Josh and Tony Friend—the duo fronting dubstep-rock hybrid EDM act MODESTEP—may take on an imposing presence at their shows with ghoulish masks and angry lyrics, but the brothers are nothing but self-effacing British charm offstage. I met with them in Los Angeles to discuss their upcoming album, their aspirations of being in GTA, people that get copycat tattoos, and fan-made breast milk cake.
You’ve created a cinematic trailer of sorts to give fans a taste of what’s to come on London Road. Where did that idea come from?
Josh: There’s a rapper called Danny Seth. He’s from London, and he did an artistic piece that didn’t really mean anything or go anywhere, but we watched it and were taken aback by its cinematic levels. It just took you on this journey, and we just felt like that would be a really good way to describe our record—to put together a cinematic piece to visually convey what we see and have seen growing up, to paint a little picture.
Tony: It’s always a bit cooler to do something than the obvious, “here’s your mixes of the record” and blah blah blah. It was a nice project to do something from our eyes, being from London, and just show you what the record’s about, through what we see every day and how that gave us inspiration. Luckily enough, one of our friends—Liam Underwood, who’s a genius videographer—flew out from Australia to work with us on it. We had him living with us for three weeks, and we tried to cram as much as we could into those weeks, and Liam’s magical editing skills brought it all together.
With London playing a huge role in your music, did the results of the recent UK election have any impact on you?
T: I’m so anti-government in general.
J: (Laughing) Fuck the system.
T: I hate to be that guy, but I just feel like it doesn’t matter whom you vote for anymore. It’s basically choosing the better of two evils. I think, give it five years, and the whole system’s gonna be scrapped and changed.
“If you’re really good mates with someone and you give a shit about them, then you try and make them cry.”
You’ve been with the new members of the band—guitarist Kyle Deek and drummer Pat Lundy—for a decent amount of time now. Have any nicknames or inside jokes taken root yet?
T: So many.
J: It’s funny, because it feels like these guys were actually the original members. In a way, the old members were sort of session guys that would come in, play live and go home, and we wouldn’t see them until we next played live; whereas these new guys are like brothers, really.
T: We live with them. All our social time is spent together, and they’re definitely part of the family. Poor Pat, our new drummer, he gets the brunt of the terrorizing from us. He came from an emo band called Funeral for a Friend, so we always take the piss out of him. If we’re walking past a shop that sells creepers and leather jackets with Metallica on the back and shit, we’ll be like, “Oh, they’ve got all your stuff in there!”
J: He never really did wear those things, but it’s fun to just take the piss.
T: Also, he’s a British guy from London, but he moved to Wales since his last band was from Wales, so I call him Welsh all the time because I know it really, really infuriates him. Our guitarist Ky, though, he’s the most chilled-out guy in the world.
J: I’ve tried to get some kind of response from him, but…
Well, when it finally happens, it will be that much more satisfying.
T: It’s just part of the British mentality, I think. If you’re really good mates with someone and you give a shit about them, then you try and make them cry.
J: I don’t know why that’s such an important thing, but everyone on our team, from tour managers to sound engineers, to the back line—our job is to try and break them, but in a really matey kinda way.
T: When we toured America and had an American bus driver, we treated him the same kind of way, and he nearly cried. He was like, “I’m leaving. I can’t handle this,” and we were like “Dude? We were only joking. We only did it because we love you.”
We hurt the ones we love the most. Speaking of things that hurt, you’re both clearly very tattooed individuals. How do you feel about the recent Apple Watch news that they don’t work on tattooed wrists? Will this affect your decision to buy one?
T: To be honest, I’ve heard people saying they run out of juice in the middle of the day anyway, and you need to charge them so fucking often, that the ink thing doesn’t even matter.
J: Anything you need to take off to charge every single fucking day? Nah. Just wait for the next version.
What have been some of your best and worst green room experiences?
J: I’m trying to think of one that doesn’t make us sound like assholes. Best one, though: When we last played L.A. at Club Nokia, we did the show and were a bit disheartened because the turnout wasn’t so good—and it wasn’t the best show ever. But then, after the show, Public Enemy walked in. There was an award ceremony next door.
