In August, The Rembrandts – the duo of multi-instrumentalists and songwriters that penned the theme to global hit TV show Friends – released their first album since 2001’s Lost Together. From a rather hot Nashville, one half of the pop-rock group, Phil Solem, talks to Sam Bennett about Bowie, Black Mirror and fellow bandmate Danny Wilde.
So, Via Satellite is The Rembrandts’ first album in 18 years.
Yeah, we’ve taken our time putting it out because we never felt there was a chance it would go over. But I think what happened was not only did we get a good opportunity to put it out in a way that seemed right, with people who were behind it for all the right reasons, but also the musical climate is probably more adapted to where we’re coming from. We’re more acceptable now than maybe we would’ve been five years ago – that’s what I tell myself.
You and Danny Wilde met at a party, where you bonded over a mutual fondness of artists such as David Bowie – what’s your favourite album of his?
I probably couldn’t tell you every song on Ziggy Stardust but that was a period I was really hyped on. I didn’t really get into the Tin Machine era so much – it was a bit on the harsh side for my ears – but I can look back now and appreciate some of that, if I ever stumble across it. Bowie’s big for us guys, that’s for sure.
Did you meet him?
Never. I’ve been in the same room as him and had him walk past me. I’ve thought ‘I’m going to meet him someday’ but it’s just never come to pass. When he died, I was really taken aback. I was with some friends in LA and we all heard the news at the same time and just broke down crying – I think the last time that happened to me was Elvis.
I’d quite like to hear him cover ‘Now’ from Via Satellite – there’s a Bowie vibe about it.
Yeah, put a couple of Bowie fans together and you’re going to hear a bit of him in there, for sure.
For the new album you wrote the lyrics to ‘Broken Toy’, about the end of a relationship – that’s not a topic you usually write about.
It was cathartic. I don’t think I intentionally wrote that song, but it bubbled to the surface and just spilled out – actually, more seeped out of me. There’s a lot of angst, anger and every kind of negative thing you can think of thrown into that song – I hope it doesn’t sink it.
Neither of your voices seem to have changed that much – it sounds like you’ve both looked after yourselves for the past two decades.
In my case, I quit smoking ten years ago so my range has improved. It used to be very hard to sing a lot of the high stuff in any sort of touring situation, because you’re taking a drag off your smoke every once in a while and it really distorts your voice. But when you finally get off it, all of the juices start flowing again and it’s quite an amazing trip.
Are you both very different people now to when the Lost Together album came out?
I would say I am just on the cusp of becoming an adult. So if that qualifies as a change, then yeah. I feel like I’ve been through enough shenanigans that I’ve mellowed out quite extensively. I’m certain that Danny has. When we go off doing shows, he usually wants to disappear and mellow out after and I usually get caught up in the socialisation.
When you have a song as massive as ‘I'll Be There For You’, I suppose the annoying thing is people think that’s all you’ve ever recorded.
I like to call it the Golden Albatross. It’s taken us a long way, and it’s a really valuable thing. At the time it really wasn’t representative of what we were attempting to do, and I would say fate stepped in and steered us in a direction we probably should’ve been paying more attention to in the first place. We have certainly realised over the last 25 years that it was the best opportunity ever.
Is there a more recent show for which you’d like one of your new songs to be the theme?
It wouldn’t be too awful if we got involved in something like Black Mirror – they can’t put enough of those out.
Are you guys going to tour soon?
That’s a question that even we are continually asking, so I don’t know how to answer it. It’s really up to the amount of interest that this record brings. I’m hoping it’s got enough steam behind it that we can afford to tour.
If you do, would you come to the UK?
Oh we’ve got to, absolutely, if you can help set that up, it would be awesome.