Welsh emo outfit Funeral for a Friend has its hopes up for American crowds

by Rachel Leibrock

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

11 February 2009


You’d think a sizable crowd would gather for Funeral for a Friend, but in a down economy, it’s tough to sell a Welsh hard-core emo band - even one acclaimed by the critics and people of their homeland.

“The popularity of the band in the U.K. grew almost immediately, but it’s been a longer haul in the U.S.” says Darran Smith, the band’s guitarist.

The five-man band formed in 2001 in Bridgend, South Wales, and has visited the United States four times - or is it five? Calling from the road in Denver, a weary Smith can’t quite recall.

In 2003, the band released its first full-length album, “Casually Dressed & in Deep Conversation” to critical and popular acclaim. The album, which produced three Top 20 hits on the U.K. singles chart, earned the band a legion of fans devoted to its choleric and emotional blend of punk, metal and even melodic pop.

In 2005, on the heels of Funeral’s second album, “Hours,” Kerrang! magazine awarded them its British Band of the Year honor.

All wonderful, Smith says, but it’s important to put such accolades into perspective.

“We’re an honest band,” Smith says. “We can come off as very serious - and we are very serious about our music - but we’re also fun and humorous.

“Some bands (tell their audience) that every city is the best city they’ve ever played and every audience is the best they’ve ever played to,” he says.

“We find that people appreciate our honesty - no one wants to watch a show that’s so fake and regimented.”

The band, which also features singer Matthew Davies-Kreye, bassist Gavin Burrough, guitarist Kris Coombs-Roberts and drummer Ryan Richards, aims for that sense of truth and sincerity in its music.

Funeral for a Friend’s fourth disc, “Memory and Humanity,” is its most straightforward record yet.

The band worked with producer Romesh Dodangoda (Kids in Glass Houses, the Blackout), who, Smith says, helped the five musicians pare their sound down to the essentials.

The result, Smith says, made for a more mature approach.

“It’s about stripping away the excessive parts of a song that have nothing to do with anything but only made it messier,” he says.

“We wanted to make our music more direct.”

Indeed, the band’s angst-ridden aggression is dialed down a few notches, which in turn showcases the strength of the songwriting on (relatively) quiet songs such as “Charlie Don’t Surf.”

“We had other songs that were faster - maybe some of the most aggressive stuff that we’ve ever done,” Smith says.

“But we didn’t want to go over old ground. We wanted to have that edginess and aggressiveness but also not forget about the huge uplifting power of an anthemic chorus.”

The album also signaled a shift in their onstage dynamic. Funeral for a Friend’s original bassist, Gareth Davies, citing tour fatigue, left the band shortly before the album’s October 2008 release.

While his departure came as a shock, Smith says, it also gave the band a much-needed jolt by way of new bassist Gavin Burrough.

“Gareth was a great musician, but he was never really comfortable as a singer,” Smith says. “Gavin’s got a really good voice and a huge confidence - he’s also very excited to be touring, and that just injects a real vigor into our shows. It’s nice to have that sense of excitement on stage.”

No matter how many people do (or don’t) show up to watch?

Smith laughs. The start may be slow, he says, but the band is making the most of its journey.

With a few more tours on the schedule, including the Warped Tour, they’re happy conquering the nation one mile at a time.

“It’s such a vast country - you could tool around here 365 days a year and still not visit every place,” he says. “It’s cool, actually.”

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