Drew Carroll, the frontman of International Friendly, has been making a name for himself opening for acts such as Jim Adkins (of Jimmy Eat World) and Lee Baines III & The Glory Fires. The up-and-coming Southerner's angst-filled sound brings a pop-punk energy reminiscent of mid-‘90s Guided By Voices and The Get Up Kids. We’re pleased to announce that the track titled “The Reservoir” (located in the top right) is Carroll's new single which he chose to debut on What The Sound. Enjoy!"
What The Sound: Where are you right now?
Drew Carroll: I’m in Charlottesville, Virginia. Getting ready to move to Nashville.
WTS: Cool. So when did International Friendly begin, and did you make music prior to its existence under a different name or no name?
DC: International Friendly started around last summer. I’ve been in a bunch of bands since high school, and the last band I was in was called Dwight Howard Johnson, but that ended and I had a lot of songs that I was working on. Originally IF's name was an idea I had for a yacht rock project, I thought it sounded like a smooth rock band, but that's not what I'm into writing.
Are you a fan of sports? Dwight Howard Johnson and your artwork for Onside Kick…
Onside Kick’s artwork was done by Stephen Strupp from Sat. Nite Duets, the band from Milwaukee on the split.
My dad’s a big Auburn football fan, so I grew up going to their home games. Greg Sloan, the drummer from Dwight Howard Johnson and an old roommate, is really into the NBA, so he got me into that when we lived together. Growing up in the Southeast it’s hard to escape sports.
So how did the other members of International Friendly end up joining your project? Did you know them before? Were they Craigslist pickups?
Yeah they were all really good friends. The guitarist Graham Partridge, I’ve known him for as long as I’ve been in town. He’s one of those guys I’ve always admired for his playing and I just reached out to see if he wanted to be a part of something. The bassist, Scott Ritchie, we had been in a band previously called Infinite Jets and he’s one of the best bass players I’ve ever worked with. The first drummer, Trivett Wingo, was sharing a practice space with Scott when we started to play. He just walked in while I was showing Scott the songs I had been working on and we all just started playing together. So that was just him walking in the room wanting to jam. He’s since moved to Austin, and Geoff Otis, our second drummer, came in already having perfected all the songs before a single practice. I’ve been very fortunate with who I’ve played with in this band.
When did you decide to write your music and where does the angsty punk rock sound come from on most of your tracks?
I guess I was about ten when I wrote my first song, and ever since then I’ve just been playing my guitar and writing and building my recording set up. I think the sound comes from what I’ve had access to. I’ve always liked big, distorted guitars—I think part of that has to do with the first two records I bought when I was nine: Green Day’s Dookie and The Blue Album by Weezer. But besides that I think it’s just what you know. Surprisingly the band I heard the most of growing up was The Grateful Dead, which we don’t really sound like [laughs].
So I’ve talked to you in the past about what I think you sound sounds like, you know like The Cloud Nothings, I showed you GRMLN, you mentioned the Get Up Kids, Afghan Whigs, etc. Who else have you gotten compared to in the past and are you proud of any in particular?
I think any time someone compares you to another band, it means they connected with something you’re doing. I mean, even if you don’t like the band they name, it’s a good thing what they’re saying. I opened up for Jim of Jimmy Eat World a couple months ago and I was hearing stuff I’d never thought I’d hear about my music. But it was cool because they were connecting and they were into it. So it’s a great thing. Other ones that haven’t been mentioned that I’m proud to be compared to are The Replacements, Elvis Costello and Guided By Voices.
Sometimes you don’t want to characterize your music into any one genre but if you could characterize your band, what genre would you call it?
The easiest thing to call it is Rock. By all traditional definitions that’s what it is—you know, guitar, bass, drums and vocals. We do most of the recording in a live setting too, so it’s as close to being no bullshit as possible.
Two months ago you released those two tracks on Toy Noir and you have a couple more tracks that aren’t public yet. Is this all going to be a part of a full-length album coming soon?
Yeah, what I’m doing right now is sending out tracks to drum up interest. From what I’ve heard from friends in the past, by sending out private tracks you get a lot more interest, so that’s just what I’m trying to do now and just finish up the most cohesive batch of songs I can and put it out.
Prior to these releases you had Onside Kick, which was a single.
Yeah, Sat. Nite Duets wanted to do a split that was centered around the NFL football season, because they’re all big Packers fans. I don’t watch a lot of professional football really, but I’ve always loved the onside kick as a play, so it was the closest thing I could write to a football song, something mentioning that phrase. The split itself was one hundred percent their idea, I had that chord progression for about four years before ever finishing the song.
And then you have your self titled album, IF, which I’ve been a huge fan of. You made that how many months ago?
That was done in a whirlwind because we were putting a band together and needed songs to give people. That came out in March, six months ago.
Did it take a while to make or was it a pretty quick process?
No, it’s been pretty quick with this band. Like I said, I own all my own recording gear so I just set it up. And we’re pretty well-rehearsed before recording. So for the most part it’s just getting everyone in the same room. In the case of the songs on the self-titled, I think we did everything separately but everyone was well-rehearsed so it was easy to knock it out.
And then you have those four songs at the end of your Soundcloud which is also your cover photo on Facebook, it’s like a boob… What is that – what’s the name of it and where do those songs come from?
So a couple of those we recorded pretty soon after we formed—we were offered a show at a local venue opening up for JEFF The Brotherhood, but we the band wanted to hear recordings and we didn't have any, so we just cranked it out really quick.
