I managed to quickly catch up with one of the nicest guys in music - Darren Smith of Funeral For A Friend, shortly before their headlining show at the Oxford Carling Academy…So, how are things going? How’s the tour been so far?
Cool, yeah, really good! Kinda started out slowly - I think it’s because we hadn’t played together for a long time, apart from about three months ago, when we did a week long tour, and it wasn’t really enough time for us to really get back in the groove of it, you know? This tour is obviously pretty long and intensive, so it means it’s taken a few shows to properly get back in the swing of things, but each show seems to be getting better and better, and it’s all going pretty swimmingly really!So things are all good in the Funeral camp then?
Yeah, it’s actually a bit weird! It’s been great, especially in the last week or so - we’ve just been having such a good time on stage. Matt’s drinking a beer or two before he goes out, and he’s practically doing a stand up routine every night, so it’s cool! We’re having a lot of fun up there, so it’s all good really!Excellent news! So it’s been 5 years now since casually dressed… do you ever look back and consider the journey that it’s taken to get to this stage? I only ask, because just over 5 years ago, I saw you in a youth club about 6 miles down the road supporting Fony on a tiny stage to a bunch of hyperactive teenagers, and for me personally, it’s been great to see you guys come so far!
Yeah, you do get those moments, but to be honest with you, the time’s gone by so quickly that you rarely get the chance to sit back and reflect on it as such. We’ve been going from one tour to another and one album to another and so we didn’t really have a chance to step back from it all. It’s only been over the last couple of years that we’ve really had the opportunity to look back, but it’s more fun looking forward! You mentioned about that Fony tour - that was our first UK tour! It was about a month long, and whilst some of us in the band had done touring before with other bands, it had never been as long as a month, so it was quite an eye-opener for all of us really. I actually remember it being pretty brutal! We were all in the van with all our gear, with absolutely no accommodation planned for the way, and with it being in the winter months, I just remember it being freezing cold! I remember us sleeping in a club basement in Aberdeen. The guy up there told us there was a radiator in the room, but failed to mention that it didn’t work, and in November in Aberdeen, it was just freezing. It was the kind of cold where the snot would run down your nose and freeze on the way! So yeah, properly brutal! But it sort of made us appreciate then going on to tour with the bus and all that!So then, moving on! The new album has seen you create a Join Us Records for the release. Was the label ever something that the band had talked about before as a future idea, or was it just something that presented itself at the right time?
Yeah, it was sort of an idea that presented itself in the right situation, really. I mean we’d had a great relationship with Atlantic, in the UK especially, and other places in the world with Warner Brothers, but we had a lot of issues with other places in the world in terms of support, where they weren’t pushing very hard for us, and it was becoming a bit of an uphill struggle; America being the worst one. Our label over there was quite unsupportive, at least in terms of making the most out of situations that presented themselves. Like playing the main stage on the warped tour - the perfect situation to push the album and the like, but they just didn’t do a thing. So yeah, we had issues with that angle of it, but like I say Atlantic UK were really cool with us. It was only when we got to ‘Tales’, that we started to really notice that the team we originally had there were starting to kind of disappear, what with people leaving, people being sacked and “rotation of staff” which is what seems to happen at a lot of major labels, it just really became a case of a new group of people not really understanding what we were doing. When we came to writing the album, a few people started making comments about the songs, and how we should change lyrics and stuff like that, and we’d never had that before, so it got to a point where they wanted something different to what we wanted, and so it was best to agree to part ways. It was then that we sort of found ourselves in the situation where we could actually sit back say well “OK, what we gonna do now?” We had offers from other labels, and major labels as well, but it after speaking with our management, and amongst ourselves we sort of discussed starting our own label up, and thought about what we’d need to do and what we’d need to sort out to get it off the ground, and it went from there really! We put together the whole plan with our management and our solicitor, and it seemed to come together quite quickly really, in so far as the initial idea being brought up, and it actually happening.A friend of mine mentioned the other day that the new label has given you a bit of a platform to help younger bands and unsigned bands, which you’ve been doing already - is that something that you want to pursue further in the future at all?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t think we’ll be signing any bands yet, as that makes the whole thing a bit more complex and complicated, especially on the legal and contractual sides of things, and I think the label is too much in its infancy to be thinking about stuff like that just yet! But as it goes along, we’d definitely like to help release some stuff, and possibly sign some bands in the future, but for the while it’s only really for our own releases - it gives us so much more freedom. If we get to the point when we want to release a couple of songs, then we’ll release a couple of songs, you know? And it’s quite interesting and exciting getting involved in so many different aspects of a label that we might not have had much input with previously, and it gives us the freedom to make more of our own decisions really!So what’s more satisfying then, a top 5 album on a major, or a top 20 album on your own label?