T: They’d just been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and were like, “Oh, we were just passing by and saw your show, and it’s one of the best fucking things we’ve ever seen.” Then they came to the back room, and we were drinking and smoking.
J: And he and I are just looking at each other the whole time like, “What the fuck is happening?!”
T: Also, this is probably one of the highlights of my career so far: We played Rock Am Ring, and it was a fucking WICKED show, and I turn and see this guy at the side of the stage, really long hair, just head-banging away. And then I realize, holy fuck, that’s Jonathan Davis from Korn. So now I’m just freaking out, thinking: Don’t fuck up, don’t fuck up. At the end of the show, he came up and hung with us, and then we got to stand at the side of the stage while they did their set.
How about any strange fan experiences?
J: Well, I don’t want to insult the fans. I know they have strong feelings.
T: I think Josh got a breast milk cake once, though.
J: One of our fans was like, “I made you this cake. I made it myself just for you,” and I’m thinking this tastes really sour. Tangy. Is this… human cake?
T: Yeah, if not breast milk, there was likely her hair in there somewhere.
What do you do between cities? What keeps you occupied?
J: Lots of computer games.
T: We’re MASSIVELY into games. Gaming is probably the biggest thing we’re into, apart from music. We actually just shot a video with a guy called Tom Syndicate. He’s a big YouTuber. We play a lot of online games with some of these people in the gaming community. Actually hanging out with some of them tonight.
What are some of your top games?
T: Minecraft is a massive thing for us. Apart from that, we play a lot of Call of Duty: Zombies. FIFA, however, is the biggest one while we’re on tour.
J: NBA for me. I’m the only one that plays it, which sucks, since I end up so much better than everyone else.
T: And you’re English, too, which makes it strange.
J: Yeah, I’ve always been into basketball and not football, for some reason.
Games seem to have played a part in your come-up, too. Wasn’t one of your songs used in Mirror’s Edge?
J: What’s funny about that is it wasn’t official!
T: What happened was, someone uploaded one of our songs [on YouTube] with a Mirror’s Edge picture, and that was the only one that stuck and got all the views.
J: That song has an Enya sample in it, and her people threatened legal action, so we had to take it down; but this one somehow remained up and has been making people think we were in the game.
Well, Mirror’s Edge 2 is in development. Maybe they’ll call you up to have you in that soundtrack.
T: They should do that! Luckily enough, we were asked to go down to Rockstar a few weeks ago in London and play GTA Online on their servers, and I tried to subtly drop hints that we’d be very interested in providing some radio station tunes for the next one. So, we’ll cross fingers for that one.
J: How could I forget about GTA. Obviously my number-one game. I played it when it first came out, completed it. Played it again when it went next-gen, completed it. Now I’m completing it AGAIN on PC. And I’m not bored of it. I don’t know how.
Besides games, do you have any frivolous things on which you spend your riches?
T: For me, my “bad” things are sneakers. I’m just fucking obsessed. I’m gonna be honest with you. Yeah, I spend ALL my money on trainers, pretty much. We have this big event in London called Crepe City where, once a year, all of the big, independent sneaker-heads come together in one place, and it’s just a huge fucking market of exclusive trainers. And I’ve heard Flight Club in L.A. is pretty good, so we’re gonna head there right after this interview. The good thing about L.A. is you can actually wear nice trainers because the weather’s good. Every time I put on a pair in London, I go, “Fuck! This might be the last time I ever wear them.” But I have about 50 or 60 boxes of unopened ones in my room that just never get opened since I’m never there.
J: Tech for me. I’m a gadget guy. Still holding off on that Apple watch, though. I’ve been debating. It’s not YET worth me spending the money on it, and if I’m gonna buy one, I’m gonna buy one of the good ones. I mean, why doesn’t it have a camera yet!? I want that Dick Tracy watch.
“I don’t even care anymore. Print it. It’s out there. I’m a huge Lionel Richie fan.”
You’ve spoken before about trying to convince your manager to get the “MODESTEP face” tattoo. Did you ever convince him?
J: Our first manager, yeah.
T: Yeah, but not the new one yet. We need to get these fuckers to get them while we’re out here. Actually, when our last manager got his done, some really weird guy, who wasn’t even on our management team, decided to get one too.
