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Life, Death & Punk Music

Friendly Fire is out to conquer the world

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After years of toiling in the regional vineyard, Friendly Fire is ready to set the world ablaze. The Jacksonville band’s sound combines blistering tempo, soaring lyrics and distorted guitars tearing through relentless power chords. It’s aggressive enough for die-hard punk fans but appealing enough for terrestrial radio—second-wave punk à la Bad Religion and Pennywise but with a definitive East Coast petulance.

Josh Sanders is the beating heart of Friendly Fire. He’s the squad’s lead singer, guitar player and primary songwriter. Seeing Friendly Fire is an invitation to get caught up in the groove and take a spin in the pit. To truly appreciate the color and bite of Sanders’ singing, a listener should digest the band’s recordings, including the latest album, Terminal Wanderlust. Sanders throws in occasional snarls and raises his pitch to punch up the intensity of the songs.

Before Friendly Fire formed in 2015, Sanders was the lead dog of punk quartet Status Faux. Then he got that wanderlust. “I just got tired of it,” Sanders told Folio Weekly. “It kinda documented a period of my life that I was leaving behind. I wanted a fresh start, new image, new message and songs.”

The transition to Friendly Fire was elevated by the addition of rhythm guitar player and vocalist Chad O’Quinn, whose presence on stage and in life was dynamic. Where Sanders is quiet, a man of few words, O’Quinn was extroverted, humorous and a friend to all he met. He died in October 2018, throwing the band and the lives of those who knew him into shock. Sanders was devastated by the loss of his friend and partner in crime.

“He would spend hours trying to find you the best deal on the amp or guitar you wanted, even if he had just met you,” Sanders recalled. “He was the genius behind all of the [Friendly Fire] artwork and production. And most important, he was a friend to many. And he is going to be missed greatly. We love you, buddy.”

Current rhythm guitar player Sean Fletcher said, “I didn’t get to know Chad extremely well, but every time I talked to him, he treated me like an old friend.”

Since O’Quinn’s passing, Friendly Fire’s actions have been a tribute to his life and contributions. In December 2018, Friendly Fire and six other bands celebrated their fallen comrade with a concert. After the show, O’Quinn’s fiancée, Andrea Barnett, said, “I’m blown away by how many of you came out to honor Panda [O’Quinn] and have fun. With every fiber of my being, I am so grateful to all of you.”

The show doubled as a fundraiser to complete the recording sessions in which O’Quinn had been involved. The result: Terminal Wanderlust. O’Quinn’s creative spirit and voice live on in the songs. He played guitar, sang and contributed to the songwriting. One particular song took on a new meaning after he died. Sanders converted the lyrics of “Worrier’s Code” into an homage to O’Quinn. “My friend was blessed with perfect pitch,” Sanders sings, “and an ear like a bloodhound’s got a nose.”

Friendly Fire’s live shows end with “Push Slow,” a tune dedicated to O’Quinn. When the band announced the tribute during recent gigs at Rain Dogs and Nighthawks, the audience roared its approval. The tune is one of the four-man wrecking crew’s best. Just two chords and a cymbal introduce the groove. A double pump on the bass drum, and the bass guitar thumps the song into overdrive. Sanders slyly releases the decrescendo, “All in due time you will lose friends, so pace yourself.” Just when it sounds like the song has leveled out, it downshifts into a rapid chord progression, kicking it up another notch, adding an extra dimension. Seamless transitions and strong choruses add texture to the number’s strong foundation.

Change and positive evolution have become a theme in Sanders’ life for the better part of a decade. He has focused on diet, exercise, mental health and maintaining an optimistic outlook. He read John Joseph’s book, The PMA Effect, in which the Cro-Mags singer advocates positive mental attitude. The approach has also been adopted by punk band Bad Brains. It may be an ironic twist for punks, but it works for Sanders, who recently married his girlfriend of eight years.

In the last two years, the band has gone through a dramatic overhaul. Sean Fletcher and Cheyenne Lindsey have added youth and vocal power to Friendly Fire’s chorus singing. Fletcher rocks a Les Paul on rhythm guitar, and drummer Lindsey kicks out the band’s hyperkinetic tempo.

The most recent addition is bass legend Danny Sinatra.  He slays a Gibson Firebird that he throttles through an Ampeg amplifier. Sinatra is more than a match for the Firebird’a four-foot neck. On stage, his foot-forward stance and dynamism are tributes to the badass school of bass.

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