Stunningly intimate and beautiful stirring, ‘Friendly Fire’ brings Ben Abraham’s coming out story to life with inspiring energy and heartfelt passion as the artist dives unapologetically into his deepest depths, exploring what it truly means to love yourself as he embraces the full breathtaking scope of human emotion and experience.
Stream: “I Am Here” – Ben Abraham
[It’s] an odyssey through the colliding worlds of sexuality and spirituality.
For all intents and purposes, Ben Abraham’s sophomore LP feels like another debut album.
Arriving six long years after the artist’s 2016 debut Sirens, Friendly Fire is so much more than a reintroduction to the Australia-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter and his world; it’s a new beginning and a fresh start in and of itself: A record of raw reckoning and self-discovery; of loss and love; of emotional fracture and inner strength; of identity and acceptance. Stunningly intimate and beautiful stirring, Friendly Fire brings Ben Abraham’s coming out story to life with inspiring energy and heartfelt passion as the artist dives unapologetically into his deepest depths, exploring what it truly means to love yourself as he embraces the full breathtaking scope of human emotion and experience.
Give me hands I can hold
Give me hands I can hold
I have no use for your silver or gold
Give me hands I can hold
Give me milk for my feed
Give me milk for my feed
A mother’s communion is all that I need
Give me milk for my feed
And I love! And I fear!
And I am here.
– “I Am Here,” Ben Abraham
Released March 11, 2022 via Atlantic Records, Friendly Fire is a grandiose, elegant, and sweeping hour-long journey into an artist’s mind, his heart, and his soul.
Previously praised for his “authentic and honest work,” Ben Abraham writes every song with his heart on his sleeve. “His charismatic and fun loving aura bleeds through into every track,” Atwood Magazine‘s Hannah Maire wrote in a 2017 interview around Abraham’s debut. “The whole album has an inoffensive sound that seeps into the darkest corners of the human soul… Ranging from soul/gospel-esque, to mellow, soft indie sounds, there are always truths to be found within the core of the tracks between the chords, and especially within the silence.”
In the Christian faith the opposite of love is fear, so the idea of saying “I love, I fear, I’m here” is about celebrating the totality of human experience.
Described by Abraham as an “illuminating multi-dimensional odyssey,” Friendly Fire is many years in the making and holds substantial emotional, musical, and personal weight.
“I suppose the CliffsNotes would be that shortly after my first album, I was about to get engaged to the woman I loved, I was a leader at my parents’ church, and my music career was just starting to find its feet – and then an experience with another man began the unravelling of all of it,” Ben Abraham tells Atwood Magazine. “My relationship derailed, I became isolated from my church and my friends, and I went into six years of reconsidering everything I knew about myself, my faith, and the world. All I could do was write songs to help me process the journey, and Friendly Fire is the collection of those songs: An odyssey through the colliding worlds of sexuality and spirituality.”
“If a big theme of my first album was finding faith, then my new album explores what happens when you lose it,” he adds. “All hell broke loose, and I was forced to re-evaluate everything I’d believed to be true.”
Friendly Fire charts Abraham’s story of, as he calls it, unravelling and rebirth.
While it wasn’t necessarily intended to be a concept record, the album’s songs undeniably revolve around Abraham’s powerful reflections and his visceral emotions during this extended period of personal turmoil, exploration, and distress. It’s a deeply vulnerable and cathartic journey, and for further ease of understanding, Abraham breaks his songs (and their respective themes) down into two well-defined parts.
“I knew I wanted an album in two halves, much like Kate Bush had done with Hounds Of Love,” the songwriter says. “Beyond just my appreciation for that as an aesthetic, I felt like I had experienced a death and rebirth, and I wanted an album structure that captured. I played around with lots of different ways we could explore it in the production and assembly of the songs (at one point floating the idea of front loading the album with acoustic sounds and the back with more electronic, etc.) James Flannigan, my producer, ultimately said we needed to give ourselves the freedom to let the songs dictate how it happened. He was of course right, and I’m really pleased with how it worked out.”
Whether he’s soaking in a moment of connection and understanding or dwelling in his own wreckage, Ben Abraham shares his full, exposed self throughout Friendly Fire‘s fourteen tracks.
“It’s certainly the most honest and transparent I’ve been in the songwriting, so I think it literally introduces the truest version of me as a person,” Abraham reflects. “I also think it captures the meeting point between big, classic songwriting and interesting soundscapes that I always try to achieve. My favourite artists are Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, and Radiohead, but I’m also out here trying to write songs like James Taylor, Elton John, and Carol King. I’m definitely not saying I’m anywhere as good as any of those artists, but I hope in listening to the record people can hear what I was shooting for.”
As for the title, Abraham cites a few reasons that “Friendly Fire” works so well at capturing his current artistry. “For me it works on a few levels. The journey of the album was about being caught between worlds, and the central refrain of that song is, “I love you, but I can’t stay caught in the middle.” And I think when you’re navigating questions of sexuality and spirituality, you have a lot of well-intentioned people in your life who cause pain without meaning to. Also, what I went through making this album felt like passing through fire, and I like that idea that not all fire has to be destructive; sometimes it’s about burning away the unnecessary things we carry with us.”
