If we start at the very beginning, what got you hooked on music in the first place?
From as early as I can remember, I was always surrounded by music. I was lucky enough that my parents loved to have music playing all the time, lots of “Motown” and British music. At age ten, I remember sitting down on a keyboard that my uncle had passed down to my family and it just seemed to make sense. Within a few days, I’d learned a bunch of songs. The obsession continued throughout school, where I taught myself how to play any instrument I could get my hands on.
Tell us a little about how you ended up being so fascinated by electronic music and production. Was there always an attraction?
At around age 13, I was already obsessed with UK garage and drum and bass as it swept across London. I saved up money and was DJing at pirate radio stations with my friends while we should have been at school. As soon as I could afford it, I bought a PC so that I could start making my own tunes. I never considered it electronic music, it was just a way to make tunes that we could play in our sets. Once I hit 17, I was in love with rock, indie and electro music and my hobby of making beats expanded into recording instruments and playing in bands. It wasn’t until I was at university, and first heard dubstep, that I thought “how are these sounds actually made?” – and that set me off on a path down electronic music and synthesis.
You’re from a broad musical background, which clearly shows in your songs and productions. It seems with every record, you take a new step in a new direction. Is progress something you strive for or does it come organically?
I’m just a big fan of all types of music, I never intended for it to be that way. It just felt natural to include all the moments and sounds that I love from everything I listen to. I’m lucky to have been born in a city with such diverse music scenes and cultures that I’ve been exposed to it my whole life.
You’ve had quite a successful run with Modestep so far. If you look back on your accomplishments and endeavors through the years, what stands out to you on a personal level?
Throughout the years this question has been asked a lot, and I think my go-to answer has been some of the big prolific shows that we got to play…but my mind has changed recently. I think the fact that we’re still going, 15 years on, still playing festivals, still being listened to and bringing in young and new audiences is the biggest accomplishment. Having seen so many artists come and go throughout my career, I feel truly privileged to have been able to keep this going for so long.
Modestep used to be a full band, but now it’s just you operating on your own. How has this change affected the creative side of things as far as songwriting, producing etc.?
While we have had many iterations of the band, the creative side has always remained the same: I’ve always been the one in the driving seat when it comes to writing and producing the music. I’ve learned a lot from having musicians around me, though. It’s always a good thing and I’ll be looking for more bandmates in the future.
Walk us through a regular day in the life of Josh Friend, on the job making music!
I wake up, put my headphones on, walk my doggos around London while listening to music that inspires me that day or the music I worked on yesterday. I’ll make a tea, head into the studio and likely make a few mixdown tweaks on the track I was listening to on the walk. I’ll make maybe 3/4 rough ideas until I hit on something I think has a unique vibe and then I can be up until 4am getting it 90% finished. If i’m not feeling any of the first few ideas, I might just make some samples or work on some sound design techniques and call it a day.
For you, how does normally a track come to life? Do you create blindly or do you have an idea in your head going in? Walk us through your typical creative process!
I’d say each track has its own process. A lot of my best topline work is from ideas that I have on a walk or in the shower – I’ll rush to my voice notes app on my phone and just hum it. I find a lot of great ideas come that way. For more instrumental or beat-driven stuff, I find that going in blind, or starting by playing an instrument and getting a vibe down first works well. I think the most important thing no matter what I’m making is that the initial idea is sketched in some format as quickly as possible as a reference. The hardest hurdle that you have to get over as a new producer is being able to get an idea from your mind into your DAW before either the idea is lost or you’ve produced it into something else. I think that’s the best skill a new producer can develop when learning.
In this process, where does Toontrack come into play? Which products do you regularly use?
Toontrack has made so many tools to help me get my ideas down fast, as well as products that help me zone in on specific things that take time and patience. Superior Drummer is my absolute favorite for getting down grooves and making drum loops that compliment what I’m making. It’s so quick and easy to flip through kits, and everything just sounds so good right out the gate. Being able to tune, envelope and control the room for each kit piece means I can get drums to sit perfectly within my tracks. EZkeys is also a secret weapon for writing chord sequences. As much as I love to play piano live, sometimes I get stuck in the habit of going to the same chords. Being able to flick through chord extensions and replacements with the chord wheel means I get voices that I would never think to go to.
What’s next on your agenda?
After a heavy year of touring last year, I’m going to be spending much of this year in the studio working on a new record for Modestep as well as starting my own Patreon with my own production masterclasses.