INTERVIEW: &Freinds

How would you classify your music?

Working with so many different humans, artists, and personalities from different backgrounds and walks of life on this project, we’ve been able to create this raw, Worldly House energy, a blend amongst many genres—I guess you could say Indie/Gospel/Soul House-Electronic.

Who are some of your top 5 musical influences?

Top 5? C’mon now! That just isn’t fair. I feel guilty answering this question myself as the group has so many influences from classical to opera to soul loving jazz, and everything else outside and in between.

For me personally, funk/soul artists like the magical Queen Calypso Rose, legends like Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles’, Stevie Wonder, and the mind astronaut Dj Drez.

I admire their passion, dedication, and full commitment to themselves. Constantly pushing boundaries, imagining, dreaming, loving, giving.

What do you want fans to take from your music?

Making our music has been such a collaborative experience. We know that when fans listen to our music that they are bringing their own beauty, hope, heartache, and experience to the table. We want them to feel a sense of collaborative creation with us. We know that all the dancing, laughing, goosebumps, child-like imagination, and release that we put into our music extends beyond recording to the experience of listening—whether that be at home alone, with friends at a club, or live at one of our concerts. We want to draw aspects out of each other that couldn’t exist in isolation. We want to experience community through whatever art we create with and for each other.

We also want them to see that hope and beauty are always translatable. In the darkest moments, we can always find light, we can always use a little dance at home, a big belly laugh, goosebumps on the skin, to shake it out, to ignite the inner-child. We want to bring out emotions they never knew existed. Music is the gateway of understanding ourselves that builds community.

How’s the music scene in your locale?

The industry sure has taken a hit but, what I will say, New York…the creators, the artists, the musicians…what a community we have here. Beyond grateful for all the magical makers here in this city. There are so many gorgeous spaces of wellness and entertainment being created—we’re currently hosting monthly meditations in a Salt Cave in Brooklyn.

Washington Square Park alone, I get so much inspiration from every weekend. Want to know a funny and wild story? That’s how I met my vocalist, Alli. I walked up to her while she was singing in the park with her acoustic guitar. Her voice, the aura she had, it was something so special. Three years later, she is something who is like a sister to me. Magic is everywhere in this city, you just have to believe and be open to it.

When did you know you were destined for music?

That’s actually a funny one….I’ve always known I was born to entertain, to guide. My mom still makes fun of me to this day telling me stories from when I was young, banging on my drum kit yelling, “I want to save the world mommy!” I think secretly, she hated those drumsticks, but saw the joy and confidence they gave me, helping me to step into my own, beating to my own drum.

Music and I have had a very difficult relationship, but that’s a story for another day. It’s been something that I’ve had an ear for since I was kid—the sound of what creates and inspires certain emotions. I love how it can make us feel something we didn’t even know we wanted or needed, how it can transport us to a memory from years ago. Music equals experience—and there is nothing more that I love than creating with this group to evoke emotion.

What is the inspiration behind the first release by &Friends?

In this particular global environment, we believe people all over the world are starving for a positive, unifying connection. We believe we can do this through music.

The idea spawned when COVID hit, right in the heat of the lockdown. My biggest concern was mental health. How are these experiences going to separate us further? What can we do to create something that shows the only way we can get through it is as one? How can we bring everyone together, to honor our differences, to see the beauty, to realize we are all the same?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Music is the universal language of mankind.”

What song could I choose to remix, to bring back to life, in a way that hasn’t been heard? The message, the song, it had to be something that could unify the world, even just for a few minutes. I pulled out my record collection, and of course, I see The Beatles’, Let It Be. Universal, cross-generational reach, and a positive message.

Tell us about &Friends? 

How much time do you have? Ha.

&Friends is a group of people trying to do what people have always tried to do together: discover truth through the act of creating with each other.

Everything about &Friends is about community, lifting each other up, participating, showing up, giving back, connecting the dots. An ecosystem that creates for each other so that we may all experience abundance and bliss. A circular giving model.

Funny, I was looking to start my own project again after being away from music for more than 6 years. In the past two years I started playing shows again here in NYC, dusted off the cobwebs from Ableton, but it was just me, and what fun is that?

Why don’t I collaborate with some incredible humans that I know, some that I don’t, and meet some strangers and other gems along the way. That’s exactly what happened.