I think when you’re navigating questions of sexuality and spirituality, you have a lot of well-intentioned people in your life who cause pain without meaning to.
Highlights abound throughout Friendly Fire‘s moving, emotive, and evocative run: From the opening warmth, tension, and feverish charge of introductory songs “Runaway” and “War in Your Arms, straight through to the heartwarming catharsis and resolution of “Love Myself” and the calm, comforting acoustic epilogue/finale “Too Old Too Young,” Ben Abraham fills his sophomore LP with melodic charm and poetic beauty. Songs like the hauntingly vulnerable title track “Friendly Fire” and the buoyant, bustling “I Am Here” are easy standouts on the record’s first half, while the groovy, dynamic “Boy in a Bubble” and the emphatic, explosive “Brother Tongue” light up the back half’s sonic soundscape.
Abraham’s songs range the gamut in terms of size and scope, but as a songwriter he shows time and again that he doesn’t need a grandiose production in order to convey the weight of the world or its wonder: Songs like “Requiem” and “If I Didn’t Love You” (alongside the aforementioned closer) showcase his ability to shine with little more than his voice and a guitar.
“For some reason “Boy In A Bubble” is my favourite song to listen to,” Abraham says on the subject of favorites. “It just amps me up every time. “California Drifting” has my favourite moment on the album with that whole outro after ‘we were losing FAIIIIIIITTHHHHH.’ And I think “Friendly Fire” is one of the best songs I’ll ever write.”
Meanwhile, as a lyricist, Abraham cites two songs whose lines stand out at the moment:
Aren’t we absurd thinking gestures and words might explain us?
We are piles of dust articulating chaos
– “Brother Tongue“
Just like Joni said
The illusions of things will stick in your head
– “Too Old Too Young“
In all, Friendly Fire is not only a beautiful musical deep dive into Ben Abraham’s intimate world, but it’s also an enchanting display of the breadth and depth of our shared human experience.
Whatever struggles you may be going through; whatever turbulence you’re feeling; whatever piece of yourself you’re working on, you will find solace and a friend within this album. Friendly Fire comes from a place of both brokenness and healing, and it’s his willingness to commit his full mind, body, and soul to song that allows each and every one of his tracks to so effortlessly and gracefully lift off the metaphorical page and hit listeners – both in the face, and in the heart.
“I guess from a purely musical standpoint, I hope [listeners] find an appreciation for really sitting with an entire album. I think my audience are probably already those types of music consumers but certainly for any younger listeners who find my work, I hope they enjoy that experience,” Abraham shares. “And as humans, I hope my story provides another unique thread in the tapestry of understanding human sexuality. I know that exploring queerness in music is nothing new, but I hope my story about coming to terms with being a queer person who also follows the Christian faith provides some people with a way to empathize with a different point of view. Making this album changed my life and really whatever happens next is just an added bonus.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Ben Abraham’s Friendly Fire with Atwood Magazine as the singer/songwriter goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his sophomore LP!
Stream: ‘Friendly Fire’ – Ben Abraham
:: Inside Friendly Fire ::
The first song I wrote from the album. I still have the original demo I made on GarageBand on my iPad. It tells the story of the messed-up night I was unfaithful to the person I loved, and the unravelling that followed. It’s the moment that kickstarted everything that came next on the album, so it made sense to be Track 1.
The chorale sample that opens the track is taken from my song ‘A Quiet Prayer” (the bridge at 2:41). It’s been pitched down and reversed. That melodic motif represented faith on Sirens. Because Friendly Fire is about the unravelling of faith, I wanted to take the motif and ‘undo’ it as the opening moment. Also, the drums are a subtle but very intentional nod to Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill”; perhaps my favourite opening to an album and also a song about running.
WAR IN YOUR ARMS
I wrote this song with my friend Helen Croome (Gossling) and at the time we wrote it, I wasn’t exactly thinking it was for me. In fact, I was so detached from the song that I was pretty enthusiastic about getting other people to sing it – there are demo versions by Stanaj, Calum Scott, and Kelly Clarkson floating out there.
One day my A&R [Atlantic Records CEO] Craig Kallman called me basically pleading with me to keep it as my own. It wasn’t until James Flannigan’s production came together that it sunk in not only how much I loved the song, but also how connected it was to the central theme of the album. It’s a great example of how art can bring the truth out of you – whether you mean to tell it or not.
I think this is the best song on the album. I wrote it with Jonny Hockings and Matt Newman (HUMN) while I was on tour through the UK in 2015. We booked out a small room at Tileyard, had a jam and just wrote from the heart. It was another case of not fully knowing exactly what I was writing, but reflecting later that it perfectly captured where I was at in my life at the time. The idea of being caught between worlds is also such a recurring theme of the album, it felt only right that it became the title track. We recorded the band live and in full takes so it would have that classic studio feel. I love this song!
