Parents and closest family are our biggest critics
Gareth Davies, bass guitarist and vocalist with Wales' Funeral for a Friend, discusses the fickleness of fame, why they spend so much time in the States and the support they get from their families.
The five-piece Welsh post-hardcore outfit that goes by the name of Funeral For A Friend has a lot to be thankful for. The band formed in January 2002 in the same valley that spawned The Lostprophets and currently are one of the most talked-about bands in the UK and Ireland. Along with that, they are one of the best, showing the Americans that bands on this side of the Atlantic can play hardcore with a melodic heart just as well as their big boys. In the ultimate stroke of good luck FFAF found themselves with a record deal before ever having played a single gig. They were simply in the studio recording their first demo when they were snapped up.
They wound up on the cover of Kerrang! weeks before their debut full-length, the fantastic "Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation" was ever released, they've played in America with some of post-hardcore's/screamo's biggest names and, on top of all that, they were handpicked to support Iron Maiden on their European tour in December. On the afternoon of their Irish debut, in Dublin's Temple Bar Music Centre, a quick search through most of Dublin's record stores reveals a drought of "Casually dressed..." CDs. Instead, there are a lot of empty slots bearing the name Funeral For A Friend.
They are not interstellar yet, but, for fans of music that blends melody and aggression, poetry and heaviness, they are the ones to watch. This is where you think of bands like From Autumn To Ashes, The Beautiful Mistake, Finch and Poison The Well. Constant touring around the UK, along with two well received EPs, started off a buzz in the underground, one that got louder and louder until people had to take notice, and thank Christ they did. But don't think this success just landed in their laps. Funeral For A Friend, who's name comes from the title of a Planes Mistaken For Stars song, have worked hard to get to this level. A level they thought they would never reach.
Ask Gareth Davis, FFAF's friendly, talkative bassist what it is about his band that makes people stand up and take notice and he will admit he doesn't know. "I think Matt's [Davis, vocals] just really good with his melodies. I like to think that we write good songs. But then there was, like, a local British press magazine tried to make us say in an interview that we were a great band. I don't think we are, I think we just got lucky to be honest with you. I think our songs and melodies have come along at the right time. It is all about the right place and right time, I don't care what anyone says. There is a certain element of luck in this industry and we did get lucky.'
But could Funeral For A Friend develop into a "great band"? "With time, yeah. From each CD we have recorded the band has grown into a certain shape anyway, so it'll only be a matter of time before we grow even more. Like, by the time the second album comes around, in another 18 months, I'm not sure what the songs will sound like. We will be different. We will be a different band. That's kind of the idea as well. If you're looking at longevity and think, you kind of have to evolve with the times and you can't keep churning out the same kind of shit that sounds the same all the time, because people will just get bored of it and we know that. We like to try and better ourselves and improve ourselves as songwriters and as musicians.'
Funeral For A Friend, which is completed by Matt Davis on vocals, Ryan Richards on drums/vocals and guitarists Kris Roberts and Darran Smith, have at this relatively young stage of their career already achieved more than they thought possible. "We exceeded our expectations and our dreams of where this band would go long ago," Gareth says, relaxing as much as possible on the high seats in the Music Centre's bar.
"It all changed when, I think the first step was playing Main Stage Donnington. That was fucking crazy and then it was Kerrang! Award (for 'Best new band'). Just things you'd never think you'd do like make a music video and be able to sit there and watch it with your family on fucking television. We laugh at it, we really do, 'cause, like I said earlier, we're still the same five idiots from South Wales that we always have been and for it to happen to us we are lucky. As far as expectations now, I think that we're just gonna to take each day as it comes, because we know how fickle this industry is. Like going back to the point there people saying like 'the new Nirvana' (Metal Hammer) or 'hottest new band on the planet', it's like, we could be at the moment, but, in a week's time, something else could come out, you'd be forgotten about and that'd be the end of it."
While it may seem unlikely at the moment, Gareth is right. The music industry is a funny business, with musicians and bands going from being the flavour of the month to the gum on the floor that is trying desperately to get your attention in the space of a few weeks or months. Less even in many cases. Just take a look at their fellow country men, The Lostprophets, if you want a prime example. In late 2000, they released an album that was intended as a demo (strangely familiar territory here), won over the hearts of the public and courted all the right magazines.
Then the tide began to turn and Lostprophets became one of the most hated bands around, were branded a boy-band and were ridiculed in the music press. They still haven't released their second album. A lot can change and it can happen quite quickly. It should be pointed out though that Funeral For A Friend are a much better band than Lostprophets were/are. Where Lostprophets had a bare handful of catchy riffs, loosely lumped together FFAF have great riffs that they have moulded into great songs. Besides, live, FFAF walk all over Lostprophets.
