This doesn’t need much in the way of preface or context, suffice to say that Matt is a top bloke and I am proud to be the adoptive parent to one of his many feline friends.
Interview: Matthew Davies-Kreye
Funeral For A Friend was born into the South Wales hardcore scene in 2001 and has since gone on to become one of the most globally recognized bands from within that circle. Since their formation, FFAF has been through a continual series of tumultuous changes. As members have come and gone, so the style of the band and indeed the perception surrounding them has altered.
2013 marks the 10-year anniversary of their critically acclaimed debut full-length, Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation – a record whose strengths lay in the unique union of hardcore, melody and powerful song writing. Their latest release, Conduit, marks a defiant return to the hardcore roots they feel so at home with, and the result is one of the most accomplished entries in their catalogue to-date.
Conduit is a little bit Thrice, a little bit Boy Sets Fire and a little bit Snapcase – a comparison that may seem a little strange to some. However, though it may not translate as directly on record, if you’ve ever seen Funeral For A Friend live you will probably have noticed that, despite not falling exclusively into the same category in terms of sound, they have more balls and integrity than a host of straight-up hardcore bands who wave around skeletal versions of the same values.
We pinned down Funeral For A Friend on their current tour with Such Gold and Major Leagues and spoke to Matt Davies-Kreye (vocals), who took us behind the scenes of Conduit and through the changes the band have gone through during his time with them.
ATP: Your new album, Conduit, came out a week ago. Cohesively, it feels like a nod back to your older material and has a much stronger hardcore lean that some of your previous records. Do you feel like you’re making a return to an original identity that may have become lost or obscured at times?
Matt: Yeah, I think we’re probably even deeper into all that than when we started out. I think this is where I would have liked the band to have headed after the first couple of releases, but when you’re in a band with people who don’t or didn’t initially share a lot of musical common ground, it’s quite hard to exert an influence – or to want to exert an influence – over how things are done. I usually just came from where I came from and did my thing over it. But with the current members of the band, the communication is a lot better so when we have conversations about our stuff there’s more mutual respect and we can discuss openly the bands that we love and what we don’t like.
When Gav (Gavin Burroughs, bass/guitars) joined he literally just sat there and said “Memory and Humanity – that was a shit record.” In complete openness. And I was like, you know what, he has probably said something that some of us were too afraid to even acknowledge. We were on autopilot for a while, but to get back on track with this record and the last record as well, to a degree, has made me feel more selfish as a musician, which I’m extremely happy with because I think that’s how musicians should be. And I feel now like this band is exactly what I wanted when I was first asked to join. In my dream scenario this is where I would like the band to be, maybe with some more hardcore tailored into it, but not too much!
ATP: All the stuff that you say between songs shares the same values and ethics associated with hardcore. Were there ever members that didn’t maybe share those ideals of community and respect that you feel so passionately about and how did you deal with that?
Matt: I’m not very good at being confrontational in terms of other guys, and that was a very strong influence, you know, if you’re the one person in the band who thinks what you think and likes what you like… I’m the only vegan, I’m the only person who gives a crap about animal rights and I find it somewhat awkward sometimes to try to present that without it feeling like people are taking the band at that value as well. So for me, I kind of bit my lip for a while and just said stupid stuff between songs… and I still say stupid stuff between songs, but I think as the last two or three years have gone by I’ve felt more comfortable being able to express myself, because it’s part of what makes this important to me personally. It’s not just about getting up there and playing music, it’s about sharing my ideas and thoughts because it’s a very valid thing to do. And it helps break down people’s expectations or ideas of what this band is. We’re not like this arena rock band or this big Welsh fucking…whatever, we’re just five dudes from working class family’s who have an idea and an opinion without being afraid to share it.
I don’t go on about animal rights because, like I said, I’m the only vegan! But I do talk about unity, I do talk about family and I do talk about people trying to inform themselves – people who come to these shows not to take everything at face value, who listen and really get taken in by what these songs have to say. I can’t force that on people and I don’t want to dictate that to anybody, but I can share it in the hope that maybe somebody will take it in and have an epiphany or a moment or something!
ATP: Would you say those ideas are things you’ve tried to work into Conduit?
Matt: Conduit is pretty much a distillation of that idea of being in a room together with complete strangers and sharing something as unique and special as the cathartic aspect of what this kind of music does for people – what it did for me when I was growing up. It’s about giving that back and it’s a love letter, in a way. I guess that’s the pure essence of it. That’s what the album is trying to say.
Chris wrote lyrics too, for the first time in a long time – since the very first EP – and his take on things was really interesting because he shares a lot of similar ideas about certain things in terms of politics and social behaviour and attitudes towards things that don’t get brought up like alcoholism, abuse, sexism, racism, homophobia – all these things that people deal with on a daily basis but don’t really want to talk about in music. So we kind of subtly bring those ideas in and challenge them, which we have done over the years, but were more intent to do so on this record.
