Ross From Friends was never the smoothest guy on the block. Remember when he pretended to be masseur and ended up touching an old man? How about the time he dated his student or better yet, when he kissed his own cousin? That was all acted out by David Schwimmer though, not Felix Clary Weatherall.
Better known to the electronic music community as Ross From Friends, breakout success with ‘Talk To Me You’ll Understand’ has seen this British producer on the tips of everyone’s tongues for the past couple of years now. And now, with last month’s release of his debut album, ‘Family Portrait’, Felix has firmly cemented his arrival at the dance.
Raised in a musical household located in Brightlingsea near Colchester, it makes perfect sense that his inaugural LP was made in honour of Felix’s parents and how they first met on a trip around in Europe back in 1990.
Even more impressive to experience when watching in person, Ross From Friends the live act is truly a sight to behold. Felix, along with bandmates Jed and Jon, form together a completely unique set-up fusing together the sounds of loops and drums, a guitar, a sax and a keyboard.
In celebration of the release of his debut album, the trio are about to embark upon a world album tour touching down in such places as London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Berlin, Oslo, Geneva, Montreal and the US.
We caught up with him just ahead of his trip to Japan and South Korea on a Skype call and discussed the reason behind his musical persona, the story and inspiration behind ‘Family Portrait’ and the authenticity of his live set-up when performing.
First of all, your artist name ‘Ross From Friends’ isn’t your average DJ name and certainly stands out. What was the inspiration behind choosing this name?
Firstly, I loved the TV show as a kid so it was really nostalgic for me and then secondly, I had these Top Trumps cards which were based around the Friends TV show. All of them had the character’s first names on them like Joey, Rachel etc but there was one which said Ross From Friends in full, I think it was a typo or something. But that name really stuck with me so I opted for that.
When/how did you first discover your love for electronic music?
I started playing guitar when I was 14/15 or something, I was always playing in Indie bands so that gave me the format to put together a live show where I had live instruments, this was something I always had a passion for. I wanted to make them feel synthetic as well and make them feel like they were a part of electronic music too because I always loved dance music too. I wanted to blend that fusion of electronic music and live music together
Do you prefer to use software or hardware? Why?
I don’t have a preference really, I tend to use a mixture of both. I have really dug into the software recently because you can experiment and do so much with it, you can pretty much do everything you want with it. At the same time I am still buying synthesisers and drum machines to use alongside it – it is definitely a combination of both.
What advantages do you feel come with using software?
I don’t use hardware for as long as I use software. I love the sounds that you can get out of hardware but I end up tweaking so many sounds within the software. For certain things, hardware is really good, but then for others, software is perfect.
What is your favourite tool to use within the software?
I love experimenting with different effects and plugins, I just think you can get some really interesting results with them, something which you wouldn’t normally expect. Sometimes, things just happen by accident when you are experimenting with software, which are aspects that I end up keeping as I consider them to be happy accidents which I leave within the music.
Your new album, ‘Family Portrait’, was released last month. What is the story behind the album and what inspired you to create it?
A massive part of the story that influenced the album was my relationship with my parents and a lot to do with how they met basically. They met on this trip around Europe where my dad had set up this bus with a generator in the back and a sound system. He would just travel around Europe and stop at various places and throw free parties. My mum, at the time, was a student, and she had a video camera and loved making documentaries. She heard about this trip, went along.. this was back in 1990, and she filmed the entire thing.
She then sent me all of the videos, nine hours of raw footage, summarising how they first met etc on this party bus and how they first fell in love spending six weeks away with each other. That was a really touching, romantic story for me and the whole soundtrack to that video, all the music within that video was stuff that really inspired me. This ranged from acid house, various cool synthesisers and that was definitely a massive influence for the album. Furthermore, I wanted to experiment a lot more with it, I wanted to make something very different to what I was producing before and something that felt really accomplished to me as well.
What was the production process behind the album? How long did it take to make?
I spent about two years on it in total. The first year and a half, I was making fairly similar music to what I was making before and it wasn’t much of an extension compared to what I had created before. I was really frustrated with it and then during the final six months, I had quite a dynamic set pit where I would just tear everything apart and start everything again. I left the bare bones of the tracks I had made already and I just make something really dynamic, really quickly. I just felt really inspired during the final six months of it. Everything then fell into place and the last quarter of the album-making process and then I put it altogether and it just clicked, it was great.
