Sammy Raes’s music is good – like really good. Every note is sweet and every melody makes you feel like dancing. Whether tackling the patriarchy in their song “Cold Hearted Man” or just writing a silly little love song such as “If It All Goes South, you’re going to be asking for more. Music styles become arbitrary labels as The Friends weave rock with jazz then take a step into the country world only to come right back to their funk roots. Yet above all their music genres, the New York-based group is just fun. The air of childishness in every song is their secret weapon and is what makes every note feel truly alive. Even the heaviest songs have levity, all while providing a signature sound that stirs emotion in all who listen. The Friends are trailblazers in so many ways and are single handedly revolutionizing what it means to create and listen to music. So who exactly are they?
“The Friends” makes the magic happen as an 8-piece jazz funk rock band headed by the eccentric Sammy Rae, the band’s sole writer and frontwoman. With witty lyricisms and a voice that is strangely reminiscent of an edgy Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Rae brings the band to the rising status that it enjoys today.
Born in Derby, Connecticut as Samantha Rae Bowers, the singer began writing music at theage of 12 and quickly taught herself piano. By high school she began to try her hand at local venues. Bowers would eventually produce three solo albums all before she attended Manhattan College in 2014. After two years, she left the university in an attempt to break into the New York music scene.
She devoted herself full-time to her music, eventually penning what would later become the band’s first hit single, “Kick it to Me.” While in the Big Apple, she waited tables to support herself as she began growing a larger audience and refining her craft. She eventually met a few “friends” along the way and in 2018 founded the band that many know and love today.
Together, they tore into the New York music scene, playing local gigs and cutting their teeth on every venue they could find.
Eventually, “The Friends” released their first EP “Kick it to Me” which became a success on Spotify. The track allowed them to scrape enough money together to buy a 12-seater van and go on their first tour. Since then, they’ve been producing EP’s and covers all while spending most of their time on the road. Recently the band released their first live album “If It All Goes South” from their tour of the same name and without missing a beat went right back on the road.
Their newest tour “CAMP” has already sold out many major venues such as the Roadrunner and The House of Blues as they continue their funky way through the rest of the South. But what makes their music so great? It’s simple. They’re authentic.
Authenticity is something the music world seems to lack today. Stadium shows allow thousands to flock to whoever has the most listens on Spotify, which makes the music world seem pretty impersonal. Most artists stay pretty general in their music topics and often there is a clear-cut line between fans and the star. Anyone that has been to a Beyonce or Taylor Swift concert would agree, yet “The Friends” has a way of blurring this line that makes it clear that they really do want to… well… be your friends.
In an interview with Xtra magazine, Sammy Rae boldly announced that she “want[s] to be friends with every single one of [her fans].” “The Friends” have been able to create a culture centered around inclusion and acceptance that is truly unlike any other. Fans who show up to “Friends” concerts know that they will not be judged or shamed for being who they authentically are and the band does the same. Often being very unconventional in both their music and daily lives, there is a major emphasis put on being genuine.
In an interview from Trib, Sammy Rae notes that “If you’re not being really fully authentically yourself, the audience… [won’t] buy it after a while.” While this may seem to be a major deviation from contemporary musicians, this has proven to be their most treasured quality. Just a quick look at their discography can make that plain..
One of their most popular songs, “Jackie Onassis,” really emphasizes this authenticity that the band effortlessly maintains. It opens with a smooth saxophone lick and a rolling cymbal, leading into Sammy Rae’s sweet vocals singing about a girl who looked like Jackie Onassis. The track focuses on the experiences of a girl in a Catholic high school as she navigates her feelings for the Jackie Onassis figure along with discovering her identity. The song draws directly from Sammy Rae’s life, who attended a Catholic school in Connecticut and also worked through similar feelings to the subject of the song. “Jackie Onassis” gives you this sense that it is not just words being sung, but rather a story being told. This authenticity in their writing can be seen in other songs too.
One of their newer singles, “Closer to You,” describes falling in and out of love with someone who forgets about you. Heavily influenced by rock themes, listeners are able to hear true anger that is palpable through the vocals and the writer who seems like they are truly hurting. With lines like “What you bringing a knife to a hand fight” and “Why are you taking my love to a second-hand store” you can feel the hurt and anguish of the singer, yet the genius of the song comes towards the end. In the final lines, it indicates the narrator is enjoying life without them, “spending a good part of the year out of the country.” The song’s finale is filled with a grim satisfaction about the way things turned out. The emotional intensity of “Closer to You” cannot be fabricated and can only be created by someone who has experienced it firsthand. By keeping their music authentic, “The Friends” has allowed for stories to be told that wouldn’t have been otherwise. Listeners are also allowed to fully experience the highs and lows of the singer, immersing themselves in an almost dream-like vision.
While Sammy Rae and The Friends are an amazing band, they still have yet to reach total stardom. Their CAMP tour is already selling out at major venues all while the band has acquired quite the following, garnering over half a million monthly listeners on Spotify. “The Friends” are quickly becoming rising musicians of our generation, and it is quite apparent why. By keeping their music real and providing a space for people to feel seen, they are truly an experience unlike any other. With tour dates all around the US, it would be a shame not to go and experience the magic of the band in person. Those interested can also find their music on most major music streaming platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube. Sammy Rae and The Friends are working to release their first full-length studio album after their CAMP tour.