With their debut album, Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation, Welsh five-piece Funeral For A Friend created a record that incorporated technical virtuosity, hardcore power, melodic flair and an ear for radio-friendly hooks. In doing so, they established themselves as a force on the frontlines of rock in the mid-2000s. With their second album, Hours, the group refined everything that made its predecessor such a gloriously uncompromising work, while also proving they had much more in their arsenal.
“Hours is my favourite Funeral record,” singer Matt Davies-Kreye tells Dig! “It’s so layered. It’s a journey that charts the trip of us as a band, from the previous record to there, in a unique, contrasting way… And I have never had such a good time making an album as I’ve had doing that one.”
“I wanted to present something with a bit more substance”
Barely pausing for breath amid the whirlwind success of Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation (“It was insane. I can’t remember half of it,” Davies-Kreye says), Funeral For A Friend began writing the songs that would make up Hours while still on tour. Their new record, they decided, needed to capture them in that moment.
“Hours was the first album that I started writing material for, lyrically, that wasn’t pulling stuff from notebooks and things that I’d had from previous hobby bands or teenage musings,” Davies-Kreye says. “I didn’t want to rely on stuff that came from a person that no longer existed, and I wanted the new record to be informed by the experiences of what had come between Casually Dressed and then… It’s very much me, then and there.”
Having been thrust onto the world’s stage, Davies-Kreye’s development as a songwriter saw him taking stock of global events and filtering his reactions through Funeral For A Friend’s new music.
“My ideas and my viewpoints were becoming more and more important to me, in presenting and railing against things that made me uncomfortable,” the singer explains. “The lyrics started incorporating more world things – personal politics – rather than being related on emotional constructs… It never went to a full political thing, but it incorporated themes and things that we’d experienced, or wanted to address, or I wanted to express to our audience as talking points… We’d done a lot of growing up in such a short space of time that I wanted to present something with a bit more substance.”
Without losing the core of what made Funeral For A Friend such a relatable band whose devoted audience hung on their every word (“I was always fearful of losing that intimacy with the audience,” Davies-Kreye admits), the singer sought to strike “the perfect balance between what I really wanted the band to straddle, in terms of the lyrical side of things”. Every track on Hours, from opener All The Rage through to closer Sonny, “has elements of something which is born from a level of frustration or anger or hope”, he says. “It blended both worlds: the poetic and the more socially aware.”
“We were giving two fingers to the expectations awaiting us”
Arguably the most acute example of this was History, Hours’ centrepiece ballad and a song in which Davies-Kreye looked back on his past in order to reflect on the present, tracing the ways in which shared experiences and communal actions can resonate through the generations.
“History is, if you get to the bones of it, a geographical diary,” Davies-Kreye says today. “Growing up in a small Valley town like Maesteg, as a small group of friends who are into alternative music, we always felt like the outsiders. And I always felt like we were taking shots at the more popular aspects of the cliques that were growing up around that time.” The “archers in your arches” of the song’s chorus, the teenage Davies-Kreye and his earliest bands would spend Friday nights rehearsing beneath the arches of their school, an area usually closed off for storage. “We were giving two fingers to the expectations awaiting us in an old mining town: the dead-end job, the dole, or drug or alcohol abuse. The ways out were few and far between, unless you were academically minded. And though not all of us were academically minded, we were artistically determined to do something. To vent our frustrations. And History is about that.”
The song also marked Funeral For A Friend’s first overt acknowledgement of their Welsh roots, with a video clip inspired by the Welsh miners’ strikes of the mid-80s: a political stand-off that was also being staged in other mining towns around the UK. With it, the group allied themselves with “a generation of people who tried to rail against the powers that be, in an attempt to stand up for communities, their futures, the prospects of their kids and the generations that are going to come after, in the hopes of fighting the system. And I very much believe the UK is still feeling the benefits of that.”
“Sign me the fuck up”
With Davies-Kreye widening the scope of his lyrical subject matter, Funeral For A Friend broadened their sonic palette. “The scale of writing went to addressing more acutely the influences of what we had as individuals, which is why we’ve got a lot more quieter songs on Hours,” he reveals. “They’re still quite heavy, just not in a way that people would assume that they’re heavy.” With its sparse arrangement, Drive – “This could be a movie/This could be our final act/But we don’t need these happy endings” – was a bittersweet return to the subdued vibe of Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation’s sole acoustic moment, Your Revolution Is A Joke, while Sonny took a foray into the downbeat electronica which would at times become more prevalent on the group’s third album, Tales Don’t Tell Themselves.
Davies-Kreye places much of the praise for the results on producer Terry Date, whose credits include rock luminaries such as Pantera, Soundgarden and Deftones, but who appealed to Davies-Kreye for his work on the self-titled album by Handsome, a cult-level post-hardcore supergroup formed by members of Quicksand, Helmet and Cro-Mags. “His production on that is incredible,” the singer enthuses. “To talk about him capturing a space for a band, where every instrument is not fighting for supremacy, it just seems to find his own place – as soon as I heard he was interested in working with us, I was like, ‘Yeah. Sign me the fuck up.’”
