Frequently featured in our Why We Like It series, it’s about time we gave fika a well-earned spotlight. The jazzy British duo recently released Love Stories, a five-track EP that’s as smooth as it is comforting. Wrap yourself in the weighted blanket of their music and enjoy this CentralSauce featured interview.
We all deserve a little time to ourselves. Trapped in the existential traffic jam of our lives, we need moments of reflection before we continue steamrolling blindly through our list of tasks. In Sweden, the tradition of “fika” is to take time out of your day to have a cup of coffee and enjoy something sweet. I may not have a sweet tooth, but I know a British lo-fi band that gets the job done even better. I took some time out myself to sit down with Sam Hutton & Al Wreaves whose band, fika, inspires a similarly calming reflective effect.
Make sure you have your time to yourself. That’s a lot of how we live our lives and how we want our music to be enjoyed. It’s time away from the craziness.” – Sam Hutton for CentralSauce
fika’s latest EP, Love Stories, is a jazzy unravelling of romance and heartbreak — it’s warm and nostalgic, but almost in a sad way. They excel in crafting songs that capture the complex duality of our emotions and explore them through love, the most confounding avenue available. I’m drawn into the lead track, “Mean,” by the snappy bassline and instrumental breaks, but absorbed by the pure honesty of a vocalist loaded with the burden of hurting someone they love by doing what they feel is right. “Missing Me” continues through the dancing of a jilted lover puffing their self up knowing that their ex partner must regret their now prominent absence, but the music betrays the perspective as a fantasy fueled from insecurity. We project our feelings of loss through our own self-importance as a way to remain centered around ourselves, rather than see the honesty of the full picture — the honesty that permeates Love Stories. Through the EP’s plentiful funk riffs and groove-able beats, fika taps into the power of true yearning while resonating with a tinge of sadness in accepting loss.
The genuine nature of the expression is born of Sam and Al’s decade long friendship from which they pull inspiration. They believe that great songs come from open conversations and creating as close to that moment as possible. Love Stories in particular was largely driven by the friends’ conversations with the tape’s collaborator, Fabich, the record producer whose personal experience with pajamas and Brazilian romance was the motivation for the Ep’s sprawlingly-ambient closing track “PJ’s in Brazil.”
Keeping with their intention to release music as fresh as possible, Sam and Al took advantage of being roommates during lockdown by never truly escaping the studio. Our conversation takes place over Zoom in the same studio, briefly interrupted by a pandemic-safe grocery delivery, but there’s never a dull moment between the friends’ natural rapport as we talk about music and relationships and try to pin down something as abstract as love. The duo are in sync enough to know where the other is leading and nearly complete each other’s sentences at times. They left me smiling like I’d interviewed TV’s most iconic sweater-wearing friendship. Come to think of it, I’ve never not seen them in sweaters… but for people who make music so warm, it makes sense to picture them constantly cozy. The conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, is presented below.
Beautiful, lovely, easy things don’t take into account the darker side of love and the hard side of love. Maybe it’s something a bit more chaotic. It’s got a beauty mixed in with… with anarchy.” – Al Wreaves for CentralSauce
Sam Hutton (left) and Al Wreaves (right)
Brandon: This interview is a long time coming. We’ve gotten new singles from you guys almost every other week or something.
Sam: I think we’re like in the honeymoon phase still. We’ve not written music together [like this], but we’ve been friends for like, 10 years, 12 years. It’s been this purge of all of these songs. I think we’re just still trying to ride that wave of enjoying writing music and it all being kind of fresh and new. We’re aware that, if and when we do go full time, that’s all going to change. We’re going to have tour cycles, there are going to be things that are going to make it more difficult. We’re not going to have 10 to 12 years of friendship to write about and all these experiences. We’re going to have like one year. We’re just trying to, I guess, massage as much out of it as possible. We know that there’s still a lot in there.
