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Event Spotlight: Funeral For A Friend interview

Five years ago Funeral For A Friend left a bad taste in our mouths. A year earlier they’d returned from a taxing three-and-a-half year tour in support of 2005 sophomore LP Hours and 2007’s Tales Don’t Tell Themselves and made the decision to head straight into the studio. The opus – an insular collection of chord based let downs and rushed arrangements - was lacklustre to say the least. Memory and Humanity took the Welshmen from post-hardcore royalty to subdued failures in the eyes of their fans, and it wasn’t until the release of this year’s LP Conduit, that they reaffirmed the fire zealots believed had been extinguished.

Currently in Australia for the first time in six years, guitarist/vocalists Kris Coombs-Roberts and Gavin Burrough are killing time outside of Sydney University’s Manning Bar; load-in isn’t for another hour so the band are taking press commitments on cold wooden benches and graciously raising their voices against the wind.

“We had been touring too much and forcing ourselves to write,” admits Coombs-Roberts. “It became something we felt we had to do as a job as opposed to doing something you love […] The last thing we wanted to do was be in a confined space writing songs and forcing ourselves to be around each other. It’s our fault, we didn’t turn around and say ‘we need a break’.

“[Fans] they told us that Tales and Memory were crap. I think all of us agree on that to be honest with you.”

In fact it was Burrough who lead the open dialogue of honesty about Memory… The 32-year-old joined as bassist in 2008 with the unique perspective of a long-time follower. He understood the band’s ever-changing metamorphoses with each record, but understood the core elements that gave each offering the FFAF branding iron.

“All the elements that I thought were really good had been taken out,” says Burrough. “The aggressive vocals, Kris’ guitar playing, it all changed; it was like they’d taken all the good bits out of the band, it had no real substance to it.

“When we discussed things, I think you realised it,” he says, looking to Coombs-Roberts, who he’s known since his teens when the pair would “bunk off” uni classes together. “You didn’t do it on purpose, like take all the riffs out and stuff, it was something that just kind of happened. It wasn’t just me who was thinking that, it was a lot of Funeral fans. I think it’s given us a kick up the arse and a point in the right direction.”

Tipped as one of post-hardcore’s central figures since the release of debut album Casually Dressed & Deep in Conversation twelve years ago, fans have been waiting for the aggression of Conduit for years. Record number six, released in January, is their most cohesive yet, and at just 29 minutes it’s what Coombs-Roberts calls “a slap in the face”. It revolts the slew of newcomers hell-bent on mimicking the careers of their idols, which was ironically the stratagem surrounding Memory and Humanity.

“When we first started making music we felt we were doing something that was original and new,” says Coombs-Roberts. “Then suddenly every band starts sounding like you and you get chucked into these genres and categorised. When people called us emo, it wasn’t a dirty word. The emo that I remember growing up with was completely different to what it is now, it became more of a fashion and we did everything we could to try and get ourselves out of that genre of music.”

Rebelling against the genre they were so closely tied to has been a contentious subject within their fanbase; Funeral For A Friend may have only achieved one chart placing on Australian shores (when 2007’s Tales… peaked at #43), but most have been waiting for a blueprint of their debut since its release. “Our biggest criticism is that we always change our sound,” says Coombs-Roberts. “You can’t win really.” While it’s quite clear how conscious Coombs-Roberts is of their genre crossing and opposing, Burrough is more insular.

“It’s more organic for us, we just like playing our instruments and making music together and I think that’s where originality comes from. It’s not just an idea of creating something that fits in a genre.”

“A lot of [bands] pay too much attention to the record label industry,” adds Coombs-Roberts. “I don’t know, maybe it’s not as honest as what it was […] It’s the goth thing I think,” he quips, referring to the idea of fashion overriding music. “The minute that the goths infiltrate a scene that’s the end of things. It almost becomes a bit of a joke.”

One of the most proven comforts about Funeral For A Friend is their unwavering longevity. Despite lineup changes, the band haven’t experienced anything close to a hiatus since forming in 2001.

“It’s been the best part of my life so far,” says Coombs-Roberts, who joined the band at 20-years-old. “It’s always do the record, tour the record and when that’s over, look at doing another record. There’s never been a point when we’ve had a conversation about [taking a break], if somebody leaves, replace them with somebody better!”

This fixed harmony is surprising given the amount of label-hopping they’ve done over the years. But according to Coombs-Roberts, even their brief stint with a major label (when Infectious Records was acquired by Warner Music Group in 2004) was a positive experience.

“Everything that we’ve done to contribute to our successes or failures has always been our successes or failures, it’s not like anybody’s ever had a gun to our head. The thing we’ve been really lucky with is that labels have said if we don’t know who we are as a band at this point, they can’t tell us […] This is the happiest I’ve been in the band in a few years. It’s lead us to a good place.”

By Sunday, Funeral For A Friend will have completed their longest Australian tour yet, but they promise to be back in 2014 with an album that furthers the renewed legacy built on Conduit.

“A lot of the songs were really short,” says Burroughs, speaking in past tense already, “which was really good but we’re going to have more expansive songs that are in line with the sound on the last record - but you know, you could come back to us next time and it’ll be bloody country music, a sort of mid-life crisis.”

- Poppy Reid

Funeral For A Friend perform in Perth and Bunbury this weekend.

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