Decamping to Seattle, the home of grunge (some of the album was recorded in Pearl Jam’s own Studio Litho facilities), the group embarked on sessions that allowed them to play to the best of what made Funeral For A Friend unique. “Terry wasn’t interested in making it sound like Deftones or making it sound like Pantera,” says Davies-Kreye. “He wanted to make the best Funeral For A Friend album. He was adamant about capturing the essence of the band in the way he saw us play on stage.”
Aside from Davies-Kreye’s vocals, Hours was recorded live in the moment, capturing the energy – and confidence – of a road-hardened group firing on all cylinders. “I always find Casually Dressed a bit of a claustrophobic-sounding record compared to Hours,” Davies-Kreye says. “Where Casually Dressed was mathematically precise in terms of tempo changes and tones, we went with feel for Hours, and that allowed a lot of space for the songs.”
Whereas the Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation recording sessions had been so meticulous and time-consuming that Davies-Kreye had to rush-record his vocals during the final mix, for Hours he was given the freedom to experiment. After struggling to record in the usual sterile set-up – studio mic with a shield, headphones on, trying to figure out what to do with his hands – Terry Date gave him the same hand-held microphone he used for gigs, set up a couple of floor monitors for playback and let the singer loose as if he were performing on stage.
“We literally just plugged in, and I jumped off the walls,” Davies-Kreye smiles. “I was allowed to run around the room and do what I needed to do. There are so many pure performance elements in the recording of those songs – my voice breaks, I run out of breath, I drop the microphone. And Terry was just like, ‘It is what it is. Perfection doesn’t exist in my world. Are you precious about it?’ ‘No.’”
Further unorthodox techniques came while recording History and Drive. “There’s a middle section in History where Terry led me out on to the busy street in Seattle and gave me the microphone with a set of headphones, and said: ‘You sing that on the street.’ Traffic was going by, people were walking past me, staring at me,” the singer says.
For Drive, the producer sought to recreate the setting that Davies-Kreye felt most comfortable singing in: driving around in his car at home. “Drive is about a relationship. It’s about a journey. It’s about travel. It’s about being in transit and constantly having these thoughts of longing in your mind,” he explains. “And Terry thought the best way to capture that was to get me a little drunk and put me in his pickup truck, play the track back through the speakers and have me sing along to it… And everything is in there. I pop a can of beer in the front, and that moment is captured for all eternity.”
“We were weaponising the American sound and throwing it back”
Time’s passing was on the band’s mind when it came to titling their new work. “We didn’t want to retread the path of having a Morrissey-style, Smiths-style sentence or paragraph for the title,” Davies-Kreye says. “Me and Ryan [Richards, drums] were talking about the album and the songs, and what the lyrics were about, and he says, ‘It’s a timely album – currently, where we are at this point.’
“We were sharing an apartment in Seattle, and all this American news was filtering in to us: gun violence, everything,” Davies-Kreye continues. “It was just insane. And we felt like maybe this is a clock ticking down for humanity. And this is an album which is very much ‘ours’. And he came up with: do we call it Hours? Almost like: we’ve only got hours left. Like a Doomsday Clock.”
Released on 14 June 2005, just three months after the Red Lake Senior High School shootings left five students and one teacher dead among a total of ten fatalities, Hours was thrown like a hand grenade into the music scene, with an album cover that commented on survival and radicalisation in equal parts. While its CD booklet opened out to reveal images of high-school student Mandi Kreisher as she may have looked going to school in earlier decades, the front sleeve pictured her in the modern era, defiantly opening her jacket to reveal a bulletproof vest underneath.
“She was so iconic,” says Davies-Kreye, praising how the then-teenage model stepped up to deliver exactly what Funeral For A Friend had hoped for. “The way she held herself, she was feminine yet she was not going to take shit from anybody. She was going to fight for what she wanted to do. She was going to protect herself. She just owned it. And we were like, ‘That has got to be what stands for the visual representation of this record.’ And it became a piece of iconic imagery.”
With mass shootings still plaguing the US to this day, Davies-Kreye notes, “Hours was the most successful album we had in the States… I know people can say, ‘You’re not American. You shouldn’t have an opinion on this,’ but can you imagine being a kid in that country, going to school every morning and, in the back of your mind, wondering if somebody is going to come into your school with a gun and kill you and your friends?… We never had any flak or any weirdness for it. We were playing Warped Tour and a lot of people were actually surprised that we were British… We were weaponising the American sound and throwing it back.”
“Making that record was life-changing”
With Hours prolonging Funeral For A Friend’s time at the head of rock’s top table in the early 21st century, Davies-Kreye feels it remains the group’s finest moment.
“That album was allowed to incorporate the best elements of what made Funeral For A Friend Funeral For A Friend,” he asserts. “The quiet songs are really intense, and the heavier songs are quite rowdy because of it. It just feels like the purest Funeral For A Friend album. For me, the experience of making that record was life-changing.”
Funeral For A Friend’s first three albums, ‘Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation’, ‘Hours’ and ‘Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’ have just been reissued on vinyl.