FFAF about Downunder
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Kris Coombs-Roberts, guitarist and backing vocalist of Welsh band Funeral for a Friend, canât quite understand why Live To Ride would want to talk to him. He doesnât even have a driverâs license, let alone ride a bike. Iâd love to put him at his ease: neither do I! Still, we can talk about the music â a logical place to start. Interesting, too, since traditionally, the Welsh are renowned for gorgeous singing voices and â given their coal-rich land â those big, brass, colliery bands. How does a post-hardcore/hardcore punk/experimental and â my favourite sub-genre within which Funeral For A Friend are often categorised â âscreamoâ band come about in Wales?
âWhen you grow up in the Welsh Valleys, thereâs not a lot to do,â Kris confesses. âIt 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 Nâ Roses and Machinehead â very heavy bands. Social groups and not having much to do led me to playing the music I do.â
In addition to these US bands, there were âlocalâ (that is, âUKâ) musicians that inspired Kris. âI was listening to a lot of underground hardcore bands like Stomping Ground, earthtone9 â very âheavyâ bands, very different and very British.â This âlocalâ scene really took off in the UK â especially in Wales â 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 Friendâs home of Bridgend, Lostprophets âgave everybody a kick up the backside to go and try to be better!â There can be no more excuses, Kris insists, once someone âfrom around your cornerâ finally achieves success. âThereâs no more, âbeing from Wales, oh, itâs impossible!â 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.â
Itâs hard to talk to anyone from a band called âFuneral for a Friendâ without asking the obvious question, and itâs 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? âIâd love to say that was the case, but itâs definitely not,â Kris replies. âBut saying that, weâre all big fans of Elton John; we all love his music. How can you not?â
Turns out the band takes its name from a different song with the same title â a track from an album called F*ck With Fire by Illinois âpost-hardcoreâ band Planes Mistaken for Stars (also known as PMFS) â that lead vocalist Matthew Davies-Kreye âreally lovesâ. Kris hadnât even heard of PMFS until he found out the band was named after one of their songs. âTheyâre pretty cool. Very strange, but good. The Elton John thing is cooler, though, definitely.â
As for the sub-generic labels with which Funeral for a Friend is categorised â particularly âscreamoâ, 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 âsceneâ, particularly when fashion is involved. âItâs almost like the glam scene in the 80s â everybody dresses a certain way, everybody wears tight jeans, everybody has the sloping fringe and full sleeve tattoosâ¦ All of the little sub-genres people use, like âpost-hardcoreâ, âemoâ, âscreamoââ¦ itâs to make people feel more comfortable. But you should only ever judge music with your ears, because thatâs the only sense that you experience it with. Iâd prefer not to categorise music; I judge it by what I like and what I donât like.â Funeral for a Friend fits into an even more basic category for Kris: âFirst and foremost, weâre two guitars, bass, drums and a vocalist. Thatâs a rock band.â
Whereas Funeral For A Friend had veered towards the art rock of the concept album â their third full-length release, Tales Donât Tell Themselves, was a song cycle â âa bit of an experiment in writing dynamic music to a storyâ about a fisherman going out to sea and getting lost. Their most recent release, Memory and Humanity, returned to that âfirst and foremost a rock bandâ 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 bandâs last release on â fittingly â 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 bandâs seven years experience. âYou become better at doing things and you can say what you want in a more concise wa,â he says. âYou donât have to âgo around the âousesâ about it.â Getting together to write an EPâs worth of songs, after three weeks they discovered they had eight contenders. It made sense to âpush forwardâ to a complete album. âOur opinion has always been, âif it feels good, do itâ. And everything did feel good while we were doing it.â
For the most part, the band were happy to be moving on to âpastures newâ without really knowing where it would take them. âWhen we sat down to write, we wanted to get a lot of the energy that we had with the first two records,â says Kris.
Energy is present and accounted for on what has been described as the bandâs âdarkest and most poignant release yetâ. According to Kris, Matt writes all the lyrics, so âthe songs can be very personal to him, his views of how he sees certain things in the worldâ. 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 âCharlie Donât Surfâ is actually a reference to Francis Ford Coppolaâs Vietnam War masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) bellows the line, his explanation of why thereâs no issue with his soldiers surfing. (âCharlieâ, is short for âVictor Charlieâ, which, like âVCâ, is military jargon for the South Vietnamese Communist Partyâs army, the Vietcong.)