It’s not unusual to meet your bandmates in school. Radiohead, a few of the guys in the Cure, Green Day, U2, a couple of the Beatles – they all met as teenagers in high school. Niko Kapetan and Luke Stamos of Chicago’s Friko found each other in the same classroom on their first day of kindergarten. They’ve been close ever since.
“We did,” Kapetan confirms, laughing. “We’d [even] have play dates, but we started playing music together in fifth grade, and we played in a cover band from middle school to early high school.”
Kapetan was content during those early years in pounding out other people’s songs behind a drum kit, but by 13, he was already writing originals on Logic Pro in the basement of his parent’s Evanston, Illinois home. By the time he was a senior at Evanston Township High, Kapetan had demoed lots of “sub-par” songs, but he also wrote some great ones. Those songs (which can be found on Friko’s unofficial debut, Burnout Beautiful) also convinced him to make it official and form a band.
By his senior year, Kapetan had long moved away from the drums to the guitar and keyboards, while he and bassist Stamos brought in Bailey Minzenberger on drums, also a fellow Evanston Township classmate. Kapetan eventually graduated and left for Columbia College in Chicago in 2018, but after a year, he realized what he already knew in high school: the only thing he wanted to do was make music. Making music was also something Kapetan says he realized that he had to do everyday in order to just stay healthy.
In a recent feature with the Chicago Tribune, Kapetan alluded to having a lot of bottled-up stress along with wrestling with the memory of a panic attack in high school. During his freshman year, he realized that another three years of college and a lifetime of 9-to-5ing it would be a mistake.
“Music provides a roadmap to getting there,” Kapetan said when asked about his songwriting as the primary way of dealing with his anxiety. “In regards to every aspect of music; writing, performing, recording, the relationships within the music – I feel like someone’s passion in life, whatever it is, provides this road to understanding yourself and everyone around you.”
Unfortunately, just as Friko was gaining momentum, the world went into quarantine, but Kapetan made the best of isolation. For the first six months, he’d spend five to six hours a day writing songs by himself; songs that were strong enough to stand on their own with just his guitar and vocals.
Some of those pandemic songs made their way onto Whenever Forever, which was released earlier this year. The five-song EP sounds much more cohesive and polished than anything Friko has released up until that point. There are dizzying flashes of Jeff Buckley, bits here and there of My Bloody Valentine-esque distortion, and lush, delicate touches that rival Elliott Smith during his most personal work.
As intimate and structured as Whenever Forever is, its songs take on a different form on stage. Friko performs Kapetan’s songs with much more improvisation than their studio versions. It’s that intuition and ability to read where each other are going with the song that highlighted each set in their first tour, which concludes with a homecoming gig at the Metro this week.
After the Metro, they’re planning on releasing singles leading up to a full-length LP, although Kapetan is taking what the band learned on the road and applying it to the studio. “[The new album] has been recorded almost completely live,” Kapetan adds. “It’s in contrast to our EP which was very much pieced together, part by part.”
Armed with a new album and this week’s gig at the Metro, Friko is ready for whatever comes next for the trio. “Everyone [in other local bands] are so friendly to each other,” Kapetan says. “It’s super supportive here, even though there are so many good bands. Chicago’s definitely been an incredible place to get our start in.”