Debby Friday’s Harmony in Dissonance

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Debby Friday interview

“There’s so much beauty in dissonance.”

It doesn’t come as a surprise to hear Debby Friday defend the merits of cacophony. She’s not a noise artist per se, but distortion, static and friction are present in everything that the Toronto artist does. Her earlier recordings put chaos at the center of her songs, with pop melodies running a gauntlet through harsher industrial textures, a tension that’s made her music difficult to summarize but endlessly fascinating to experience.

“It’s really interesting, to me, to try to tease out the moments of beauty, the moments of actual harmony in dissonance,” Friday says via Zoom call at home in Toronto. “Really abrasive, harsh sounds—I’m just naturally drawn to that. That’s just what my ear likes. But at the same time, it’s not that it’s a phase, but I see myself evolving in other directions as well. I bring what I’ve learned in delving into industrial and harsh, electronic noisy sounds and bringing everything I’ve learned from that and I’m taking it and saying ‘OK, what else can I explore?'”

To put it another way: Debby Friday finds balance in contradictions. On her dynamic full-length debut GOOD LUCK, released late in March via Sub Pop, the Toronto artist explores her most extensive range of sounds and moods—defiant and vulnerable, honest and outsized, confrontational but with hooks aimed directly at the pleasure center. Friday incorporates the grit and grind of her more abrasive first two EPs but with an ear for even more prominent melodies, whether in the form of a high-energy club banger like “I Got It” or a sinister goth-dance jam like “Hot Love.” On “So Hard to Tell,” she even pushes toward the higher end of her vocal range—and as a result she’s even begun working with a vocal coach in order to keep her voice in its best shape so she can perform the song live.

GOOD LUCK is an accessible yet complex set of songs from an artist with eclectic influences who admits in earnest, “I love music to my core.” When asked about the music that’s left an impact on her, Friday names a short list of artist whose music helped to shape her as both a songwriter and a listener: The Runaways, Amy Winehouse, Janis Joplin, Betty Davis and Colin Stetson. When asked about what she’s listening to when she’s not creating, she replies without hesitation, “I’m always creating.”

“But I’m also always listening.”

It’s within these conflicting yet complementary ideas—melody and dissonance, creation and consumption—where Friday arrives upon her own unique presentation of sounds.

“I wanted to make something that was still me but could connect with wider audiences, and I also wanted to make something that was more holistic—a more complete expression of myself,” she says. “I love pop music, I grew up on it—everyone does. But it’s more like, ‘how can I do this in a way that still feels like myself?’ How do I put my own spin on it? In a lot of ways, the way that I make music is almost like that, especially because I considered it very hybridized types of music that I make. There are all these influences converging into one. And the thing that binds them all together is that this is my interpretation of these genres and these sounds.”

Friday’s creative work extends to more than one form of media, as GOOD LUCK is also accompanied by an upcoming, self-described “pseudo-autobiographical” short film written by Friday and co-directed by her and Nathan De Paz Habib. Equally important as the songwriter or screenwriter is Debby Friday the charismatic stage performer, who began introducing GOOD LUCK‘s intense industrial rap standout “Pluto Baby” in live sets back in 2019. A video of Friday performing at Stereogum’s SXSW party this year captures some of her commanding stage presence, though not the part where she typically becomes one with the ecstatic crowd in front of her. And that, to Friday, is the most important part—not the performance, but rather the connection, which is something she’s always working to build with her music.

“I want to be able to express myself fully, freely, and through that expression I want to be able to connect with other people,” she says. “Music is one of the best connective tools we have. If I’m expressing myself as authentically as I can, the people that connect with that, they’re going to be connecting with something that feels real.”

On record, Friday is a magnified presence, perhaps less a character than a more exaggerated and animated version of her genuine self. That persona is ever shifting, sometimes aggressive and sometimes tender, sometimes enigmatic but rarely anything less than fascinating, whatever shape she might take.

“Really abrasive, harsh sounds—I’m just naturally drawn to that.”

It’s a reflection of the multitudes contained within Friday herself, who offstage is friendly, warm and low-key. She was born in Nigeria before her family emigrated to Canada, and she lived in Montreal and Vancouver before settling in Toronto. She found salvation in underground electronic music clubs where she began DJing, a practice that ultimately came to inform the music that she makes. And before releasing her first EP, 2018’s Bitchpunk, she earned her MFA at Simon Fraser University’s School of Contemporary Arts. Friday says that she’s undergone a lot of personal change over the years, some of it formed through more difficult experiences such as broken relationships and mental health struggles. But all of those experiences, however challenging, have ultimately led to personal growth.

“I’ve lived a very turbulent cyclone life—many lives really,” she says. “And I think in the last couple years as well, I’ve undergone this deep shift in myself as a person, and it’s affected every aspect of my personality. But I’m very grateful for it. It’s helped me get here now.”

GOOD LUCK is more than a reintroduction of Debby Friday, it’s all the potential and energy built up from her earlier work converging into a critical mass. Consider it an arrival, or better yet, a breakthrough. Friday has the wind at her back, but however energized she is and how energizing her music can be, putting a major creative project out into the world—let alone a debut album—can come with a lot of nerves and pressure. And to some degree, the album’s title is directed inward. But Friday is also extending those words of kindness to anyone who needs it.

“One of the recurring themes [on the album] is one of a journey, bringing the listener on this journey with me,” she says. “Making the album, getting to this point in my life, just surviving the last two years—what we were all going through—that’s all part of the narrative. And so what do you say when someone’s about to go on a journey? You tell ‘em good luck.

“It’s the best thing you could tell someone—you’re wishing them the best.”

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