Al: It’s just about the whole process of not taking too long over things you’re working on and not kind of holding on for things and being too precious for too long before you release things or before you try and perfect everything. Try and actually capture that moment and the feeling, the excitement about what you’ve written and getting it out to the world as soon as possible. So you’re always inspired, you’re always keeping it fresh, and you’re not holding on to things.
What point in your musical journeys did you two meet?
Al: We met at the very end, or the last month of music college and we kind of became mates and then realized, just coincidentally, that we’d both be going to the same uni. So then we went to uni to do music and became good mates. But like Sam said, we didn’t write any music together or anything. It wasn’t till quite a few years later, after uni that we were like, let’s give this a try.
So you’re both friends and studying music together at uni and you never thought to make music together?
Sam: Just it never entered our minds, really. I always wanted to work in music but I didn’t know how. Then I finished uni and I needed to get a job. I just decided to do something a bit easier than trying to make it in music and I just fell into that for like five years. I didn’t touch an instrument for five years. Then my brother had a really bad cycling accident and Al had just moved to the area. It was just a bit of a shake up. I ended up quitting my job and we started writing music together and it just worked.
Al: It was time for it, for whatever reason. I was teaching guitar in schools and privately and playing weddings and functions and events, that kind of thing. I think, probably not too long before we started writing together, I got a bit bored of what I was doing. It was just kind of, you know, you’re stagnant. You’re doing stuff you like, but it’s not your dream. We really liked writing, so I think writing our own music probably fed a new excitement for me. These circumstances that we’re both in probably led to why we wanted to do something new and fresh and creative. I think it wouldn’t have worked if we tried to do it three-years-ago or before.
When doing my research for this interview, I came across the term “fika” — a Swedish tradition for taking some time out of the day to sit down with a cup of coffee and something sweet. Was this the inspiration for the band name?
Sam: When we started the project, obviously, the first thing to think of is, what are we going to call ourselves? All I knew is I wanted something that was a bit different. I wanted something that was maybe a foreign word, or maybe something that typical UK or American people wouldn’t know about — something that meant chill. And then fika came up, and it was perfect. Take time out of your day to meditate in a way. The whole point of it in Sweden is that they enforce fika in workplaces because they know that work gets too much. It’s all about making sure you have your time that isn’t work. Make sure you have your time to yourself. That’s a lot of how we live our lives and how we want our music to be enjoyed. It’s time away from the craziness.
How did the two of you link up with Fabich for Love Stories?
Al: We had collaborated with these guys in Berlin called No Spirit and we did a release with them called “Better Now,” and then we were supposed to have a session with one of their friends. This guy knew Fabich and he had a studio in London so we actually had a session booked with this other guy at Fabich’s studio. He couldn’t make the session at the end but Chris, Fabich, still had the day free so he said you want to just meet up anyway? We didn’t even know anything about each other really, had never spoken to him. But we went to the studio, got to know each other and had a really great day and ended up writing most of Love Stories.
Fabich (left), Sam Hutton (center), and Al Wreaves (right)
What do you think is Fabich’s strongest contribution to your music?
Sam: So Chris [Fabich] has self-dubbed himself as the vibe creator and it’s bang on.
Al: He is just so good at reading a room, getting everyone energized, getting the best out of everyone, basically. It’s what he does best. He’s so quick at producing as well. So if you’ve got an idea, it’ll be down and recorded and you don’t lose that realness.
The EP is titled Love Stories, which is very fitting for the content and the feel of the tape. So just to start getting into that theme, what is one of your favorite love stories?
Al: It’s gotta be from the track “PJ’s in Brazil,” which is one of the tracks from the EP. So the first day we met him, the whole kind of concept of the EP started because we were getting to know each other before we made any music. He was like, let’s grab a coffee, let’s get a few beers, let’s just catch up over a few hours and get to know each other. We’re sharing stories, we got to the topic of relationships. He’s telling us this story about this Brazilian girl that he liked, and that he kind of had been seeing a little bit, didn’t know where it was going. She invited him… I think he’ll be alright with this. She invited him to hers on New Year’s Eve, which is quite a good signifier things are going well. And the first thing he said was, he needed to think about what pajamas to take with him to the date. And then he hunted for some and got his mom to help him find a few different options for pajamas to take. Sam and I just couldn’t believe what we were hearing.
