The kind of fame that hit Funeral For A Friend in 2003 was overwhelming – and unlikely. Formed in Bridgend, in South Wales, just two years earlier, the group became figureheads of a rock movement most associated with US hardcore acts fronted by screaming vocalists and propelled by pyrotechnic riffs and bludgeoning rhythm sections. With their debut album, Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation, however, Funeral For A Friend merged punk, hardcore and alternative rock with their own sense of melody and radio-ready hooks to make what frontman Matt Davies-Kreye tells Dig! was “an amalgam of all these different things that the US scene was navigating its way through at the same time. We were fortunate enough that what we were doing in the valleys of South Wales was putting our own little spin on it.”
Released on 13 October 2003, Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation placed Funeral For A Friend at the top of the pile: a soon-to-be global force that had “everybody surprised that we came from the UK, because we had such a sound”.
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“We existed in our own little sub-world”
Even at home, however, Funeral For A Friend stood out. Emerging from a “very, very, very small” hardcore punk scene leagues away from anything happening in the mainstream, Davies-Kreye says they were among “a very tight group of individuals and bands interweaving throughout the South Wales area and connecting with the rest of the English hardcore-punk scene across the UK… I always felt like we existed in our own little sub-world within the Welsh music scene.”
The band’s early line-up featured a dual-singer approach in which Davies-Kreye sang “clean” lead and co-vocalist Matthew Evans offered a screaming counterpart – a juxtaposition that defined much of Funeral For A Friend’s early sound. When Evans left the group, drummer Ryan Richards took on screaming duties (“I worked with him on achieving the best possible balance of what he could do without compromising how he was playing,” Davies-Kreye says. “Over the years, it gradually became a supportive role. But when he does do it, it’s always very, very powerful”). After further changes, the classic Funeral For A Friend line-up coalesced around Davies-Kreye and Richards, plus Kris Roberts and Darran Smith on guitars, and Gareth Davies on bass.
“I came from the more punk rock, hardcore side of things, whereas some of the other guys in the band came from more of a background in metal – or nu metal, even,” Davies-Kreye explains. Smith, the eldest member of the group, also harboured a love of 80s AOR that brought out the group’s melodic side. “It was a shared influence through the members of the band that drew us to our sound… It’s always had a little bit of everything thrown in for good measure. Not all of us were cut from the same musical cloth.”
With their intensity – in the musicianship, Davies-Kreye’s heart-on-sleeve lyrics and the juxtaposition of the vocal styles – Funeral For A Friend were variously labelled as an emo offshoot – “screamo”, “extremo” – or saddled with descriptors such as “post-hardcore” or “melodic hardcore”. Such critical fumbling was a sure sign that the group couldn’t truly be pinned down. “It doesn’t leave a nasty taste in my mouth when people say ‘emo’ because, deep down at the core of it, the originators were massively influential to us,” Davies-Kreye says. But, he laughs, “The ‘extremo’ thing was pretty hefty. I always felt like we straddled the line between all these genres and were able to write really good music encompassing them.”
“We rushed that record to completion”
With Davies-Kreye, Roberts and Smith coming up with the bulk of the band’s material, the music flowed naturally from formative ideas through to complete works. “I’d have a few riffs, a skeleton of a song, bring it to rehearsals, Kris would fuck with it, and then the guys would put it together. Same with Kris’ ideas,” Davies-Kreye says. “Darren would also have ideas he’d throw around.” Holding down the rhythm section, Davies and Richards then offered input as “a very strong arranging team”.
“We would sometimes butt heads,” Davies-Kreye admits, “but we would instinctively know how to arrange an idea to get the best out of it… I think that’s why it clicked: because of the enthusiasm. We were all excited when the ideas came in.”
Initial writing sessions led to the release of Funeral For A Friend’s first two EPs, Between Order And Model and Four Ways To Scream Your Name, eight months apart, in the summer of 2002 and the spring of 2003, respectively. As early as that first release, which featured soon-to-be-classic songs such as Juno (later re-recorded as Juneau for Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation) and Red Is The New Black, the group became aware of the buzz they were creating – and what that may have meant for their debut album. “The hype around the band grew so exponentially, that first album was either going to be busted down a few pegs or it was going to be taken and run with,” Davies-Kreye says.