But let's not turn this into a Lostprophets witch-hunt and get things back on track, remembering that for now (and hopefully for a long time to come) all is well in the world of FFAF. In fact, the Welsh boys have just returned from a tour of the US where they opened for Everytime I Die, Cave In and From Autumn To Ashes. A tour that Gareth describes in this thick Welsh accent as being "fucking great!".
"We were the opening band and no-one had a clue who we were, it was fucking ace. It was nice to be able to stand by your merch stand and sell your own merchandise without getting fucking attacked by, well... You could have a one to one conversation, as opposed to talking to ten people at a time. Kids are just as fickle as the music industry, if you don't speak to them they think you're a prick," he says with a laugh.
"You always have to put in that little bit extra working this style of music when it comes to America because it's like selling sand to an Arab isn't it? This is where this form of music originated. The kids were very receptive to it and, I mean, the kids that were stood there didn't leave, which is always a good sign. They didn't fuck off. So, you know, I think it went down pretty well, but we understand how much work it takes. I mean if you think about it, we did 23 shows in a month.
"That's fucking nothing," he continues, warming to the subject. "When you think of Florida's the size of the UK and that's one fucking state, then you can only imagine how big that country is. It's like we put a map up in the bus and we were like [points to end of an imaginary map with his left hand], fucking hell we're travelling from there to THERE [stretches his other arm up to point at what would be the exact opposite side of the map]. It's like overnight drives for 900 miles a night! It's like fucking hell, you just can't believe how vast and big that country is. And you know you gotta put a lot of time and a lot of work in to even make a dent in America, let alone fucking break it."
"You start on the East Coast and then, by the time you reach the West Coast, you're going back over because it's been about three months since you've been over there anyway." he finishes, with another laugh. Spend any time in conversation with the casually dressed and unshaven bassist and you'll soon notice that almost everything he says ends with a laugh. It's clear that he's having the time of his life. He's in a band whose music is popular and he's getting to travel around the world because of it.
Of course, he realises that it can be a tough life. Earlier, he told me how his phone bill from his time in the States came to almost £600, because he was constantly calling his girlfriend. He's not bitter and he knows sacrifices have to be made, "you pay this shit because you have to stay in contact with them. I know, personally, for myself that for me my girlfriend, my parents, my brother and my sister are the people that keep me grounded. You always know where you are when you're at home, you always know who you're talking to, you can always trust those people.
"It doesn't matter what you've done, where you've been. Like you can have kids standing outside at seven o'clock in the morning, but then you know your family's your family at the end of the day and they will always tell you if you stepped out of line."
"My dad is the perfect example", Gareth explains. "When we finished the 'Four ways the four ways to scream your name' EP and we started the album, I brought some of the things back to him and he said 'I don't think it's good enough'. And the same as Matt's dad, once all the music was completed, Matt took a demo tape that we did in Dan's garage back to his house and Steve, Matt's dad, was like 'yeah, yeah' and that was just the music.
"So, a couple of days later, Matt started putting vocals over the songs themselves and Steve turned around and said 'that's not good enough. You haven't done the songs justice.' So Matt reworked everything. Our parents and our closest family are our biggest critics, as well as us and they will tell us if something's not cutting the cake. I know my parents and my girlfriend Anna have been like 110% supportive of everything I do, which is cool as fuck, because it's always good to know that you have support from people around you".
Back on the topic of touring in the States, though, Gareth says solemnly that "you can understand why bands like Bush and stuff spend so much fucking time in America. But I mean, for Bush especially it fucking paid off. That's where they made their money and that's where they sold their records, there's no doubt about it". With a Stateside record deal inked with Ferret and their first release there, "Seven ways to scream your name", now on release Gareth knows that they have to return and soon.
"I'm glad it's actually going to be released", he says, speaking two days before the EP's release, "'cause that was another thing about going over to America, we were touring, but no-one had ever heard of us. That's where the joys of fucking Internet downloading came in, because there were people there singing along, which was like 'fuck me, how did that work out?'. This is two EPs put together with 'Juneau' and 'She drove me to daytime TV' taken off, with 'The Getaway Plan' added and hopefully with that out we'll have something to work on the next time we go back... towards about April time, because the album's due out at that point as well. It'll be another support slot of course. We're more comfortable with that."
If things catch on as quickly in America as they have over here then they won't be playing support for long.