I mean, well, they’re both kinda cool!! (insert sheepish grin here) But the indie thing I reckon! It’s our own label, and our own ideas that we put forth. I mean what we found with majors is that they just waste a shit load of money on irrelevant marketing schemes and ideas, when if they’d have asked us, we could have told them straight away that it just wasn’t going to work, and sometimes, they’re so pigheaded that they’ll try anything and everything and just throw so much money away. So for us, we’ve tried to avoid all that wastage. Obviously, we’re working on a much smaller scale and with a much smaller budget, but we’ve really thought about doing the right things, and hiring the right people for various different marketing bits and pieces and for me it’s quite an achievement to be able to do that on our own independent label, without really knowing that much about it!OK then, moving onto “Memory and Humanity”, was the writing process any different for this album, without having various pressures on you from your label? There are definitely hints there of older Funeral….
Nothing was consciously done to sort of capture the “older sound”, but it was just a situation where touring had finished, all the label stuff had come and go, and we’d decided to start up this label, so we decided that we needed a quick turn around and just get some stuff out. So there was the idea for us to do the EP, so we actually sat down in Ryan’s front room where there was so much gear we could barely move, and we just went about getting some stuff down on his laptop, and we just sat and wrote. We’d only planned for about 4 songs, but 8 songs came to us quite easily and quite quickly, really. And that’s when we thought that with that number of songs down, we might as well carry on, and put out an album! I think it was more the excitement of knowing that these songs were going to be heard from our own label, and we were doing things ourselves had geared us up really. There were certainly a few elements that we wanted to put across this time around - we wanted more pace, more energy which we thought was lacking a bit on Tales. With hindsight, Tales was more of a mid-paced record, it was quite dynamic really in terms of the highs and lows in the songs and stuff, so we thought that we really needed to go for a more balls-out, energy filled style to our songs this time round, and with a bit more pace them, which we thought that Tales was lacking a bit. There was never a decision that was made where we thought we had to go back to stuff from Casually Dressed… because we’d ‘drifted too far from the sound’ because we’ve never ever planned how we were going to write songs - they’ve always just sort of came forth as they pleased. There wasn’t a pre-meditated method of writing our songs, there never has been. We went more melodic last time because that’s what felt natural to us, and that’s the way it went.
I do think we’ve captured the slightly heavier edge this time round, but in a different way to casually dressed - I think it’s definitely a step up in as far as the way the songs are put together, and the elements that are combined on this record. When we were writing Casually Dressed…, we were still learning how to write songs then, and I think we’ve gradually gotten better at putting songs together, so combining heavier parts, but still keeping sort of uplifting choruses and things like that.Well that’s definitely noticeable this time around - it’s a great record!
Ah, nice one! Well, you know, we’re really happy with it and how it’s turned out.So you’ve had a good reception for the newer material on the tour so far then?
Yeah, yeah, it’s been cool! I think the songs really fit well in the live environment, especially given the pace of them, and they’re quite punchy songs so in a live situation, it works really well in motivating an audience, and people getting into it, so yeah, it seems to be going down quite well! Also now, the album’s been out for a little bit longer, and so people are more familiar with the songs and lyrics and are singing our songs back to us!I suppose that must be one of the most gratifying parts of being a musician?
Yeah, that’s always been the situation with us. Our shows have always been one big sing-along, and we’ve always tried to write anthemic music for that purpose. Matt has always been so great at creating great anthemic phrases within his lyrics, and it’s just pretty great to hear!It’s always been the case, not just in venues like this, but at festivals too - I remember at Reading a couple of years ago seeing you open the Concrete Jungle Stage with thousands of festival goers singing along, word perfect and pitch perfect to every song you played!
Oh yeah, the first Reading appearance! That was so early on in as far as, when they originally asked us, there were so many amazing bands playing on the stage that day, so we were totally up for doing it. Then in the lead up to the festival date, we’d had a couple of songs around on the radio and all that, and they offered to switch us to the main stage, but we declined it. We figured that opening up the stage and playing with the bands that we loved was going to be better y’know.
Then on the morning that we were due to play, they did a line check at about 11 o’clock, and we were supposed to be playing at 12 on the dot, but that’s when the gates were due to open, so we just figured nobody was going to turn up, so we thought we’d made a massive mistake. Then I’m not sure why, but they must have opened the gates earlier, because these hoards of people just came running over to the stage, so by the time we went on at midday that place was absolutely rammed, with people about 10 deep outside, so it was just an absolutely amazing experience. I think all of us remember that day with huge sentimental value, it was just amazing!Well I think that’s about it for my questions, so thanks very much for your time and enjoy the rest of the tour!
We will do, thanks!