Interview: Funeral for a Friend [April 2015] 

By Tamsyn Wilce

We caught up with Funeral For A Friend guitarist Kris Coombs-Roberts to talk about their new album, how it feels to one of the last Welsh bands standing, and what it’s like to still be recognised for your first album more than anything else.

You’ve just released your seventh album, which is an achievement for any band at any level: how did you want this one to stand out against everything you’ve done previously?

I think as a band we are probably the most consistently inconsistent band there’s ever been. We’re not very good at setting ourselves a goal of what we really want to achieve in terms of sound, it’s kinda like, we write and see what falls out. I think more than anything, with the production on this record, we wanted to take a step away from what everybody else does now. It’s fair enough that bands want their music to be represented in the best possible light – they want it to be as flawless as possible – but when you start doing that everything starts to sound exactly the same, so the idea for us as a band was to make a record where it’s not perfect, there’s parts where the guitars are ever so slightly out of tune, or bits that might be a little bit not perfectly in time, but they sound and feel good. We wanted it to be a real honest and raw representation of what we do as a band. It’s like, if you come and watch us, what you hear on the record is more like what you’re gonna hear live. You’re not gonna hear a really shiny, polished, immaculate production. I guess we wanted to step back to maybe what we did when we first started, which was going into a room without click tracks, minimal overdubs and do it really quickly and just try and make a record which has a vibe and a real feel to it, as opposed to something which is perfect.

Many bands tend to leave 2-3 years between records, to work, write and produce for the next one, whereas you guys whacked this album out in just over a year. Is that because you found this one a lot easier to write?

It was out of necessity, to be honest with you. I’d love to be able to take longer between records but that’s only a privilege you really get if the record that you’ve done has sold enough, or you’ve made enough money from the tours you’ve done so that you can take a long period of time off. I think doing music professionally has become more attainable than it’s ever been, but doing it at a level where you can sustain yourself for long periods of time off, that’s become harder and harder and it doesn’t really exist unless you’re in one of the few anomalies. I think for us, we always like to be busy; we don’t like being at home, although we’d probably like to be at home a little bit more than we are at the moment, but at the same time it’s purely a necessity of releasing things.

This album, as you’ve said, is different to a lot of the stuff you’ve done previously. It’s similar to your earlier work, more punk, a little more hardcore and gritty – is there anything that’s particularly influenced the sound of it, or did you just draw from everything that you’ve done over the years?

I dunno, it’s really weird: I think that when you’re doing most records it’s kinda like you’re always second guessing yourself. There’s a point when you start a band where the only person you really think about when you’re writing music is yourself, and then people start saying they like your band and suddenly you start caring what other people think about it, when the reason people liked your band in the first place is because you wrote it for yourself. I think probably in the past we’ve been quite guilty of overthinking things, or trying to steer away from things because people say we’re too much like something. You can’t listen to criticism and not take it onboard to some degree, but I think where we are now, we’re at a point where it’s like 14 years of being in a band is a very privileged thing to be able to say and I think it’s just the fact that we were like, “What do we really wanna do with the record?” Well, I wanted this band to be the band it was when we did our first EPs because that’s the band that I really wanted to be in. Everything else kind of turned into it being a kind of business: it’s not so much about music anymore, because so many other people depend on what you’re doing and I think where we’ve come back to now, it enables us to really care about what we want and not really what it means to everyone else.

This album feels a little bit more like a statement, because you touch upon more political and controversial topics. Are these views and opinions that you’ve always wanted to portray through your music?

It’s definitely a thing with getting older. Matt writes like 99.9% of the lyrics and if he’s stuck on the end of a sentence or something then he might ask for help but that’s very, very rare. I think that when you’re young the only thing you ever think about is yourself, you’re very selfish and everything’s about like, “Oh god my life is so terrible, it’s horrid.” Then the older you get, you start to look at situations that are going on around you or in other parts of the world and you get opinions about them. Matt is a person who very much believes in the right and wrong of things and ultimately about equality and fairness, and I think that’s something that he’s really latched onto. At the same time though, he’s also a really good listener, he’s not demanding that everyone agrees with him, it’s all from a point of view and I guess he’s doing it on a platform which is something that he really cares about. It’s putting two things together that he really cares about to be able to perform and convey a message he really believes in, as opposed to standing up there and making up some lyrics about a relationship gone sour, when he’s been happily married for ten years.

And how do you think your fans have reacted to the slight change in lyrics and sound?

Over 14 years I don’t think we’ve ever been able to please anyone who’s liked us from a certain record. People find us at different points. If somebody had discovered us from ‘Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’, y’know, we are not that band and you are going to be very, very, very disappointed with us if you found us on that record. I think some people like us for the fact that you never know what you’re gonna get, and I think some people appreciate the fact that like, when some bands put out a record it’s like Ronseal, it does what it says on the tin. We’re not that band, on one record you might love us and on the next record you might hate us, but I guess that’s what we are, we are consistently inconsistent.

If you could pick one track off the whole album that could sum it up, which one would you choose, and why?

