically taking a masterclass and studying John Frusciante and learning all of his influences. He’s highly influenced by old school funk musicians like James Brown for example. Learning all of that and listening to him playing and how his influences come out changed me and the way I think about music, my guitar playing specifically. 

Sarah: Actually Sam, I’m really happy that you mentioned mental health. What do you do when you’re on tour to check in on your mental health whether that is for yourself, or each other? Is there anything that you do to always bring self care into play?

Avi: So regarding mental health, it’s really awesome that everyone is like a family in the van. Nobody is a stranger to anybody. Everybody is always taking care of each other. If anybody is not feeling well, everyone can immediately sense it. So we talk about it. We do these things called band meetings after every single show and we do them with all of the touring bands that we’re with. Everyone on this tour has been super great. We talk about things that went well, things that went bad and we go around in a circle and make sure that everyone gets a chance to speak their mind, so we’re not holding that in. I’m a strong believer that if someone is having beef with somebody on stage it will definitely show and with a band like us, I think it happened maybe once and it was so bad. So from now on, you’re going to hash out the beef before you play. Mental health is super important and checking in on each other is what we do. 

Sarah: I feel like mental health is something that is now being discussed further in the music industry especially with touring. I’m glad that all of you try to prioritize it in the best way possible. So going on a different track, I know you just signed to Pure Noise Records. So what has been the transition from, Counter Intuitive to a larger label?  

Matt: It’s been cool, there’s definitely been a learning curve for sure. I use this term respectively, but we’ve never really had to deal with business or industry people. Historically, even with Counter Intuitive, we were a very DIY sort of thing. Even our first tours and for years on, all of our tours were DIY. Sam booked everything, then Bart [Star] started booking and Joel, they came into the family. Between Sam, Bart and Joel, they booked the tours. Bart and Joel booked our entire Europe tour. So working with Pure Noise, it’s been really cool because they’ve provided us opportunities to kind of experiment more and try different things and spend more time on things that we otherwise couldn’t do financially. They’ve been able to help us go to really really nice studios, we went to this studio called 25th Street in Oakland and recorded with Ryan Ellery of course. The songs that we recently released were also produced by Chris Palowitch. We were really able to spend the time to really figure out our sound because a lot of our own critiques as well as criticism from people close to us has been that it’s hard to capture the way that our band sounds on an album in comparison to our live show. Certainly with Rock 2 The Rhythm there’s a long story behind that album and the trials and tribulations we went through for that while recording. Pure Noise has definitely provided us the opportunity to really focus on capturing how our band sounds. We have a booking agent, Brad Weissman, and he has taught us so much about how to tour smart, and how to tour better. It’s very different, but rewarding. 

Sarah: So what are some of the most memorable takeaways from Sad Summer going into this tour or your previous tour with Graduating Life? Any memorable shows or fan experiences?

Kevin: I can’t speak for the Graduating Life tour because I wasn’t on that tour at that time but, Sad Summer, well it’s hard to pick one moment from Sad Summer because Sad Summer is a whole thing and was way different than anything we’ve ever experienced ever. So that was just like one big month-long show and it was insane definitely the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do and also the most rewarding and most fun. It was definitely an experience it made this really feel like a job for the first time in good ways and bad ways. If I could pick some of the opportunities or days from Sad Summer, I would just maybe say, like sometimes after a couple shows kind of all the bands would get together and just hang out and get to know each other and do barbecues. So the couple nights when got to hang out with all the other bands and chill with people that we may never have a chance to talk to during the show’s cause everyone is so busy, that was really special. A lot of those bands are a lot bigger than us and they could see themselves in us when they watched us perform. So to just hang out ,they gave us a lot of good tips, but those little moment BBQ beer drinking sessions after a few of the shows there that was really special to all of us.

Brandon: If I could talk about the Europe tour for a bit. Hamburg was one of our first wild shows in Europe we had a few like this kind of hit-or-miss but a lot of the really wild shows were in the UK and Deutschland, they make fun of us if we say Germany over there. Hamburg was really cool. It was wild to be in another completely different country that I have never been to and see people go wild to songs off of Rock 2 The Rhythm and Nothing But Love was really really cool to see, I can’t wait to go back.

Brianda: Well it’s kind of hard because I have a terrible memory and everything blurs a little bit. I have more overarching themes. I think being the newest member of the band, I’m also new to this scene of music. Just playing music with people and playing for people, it’s been quite a learning curve. It’s been really interesting how the different sizes of shows affect me as a person and kind of shape my outlook on myself and how I like to connect with others. I used to be super super shy and kind of black out on stage every time we played. Just because it was such an overwhelming experience for me. It’s cool because we’d be performing and I’d be tapping into whatever was happening but have no memory of it. I was always nervous to talk to people, I know it’s kind of weird but, people would be like “I’m so nervous to talk to you” but I’d be fucking terrified, and felt like I need to make an impression on them. Sad Summer was cool, but I think this tour has had the biggest impact on me because people are here to see us and I feel like that’s a really different animal. When people talk to me, I feel more connected to them. Also my own person growth in general. I’ve just learned to listen and absorb people instead of guiding the interaction. 

Sarah: So last question, I know we talked a lot about your music, touring, your lives and I feel like it’s time to appreciate other musicians, other artists, who have you been really into lately? Any recommendations? 

Sam: So we fell in love with these band called Teamonade from Bowling Green, Ohio. I fell in love with them so much. Our friends in Shortly, they don’t get enough love. They get a lot of hate which is stupid. Teamonade went on tour with that guy from Citizen, I can’t remember his name. They took out Teamonade and Alex showed me and was like “you’re going to love this band.” It’s also this thing like, you go on tour with all of these bands all the time and people have different relationships, but Shortly is a band we went on tour with and they always stay in touch. We’ve become really good friends and I always stay in contact with them. Whenever they send me a band I always take it seriously, so I fell in love with this band and was like “this fucking jams” and they have soul, R&B, rock, punk, all in one and they just so happened to be home from their tour so we had them play 3 songs before our set in Lakewood and it was awesome. Also, Tom Werring, of formerly State Lines and We Are The Toms, is now doing his first real band since State Lines and I’ve known Tom for almost a decade and has come to every single show we’ve played in New York since starting touring and that’s been a decade. The band is called, Yeah Is What We Have, and it is some of the best. The record drops November 1st, and it’s so good, probably my favorite record of the year which is hard to say with the Prince Daddy and the Oso Oso record out. There’s something really beautiful about Tom putting out another record after all of these years of being out of it. To be honest we don’t like a lot. Also we listen to a lot of Little Techa, Denzel Curry, Lil B, Solange, Terra Whack and King of Heck. That record is flawless, so good. Joel deserves the world. The Berries, one of our best friends, they put out a new record called Berryland, love it. Ryan Ellery just started a hardcore band called Greyhound, and it smacks. All of the new Grad Life stuff. “Bummer” by Save Face. Bart’s demos are not fair, it’s not fair how great these songs are. 

The Sonder Bombs


Save Face


Just Friends

Photos by Sarah Knoll

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