Sam: See the contrast between, you know we’d only seen pictures and the music of this super cool German producer — sunglasses, sipping a milkshake, like, proper cool guy. And the first conversation we have is about him trying to pick out some pajamas for this girl.
A lot of the time, music is about expressing abstract feelings and ideas that are otherwise difficult to describe. Without music, how would you describe love?
Al: How do you describe love? I don’t I don’t know if you can.
Sam: It’s a feeling of awe. We often talk about just kind of how useless words can be. Because they’re not good enough at describing certain feelings, especially the feelings we get when we’re onto a new idea or onto something that we get really excited about. There are literally no words to describe that feeling because we can’t. Words are limiting, whereas music is so much more powerful than that and can make you feel a way without even telling you what it is. Play you a minor chord, you know you’ll feel sad, and so on. I guess love is probably the same thing really, it’s a feeling.
Al: Because also, it can be like romantic love, it can be love within your family, loving a friend… It can not be directed at anyone or anything, but people can just kind of emanate the feeling of love. It’s so broad. I was gonna start off by trying to piece together some bullshit sentence about like, extreme feelings of closeness or admiration for someone, but that doesn’t describe it.
So let’s say if I gave you a magic paintbrush, and told you to draw love, to sort of visualize it. What do you draw?
Sam: I mean, the only thing I can think of… Every time I hear the word love, I just think of my girlfriend, and I think it’s a very strong association with a partner. That’s what most people might associate love with.
Al: The concept behind the EP is exactly this. Love stories. This is not just the traditional understanding of what love is that you see in the movies and everything. Love is hating someone as well, or falling out or disagreeing or being okay, that things are going to be serious…
Sam: … or mean. The title of the track is about how can someone who loves you treat you so badly? And how can that have the same description as the love I feel for my girlfriend? It can’t.
Al: Exactly. So when you said if you had the magic paintbrush… I think a lot of people might initially be like ‘ah, you know, it’s something really beautiful.’ But beautiful, lovely, easy things don’t take into account the darker side of love and the hard side of love. Maybe it’s something a bit more chaotic. It’s got a beauty mixed in with… with anarchy. Yeah we’re demonstrating the point that we can’t describe it.
The texture of Love Stories is this very warm and nostalgic feeling. It’s sort of like, fondly looking back on the good times of an old relationship, and it comes off pretty optimistic. But that’s sometimes easier said than done to be optimistic about an old relationship, because love hurts. How do you go about pulling some of the good feelings away from the rest of that mess?
Al: Well, I think an observation that we talked about is in the order in which you write something has an effect. I think largely, not always the case, but largely our emotions are what we feel the song is about, or what emotions you felt in the song is often influenced by the music. So it’s not that often that we’re going to write about this topic and then format everything around that. Often we like to experiment, vibe, and you might come up with something that’s really happy, chilled, sad, dark.
Sam: I think going back one step though, the thing we do before that would be the conversation. We get to know each other and that is a really, really integral part of the process because it’s really, really personal stuff writing a song with someone so you want to feel comfortable around them. When you’re vibing like this, you’re going to be more drawn to the sounds and pulled into what you’ve been talking about… It was just, this is the feeling we have, let’s make some music and it will emanate. It will filter through because we’ve spoken about it, we’ve manifested it already. I guess that sounds quite washy on the surface but when you’ve done it so many times and it works a lot of the time, it must work. It must be true that when you talk about things, and when you express feelings, the music is going to come through and just trust that.
