The pair launched their Body High imprint with an EP under that moniker back in 2011, but the ecstatic energy and ear-worming vocal loops of their debut album feel miles away from the body-jacking club material of Stadium Status.
While the album is heavily steeped in Chicago house and Detroit techno traditions, Friend of Mine is fundamentally a Los Angeles album: a dance record built for downtown warehouses and drives down the 405 that is rooted in the space the city plays in our collective imagination.
Cinematic opener ‘The Bottom Is As Low As You Can Go’ reworks an iconic line from The Naked City — “There are five million stories in the big city… this is mine.” — before launching into a love letter to the city they call home, and with that in mind, we asked Sam and Jerome to break down the Los Angeles icons that inspired the album. They describe the locale-heavy results as their “kinda depressing, potentially fun guide to Los Angeles.”
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THE LONG GOODBYE (1973)
Jerome: That was a movie that I watched when we were making the album and we talked about it in the studio. The Philip Marlowe character… he’s figuring out LA, he’s got these hippie neighbors, and he seems out of place, like he’s from a different era. You can really feel how he’s lonely, driving around late at night, trying to figure out the city. That’s a tone we tried to parallel when making the album: empty, looking, and searching. Those were themes we were already working, and even though it’s a different era, the film still applies to Los Angeles today. They could remake it right now, for sure.
Sam: I love the contrast between Marlowe and the free-loving, free-wheeling hippie neighbors. It’s so L.A. to literally have such sharp contrasts between people living next to each other. You see that everywhere, in every neighborhood.
Jerome: We’ve all had crazy neighbors [laughs].
Sam: I think people’s homes play such a bigger part here than somewhere like New York, where people spend time living outside of their house: you live in the streets, in bars, in restaurants. But in L.A., no matter if it’s a mansion or an apartment, everyone has their own contained zone.
PICO-UNION AND THE SEVENTH DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH
Sam: Pico-Union is an intersection and a neighborhood. There’s an area with old, massive Victorian houses that used to be for well-off people who wanted to live outside of downtown, when downtown was more of the city center. They’re huge, huge houses that are out of place.
Jerome: They’re rundown, decrepit old mansions. There’s a row of them, and they look haunted.
Sam: They loom in the neighborhood, and no one really lives in them. A few of them were turned into halfway houses. I was researching the houses online and one of them was going for $50,000. It’s just another pocket of the city that has so many different lifetimes and existences.
Sam: The huge church down there housed Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple before they moved down to Guyana, and now it’s a Korean church. That cult aspect was something we were thinking about while we were working on the record: all these different people in the city and the world find different ways of saving themselves from what they’re dealing with. It’s not always perfect, and cults are a really good example of that [laughs]. It must feel like they have answers, but it’s clearly not the most pure form of salvation.
Jerome: That’s where we are right now. Our studio is two blocks east of the park. If there was a setting for the album, I’d say it was MacArthur Park.
Sam: Contrary to what I was saying about people being contained in their homes, Westlake and MacArthur Park is one of the few neighborhoods where there is street life: people are out and about everyday.
Jerome: People are walking place to place instead of driving, so you see different culture, different characters. There are soccer matches there, and I’m going to a concert there soon. Despite it being a rough area, there’s still community stuff going on there.
Sam: The park is teeming with life and activity, it’s almost impossible to comprehend all the exchanges and lives being led. It has a reputation for being dangerous, especially back in the ‘90s, and while there is very visible gang and drug stuff, it’s still a park with families in it. When we shot the video for ‘Never Win’, we had this weird fucking drone thing and all these people came out to watch it fly. We didn’t plan for it but it drew this massive crowd, and some of those little kids ended up in the video.
Jerome: It’s a character in so many movies, especially Blade Runner. There’s a great documentary that we’ve talked about called Los Angeles Plays Itself that shows different places and how they’re portrayed or not portrayed in different movies, and it makes you reexamine the city. The Bradbury Building is heavily featured in it, and it can play spy chambers, a bank, a mall. It’s placeless in all these movies, but it is a real place.
The movie industry is always there but its not something we think about on a daily basis. I live downtown and the other day I saw a film production with a fake subway stop, New York cabs and all these cars with New York plates… The city has this chameleon-like vibe where all these people are floating in and out of different things.
Sam: That documentary shows how so many people have used the same location to set different tone. The building is playing a role the same way an actor would. For us, so much of the album was inspired by place and setting rather than other artists and sounds. We spent so much time walking from our houses to the studio; having the time to take in where you are and what that means and what emotions come from that.