I read that you were recording your own voice within your productions for the first time, how did that play out?
That was really fun, something I’ve never done before and I don’t really consider myself much of a singer. I don’t sing on the album that much but I just do little bits and its was very refreshing. Normally, I would just use a sample if I had a voice on there but for the album, I thought I’d try out just me singing or me speaking or whispering something and it is really nice, it puts a lot more of my personality into it. It gives it some identity and something coming from me personally as well. It feels much more personal as it has my actual voice within it. That was really challenging.
What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome during this process?
Probably just trying to make something not like what I had made before. That was quite a big challenge, just trying to figure out where I could go with the sound for it and how I could progress from that and make something which I thought was original.
I also set myself challenges as well. For example, I would load a sample which I didn’t think was very good and I would challenge myself to use and include it, just to keep the process fun for myself.
You will be celebrating the release of your album with a global tour… tell us more about it and where we can expect to see you play…
I’m going all over the place. I will be doing loads of European gigs like Village Underground, Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham. I will also be performing a lot of headline shows in Europe and I am really excited to get over to the States as well. This will be my first ever time over there which is so exciting. I am absolutely buzzing for it! It’s going to be me and the boys out there for a month playing music, it will be a dream. Then I will be going to Japan and South Korea in August.
Japan will be amazing…
It is one place I have always wanted to go, I cannot wait for it. I’ve got a week over there to chill as well so I will be able to properly enjoy myself.
You will be playing across a variety of incredible venues including Village Underground in London and the intimate surroundings of the Hare & Hounds in Birmingham. Do you prefer playing in more intimate spots or do you enjoy playing bigger venues?
I think they both serve their purpose to be honest. Sometimes I love a proper sweaty, little intimate spot and then sometimes it is really nice to play to thousands of people. I don’t have as preference from one to the other but sometimes I’m just in the mood for a real big one. Sometimes I enjoy something smaller, it definitely all started out in smaller spaces so I’m definitely keeping some of my roots with those types of shows.
From the videos I have seen, the smaller venues seem to compliment your live set-up more…
Yeah of course. It’s always from a sound point of view too, the smaller shows always seem to sound better. The big ones with loud kick drums sometimes get lost so it is nice to have the smaller set-ups as they can be quite personal too.
Those privileged enough to get tickets will play witnesses to your unique live set-up. Describe your live performance set-up and what it consists of…
The live performance involves myself playing live loops and drums with controllers and mapping out the structure of the show. Then we have Jed the guitarist. We use the term guitarist very loosely but he can generate so many different sounds with his guitar. Like so many of the sound designs and the background sounds you heard are created by his guitar.
Yeah, when I was watching the Boiler Room set, he was absolutely going for it!
Yeah, it’s crazy. He can literally make any sound out of that, it is unbelievable. Then to my right is Jon. He plays the saxophone and keyboards, and he does the sound design as well throughout that
What kind of authenticity do you feel the inclusion of the sax and guitar bring to your overall live show?
I think they bring this really natural sound to electronic music which is something you never feel is performed. So it is nice to have something which is really organic and we try to improvise a lot when we are playing as well. We always improvise, so it is all about keeping it organic and keeping it visceral.
What do you feel are the biggest benefits of improvisation when performing live?
Number one… it keeps it exciting for us. It means that we don’t go to every show and play the same set. We mess around a little bit, come up with new ideas… so it keeps it exciting for us. It also means that every show is different, so if someone happens to come and see us more than once, they will experience something different every time they see it.
What do you enjoy the most about performing live and why?
A big part of it is just being able to do it with my friends really, doing it with two of my favourite people in the world. That is one of my top things about doing it, it is all a rush too. You get really nervous about doing it and then you do it, its really fun and I enjoy the whole experience.
Finally, where can we catch you in the coming months ahead of your summer tour? Can we expect to see you in Ibiza?
The Japan thing is the one thing I am really excited about because that is technically not part of the tour… if anyone is reading this in Japan, then feel free to come over to that!
Ross From Friends debut album, ‘Family Portrait’, on Brainfeeder is available to purchase here.
You can listen to the title track below: