DEBBY FRIDAY Explores the Uncharted Land of Herself
Having spent years voyaging through new sounds and new cities, the experimental artist has arrived at her destination
Published Mar 22, 2023It took some convincing for DEBBY FRIDAY to release "SO HARD TO TELL" — an undeniable sonic departure from her brash, dark and twisted experimental electronica — as the first single from her debut album, GOOD LUCK. "Every single person that I would play the album to was like, 'This song, this song, this song, this song — this one has to be the first single!'" she tells Exclaim! over Zoom from her Toronto home on a sun-soaked Thursday morning, apologizing for the sound of her washing machine.
It's easy to see why people were so charmed by it. FRIDAY has made a name for herself as a commanding presence, playing sonic dominatrix with her hard-hitting staccato bars, banshee shrieks and smoky spoken-word — but on "SO HARD TO TELL," she sheds her barbed leatherette exterior for a silken R&B approach to self-talk.
Even when choosing a gentler way of using it, her voice is her most direct weapon; the truest distillation of her essence. In terms of not letting her vocals fit neatly into a box, the multi-hyphenate says she had no choice. "This is just the way I express myself — like it comes very naturally to me," she breezes. "I just never even thought about it."
Still, she was surprised when she opened her mouth over the tilt-a-whirling nursery-rhyme melody and a polished pop falsetto came out.
"I love 'SO HARD TO TELL' but I think, because it's a different avenue of expression for me, it took some time to get used to the idea," she says. "I'm singing in a way that is very intimate and very unlike anything I've done before, and I think I was just shy. But I'm glad that I ended up going with it as the first single, because I think it did what it needed to do."
And what it needed to do was show FRIDAY that she could do it — whatever it is. When I ask more about how she came upon the many different ways of using her voice that she displays on the record, she says that it's mostly experimenting. "I make all sorts of silly, funny sounds and I do all kinds of quirky things when I'm alone," she laughs.
The singer-songwriter had plenty of opportunity for that when making GOOD LUCK (out March 24 on Sub Pop), which she says really allowed her to let go. It might be 2023, but she says the majority of it was written during the beginning of the pandemic. "I didn't have anything to do and there was such an uncertainty about the future," she recalls, "and so I didn't feel like I had any restrictions on the way I had to express myself." She says this refusal to pay any mind to the expectations of others comes naturally, and has increased over time and across missions of self-discovery.
"I'm like, 'Well, I didn't know that I could do it,'" the musician says of everything she's gone through with the power of retrospect. "And then you get to the other side of it and you're like, 'Oh, wow.'"
Whether it's realizing that she can create a certain sound or survive hardships, it's a constant learning curve. But FRIDAY loves learning. She's a sponge, inhaling any books she can get her hands on as a well-studied student in philosophy, psychology, literature, astrology and more. An insatiable hunger for the hands-on led her from her hometown of Montreal to Vancouver to complete an MFA in Interdisciplinary Studies at Simon Fraser University — what she describes as an "interior" time that allowed her to not only build a creative foundation, but put herself back together again.
"I wanted to experience the safety that comes with making things within an academic institution," FRIDAY explains. "You essentially have space to fail; to try new things, do a bunch of stuff and, technically, it doesn't really matter because you're just getting a grade."
While honing her multimedia ideas in Vancouver, she met photographer Katrin Braga, who ended up shooting the surreal album artwork for GOOD LUCK in Iceland. "I was like, 'I look like I am this explorer on this abandoned planet of some sort,'" FRIDAY says of the image, "and I feel like it ties in with the themes of the album." The artist appears as the stranger in a strange land, searching for signs of life in the barren land of growing up and feeling lost — as she puts it, "You're essentially exploring the uncharted land of your life."
The album's accompanying short film, which FRIDAY says is "essentially a love story," follows a young woman at an all-girls Catholic school and her masked boyfriend, ID — an aptly psychoanalytic follow-up to 2019's DEATH DRIVE EP.
"It's a metaphor," she explains, "and it could be a metaphor for whatever you want it to be," chuckling as she stumbles over not wanting to endorse the idea of projecting. "But in a way, yeah; [the audience] can project their own experiences … because we're all interconnected with each other," she says, citing the way the people around us have often unknowingly gone through the exact same things that we feel so alone in.
It's a sentiment FRIDAY, with her fierce self-sufficiency and DIY spirit, knows all too well. She's a self-taught producer, and admits that there was a steep learning curve. "When I was first starting, it felt so overwhelming," she says. "I was just like, 'What? I don't even understand — like, what does a compression do?'"
Coming up as a DJ in Montreal's flourishing experimental electronic scene — "I'll always be of Montreal," she reflects fondly. "You can take the girl out of Montreal, but you can't take the Montreal out of the girl! — in the heyday of Soundcloud and Tumblr, she first heard exploratory new sounds unfold between the internet and IRL while clubbing and raving. After touring on the decks internationally for less than a year, a switch flipped. "I was like, 'Well, I want to make music,' so I just did it," FRIDAY says matter-of-factly.
The titular sentiment of the album's certified crusher of a second single, "I GOT IT," is an affirmation of exactly this, with the artist's "Big ol' ego / Red-blood libido" propelling it breathlessly forward. FRIDAY flexes her limitlessness with unexpected twists and turns across the entire body of work. It's a coming-of-age conversation with her younger self, both through the sweaty growl of industrial dance-floor bangers like "HEARTBREAKKERRR" and "WHAT A MAN" — where guitarist Will Ballantyne (a.k.a. city) literally shreds till his fingers bleed — and more subdued, sobering moments, like the distorted distance of "SAFE" and owning up to disappointing herself on "LET U DOWN."
GOOD LUCK alongside Graham Walsh (Holy Fuck), the crucial second pair of ears who helped her build atop the skeletons of the songs she had put together. "I met Graham and he just understood immediately what it was I was trying to do with the album," she says of their collaboration. "I feel like he really helped me to take it where it needed to go."
But that was only after she got to where she needed to go: Toronto, where she moved in 2022. "What I love most about Toronto is that there's so many creative people here who are working in the arts," FRIDAY says, and that the city feels right for where she is in her life right now.
She arrives as a palimpsest of her past lives — and with many good luck charms. "I love to collect little talismans, little things on my travels," she says, listing off the milagro heart she got in Mexico, the cornicello keychain from Italy and the Slovakian coin with a bee (the meaning of her name in Hebrew) on it that she wears around her neck.
"It feels very — I don't wanna say 'destined,' but yeah."