J: He thought he was our manager for some reason.
T: Yeah, he went around telling everyone he was. We’d only met him that day, though.
J: He was set up by our UK manager, sort of meant to be our temporary American manager for that trip, and it’s the first time we’d ever met him, and we’re going with our UK manager to get him his tattoo, and then the next day this other guy rolls up like, “Hey! I got it, too!”
T: It’s like, way to fucking poop on his parade, guy. Three years this guy’s been managing us, and you’re just going to come in like, “I got one as well!”
J: I wonder if he regrets that tattoo now. I think it was his first tattoo, as well. Alarm bells going off for sure.
T: The shop was here in L.A., though. I actually used to live here for about six months and work at a tattoo shop during that time.
What were your favorite foods while here?
T: I’m a vegetarian and EXTREMELY fussy eater. I only eat about three things. I’m a baby about food. I won’t try anything that looks slightly adventurous. I won’t eat any meat or anything that even looks like it’s ever been alive. I pretty much just eat chips [French fries], baked beans and… fruit. I’m not too keen on veg.
J: This is the opposite of how he used to be. He used to constantly eat chicken. It’s all he’d eat.
T: I got squeamish, man. Got put off. I can’t sit with someone while they eat a rare steak because I feel like I’ll actually be sick. I’m just a pussy, to be honest.
J: I used to eat anything and now…
Are you a vegetarian, as well?
J: Nah. I probably will end up being a vegan. I can see it happening someday, but I’ll probably need to put on a bit of weight before I do so I don’t die.
Have you been adventurous and tried any new, strange foods while touring?
J: We did this six-week tour of the States, and we pretty much only had a choice on the bus of stopping at Wendy’s or McDonald’s.
T: It was horrendous. We went days without eating because it’s like, “I can’t eat another burger. I just can’t do it. I just want some fucking fruit and a salad!”
J: It’s really difficult to eat in America. In the UK, every corner has fresh produce and food. I feel like even the bread here’s different. There’s sugar in your bread! If we ever do another tour, I think we’re going to have to make and pack food to bring with us.
T: I guess it’s just a different palate, isn’t it. In the UK we want a more natural taste, and over here it’s just like “SUGAR! SUGAR! SUGAR!”
What was the basis of the new creative direction this album is taking?
J: We were at a point in our career where we weren’t really happy with the music we were making, so we made a conscious decision to only make music we truly love—to put 110 percent into our craft, and for the music to not be an afterthought. I know in EDM it’s usually the other way around: marketing and social media above everything else. For us, we just want a good product. A real album you can listen to from start to finish. We just wanted a sound that’s ours, and as long as we had that, we were happy. We had no plans as to where it might go, and to be honest, it’s probably hit our careers for the worse. We could’ve easily done the simple EDM thing, but we’d toured long and hard enough to know it’s just not satisfying.
T: At the end of the day, it’s us that has to go and play that fucking shit every night, and if we’re not happy with it, then… I’d rather play to a room of 200 people that fucking GOT it and loved it than 10,000 people that are there because they saw you on YouTube. I don’t want to end up like 99 percent of EDM people.
J: We’d ideally like to do something that stands the test of time and isn’t just a flash in the pan, and not make songs that six months later, nobody will even think about listening to. We worked SO hard on this music. Genuinely, I was in one room of my house where we recorded the record for a year and a half, and I didn’t want to leave. It got to the point where he was getting food for me. I was there every day, 15–16 hours a day.
T: It needed to be done. That’s the way it should be.
J: EDM should be making people interested in the music instead of the product and person.
Are there any people you’d love to collaborate with?
T: There are loads, but they’re dreams. Muse would be number one.
J: People like Prodigy.
T: Lionel Richie.
J: Tony’s like the number-one Lionel Richie fan.
T: I don’t even care anymore. Print it. It’s out there. I’m a huge Lionel fan. I went to go see him in London recently. I must’ve been the youngest person there by about 30 years, but I had the time of my fucking life. Fuck the haters.
MODESTEP’s sophomore album, London Road, drops Tuesday, May 26.