The cover of HELLA, the upcoming third LP from Bay Area outfit Just Friends AKA JF Crew, is a quintessential west coast dream: fireworks spitfire their way across a starry night sky while below on the warm pavement, friends watch the explosions from their cars, awash in the warm glow. Vocalist Sam “Sammy K” Kless says this ritual of nighttime Californian communion is what HELLA is all about.
“This is a record to listen to when you’re driving around at night time with your friends, with the person you like, or just by yourself,” Kless explains.
HELLA, which is due out DATE via Pure Noise Records, weaves marching band brass theatrics, R&B tenderness, funk brashness, and the occasional hard rock pummeling to create a record that triangulates the sweetest spots between Dua Lipa, Rage Against The Machine, and Brockhampton. It’s bold and bright, with a vibe that alternates between sugary sweet and cheeky citrus sting.
This is the magic of JF Crew’s west coast eclecticism: it’s a patchwork of the best bits from each of the band’s 8+ members. Co-frontperson Brianda “Big Bad Brond” E. Goyos León sums it up: “We are crew. We represent our culture, our families and the Bay Area, California. And you ain’t never seen anything like this.”
HELLA was written between the Bay Area and Memphis over the course of a year, then produced and recorded by JF Crew’s own Chris Palowitch (trombone, keys, vocals, percussion) at an Oakland studio. Kless says that while previous releases have carved the band’s platform as contenders, HELLA record “took it to the next level.” “We became the band I’ve always wanted to be,” says Kless.
The record is at least in part a product of the response to JF Crew’s prior releases. “Just Friends has always been counted out as a band,” says Kless. “Too many members to make any money, too many personalities, too big, too weird of music. We never fit in anywhere.” Through it all, the solidarity and community between the crew has been their anchor: “I don’t wanna say we’re a ragtag group of outcasts kinda thing, but it is like all these weird people that kinda gravitated toward each other. We have a lot of cards stacked up against us.”
For Kless, this alienation existed before the band. “I was bullied pretty hard in middle school,” he says. Then as now, music was a safe space in a cruel world. “I started playing bass when I was 11 and I remember thinking when I got onstage that I could show people that I’m worth something, that I’m worth being alive. That’s how I feel when I’m onstage with my best friends in Just Friends. It’s so fun. I feel at home, I feel myself.”
Signing with Pure Noise in 2019 was a validation that helped to flip the script. “We were in this space of really trying to have something to prove,” says Kless.
Creating HELLA was a response to these conditions—and the conditions we all live through. “Everyone goes through some shit,” says Kless. “Music exists to forget about how fucked up the world is sometimes.”
HELLA is an antidote to modern malaise. Opener “Love Letter” stirs awake with charmed funk rock riffing and an invitation to get on JF Crew’s level via León’s rosy vocals: “Better late than never, you bring me sunny weather/Let’s spend some time together, this is my love letter.” Follow-up “Shine” ups the ante and doubles down on the energy, with Kless backing up León while she big-ups herself: “Pack your things and get to leavin’/Never gonna dull my shine for somebody else!”
Next is single “Honey (feat. Nate Curry)” which Kless calls the record’s “mission statement.” It’s a thick, perfumed late-night slow-burn featuring León’s first-ever verse in her native Spanish, while Sacramento hip-hop artist Curry brings an airy, saccharine bridge verse. Fan-favourite groove “Fever” comes before the riotous, marching band tip “Basic (feat. Lil B and Hobo Johnson),” an infectious ode to the bare necessities: “Face it, we’re basic/Chillin’ with my friends, they’re my favourite.”
Kooky “Hollerbox” bisects the record before “Hot,” “Sizzle,” and “Stupid (feat. Lil B)” bring RATM riffs and rage, an unstoppable three-song rampage that goes down in flames as “Bad Boy” drops the BPM to moonlit heartbreak.
Closer “Sunflower” is a tender goodbye, a longing to grow and nurture one another even as darkness lurks ready to pounce: “Laying down, look to the sun/Can we go and have some fun/Just wanna be in bloom with you.”
Kless explains that the track is about platonic community love, which is so often a salve for punishing conditions. It summarizes the JF Crew way. “We all love California and we all love each other,” says Kless. “We’re one big family band.”
US: Jamie Coletta
UK: Hayley Connelly
Europe: Denise Pedicillo
AUS: Janine Morcos
North & South America: Brad Wiseman
Europe: Niclas Henßen
Management: Joel Kirschenbaum
Leave it to Just Friends to make being called “basic” cool. The Bay Area crew&.
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