That’s a really awkward question because it’s like if you’re a parent and being asked to pick your favourite child. Like, if you had to pick out of the three kids you’ve got, the one you think has got the best parts of your facial features, which one is the prettiest? It’s quite difficult. For me, there’s songs on this record that are nothing like anything we’ve written in quite a while and I think ‘1%’ and ‘The Jade Tree Years Were My Best’ are my favourite songs, purely for the fact that I love melancholy music which is quite stripped back and simple, and on this record we’ve been able to experiment a bit more and not just go all guns blazing, heavy and fast with like, two and a half minute songs. It was nice to do something a little bit more expansive and creative, so those are probably my favourites.

This tour has obviously been about celebrating the new album, so do you find that you have more fun playing the newer material vs. the old, or do you just love all of it?

We’ve been sat on this album for a year, we’ve been waiting to release it and it’s weird because like, for a year this album has been ours, only us, the people at Distiller [records], our management company and our agent have been the only people to hear it. When you’ve got something like that, that you’ve created and only a few people have heard it, it’s really special and then it gets released and it belongs to everyone and it’s strange, you almost feel like you’ve become a cover band of your own material. I don’t think there’s any preference for me. It’s weird when we’re playing, it’s like being a pub band but playing your own songs, it’s very, very strange.

Even though you haven’t even finished this tour yet, you’ve gone and announced another tour. What is it about being on the road that appeals to you so much?

I guess it’s the most honest way to promote a record, to be able to actually go and play it live to people. Someone can go and sit and listen to a record, but watching a band play live is a completely different experience. Again, necessity comes into it: if we don’t tour we don’t eat, that’s the reality of it. I think there’s something very weird about playing live shows because, without trying to sound all hippie, it’s a very sharing experience, you play a show and people take what they want from it. There’s nothing quite like it. I love writing music and I love being in the studio – that’s probably what I love more than anything – but there’s something completely unique about playing a live show that I think unless you do it, you’ll never ever get that feeling from anything else.

The venues on the next tour are quite a bit smaller than the ones you’ve been playing on this tour. Are you looking forward to playing to more intimate crowds?

Yeah, definitely. I’m happy playing anywhere to be honest, to still be playing shows after 14 years is amazing. Wherever we’re playing I’m completely happy to be doing it. When you do a bigger show, there’s something about it, people see it as more of an event than a show. I remember when I was younger and I got to watch bands. If they played in Newport Centre it’d be like, “Oh my God, I’ve gotta go down there at ten o’clock in the morning even though doors aren’t until 7pm” and you’d sit out in the pissing rain, freezing cold, but loving it. Then, when the same band comes around and they play in a pub it’s like “Well they’ll be on at half nine so I’ll go down at 9 o’clock”. It’s weird, they both have their merits but I think that ultimately playing – whether it’s to 60,000 people or 60 people – it’s exactly the same thing you do, you’re playing your songs to people and hoping they all react in a favourable manner towards it.

Having been a band for so long now, and really being one of the only Welsh ones left, what would you say are the most important factors to keeping the passion alive?

Yeah I know, we’re dropping like flies at the moment! I think every single band is passionate about what they do; I think the difference is how you deal with setbacks. So, maybe your band hasn’t gotten to where, in your head, you thought it would’ve by now, it’s not as big or you’re not earning much money from it – but then, I’d rather struggle doing something I love, than be comfortable doing something I hate. Y’know, wake up every morning and go to a job I despise purely for the fact that it gives me more disposable income. That’s the thing with us as a band, I think the moment that we don’t really love this anymore, we’ll probably decide to call it a day. To think that we’ve gone from playing venues like Brixton Academy, you can go from doing that to doing here [Electric Ballroom] and you can either look at it as being, “Oh well, you’re not where you were”, or you could look at it like you’re still playing shows, it’s still fun. If you love music, you should love music, you shouldn’t love music on the basis that other people love your music and I think that’s probably the reason why we are still together and other bands have decided to call it a day.

If you could look back on your career in 30 years, what would you want Funeral for a Friend to be known for?

Ooh wow. Unfortunately, I think the thing that we will be known for is ‘Casually Dressed’ because that’s the thing that everybody keeps bringing up all the time. God, somebody said the other day, they put a remark on our Facebook page about how they hadn’t come to watch us for ten years and like, “Oh I know you’ve got a new record but you should really play some old songs” and it’s like, “Fuck you! Where have you been for the last decade?! I’ve still been playing shows, fuck you man!” Not happening.

You could look at it like, you’ve had an album that significant that it still means a lot to people, but yes, you have done quite a lot since then. 

I think the significance of it is that, for a lot of people when they heard that album [‘Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation’], they were just going into their teenage years and you have all of your first experiences. You meet your first proper group of friends, you get your first taste of independence, you have your first relationships, your first love, your first drink and it becomes the soundtrack to that point in your life. It’s like me, I’ve got albums which are like that, which I’m pretty sure if I spoke to the bands who wrote them they’d be like, “Fuck, really dude?” It’s amazing that people cared so much about what we do and that they love that record so much, but it’s like, for me that was never a perfect record because it was a collection of songs that I wrote when I was that age. That’s weird for me to think of, like really, really weird but y’know, I think that’s what we’ll be remembered for.

I think being honest would be something I’d like us to be remembered for. Every single decision we’ve made as a band, be it right or wrong, something that’s made our career or something that was almost like committing career suicide, we did it wholeheartedly and we did it for the right reasons, because we felt it was right for us. I’d like to be remembered for that but it won’t be, it’ll be the two people with cloths around their heads, sat back to back on a mountain and that’s great as well, I’ll take it.


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