In January 2020, I started producing with a very close friend from back home in San Diego, Mr. Mikey, who is also a business partner in this project. We actually hadn’t caught up in about 5 years until the end of 2019, but we had a couple of great FaceTime calls and got right into it.

Over those few months, we started honing in on the energy, the emotions, the stories we wanted to tell, the sound design—what did we want to make others feel?

I had this dream and vision one night, I saw the whole thing. A 20 piece ensemble playing live—choir vocalists, percussion, strings, brass, keys. I woke up and knew we needed to find the right humans to collaborate with for the live musician aspects.

That’s when COVID hit, so I wanted to do a remix that was able to incorporate all of those live elements. Then, let’s make a music video with people from all over the world.

Mikey and I produced the skeleton of the track and we found the musicians. They were all super down and recorded from their home “studios.” Just like that, we had all of the pieces and I saw how we could keep doing this with record after record.

The fun part was figuring out how the hell we were going to make a music video. Who would be able to do it how I saw it in my head? How am I going to get people from all over the world to submit a video?

I got on a call with a videographer friend. I knew he didn’t have the chops to build it out how I saw it, but wanted to brainstorm. He intro’d me to a TikTok “Star” who has millions of views on his channel. It was an amazing call, but not a fit. Then he said to me, “Dude, I have the best person for you that will match with your energy and everything you’re doing.” I’m getting goosebumps talking about this as it’s bringing me back to the whole process. 

He introduced me to Gabe Desanti, and magic happened. It felt like fireworks, rainbows, butterflies, a cosmic creative revolution. It was one of those times where you meet someone and you think “Man, have we known each other all our lives or what?!”

The creation of the video began, I started putting assets together for personal outreach and hit the ground running. I sent 300+ personalized voice notes and Instagram DM’s to friends, family, and people that I’ve never met. What a crazy sprint that was, I remember being drained beyond. But 200+ submissions later, we had all the content to make something beautiful for the World. Now 8 months later, we’re ready to release the first music project, the first video.

I tell this story because that’s &Friends. It’s humans that are finding their way to each other by just being.

How have you evolved as an artist over the last year?

I mean, wow. I’ve watched us all grow. It’s honestly been one of the proudest moments of my life. My weekly 1:1’s with every musician and artist that’s involved in this project, it truly is like a little family of love.

I think we’re all pushing each other, helping each other grow, not just musically, but personally.

I think I’ve grown this year in becoming a leader. I’m the person that anyone can call when they need to cry, when they’re feeling stressed, when they want to chat and brainstorm. My artistry evolution this year comes in many ways, but really, the thing I’m most proud of is putting all the crazy pieces together.

If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, have a drink with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be and why? 

I dislike this question because there are so many variables that come into play here.

The first human that pops into my mind is Alicia Keys. Her ability to poetically connect, and create art that everyone can relate to. She is someone that speaks so much truth, and with such strong, gentle elegance. She’s never afraid to talk about the struggles and I adore her work in philanthropy. She’s the definition of BEing—freedom of expression. She’s been at it for such a long time and is so respected. That speaks volumes and I would love to hear her story. Bonus points for being a New Yorker—the ones born and raised in this city are always humans I want to spend time with.

What’s next for you? 

We’re really excited to start sharing projects we’ve been working really hard on.,

Finishing an album concept we started in May, “The Beginning…of Everything”. It stemmed from a poem Mike and I were collaborating on, the conversation got deeper and it just hit. Let’s turn this poem into an Album—let’s tell a story, a journey from start to finish.

We’re planning to release that in May of 2021, as well as two singles and two other remixes with music videos.

We also just launched “Om For The World,” every first Sunday of the month. We invite people from around the world to get into rhythm with each other by intentionally breathing together. We create space through meditation to be surprised and embraced by our present moment. It’s hosted in the most beautiful Salt Cave (yes, salt cave) in Brooklyn.

We do live soft music with keys and flute, myself and our co-lead Navriti set the intention of the space, have a guest guide share a story and lead us through a guided meditation. We finish with a two minute OM, followed by music. We hosted our first one last Sunday and had over 200 people join. It was about 35-45mins, and was so, so beautiful. We’re really excited to keep building and creating in that space and provide a reconnection of feeling what is truly inside.

We have some other fun things coming too, but we’ve got to save some secrets!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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