This English student at QUB has just bagged herself a record deal and we all wish we could be as cool as her
Her band Brand New Friend played at Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Hull
While most of us are struggling to balance uni, our part-time supermarket job, and still have some form of social life, second year Lauren Johnson at QUB manages to maintain a double life. In true Hannah Montana style, she's got "the best of both worlds."
Besides studying for her degree in English, Lauren lives her musical dream singing and playing the keyboard for her band 'Brand New Friend,' who have recently been signed to Xtra Mile Recordings, alongside her brother Taylor and two of their friends, Aaron and Luke.
We caught up with Lauren to get an insight into her life on the road, and find out how she manages to find time to study:
How did 'Brand New Friend' come together?
Brand New Friend started around a year ago, when Taylor started writing songs and uploading acoustic demos online from his bedroom. I became part of the picture when I started adding some extra vocals on the tracks, and from there we decided that we wanted to start a fully-fledged band. Taylor’s first encounter with our rhythm section was actually at one of his first solo gigs at a grungy bar in Portrush. Taylor played an acoustic set, and Aaron and Luke were second on the bill playing as a two-piece. They didn’t know each other, but their paths crossed again at future gigs and a short while later they ended up in the band!
Where did the name 'Brand New Friend' come from?
It’s taken from the song ‘Brand New Friend’ by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. Taylor and I were exposed to a lot of 80s music when we were growing up, although we weren’t entirely familiar with this song until we were introduced to it by our dad. He likes to take credit for naming the band!
What has been the most exciting experience so far?
I absolutely loved playing Radio One’s Big Weekend in Hull. It was an amazing experience from start to finish! The backstage area was covered in posters signed by bands who have played the Introducing stage at past festivals, and pretty much all of them have gone to achieve amazing things! It was crazy. We also were just excited to spend the day watching other sets, and we particularly loved Royal Blood, Twin Atlantic and Stormzy.
What was the biggest turning point for you/ how did you become so popular?
Our show at Katy’s Bar, Limelight was a very special one, and it felt like our growth as a band was becoming more tangible and real. We hadn’t played in Belfast in a while and we weren’t too sure what to expect from the show, but it actually ended up being sold out! We are so grateful to everyone who came and shared the experience with us.
Do you find it difficult to balance uni life and band life?
It can be a bit of a juggling act! We practice a few times a week, usually for three hours at a time, but luckily our practice space is in Cathedral Quarter so I can easily walk there from uni. Even when I’m at home there are usually things to sort out and organise, like merch and press related stuff – I wouldn’t have it any other way though!
When you start a band with your best mates, you dream of days like this! . Today we can announce we have signed a record deal with @xtramilerecordings & our debut album will be released next year! Get in!! To every single friend who has let us sleep on their floors, learned the words to our songs, came to our gigs and believed from the start ~ we want to say thanks lads. This doesn’t work without you being there, you make this for us! Big love to Stevo for driving us everywhere, Phil, Martin & Steve at Strange World Management & all our parents for encouraging us to keep making music & not get normal jobs ❤️ The love we’ve got from you from the start of this band has been unbelievable. You took our songs to your hearts & when we see you singing them back to us it’s the most indescribable feeling. Just wanna take the chance to say how much we appreciate that ~ It’s what this has all been about from our first ever gig in Portrush (supporting The Wells!). Every step of the way people have wanted us to do well, backed us & encouraged us. It’s mental & we will never stop being grateful for it 💖 We want to make the best album we can for you ~ from our first demos on Soundcloud right up to now, thanks for sticking with us ~ what a journey! Can’t wait for the next chapter, Live forever, brand new friend . 📸RuthKelly
Who are your biggest inspirations?
I think every member of the band would answer this differently as we all are inspired by different artists from different genres. As a whole, we really admire bands that have a solid work ethic. We love hearing stories about bands who have toured and grafted for years before making it big, such as Biffy Clyro and Catfish and the Bottlemen. Taylor is really inspired by the story of Joy Division and New Order, and on a personal level my all-time hero is Hayley Williams of Paramore.
Where do you hope to be in 5 years?
In five years, we hope to be touring and seeing as much of the world as possible! We also will hopefully have a few records under our belt and have played more festivals across the UK and Ireland.
What's your favourite 90s jam?
This is a divisive issue within the band! Aaron and Luke are majorly into their 90s grunge and idolise anything by Pearl Jam or Soundgarden. Taylor is a Brit pop fanatic and loves Oasis, but I’m going to have to go for Don’t Speak by No Doubt.
If you could collaborate with any band or artist who would it be?
As a four piece, it would be cool to collaborate with some kind of legendary lead guitarist on a track, like Johnny Marr.
Have you had any funny/embarrassing moments at any gigs?
Taylor is one of the clumsiest people of all time, so we’ve had a few moments where he has tripped over monitors and nearly fallen off stages. We were once playing a show at Dolan’s in Limerick and he was so in-the-zone that he knocked into my keyboard and sent it flying off the stand. (Luckily it wasn’t broken!) I also managed to lose my glasses on stage at the Empire Music Hall and had to try and find them on the floor in between songs because I couldn’t see what I was playing…
Since everyone was a startup once, can you give any smaller or local bands looking to get gigs and airplay some tips?
Gigging is so important in the early stages of being a band, and we recommend playing loads of shows and getting your music out to as many people as possible. If you don’t know where to start, make sure you are going to plenty of local gigs in your area! This is where you will get talking to other bands, and they can give you all sorts of advice and contacts that will really benefit you. We find that the Belfast scene is really encouraging and supportive and there are loads of resources for bands that are just starting out, like the Oh Yeah Music Centre. If there doesn’t seem to be much of a scene in your home town, start one!
What's your favourite thing about being in a band?
One of my favourite things about being in a band is getting to visit new places. This year we played our first show in England and festival season took us across Ireland to places we had never visited before, such as Galway, Limerick and Cork. This leads to some fantastic experiences, even if you have to endure a sweaty cabin on an overnight ferry to Liverpool or drive for miles squished into a car alongside various amps and instruments.
If you weren't pursuing music, what would you want to do with your future?
I am studying English at the minute so I would probably go down some form of literary or journalistic route, but music is the priority right now and has always been the goal.
Any new and upcoming events you want to share?
We have just signed a record deal with Xtra Mile Recordings and will be releasing our debut album in the new year. We couldn’t be happier to work with them, as their attitude to music is perfectly aligned with ours, and they are home to some amazing artists from Frank Turner to Against Me! To celebrate all of this exciting stuff our next gig is the Kiwi Bar, Portrush on Saturday 18th November for the Atlantic Sessions, and tickets have just been released for our next Belfast headline show at the Duke of York on 19th January.
If you're about Belfast, make sure to check out Brand New Friend's upcoming gigs and look them up if you're looking for something fresh to liven up your Spotify playlist!
Here they are at Radio 1's Big Weekend back in May: