Features: Back Where It Began: Funeral For A Friend
We open the history books and go back to the start of Funeral For A Friend's illustrious career in music.
Around for more than a decade, Welsh rockers Funeral For A Friend have been a hugely influential force on British music. With sixth studio album 'Conduit' just released the band are once more firing on all cylinders, seems like a perfect time to sit down with frontman Matt Davies-Kreye and chat about how it all began...
How did the band start? When, where and why? What made you all want to pick up instruments?
"The band semi-existed previous to my joining ( as January Thirst) but their only claim to fame was that they had a song on a Blackfish Records compilation. They were kind of like a third-rate Slayer. It was more tech-metal and all about showing off the guitar playing. It was Kris Roberts, his brother Kerry, Johnny Phillips, Andi Morris, Mike Davies and Matt Evans."
How old were you at the time?
"I joined the band in December 2001, I’d just turned 22."
How long had you known each other at that point? Did you get on away from music or did the band bring you together?
"I’d known Matt through going to the same school. He was good friends with my brother and he’d come over to my house all the time to hang out and play records. I think he kind of gravitated towards me because I was about three years older and I was more into the emotional hardcore, melodic hardcore and the straight up old-school hardcore kinda stuff. I was listening to bands like Hot Water Music, Gorilla Biscuits and Boy Sets Fire.
I kinda knew Kris from going to shows and I’d known Johnny because he was a promoter who used to put shows on. I used to speak to him about interviewing the bands that were there."
Was this your first musical venture or had you played in bands before? What styles and influences did each of you bring to the table?
"I’d been trying to get local projects, bands and stuff together at various points but nothing really happened because nobody in my area was into it enough. I was in the process of starting up a record store in my hometown and was really focused on doing that, I’d pretty much given up on the idea of wanting to play in bands then one day Matt told me that their other singer had left the band (there were two screamers) and he asked me to join. I had no intention of really doing anything, I went down to just hangout. I’d never really sung in any bands before.
I came down to the rehearsal place where they were practicing and Kris had some lyrics to this song they were working on. I did what came naturally and just ended up singing. We wrote ‘10:45 Amsterdam Conversations’ right there and then. The lyrics were already there really, so I just listened to the music and weaved my way in between what Matt Evans was doing. I think Kris realised that what I was doing was going to change the band - the writing style and everything - I brought melody into the equation, which I think was a shock. They seemed to dig it and from then on I was in the band. I found that quite funny really.",
Where and how often did you practice? Do you practice more or less often now you’re a fulltime band?
"We used to practice about once a week but now it’s a lot less. I’d like it if we could do once a week or something like that but we’ve got two of the guys living in London, Ric lives in Cardiff and Gav and I live in Bridgend. We usually get together three or four days before tour starts to blow off the cobwebs."
How do you guys write songs? Is there a particular process you follow and is that process any different today than it was back then?
"When we first started Kris pretty much came up with all the ideas musically and I’d collaborate on lyrics with Matt Evans. He would take my words, read them, take them away and personalize the lyrics for himself. There’d be no directing or anything. He’d come in and do his thing, I’d do my thing and we’d somehow find some common ground in the middle. I had a lyric book that I’d tucked away since my mid teens. It was full of poems and little bits and pieces, train of thought stuff mostly, I went to that and used a lot of it for the material we were writing at that point. Kris used to write a lot of lyrics too. Kris writes poetry really, ‘10:45 Amsterdam Conversations’, that’s all Kris.
When Matt left it became more about working out where to delegate parts to Ryan. I was used to having somebody in the band doing the aggressive side of things, unfortunately for Ryan I don’t think he had that kind of artistic insight into the lyric side of things, that or he never wanted to do it. I used to show him what parts to do.
Obviously being involved in the hardcore scene and discovering bands with a more politicized kind of meaning had a big impact on song writing. Our songs aren’t just about relationships and heartbreak. ‘Juneau’ was about coming of age, adolescence, going through changes - not just about that girl who broke my heart. The way we did things was so pure back then, we just didn’t really think about it. We just kept our heads down and did what felt good."
Where did you play your first live show together? Did many people show up to watch?
"Our first gig was in the Toll House in Bridgend town centre, probably in front of about 30 people. Johnny was still in the band at that point and he was building us up as a mix between Thursday and Poison The Well – that was the tag line that went with the band. I guess it was a fair representation of us at that point because those were two bands that we loved dearly."
How long did it take to put together your first release? Where did you record?
"We recorded our EP before we’d even played a show. It wasn’t even an EP, it was just a demo. It was a chance for us to have a listen to what we were doing and a way for us to get shows as well. It was something for us to throw out there. Literally within a couple of days we had Mighty Atom, whose studio it was, turn around and say, ‘can we put this out?’, which was a massive shock!"
How long did it take to break out of Wales and start touring the UK?
"By October 2002 we were opening on the Fony Tour – that was an odd band for us to play with but at that point we were like, fuck it, it’s a UK tour! We all hopped in the back of the Mighty Atom ‘Red Rocket’ as we called it – no preparation, no prior touring experience whatsoever with our sleeping bags in hand. We spent many a night in the back of the van or on people’s floors or at a venue. I remember vividly playing in Aberdeen and literally begging to sleep anywhere in the club afterwards because we had no plans. We slept in the shed. It was freezing, snowing and there was no heating. We were dressed up in our sleeping bags with all our clothes on and we made our merch guy sleep in front of the door. We did that for two and a half weeks. It was a big learning experience for us but it was a lot of fun.
The next two tours we did were opening for Boy Sets Fire and main support for The Juliana Theory when they came over from America for the first time. There were no other bands in the UK doing what we were so we felt as if we were part of an American scene to a degree. We felt more of a kinship to a lot of American bands than we did anything that was going on in the UK at that point."
At what point did you realize you could make a career out of playing music? Did you go chasing labels or did they approach you with offers? How did the opportunity present itself?
"Not until much later, not until we’d done the first album. We had a management company come and track us down, I remember it all happening super quickly. The dudes from Infectious Records came down to check us out and by that point Mighty Atom had started to put the EP together and were pushing it out there. Rock Sound were the very first magazine that came down to the studio in Swansea to chat to us about the band. To be interviewed was a surreal experience."
Funeral For A Friend's UK tour is underway, go see the band at any of the remaining dates:
07 - CAMBRIDGE Junction
08 - NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
09 - NORWICH Waterfront
11 - YORK Duchess
12 - LEEDS Cockpit
13 - GLASGOW King Tuts
14 - NEWCASTLE Students Union
16 - MANCHESTER NQ Live
17 - STOKE Sugarmill
18 - LONDON Garage
19 - BIRMINGHAM Asylum