Kris Coombs-Roberts, guitarist and backing vocalist of Welsh band Funeral for a Friend, can’t quite understand why Live To Ride would want to talk to him. He doesn’t even have a driver’s license, let alone ride a bike. I’d love to put him at his ease: neither do I! Still, we can talk about the music – a logical place to start. Interesting, too, since traditionally, the Welsh are renowned for gorgeous singing voices and – given their coal-rich land – those big, brass, colliery bands. How does a post-hardcore/hardcore punk/experimental and – my favourite sub-genre within which Funeral For A Friend are often categorised – ‘screamo’ band come about in Wales?
“When you grow up in the Welsh Valleys, there’s not a lot to do,” Kris confesses. “It comes from a lot of frustration. All of my friends, we used to go out and try to find new music. We fell in love with bands like Metallica, Pantera, Guns N’ Roses and Machinehead – very heavy bands. Social groups and not having much to do led me to playing the music I do.”
In addition to these US bands, there were ‘local’ (that is, ‘UK’) musicians that inspired Kris. “I was listening to a lot of underground hardcore bands like Stomping Ground, earthtone9 – very ‘heavy’ bands, very different and very British.” This ‘local’ scene really took off in the UK – especially in Wales – only after the alternative/nu metal band Lostprophets struck fame. Hailing from the town of Pontypridd, just north of Cardiff and about 30km east of Funeral for a Friend’s home of Bridgend, Lostprophets “gave everybody a kick up the backside to go and try to be better!” There can be no more excuses, Kris insists, once someone “from around your corner” finally achieves success. “There’s no more, ‘being from Wales, oh, it’s impossible!’ Before, Welsh bands had to go to London to look for A&R people; now A&R people go to Wales, looking for bands. There are a lot of Welsh bands who are all very, very good.”
It’s hard to talk to anyone from a band called ‘Funeral for a Friend’ without asking the obvious question, and it’s a two-parter: a) were they named after the Elton John track that opens his 1973 masterpiece, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and b) is it because their musical position deems it necessary to put an end to such music, in much the same way that Johnny Rotten hoped the likes of his Sex Pistols would put an end to such dinosaurs as Pink Floyd? “I’d love to say that was the case, but it’s definitely not,” Kris replies. “But saying that, we’re all big fans of Elton John; we all love his music. How can you not?”
Turns out the band takes its name from a different song with the same title – a track from an album called F*ck With Fire by Illinois ‘post-hardcore’ band Planes Mistaken for Stars (also known as PMFS) – that lead vocalist Matthew Davies-Kreye “really loves”. Kris hadn’t even heard of PMFS until he found out the band was named after one of their songs. “They’re pretty cool. Very strange, but good. The Elton John thing is cooler, though, definitely.”
As for the sub-generic labels with which Funeral for a Friend is categorised – particularly ‘screamo’, which, as the name suggests, is a shouty form of emo that grew out of hardcore punk, Kris reckons they just make it easier for people to fit within a ‘scene’, particularly when fashion is involved. “It’s almost like the glam scene in the 80s – everybody dresses a certain way, everybody wears tight jeans, everybody has the sloping fringe and full sleeve tattoos… All of the little sub-genres people use, like ‘post-hardcore’, ‘emo’, ‘screamo’… it’s to make people feel more comfortable. But you should only ever judge music with your ears, because that’s the only sense that you experience it with. I’d prefer not to categorise music; I judge it by what I like and what I don’t like.” Funeral for a Friend fits into an even more basic category for Kris: “First and foremost, we’re two guitars, bass, drums and a vocalist. That’s a rock band.”
Whereas Funeral For A Friend had veered towards the art rock of the concept album – their third full-length release, Tales Don’t Tell Themselves, was a song cycle – “a bit of an experiment in writing dynamic music to a story” about a fisherman going out to sea and getting lost. Their most recent release, Memory and Humanity, returned to that ‘first and foremost a rock band’ ideal of two guitars, bass, drum and vocalist. It also coincided with a label change. They are now with Roadrunner Records. The concept album about going to sea was the band’s last release on – fittingly – the Atlantic label.
For the new album and label, the band were ready to get cracking on a new release and the new material came remarkably easy, according to Kris. Part of this was down to the band’s seven years experience. “You become better at doing things and you can say what you want in a more concise wa,” he says. “You don’t have to ‘go around the ’ouses’ about it.” Getting together to write an EP’s worth of songs, after three weeks they discovered they had eight contenders. It made sense to “push forward” to a complete album. “Our opinion has always been, ‘if it feels good, do it’. And everything did feel good while we were doing it.”
For the most part, the band were happy to be moving on to “pastures new” without really knowing where it would take them. “When we sat down to write, we wanted to get a lot of the energy that we had with the first two records,” says Kris.
Energy is present and accounted for on what has been described as the band’s ‘darkest and most poignant release yet’. According to Kris, Matt writes all the lyrics, so “the songs can be very personal to him, his views of how he sees certain things in the world”. Clearly, some of them appear to be how he sees certain films. Although, in more recent years, it has become a kind of tasteless slogan on t-shirts depicting Charles Manson, I suspect that the song ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’ is actually a reference to Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) bellows the line, his explanation of why there’s no issue with his soldiers surfing. (‘Charlie’, is short for ‘Victor Charlie’, which, like ‘VC’, is military jargon for the South Vietnamese Communist Party’s army, the Vietcong.)