Jerome: When I give tours for visiting friends, I’ll just take them from Cesar Chavez Avenue all the way down Sunset where it ends at Will Rogers State Park and Malibu. It’s just this crazy way to see all of Los Angeles. You go from Echo Park and Silver Lake through Hollywood — the heart of Hollywood and where all the cliches about Los Angeles exist — through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills into Malibu, really close to the ocean. Our Los Angeles is very linear — downtown to the beach — and if you have one day in L.A., you can see it all on Sunset. It’s a rare street, not a lot of city’s have something like that.
Sam: “Sunset” is such an L.A. buzzword: everyone makes a connection with that’s not necessarily reality. Tourists come to L.A. and say, “Let’s go see the glamour of Hollywood,” but Hollywood Boulevard is bizarre and dark: T-shirt shops, a really depressing wax museum…
Jerome: People dressed up like The Hulk and Superman. There’s a city beyond what’s in the movies.
Sam: So much of L.A., the neighborhoods and streets mean something different to people outside of here, but when you’re entrenched, it takes on a different tone.
THE VENICE ROOM
Sam: This one’s a deep cut. It’s basically part-restaurant and part-karaoke bar. In the restaurant, you grill your own steak; there are grills going in this empty room and they bring you a raw steak. But then the bar has this really, really weird karaoke scene.
This isn’t groups of friends getting drunk in a private room and being goofy together: the scene is people who come along, sing very well and sing very sad songs. It’s the opposite of any karaoke birthday party you’ve ever been to; it’s devastating and really beautiful. Each time I’ve left, I thought the place would disappear behind me and I’d never be able to find it again. It’s that unfamiliar.
THE PACIFIC DINING CAR
Jerome: That’s really close to our studio as well. It’s a really trippy spot. It’s been there since the ‘20s; meals were a nickel during the Great Depression. It’s this old train car and very fancy inside — white tableclothes and waiters in tuxes — and there are no nice restaurants in this part of town. During the day, it’s all Mercedes and BMWs in the parking lot, a lot of people do business there during the day, and it’s very expensive. It’s a weird juxtaposition in the neighborhood.
But it’s also open 24 hours and after 11pm it’s half-off — that’s the only time I’ve ever gone — and the servers are still perfect at midnight even though the people there are really sketchy. There’s a dark energy there, the artwork is from another era, there’s a haunted vibe. It’s a weird remnant of the past; the servers feel like ghosts. It’s a great experience, though, and I highly recommend it.
UNION STATION AND OLVERA STREET
Jerome: That’s walking distance from my place, and it’s just where a lot of people come in on trains, a lot of vagabonds in that area. It’s very similar to the Bradbury Building in that it’s played airports in movies and whatnot, and it has beautiful architecture.
Olvera Street is where the first houses were built in Los Angeles. There’s a lot of history there, but now it’s touristy, with everyone selling cheap things, it’s a little dark and depressing with a lot of turnover. It draws a lot of interesting people with interesting stories. It’s a landmark and area that feels very specific to Los Angeles, especially how that area has changed over time.
Jerome: That’s our secret spot. It’s an incredible spot in walking distance from the studio. We always take people there. These women from El Salvador make everything by hand and it’s the best pupusa you’ve ever had, for like $2.
Sam: To me, that place is a real lesson in fine craftsmanship. It’s been so perfected over time.
Jerome: From the outside, you probably wouldn’t go it, and sometimes while you’re eating, the jukebox will just turn on and start blasting crazy cumbia and a guy will come in and try to sell you bootleg DVDs… it’s very representative of the neighborhood.
ASK THE DUST (1939)
Jerome: The inspiration wasn’t literal or anything; we weren’t thinking about Arturo Bandini walking around L.A. It’s more the tones of that book that we focused on: searching, being down-and-out and looking for love and being heartbroken. He’s searching for answers and reasons, and it’s very specific to Los Angeles. Those two themes were what we were focusing on with the album.
Sam: Without revealing too much about the ending of that book, there’s not a lot of resolution. That’s something we thought about with the album: this cyclical nature of people’s lives. Rough things are always happening and it doesn’t go up and up and up all the time. That is reflected in the more personal side of the album. Embracing that nature in our own lives and not fighting against it, in a way that will almost kill you.
Jerome: We talked about that a lot when making the album. We didn’t go into the album with a specific sound in mind, but after we wrote ‘Love Songs’, we felt that vibe throughout the album. It was happening in a very natural way. We obviously have things going on in our lives and we tried to embrace those feelings in the studio, instead of just making some sort of poppy dance music. We wanted to express our emotions instead of fighting them.
Sam: I think people run with the John Fante thing, but this isn’t some fantasy album that we came up with: this really reflects our real lives for the last year. We’re definitely in it — it’s us.