By Ashley Zimmerman
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For such an effective purveyor of paranoia, Your Enemies Friendssinger/guitarist Ronnie Washburn is a sunny-side-of-the-street kinda guy. "It's amazing that we've managed to accomplish everything we have on just a six-song EP," he beams. Sure enough, critics have lauded generous praise upon Your Enemies Friends' brand of quirky-yet-accessible, muscular-yet-danceable post-punk. Sporting both a fresh-minted sound and a three-guy/two-girl/multiracial lineup, YEF could be a modern-day Sly and the Family Stone. With two full stateside tours under their belts and a U.K. jaunt slated for the winter, YEF are primed for success. "We didn't make plans to go out and starve to death," Washburn asserts. "We're in it to win it."
One can't blame Washburn for looking on the lighter side of life, as his band's current bounty is born from bitter roots. Back in July 1999, Washburn and bassist Dana James constituted two-thirds of Orange County alt-rock heroes the Pressure. Just before their debut record was to be released, James and drummer Jason Thornberry were hanging out at a housewarming party in Long Beach when tragedy struck. First, Thornberry threw back a few, became agitated, and tried to leave. Concerned, James tried to block the door. Thornberry punched James twice in the face for her trouble. "He never drank before -- I mean never," insists Washburn. "He was out of his head. Everyone says that he was allergic to alcohol." While the cops were sorting out who had punched James, Thornberry lay unconscious a few blocks away, his skull bashed in by an unknown assailant.
Thornberry remained comatose for nearly a week. Various brain-trauma-related ailments (lost speech among them) forced the Pressure to the backburner. "There was no way we were going to continue without him," Washburn declares. "They kept telling us he'd be healed in a few weeks, but a few weeks kept passing. We played a couple benefit shows with different drummers, but it didn't feel like a band anymore." As Thornberry, Washburn, and James cohabitated and shared van payments, ensuing financial squabbles with Thornberry's family eventually killed the trio's camaraderie as well. "We're not friends anymore, but I've got nothing but love for the guy," Washburn affirms. "Thankfully, he's working with his therapist and getting better."
In the summer of 2000, Washburn and James found drummer Luis-Carlos Contreras and guitarist Alan Watke, taught them their new tunes, and immediately headed into the studio. After a few months together, the still-unnamed quartet ran into 17-year-old Aska Matsumiya at a coffeehouse. "We were talking about getting a keyboard player in the band," recalls Washburn. "She overheard us and mentioned that she played. We were like, 'Sure, kid.' Then she sat down and ripped out a Bach piece, child-prodigy style. She was amazing."
While waiting for Matsumiya to finish high school, Washburn again led the band into the studio and named the quintet Your Enemies Friends -- a mantra he embraced while dealing with the Thornberry fallout. "Your enemies are your enemies' friends," Washburn says. "Say you have two enemies, and if that's the only thing they have in common -- that they don't like you -- they're going to become friends and work against you. Or even if you have just one enemy, their friends will probably work against you, too, so you have to be careful of that."
Earlier this year, YEF hooked up with gonzo rock website Buddyhead.com and became one of the first bands on Buddyhead records. "I'm totally down with everything Buddyhead is about," Washburn proclaims. "I hate all the bad music that's being shoved down our throats." The WiretapEP, a compilation featuring two songs from the first session and four from the second, came out amid much fanfare, so the band hit the road in earnest, starting off in March at SXSW before linking up with Seattle punk supergroup Pretty Girls Make Graves for the rest of the nation. Matsumiya and Pretty Girls Make Graves guitarist Nate Johnson took the idea of making music together one step further and got married in Las Vegas at the tour's end. Washburn and the rest of the band were thrilled, and gladly relocated YEF to Seattle in August to accommodate the lovebirds. "They [Pretty Girls Make Graves] are our best friends, and Seattle is great!" Washburn enthuses. "There's a lot more support for good music, and it's not competitive like it is in L.A."
After a year spent riding the Wiretap EP, Your Enemies Friends will head off to Chicago in February to record their debut full-length with legendary misanthrope Steve Albini. "He does a good snapshot of what bands really sound like," Washburn states. Perhaps the infamously scabrous Albini can fuel Washburn's growing rep as an onstage antagonizer. "People need a little beer spit every once in awhile," smirks Washburn. "It's good for them."