"Won't You Stay With Me," "The Winning Team" and "More the Same" were very similar but we put a little more time into them, everyone recorded separately. Up until recently I’ve just been posting songs as I finish them to get people interested in what we do. If all those songs were to fit on the full length I would include them but remix them.
Is Charlottesville a big city?
No, it’s got a year-round population of 45,000.
OK, that’s small.
Yeah it’s real small, most famously Dave Matthews is from here, Sissy Spacek lives here, John Grisham, and the University is great here, the University of Virginia.
Well, has the Charlottesville music scene been supportive of your music? I know you play a lot at the Southern Café, right?
Yeah that’s been a great venue for us. The music scene has been really supportive, it’s very small of course, and everybody kind of does their own thing, which is great.
As far as the move to Nashville, I wanted the challenge and I wanted to be in a place where music was the focus.
I know that you opened for Jim Adkins, how did you get that gig? Jimmy Eat World is huge.
It was crazy. It was something I didn’t really think that much about when I was offered it and I didn’t realize how big it was going to be, but of course after I did the shows it was like, oh yeah, “The Middle” was a Top Five single… And they’ve sold a lot of records.
It came about from Danny Shea, the booking agent at the Southern and the Jefferson, which are the two venues in town that have the most shows. He reached out to me because he thought I’d be a good fit.
And you did that solo?
Yeah, and I debuted some new songs. It was great. It actually gave me a lot of confidence going towards this move. It felt really good. Since then I’ve had people coming up to me in other towns when I was just visiting saying "Hey I saw you at that show!" That doesn’t really happen a lot when you’re the opening act, you know?
You reposted that one song on your Soundcloud, “Sweet Disorder” by Lee Baines III & The Glory Fires. I love that song, and the band after you showed them to me, so that must have been awesome opening for them.
We’ve played with them multiple times, and between that and my last band, I think I’ve played with them almost every time they’ve been in either Charlottesville or Richmond. They’re incredible, one of the best live acts, nicest guys in the world—they’re one of those bands that you hope conquer the world. They’re doing the right thing and it's really intelligent and thought provoking as far as the southern narratives that they’re bringing to the table.
It’s really cool that they’re on Sub Pop too coming from that area of the country.
Yeah and that new record really fits into the classic Sub Pop sound. I always tell people when I’m describing Lee Baines that they’re like Husker Du playing southern rock. It’s just fast and each song kills.
If there’s any band you would hope to tour with in the future either as co-headlining or as an opener, is there anyone specific you would want other than Green Day and Weezer?
Down the road that would be cool, but I recognize it would be a tough opening slot. When you’re playing in a big stadium like they do, a lot of people are just filtering in and getting their beer during the opening act.
As far as right now, I love the Cloud Nothings, I think they’re putting on great shows and I love what they’re doing. Also their drummer is amazing, I love watching him play. I would also say Royal Headache, their new album is incredible, I can’t stop listening to it. It would be a dream to open up for Afghan Whigs, because every night it’s a different show and I’d be offstage taking notes and geeking out [laughs].
Nice. Are there any artists that you really dig who you hope more people know about including WTS’ followers?
Absolutely. Wild Pink from New York, that’s my buddy John Ross’s band. They’re yet another band I love and would love to tour with. Left and Right; Big Air from California; Ex Breathers from Tallahassee, Florida. There’s just so much going on right now—cooler, smaller bands just going for it. It’s exciting.
Do you know them?
Yeah, I'm friends with all these bands. Rob Dobson from Big Air started that project in Charlottesville, Virginia. He moved out to LA and he just finished his record there. Left and Right also started in Charlottesville, more good friends. Watching their development has been so inspiring. Ex Breathers are buddies from back home.
We kind of talked earlier about creating an album. What’s your songwriting process like?
It’s different every time. For a long time I focused on first person, personal narratives, but as far as International Friendly for the most part it’s been writing in character. Especially with the newer stuff. “Fight for Feeling” is written from the perspective of a person who is asking their lover to turn out the lights so they can imagine they’re having sex with someone else. [Laughs.] That’s probably the darkest thing I’ve ever written. “Childhood Cross” is from the perspective of a character with paternal conflict. It’s different, but the newer stuff is a lot more character driven. “The Bridge Ices Before the Road” started off with me seeing that sign on the road a lot. Sometimes it’s just one phrase that grabs you; I thought it would be a great chorus line about the dissolution of a relationship. You know, when you reach that point where you just don’t give a shit anymore.
Where does International Friendly come from? How did you choose that name?
It’s a soccer term for when two teams are playing each other but not for a championship—like an exhibition game. So the idea originally was to get whoever could play the songs I had written and record them. To give me the accessibility to do whatever I needed to do with the song. When my last band broke up I had this drive and I wanted to do something, and in a town like Charlottesville, with only a small group of people actively playing music and bands having to share members, it wasn’t very clear I would get a band. I did end up immediately solidifying a new lineup which I didn’t expect, but the idea was to get some people together who were playing to play and crank out these songs. This was partially inspired by Guided By Voices “33 1/3” on Bee Thousand where he has all these songs and didn’t want to have to wait on anybody to finish what he was working on. We were able to just commit to the song and give it what it needed.
Are you going to promote International Friendly down there [Nashville] or your own name or both?
It’s the first band name I’ve thought of that I like, so I’m going to keep it. The goal is as soon as I get down to Nashville to get the group up and running, and to set up my gear and finish recording. It’s a low risk, get in at the ground floor sort of thing.