Chicago indie rockers Friko didn’t just write and record their debut album. Instead, they found themselves as a band, decided how they wanted to record and discovered what music they wanted to write.
That process helped the band develop a certain clarity and confidence. Their album, Where We’ve Been, Where We Go From Here, opens with a song (Where We’ve Been) so strong it sounds like a record closer.
“When we play shows, [Where We’ve Been] is always one of the last ones,” says guitarist and vocalist Niko Kapetan. “Moving it to the front has a lot to do with it being our debut record. For me, that song is like everything encapsulated in one song. If people are going to hear us for the first time and turn on this record, they’re going to get everything at first.”
The song has a strong and steady buildup to an arc that opens the floodgates for booming guitar rhythms, improvised collective harmonies and the rapping of drumheads. All to end abruptly, isolating Kapetan’s vocals and guitar once again. It tells a story through lyricism and dynamic instrumentation.
“Where We’ve Been was one of the last songs of the record that encapsulated the past four years for us and our friendship,” Kapetan says.
Two nights before I sat down with Friko (drums, Bailey Minzenberger; bass, Luke Stamos; guitar and vocals, Kapetan), I recognized Minzenberger on bass during a Free Range live set at The Empty Bottle. Not an unusual sight at a local Chicago show. It speaks to the band’s place in the community, one that is beautifully supportive of its independent artists and creatives. Being from Chicago, Minzenberger and Kapetan grew up listening to other Chicago bands, such as Whitney and Dehd, and have now come to know and play alongside them.
“There’s so much happening, and a lot of it feels very different. There’s something for everybody,” Minzenberger says. “It feels like a big family.”
And Friko is making a name for itself in that family. The band is set to headline one of Chicago’s larger independent venues, Metro, for a record release show on March 1. Up-and-coming indie rockers Neptune’s Core will open the show for them.
When we chat, it’s still more than three weeks before the release of Where We’ve Been, Where We Go From Here on Feb. 16. It’s a long wait for a piece of work the band members are so proud of, but they keep themselves busy with rehearsals and writing, which Kapetan says is “the most fulfilling thing to do right now.”
They like to keep the music flowing by playing behind the scenes. While many of the songs on the album were written as demos by Kapetan, the new songs they’re working on are very much a collective experience—Minzenberger having more direct involvement with lyrics at the onset.
As for Where We’ve Been, Where We Go From Here, their first release for ATO Records, many of the songs stem from demos written in 2021, a time when Kapetan says he was in a much darker place. “I just didn’t know what I was doing, which a lot of people don’t in their 20s.
“By the time we finished it, for me it felt like I reached the top of some mountain,” he says. “Not the final point I want to get to, but recognizing we made a whole thing that represents our friendship, and it’s something we’re really proud of, which I have not had my whole life.”
Minzenberger says her relationship with the lyrics are completely different. Oftentimes, when she was listening to a song with Kapetan for the first time, she was soaking up so much material at once and had to think of how to build drums and other instruments around it. “There are certain lyrics in the songs that didn’t hit me until playing them for six months,” she says. “It has been a really cool thing to develop along the way—getting to read the lyrics as poetry, rather than experiencing them.”
Where We’ve Been, Where We Go From Here, captures Friko’s friendship, struggles and strength to move forward. It’s triumphantly hopeful, with an overarching theme of wanting to be better for oneself and the people around you—but the world presents challenges along the way.
The album was largely recorded at producer Scott Tallarida’s studio Trigger Chicago. Friko worked with other Chicago artists, such as violinist Macie Stewart and cellist Alejandro Quiles, and many of the tracks started as live tapes. There are still plenty of overdubs, but the band wanted to spotlight the energy of live performances. You can hear the passion in Kapetan’s voice as it shakes and quivers, highlighting real-time emotion and heart.
The band also made space for improvisation, sitting down at pianos and just seeing what came out. Or having everyone sing on the recording for more body in the melodies.
“It felt good, and I honestly think we could try more of it going forward,” Minzenberger says. “It can be easy to get caught inside of structure. We improvise a lot during rehearsals, though, like somebody will just start playing something and then we all pop in, and we’ll be inside of that for 45 minutes.”
Kapetan agrees, adding that he wants the next record to have more free-floating elements—snippets people can sit in.
The album maintains such a versatile dynamic with energetic guitar anthems like Where We’ve Been and Chemical. But there are also soft emotional ballads in For Ella and Until I’m With You Again. Friko’s debut album is a one-stop shop, catering to whatever mood listeners might crave. A post-punk romanticism melds with their love of classical music and art-rock. Those inspirations shine through on songs like Chemical, which starts with a classical French ballad, a nod to their favorite composer Frédéric Chopin.
For the next record, Minzenberger hopes to stop nitpicking her performance and place more trust in the process.
“There are a lot of records I love that have little moments that are ‘mistakes.’ But that’s real and special,” she says.
Kapetan adds that when recording live, it’s important to capture that intense energy and passion, which at times sounds sloppy or at least imperfect. For Where We’ve Been, Where We Go From Here, Kapetan also sat down with friend and producer Jack Henry to learn about mixing. They worked together and mixed the record for “hundreds of hours”—which certainly paid off.
In celebration of their album release, Friko will play an acoustic set at Shuga Records in Chicago on Friday, Feb. 16.
Start with Friko’s song Where We’ve Been, which the band members say touches on all aspects of the band and covers their experiences over the past four years.
Pay attention to the 2:30 mark in the song. This is when it starts to pick up with more energy and more voices. It moves from a slow intro into a booming arc that sounds like the end of an epic adventure.
Kendall Polidori is The Rockhound, Luckbox’s resident rock critic. Follow her reviews on Instagram and Twitter. @rockhoundlb