In October 2003, Funeral for a Friend became one of the UK’s best-loved alternative acts following the release of their critically-acclaimed debut album Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation. In the twelve years since, the band has covered the breadth of the alternative rock spectrum from aggressive post-hardcore to pop-rock, as well as negotiating various band member departures, and are in no mood to slow down just yet. FDRMX caught up with lead singer Matt Davies-Kreye to discuss the band’s latest album Chapter & Verse and their upcoming main-stage appearance at the UK’s leading alternative music weekender, Download Festival.
“It’s the one specific festival the UK has that focuses on aggressive, guitar based music. You have your smaller, niche type festivals but it’s the one big, mainstream one at least,” Davies-Kreye explains. The band earned a place on the very first Download Festival in 2003 and this year’s performance will see them making their sixth appearance on the main stage. “It was the first festival I’d been to as a punter and we were playing at it, which was weird. I have fond memories of it because of that.” The festival promises to draw a large crowd, with last year’s offering attracting seventy thousand fans, but while attendance is guaranteed, the audience’s expectations at a festival can be very different to a band’s own show. “It’s so hard to communicate who your band is in such a short space of time. You have to pick your set of greatest hits or songs that people know. They’ve come to hang out, have fun and have a dance so you have to give them stuff that will get them going and in return we’re lucky enough that some of the old songs that we’ve written we still get a kick out of and enjoy playing.”
If you haven’t seen Funeral for a Friend perform live since the release of Conduit in 2013, you can expect the next show you see to be a very different experience. As well as having a fundamentally altered line-up, their ethos has also evolved, particularly when it comes to performing on stage. “You get so pent up trying to one-up yourself or trying to do things that sometimes you can end up working yourself into a mind-set where everything has to be a certain way and you feel limited and contained by that.”
This shift in attitude exists beyond just the live arena, it’s now a core aspect of the band’s persona. Being able to mentally remove the pressure of expectation and recapture the energy of the band has been fundamental to the writing process for the last two albums. “Conduit and Chapter & Verse were very much about letting loose and not having any pre-conceived ideas or even wanting it to be perfect. It’s more about spontaneity and the visceral energy of it really. When we play them live it’s about letting go and letting the songs take you wherever. It’s not about trying to play them exactly as they are on the record, but going with the motions of it and that works better for me than some of the other songs we’ve done in the past where everything has to be rigidly structured and a certain way.”
Those who became enamoured by the post-hardcore anthems of Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation and Hours, or 2007’s foray into pop-rock Tales Don’t Tell Themselves, have found this transition jarring. Instead of the crisply-produced clarity of melodic post-hardcore, Conduit and Chapter & Verse favour more aggressive, raw and unpolished tones, with roots in hardcore punk and riff-heavy rock. Particularly vocally, the band’s recent releases have seen Davies-Kreye adopt a throaty, raw edge to his voice which is a far cry from the melodic, crystal-clear choruses of the past. As a performer, it’s an approach that feels more natural: “It’s a bit of a pitfall that process; vocals that you can do in a studio because you’re standing still but when you come to do it live you’re fucked. I don’t want to think when I’m on stage, I don’t want to have to be this super professional vocalist. I’m not an opera singer! It’s just about being normal, being real. I don’t like pretence or theatricality; I’m way more relaxed now.”
While musically some fans may dissociate with the current direction, it’s impossible not to feel warmed by the enthusiasm that Davies-Kreye exudes for it. Far from being a new development, this is a destination he’s always longed for: “It’s always been at the deep, dark aspect of what I’ve wanted Funeral for a Friend to be. We had these tours when we release Tales Don’t Tell Themselves where we had these stage props and inside I was dying, it was just so cheesy. Playing music is about communicating and trying to make a connection, it’s not about ‘look how cool I am’ or ‘come and worship’ me. I struggled with that for years and I’m quite happy that it’s got back to a place where it’s a bit more normal. We’ve been out in the wilderness for a long time trying to figure it out and for the last 5 or 6 years we’ve started making sense of who we want to be.”
Being an independent act has helped this journey over the past few years. The band left Atlantic Records in 2010 and have been operating independently ever since. “Being independent, you’re able to have way more control over what you can do musically. We’re able to hone in on what it is that we want out of our band aesthetically, musically, politically or whatever.” The increase in stylistic freedom comes at the cost of needing to be more involved in the band’s business affairs; an aspect that the members are happy to absorb: “As we’ve got older we’ve got way more interested in the mechanics of how a band can be a business, how you can make a living off this and how you can make it sustainable. It’s nice enough that the actual band aspect of it is more fun now, which makes the business side of it much more bearable.”
As a happily independent band with a renewed sense of its personality, the Funeral for a Friend camp appears a relaxed, content and motivated place to be. For a band that has been in the business for fourteen years, their enthusiasm for the future is warming and infectious. The band has certainly matured since the their debut album in 2003 and although today’s musical landscape sounds very different, Davies-Kreye still reflects fondly on the impact the old material continues to have on fans around the world. Particularly songs that he wrote as a teenage boy some twenty years ago: “The diary-confessional stuff like Juneau – I was 16 when I wrote the lyrics to that song. I get a kick out of seeing how strong a connection that song has with an audience. I can remember vividly in my bedroom writing that song and then recently we were in Australia and people were singing the words back to me and I’m like “what the hell”. It still blows my mind, it’s the coolest thing.”
Fans will have the chance to see Funeral for a Friend at this year’s Download Festival in the UK on June 13th. FDRMX will be reporting from the festival to give you coverage over the whole weekend.
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