I went through the EP and tried to think about what lessons I could learn about love from each song. I want to share my takeaways and hear your thoughts on the concepts. For the song “Mean,” in love it feels like you can’t always be the good guy. How do you think love can make you feel mean?
Al: When someone else’s behavior is outside of your control. Like what we were talking about earlier, in terms of what does that mean? It can be negative, or there can be negative outcomes and emotions off the back of love. So I think if someone’s not being reasonable or treating you how you feel you should be treated, it can make you feel mean.
Sam: You think you’re in a good relationship, but you’re not. It’s only when you’re out of it, you realize how much better it will be for you.
“Missing Me” initially feels like an expression of an old partner’s remorse that you’re no longer with them. But that fantasy is really just a way of covering your own sense of loss. Do you think it’s comforting to look back on an old relationship and hope the other person is missing you?
Al: I think it might be comforting, but it’s probably a sign of your insecurity. Because if you’re secure with yourself, you won’t be worrying about what’s happened in the past and whether they’re missing you or not.
Sam: I think we all go through that to some extent. Like, if your ex is someone in your mutual group of friends, you’re gonna doll yourself up if you see them again. Because you want them to, you know, miss you.
On “Come Over,” you’re asking for this girl to come spend some time with you, but it’s not just a familiar request. The sound of the song is more of a hopeful wish. What is the source of that yearning?
Sam: (Looks to Al) Passion?
Al: Yeah, I think it’s a passion. This is like the early days.
Why do you think that passion goes once you’re more familiar?
Al: It’s the excitement and passion about something that you want which you don’t have. If you’re used to something, you take it for granted more.
Sam: Going back to what you said about “it goes…” I don’t think it goes. I think it evolves into a different kind of love. It’s not passionate love anymore. It’s maybe more one of — I’m looking forward to spending the rest of my life with you, having children with you, and growing with you in a different way. I’d say it evolves rather than goes.
On “Pj’s in Brazil,” the singing at the beginning sounds very sad, even though the instrumentation is uplifting. There’s this melancholy message that, even after everything, everything stays the same. How does everything stay the same? Even after all that work has been put in?
Sam: I mean, that’s kind of the concept of the track name really. This song kind of is a sad one, in a way. It kind of is, it kind of isn’t, it’s a bit more tricky one because it was based around putting in what seemed to be a good chemistry, a good back and forth with this girl, but then suddenly, it’s gone. Then it’s back, and then it’s gone. It’s kind of a bit hot and cold, it’s unsure. But the reason why the music is kind of uplifting and happy is because the way we were talking about it was like yeah, it’s a bit difficult to deal with, but I’m actually accepting the fact that if this doesn’t go anywhere, then that’s also fine. Like, it’s her choice. I can’t force her to be with someone she doesn’t want to be with.
Al: Well, that’s what we first described as intended when we were thinking about our works, and the general idea is that you’re content, still. It might not be perfect, but your content and the music is quite relaxing, reassuring, as well. Even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, it’s still okay.
If I take the whole EP and look at it as like one big picture, I get this feeling of two people who both want to be with each other, but they can’t for whatever reason. Stories have lessons, right? So through this EP, what have we learned about love?
Sam: That’s really nice, because I think that’s a lot of what it was written about. Love. It was conversations with Chris who’s a DJ, he travels a lot, he struggles to kind of keep relationships because he’s always somewhere else. It ties in with that element of, there have been girls that he liked, but it just can’t work because of his job and because of their job. I think the outcome of that, for us, was that’s fine. That’s just not the relationship, that’s gonna be the one for you, or the one that you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. I guess it’s more one of like, letting it wash over you and not let love completely control your life.
Al: I think when we were talking earlier about what does love mean to you, everyone associates it with this kind of fairy tale Disney art. Love is when things work out happily ever after? It’s not necessarily a bad thing that it doesn’t. You remember that and you’ll be stronger.
Sam Hutton (left) and Al Wreaves (right)
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