“All right, let’s do a quick Capsize verse…we didn’t exactly nail it yesterday,” James Sunderland smiles into his microphone, shooting quick glances at his band mates onstage as he ties his long blonde hair into a bun. It’s soundcheck for indie pop FRENSHIP at The NorVa Theater, the start of a weeklong run supporting Bastille. The theater buzzes with activity; intermittent strobe lights flash in the hazy smoke, disconnected drumbeats reverberate across the stage, and gruff crewmembers assemble barricade segments on the scuffed hardwood floor, dull thunks echoing up the high ceiling. Brett Hite strums on an unplugged guitar and the fuzz of microphone feedback hums when the sound system abruptly cuts to the chorus of “Pretty Young Thing”, sending snickers across the stage. Guitarist Dan Sadin bops and dances to the beat and drummer JR Kurtz cracks a wide smile; the first of many times in the coming week that I will witness the just how fond the band is of each other, and the sincerity of their genuine (pardon the pun) friendship.
As the classic falsetto quiets from the speakers, Sunderland and Hite brainstorm with their tour manager Tony Sainte about possibly tweaking the set’s intro, my first glimpse into the band’s constantly evolving creative process. With only hours before their set, FRENSHIP’s founding members are still considering ways to improve their performance. With the allotted time onstage nearing its end, the pair reluctantly shelf the conversation for later. Celeste Tauchar steps out from behind her keyboard to sing her part of the Capsize chorus with a soft but stirring voice that perfectly befits its owner. Satisfied with the sound, or as satisfied as their perfectionism will allow Hite and Sunderland to be, the group heads offstage.
As Brett and James head up the backstage stairs, the uninhibited ease and familiarity between them make their situation even more remarkable: five years ago, Brett Hite and James Sunderland had no idea the other existed. They had never dreamed they would one day soon amass millions of streams on Spotify or tour multiple times supporting globally successful bands, earning thousands of fans along the way. Their future band mates, Celeste Tauchar, Dan Sadin, and JR Kurtz, ranged from mere acquaintances to complete strangers. And critically, the group that their creative collaboration would eventually form was not even a consideration for the pair.
The members of FRENSHIP have been wandering musical paths throughout their lives. Though traversing the uncertain terrain of music production separately and beginning their journeys at different points, these five musicians have converged into such a cohesive formation that it feels like the work of fate. Like for so many musical acts, it was raw talent, unyielding persistence, and a whirlwind of luck that allowed FRENSHIP to come to be. Yet unlike so many acts, James and Brett lean into their distinct musical differences, allowing the conflicting opinions to distill into their purest, most authentic sound.
Once upstairs, Brett perches himself on the couch armrest, absentmindedly tuning his guitar. His bandmates have all dispersed with bathroom breaks, outfit changes, and battery runs to attend to. Sunk into an ottoman in the corner, I listen to the quiet melody Hite sings to himself. I ask how he got into music, and he answers as his fingers still strum along. Like so many musicians, Hite has maintained a steadfast optimism through the years. He tells me matter-of-factly, “I always told myself ‘if I’m gonna be broke I might as well be doing something that I love…I’ll figure out how to take make money off it. I’ll figure it out.’” And his journey to FRENSHIP has certainly been far from conventional.