Big Winter Classic: Debby Friday digs deep on Polaris-winning debut album, Good Luck

Article content

For those who witnessed Debby Friday’s dramatic, show-stopping performance at Toronto’s Massey Hall during the 2023 Polaris Music Prize, it’s hard to imagine that she ever suffered from stage fright.

As with her ambitious, self-produced debut full-length album, Good Luck – which would win the $50,000 Polaris Prize later that night – Friday seemed to be pulling out all the stops that night. Backed by a cellist, viola player, guitarist and her regular DJ, it was the first time Friday had played with a band. Performing the slow-burning What a Man and introspective So Hard to Tell, Friday conveyed a mesmerizing, enigmatic stage presence and perfectly played the role of the rock star she seems poised to become.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

On the phone with Postmedia from her home in Toronto, Friday admits that performing, even at the iconic Massey Hall, comes naturally to her. Oddly, she says she suffered far more jitters in her earlier music career as a DJ spinning records in small, underground spaces in Montreal.

“When I would DJ, I used to have so much anxiety before a set,” says Friday, who will perform here on Friday, Jan. 26 at the Blox Arts Centre as part of Big Winter Classic and at Edmonton’s Starlite Room on Jan. 27.. “I would freak out and had all this anxiety and I felt like I was more awkward or more stiff at the beginning, and then I did actually get into it and relax. But when it came to live performance, I remember my first show and it just switched on naturally and it felt like I had been doing it all of my life. I never felt nervous. I never had anxiety. To this day, I still don’t get anxious before a show. I feel like I know what I’m supposed to do and I go out there and I do it.”

Friday may have been a reluctant DJ at first, but she acknowledges that her experiences in that world laid a solid foundation for her music. Good Luck, which she co-produced with Graham Walsh, is her first release for iconic American indie label Sub Pop and followed two EPs, 2018’s Bitchpunk and 2019’s Death Drive. Critics were suitably impressed by the bold, genre-defying album, which moves from the dark industrial grind of the title track to downbeat gems such as Let U Down, and to the unsettling ballad Heartbreakerrr and the relatively tender and sultry dream-pop stunner So Hard to Tell.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Defying genre, or embracing what Friday calls the “hybridity of music,” goes back to her DJing days.

“This was during the golden age of Soundcloud,” she says. “It was really during a time when people were doing a lot of mashups, a lot of bringing together and synthesizing of music that you just wouldn’t hear anywhere else and a lot of this was facilitated by the Internet. So this is how I came into music and nightlife. I just took that and used that in my production process and in the way I made my own music. It just felt very natural to me because I think a lot about hybridity and I feel like it’s a staple of my generation.”

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Born in Nigeria, Friday moved with her family to Canada when she was two years old and they eventually settled in Montreal. Her earliest musical influences came from what her parents listened to, which included Nigerian performers such as Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade and gospel music. She was a “child of the Internet age” and the early days of YouTube, which exposed her to a whole new world of music. But if DJing was the gateway to her current career as a performer and producer, her gateway to DJing was being an enthusiastic participant in Montreal’s nightlife.

“I loved to party, I loved to go out and you just meet people naturally that way,” she says. “I was meeting all these people and going to different parties where I liked the music. It really was always about the music for me. I loved to dance and when I go out I want to be on the dance floor all night. I don’t go out anymore, but back then I followed the music in that way and started meeting a lot of people. Back then, especially in Montreal, there were all these abandoned warehouse spaces where you could just throw a party and there would be hundreds of people going. A lot of those places now have been shut down for development. Thing change. I don’t think it’s the same at all.

Advertisement 5

Article content

“I haven’t been involved in nightlife at all in a number of years so I can’t really speak to it in the same way, but from what I heard it’s very different now. But back then, you could just have a warehouse, bring the equipment, set it up and throw a party. It was very informal. You would have to text a number to get the address and you would show up with all your friends. It was a lot of fun.”

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

Advertisement 6

Article content

That DIY spirit has carried over to Friday’s music career, even as she continues to make waves in the U.S. and Europe. Her previous life as a party girl may have also inspired much of the reflection, introspection and themes of self-discovery found on Good Luck. Last April, she told the British culture website New Music Express (NME) that many of the songs on the record “are me in the present time writing to a past self, either sharing words of comfort or reflection.”  

“I don’t know any other way to express myself,” she says. “It’s just the way I am, it’s how I approach my art-making. Partly, it’s the reason for making art as well. You’re always trying to get out whatever is inside you and put it into a work of art that connects with people all over the world.”

Thanks to her Polaris win, a juried award based on artistic merit rather than album sales, Friday is connecting to more people than ever before.

“It opens you up to a lot of people who might not have heard you before and, also, of course, it feels validating, getting that kind of recognition from your industry,” she says. “I’m Canadian and this is the first prize I’ve ever won in my entire life. It was really lovely and a lovely moment. As far as impact on my career, I think it’s one of those things that happens in stages and sets off domino effects. I can’t even say I’ve seen the full impact yet.”

Debby Friday will play the Blox Arts Centre on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 11:30 p.m. as part of Big Winter Classic, which runs from Jan. 24 to 28 in various venues. Visit bigwinterclassic.com. She will perform at Edmonton’s Starlite Room on Jan. 27.

Article content