Maybe it’s because we’re older and we feel like we don’t have the same expectation on our shoulders that people threw on us when we first started out, which was like a fucking albatross around our neck for a while, you know? We felt compelled to have to live up to this expectation of what people thought we were, but now we’re able to be the band that we want to be and Conduit is pretty much a brilliant reflection of that “fuck you” attitude.
ATP: How was working with Romesh (Dodangoda – Kids in Glass Houses/ The Blackout/ Twin Atlantic) on the record? Did the process differ much from previous releases?
Matt: Yeah it kind of did because we wanted things to be a bit more raw and intense. I wanted to go back to something we did on Hours, which was the perfect idea for doing vocals for me: having a microphone that you use on stage, in a big ass room, with a long lead, two monitors that you would use on stage, play the songs back and just run around and sing along. That’s what I did on the Hours record and it was like “Fuck! This is how recording a record should be.” It’s like being on the stage. Every little breath, every little hiccup was caught and that was real to me. And when we started working with Romesh, he has his style and he was all about doing things bit by bit and stuff and I was drawn in by that, you know, I was just like “Yeah that’s how it’s gotta be done, I’m pretty scared of doing things in one take now.” But I think because of the way the songs were on Conduit that it just necessitated changing things a bit in terms of how many layers we put on and how we tarted up the record, so to speak. So I deliberately said to him “Look, I’m doing three takes, all the way through, and that’s it. No more. I’m not going to do the screaming or shouting after, I’ll do it all in one take, and if my voice goes it fucking goes.” And I expected him to turn around and have a fit, you know, but he was just like “Yeah, cool.” I think because he’d heard the demo’s and where the songs were going, he understood.
The songs on the album ended up being much rawer than the demos we did, which I put down to the fact that he was working really hard to make it an honest record and really treat it with the same respect we were giving it. We were holding back a little with what we were putting on the record and it was the biggest amount of respect we could have paid to those songs, because they didn’t need like seventeen guitar tracks and multi-track harmonies or anything, which left Romesh feeling a bit weird, you know, because harmony is his thing! He loves the harmonies. He did sneak a couple in there, though. He coerced me into one or two, which I initially thought “Nah, I’m deliberately not gonna do them,” but the ones he did have me do actually really complimented the parts because he had me do them in places where I wouldn’t have anticipated there being a harmony and that made it unique. So he really contributed a lot of good vibes and support for us, especially since Ryan (Richards, ex-drums) had left and I was doing all the vocals all of a sudden. So, that’s the way it turned out.
ATP: It’s been roughly 10 years the release of Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation. What are your reflects on that record and how do you feel playing those songs live now?
Matt: I have massive amounts of respect for that record. It did something for us that we never anticipated or thought it would and we treat it with that level of respect. I don’t treat it with this aura of hallowedness that our fans kind of treat it with, because you can’t, but, for me, if I thought that was the be all and end all, the cream of our crop, why would I do another record? Why would you do it, you know?
I love the songs, it’s still a lot of fun playing them because you kind of find a place in your head for songs like that. The lyrics to Juno were written when I was 16 before I’d even joined the band and to hear it over the years being sung back… I mean, I had a period where I switched off and became really blasé about it, just like, it is what it is, but the last couple of years I’ve really come to more respect the way that the people who love that song react to it rather than how I react to it. I can’t feel the same about that song now the way I did when I wrote the lyrics, but I think it’s a fantastic record and it’s by far the best record we’ve done, in my opinion. I credit it with being a valuable asset for us. The songs are still fun to play. We wouldn’t play them unless they were. They mean a lot to people and they still mean a lot to us.
ATP: Is there a certain FFAF record you feel has had the most influence for you personally?
Matt: Probably Conduit… If you’re adept enough to pick it out, to know the band and are maybe aware of the bands we love, you can pick out certain aspects of it. There’s a song called ‘Travelled,’ which, when I heard, I thought to myself “Chris, you’re ripping off Snapcase like mad!” It’s bouncy as fuck! And I was like, dude, this is everything I’ve ever wanted to play.
I think Conduit does the best job at transparently reflecting where we come from as people and as a band. I’m not ashamed to say that we came from the whole South Wales hardcore scene. We did, but I disagree with a lot of attitude that existed in the scene when we were around still as well as where it is now and I can’t change my drive to want to unify people rather than making them feel outside of what we do. I don’t like making people feel like they don’t belong. Everybody has a right to belong to something. I wasn’t born wearing a fucking Youth of Today t-shirt, you know? You don’t come into hardcore fully formed or knowing exactly what it is you’re getting into. It’s a discovery. That’s what makes hardcore so special and I think a lot of kids these days lose track of that, which is why the whole sense of respect is pushed into Conduit.