ANOTHER FALLING STAR
I wrote this one with Cara Salimando. It came about because right at the beginning of the session, I got a call from Kesha who wanted to debrief me on her fun night getting stoned with Dana Carvey and David Spade on Hollywood Boulevard. Cara overheard me ask “Did you guys get high in Hollywood?” and wrote it down. We built the song out from there!
IF I DIDN’T LOVE YOU
Written with Jonny Price, we definitely set out to write a love song. Jonny is very much in love with his beautiful wife and whilst I was freshly out of a relationship at the time we wrote it, I still very much identify with the romance and perspective in the song. Not least because you really could sub out a lover for something spiritual and I’m sure most Christians will tell you it sums up how a lot of us feel about our faith.
I AM HERE
Another one of the earliest tunes I wrote for the album. I started it as a demo on my iPad and just layered guitars and ukuleles and piano parts as I built out that central riff.
The lyrics are inspired by a sermon my dad once gave, about how what we ask for in prayer evolves as we mature. When you are first born, you ask only for your own needs, and then as you age you start to ask for other things and eventually for other people. I thought that was an interesting perspective for a song, so the lyrics are essentially a sequence of prayers we might offer over the course of our lives.
The chorus is a celebration of being alive. In the Christian faith the opposite of love is fear, so the idea of saying “I love, I fear, I’m here” is about celebrating the totality of human experience.
Because spirituality is such a central theme of the album, I knew I wanted to incorporate one of my church choruses somehow. Before writing and performing music, I used to write choruses to sing at my parents’ church and my song “My Offering” is one of them.
When I saw Callie Day sing her infamous viral YouTube video, I instantly knew I wanted her voice to be on my album representing that world of spirituality. We flew her to LA from Illinois for a day, had a jam to this song, and recorded the whole thing to be cut into this interlude. This also marks the halfway point for the album and everything that follows is to be heard as one continuous story.
BOY IN A BUBBLE
This track kicks off the six-song story arc that makes up the back half of the album. Writing the song began with the drums. I took a drum sample and in my editing software, I cut a loop together purely by sight just to see what I might get out of it. The result was a weird break beat that I then tracked the guitar riff over.
I lived with that loop for at least a year and would put it on in my car as I drove around LA, singing things over the top of it. The first line to come to me was the “I’ve been living in a bubble” and the rest came in spurts. I think all together, it took me 3 years to finish this tune. It’s my favourite song to listen to on the album.
This song tells the story of a time I had to sit in a room full of people and confess my sins. I think for people who haven’t grown up in a faith community, that sounds really intense. And I suppose it is! But vulnerability is also liberating. It was a big turning point in my life when I realised I wasn’t responsible for other people’s expectations of me.
The lyrics refer to my favourite Australian poem ‘An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow’ by Les Murray which tells of a man standing on a street corner in Sydney and weeping.
Right near the end of my relationship, I went to LA for a month to stay with some friends and take some time to myself. I remember having this series of conversations with people about life, and love, and the future; and I have these vivid memories of driving on the 110 in the Californian sunset as I felt my faith changing forever.
On the line “we were losing faith,” I wanted to bring in one of the sounds of my Christian upbringing called ‘singing in the spirit.’ It’s basically when everyone in the room sings their own, improvised, wordless song from their heart to God. I asked some church friends in Nashville to join me in a studio one night and it was so cathartic to be singing together.
The song also features cameos from some of my favourite people. The ‘greek chorus’ of angels calling me to let go are my friends Sara Bareilles, Madi Diaz, Missy Higgins, Wafia, and Alex Hope.
This song is about the language of intimacy and how – no matter how close we get to another person – there is always a space between us. For me, it was a lesson to learn this kind of longing exists regardless of the gender of your partner. I think the lyrics of this song have some of my best writing. I mean “we are piles of dust articulating chaos” is just objectively a good lyric haha
I wrote the song to a drone I created from a string sample of my song “Speak.” The ‘beatboxing’ is praying in tongues, which I believe is the most intimate form of prayer since it’s about expressing the inner world without the burden of language. Also, the idea behind the vocoder was hearing my voice cross from an ‘organic’ world into a more ‘synthetic’ world over the course of the song – to symbolise the embracing of this new identity and community I am now a part of.
This song is the only one I feel vulnerable about having on the album. I can’t tell if it’s a good song or not. I definitely think there are moments of goodness, haha! It just felt important to include because not only does it wrap up the story well (including the final reference to the ‘he’ and ‘she’ we’ve heard about in the previous songs), but it also felt right to end our story on the resolution of this song rather than the tension of “Brother Tongue.”
TOO OLD TOO YOUNG
I think of “Too Old Too Young” as the closing credits of the album. It’s the epilogue after the climax of self-acceptance in “Love Myself.” It’s the first song where I take on the role of teacher in the lyrics, and I think it’s justified after everything I’ve just been through in the songs before.
It’s the moment after the hero’s journey where he turns around and reflects on what he’s learned and offers advice to the next one to come along.
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? © Danielle Levitt
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