This band's best friends are Abe, Ike and each otherby Chris Roberts, Minnesota Public Radio
Ever hear the slogan, "Friends don't let friends form rock bands"? When artistic differences arise and egos clash, a friendship can be put at risk. A notable exception is the Minneapolis indie rock band Best Friends Forever. Its two founders actually are best friends. Their relationship is based on a shared love of music and a desire to write songs about friendship, among other things.
Minneapolis — Some songwriters like to wallow in the misery of romantic love. But Jessica Seamans and Briana Smith, who go by "Jes" and "Bri," often sing about a love with some staying power, their friendship.
Seamans and Smith grew up in the Brainerd Lakes area, in the small town of Crosby, Minnesota. They were two brainy, nerdy outcasts who eventually developed a fierce mutual devotion, although when they first met in 5th grade they made a lousy impression on each other.
"What's the quick line for it, Jess?" asks Smith.
"The quick line is that Bri was too uptight and I was too obnoxious, " Seamans says. "So, we were kind of turned off by each other."
But not for long. As they discovered they had the same passion for gothy, alt-rock giants Smashing Pumpkins and a hunger to make their own music, they melded together as friends. By seventh grade, they were inseparable.
"Our parents were concerned and even irritated at how much time we were spending together, and my mom would always tell me about how her best friends, when she was my age... She wasn't friends with them in her 20s. I don't think she was saying it to be mean but I think she wanted to prepare me for that," Seamans says.
"Saying, 'You're not going to be friends forever,'" Smith adds. "'Something's going to tear you apart.' "
"And sometimes I think of this band as kind of this response to my mom saying that," laughs Seamans. "I know we're still in our early 20s but we're going strong."
Smith and Seamans see themselves as symbols of the power of platonic relationships, which they believe are equal to romantic ones.
"Oftentimes romantic relationships trump platonic relationships and we really want to show how important and supportive they are, and that's it's great to celebrate close friendships such as ours," Smith says.
Best Friends Forever songs are quirky, wordy, and occasionally absurd. When they're not about friendship, they tend to focus on Smith and Seamans' feelings or adventures. The group doesn't follow traditional pop song formulas. Their performances are unpolished. Tempos often shift mid-song and sometimes you can't tell if a verse is ending or a chorus is beginning. Early on they were even more rebellious as songwriters.
"At that time we had it in our heads that we were against pop music and we would have no verses or choruses and that we were superior," Smith says.
"And we certainly wouldn't sing about things like love or boys," Seamans says.
Smith and Seamans' resolve not to write mushy relationship songs began to weaken as they got older. And then along came "Lord of the Rings" heartthrob Orlando Bloom and they gave in completely.
"It was kind of bizarre because neither of us has ever really had celebrity crushes before," Seamans says. So it felt worth of having a song written about it."
The song about Orlando Bloom is called "How Bri Breaks it off with Movie Stars." It's definitely tongue-in-cheek.
A more heartfelt declaration of love comes in the group's ridiculous, yet oddly touching song about our nation's 16th president. Smith had been reading Gore Vidal's fictional account of Abraham Lincoln's life and was extremely impressed by Lincoln the man.
"I just got really emotionally invested in him and wanted to let it out in a song," she says.
The song is called "My Head in Front of Your Head" and it's becoming a teaching tool. A woman in New York somehow got hold of it and recommended it to a friend in France who teaches English as a second language. A teaching assistant at St. Paul's Highland High School heard it on The Current and brought it into her history class.
The label Best Friends Forever is often tagged with is "novelty band." Seamans understands why, but she says it isn't accurate.
"I feel like our songs are pretty earnest and even though there's jokey parts, everything's pretty heartfelt," she says. "So I would hope it's a serious thing, but we're not taking ourselves really seriously."
City Pages Music Editor Sarah Askari, who's a big fan of Best Friends Forever, characterizes the band's persona in its songs and on stage as a naive innocence, but she believes it's genuine.
"I think that they have enough wide-eyed enthusiasm and charm in what they do that you don't hold it against them. You don't feel manipulated," she says. "You feel like they're doing it so that you can all be in on the same kind of joke."
And as far as entertainment value is concerned, Askari says Best Friends Forever's music has a lot.
"Their songs are really well constructed," she says. "The melodies do stick with you, they do stay in your head. When you say 'Best Friends Forever,' I immediately start singing in my head, 'Eisenhower is the father of the Interstate Highway System,'" which is a song the group wrote after seeing that phrase at a highway rest stop on the way to a gig in Michigan.
Best Friends Forever is where it wants to be at this point. It's developing an audience in and outside Minnesota and is nearly finished with a new CD. Briana Smith says her only concern is that the work of this band based on friendship may start to interfere with the friendship. "I have to really struggle to be like, 'OK, let's not talk about band business. Let's just talk about our lives and our personal friendship,'" she says.
Their commitment to each other may be put to the test when Best Friends Forever embarks on a six-week bi-coastal tour beginning in June.