ATP: You’ve recently come back from Japan. How did things go there?
Matt: We played one date in Japan, which is insane. The show was as good as it was going to be for fucking flying there for one day! I have never, ever, ever had to do that! We agreed on it because we had a new label out there run by this dude who is obsessed with music. We’ve known him ever since we’ve been over there, he runs a magazine called Grindhouse and he’s just like the king of alternative music in Japan. He’s a legend. He’s an amazing guy and totally respects the art form of making music so when he wanted to put the record out it afforded us an opportunity to rebuild stuff for ourselves in Japan.
The way that we’ve toured over the years has been very frustrating for us as a band because we’ve felt like we’ve never spent enough time in the places that we felt like we’ve had a connection with. So this was our chance to start making amends for that by doing things right. And it was insane… We played a show in High Wycombe on the Saturday, flew out on the Sunday, arrived in Japan at like 8 o’clock Monday morning to be greeted by this massive snowstorm and then spent what I think was 2 hours pushing a van off the motorway through snowdrifts – it was either that or get stuck! But the show was amazing. The kids got to have a copy of the album, you know, if they bought tickets they got a free copy and we did a signing. Japanese fans are insanely respectful and it’s the weirdest experience of playing a show ever because everything between songs is deathly silent and I feel really insecure! I’m always thinking “What should I say?” because it’s not as easy to communicate what I want to communicate there as it is here, but when everybody starts singing along it just doesn’t matter. It’s that whole thing about connection – you can travel half way around the world and the words that you wrote in your bedroom when you were 16 are being related to by these kids…
ATP: …Via language barrier.
Matt: Yeah! It blows my mind, and to be faced with that is the most humbling feeling you can possibly have and it’s such a foreign culture, which makes it so unique. We’re going back again this year, which is unusual, but that’s how we want to do things – we want to be unusual.
ATP: So what else is on the agenda for FFAF in 2013?
Matt: We’re doing a lot of touring and that’s pretty much our drive. We don’t have a lot of lofty goals. We don’t want to be arena rock stars or anything like that… I think we came pretty aware around 2007 that actually we don’t really want to be that kind of band. We’re just going to play as much as we can, as hard as we can, which is difficult for us now because a lot of us are in our 30’s and have families and it’s a bit of a challenge. You know, you miss your bed, you miss your cats and you miss you family, your wife and everything. The day-to-day routine you have becomes something you can miss, but when you’re 22 you don’t give a fuck! You’re just happy to be out there experiencing the world. But no, we’re just happy to still be doing this and we’re pretty much touring up until the end of the year. We’ve got some stuff already planned for 2014, which I’m extremely excited about! On the record, I can’t say what it is, but if it comes off, then next year – which will signal the end of the touring cycle for this record – will probably be the greatest moment of my life since at least 2002! We should be doing a tour with a band who were part of the reason why I took to hardcore so quickly in terms of content and politics and it drew me to a side of myself I didn’t know existed.
I’m also going to be issuing our very first EP on vinyl for the first time this year. Off my own back. We’re working with Sam from Goodtime Boys to update it a little bit, kind of re-invent it. I’ve got a wealth of pictures from the whole time period and I’m getting some friends of mine from other bands to write little things about the record and stuff. It’s just purely for me, really! But I think it deserves a re-release and it’s never been out on vinyl. It’s out of print now, anyway, so it’s going to be a lot of fun to get that out. That’s the 10-year anniversary for me and it should have come out like a year and a half ago! This is the reflection, you know, where it all started.
ATP: Finally, what are you listening to on tour at the moment?
Matt: I’m currently listening to Raindance, whose record New Blood just floors me to fuck and back! I’ve never heard anything so incredibly aggressive and poetic at the same time. It’s like Dead Guy meets Have Heart meets Every Time I Die meets Disembodied… it’s kind of a weird mish-mash but I love it because it reminds me of those bands. That’s probably the main thing I’ve listened to. Obviously I’ve been listening to Such Gold because we’re touring together. Another record I’ve been listening to a lot lately is the Touche Amore/ Pianos Become The Teeth split. It’s totally taken me aback, I can’t wrap my head around the four minutes of that fucking Touche Amore song! There’s also a new record by Heiress, who are on Deathwish, which features a very good friend of mine, John Pettibone. He’s one of those vocalists I wish I could be like, you know? I’ve always wished I had the commanding power of John Pettibone’s vocal chords! But yeah, that record is incredible. It reminds me a lot of 90’s doom hardcore. It’s so fucking good. Everything on Deathwish is good. I could talk about records all fucking day…TOO GOOD!
To conclude, here is a rubbish picture I took of FFAF playing live in Clwb Ifor Bach just before all that happened.
Originally published on Alter The Press!