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Tales Don’t Tell Themselves: “It’s Remarkable What We Pulled Off,” Say Funeral For A Friend
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Tales Don’t Tell Themselves: “It’s Remarkable What We Pulled Off,” Say Funeral For A Friend

A concept album inspired by prog rock, FFAF’s ‘Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’ is ‘the grower’, says Matt Davies-Kreye.

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After their debut album, Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation, lit the touch-paper, and its follow-up, Hours, cemented Funeral For A Friend’s place as one of the most vital rock bands on the planet in the mid-2000s, the group found themselves crawling out from an intense four-and-a-half-year period that had seen them reach the highest highs, but now left them facing one almighty crash. “We were all pretty fucked – mentally, creatively, physically,” frontman Matt Davies-Kreye tells Dig! of the group’s condition as they began work on what would become their third album, Tales Don’t Tell Themselves. “We should have taken a break for about a year or so before we even thought about getting together again to make something,” he adds. “Literally, there was nothing to write.”

Where some groups may have opted to take a breather – or, at least, record a less intense record with a more stripped-back approach – what eventually emerged was arguably the band’s most ambitious work of all: a concept album in which Davies-Kreye expressed his emotional state through the tale of a fisherman lost at sea, desperate to return home to his wife. “I don’t know why I thought a concept album was going to be appropriate,” he laughs today. “I needed to ground myself in something. Because of my personality, I needed to find something to hold on to.”

Listen to ‘Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’ here.

“The concept album is the absolute death-knell of any band”

Looking to change the way they usually worked, rather than have Davies-Kreye and guitarist Kris Roberts’ ideas form the backbone of their new project, the group initially adopted a more democratic approach. “We tried to do something new with this third album, where we all wanted to sit in there and write from scratch,” the singer explains. “No previous ideas running around, just jamming.” Hiring a no-frills rehearsal space lacking even windows, the group quite literally boxed themselves in trying to come up with new material through gruelling eight-hour sessions, held from 11am until 7pm every day. Burning out after years of bouncing from the studio to the road and back again, however, “Nothing we wrote was connecting with us at all,” Davies-Kreye says. “We couldn’t find a way to make it work… It was the typical situation of: these dudes are really sick of each other but don’t know how to communicate.”

Looking to create some space between himself and the intensity of the situation, Davies-Kreye began working on a country-folk solo project, hunkering down in a friend’s small studio until the small hours of the morning, “in order to make something that didn’t have any stress. Something completely different, just to prove to myself that I could,” he says. Marriages, newborn children and homemaking also conspired to keep the group at arm’s length from their music. “It was a real uphill struggle, to the point where all the usual things that I could connect with, with music, just weren’t doing it for me anymore.”

And then inspiration came from an unlikely place: prog rock.

“I thought, I’m gonna write ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’”

“We had a joke with our A&R man at the time,” Davies-Kreye smiles. “We would always mess him around, saying that we’d make a prog-rock concept album. He’d say, ‘For Christ’s sake, don’t fucking do that. The concept album is the death-knell for any band.’ And so I thought, You know what? I’m gonna write Dark Side Of The Moon.”

Funeral For A Friend already had a prog interloper in their ranks: bassist Darran Smith, who was, Davies-Kreye explains, “a lot older than us. His musical background is a bit more 80s metal kind of stuff. Classic metal. Loves prog rock as well. For some reason, him putting me on the path of prog rock made me switch what I wanted to do, lyrically.

“I deep-dived into prog while making Tales Don’t Tell Themselves,” the singer continues. “I knew so little about it, but my personality is: if I get turned on to something, I’ve got to go to the nth degree to figure out how to work my way through.” Plundering “every fucking Genesis album I could get my hands on”, including the group’s game-changing 1974 double-album, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, and finding further affinity for records such as Dream Theater’s Metropolis Pt.2: Scenes From A Memory (“It had the closest musical link to Funeral For A Friend, in terms of the metal elements”), Davies-Kreye began to work up a narrative that reflected how he felt.

“The concept was a man lost at sea, struggling to find his way home. Kind of a metaphor for myself,” he explains. “I have an inherent distaste for large bodies of water anyway, but, psychologically, it felt like drowning at the time – under the weight of expectation. That was the first time, creatively, that we felt expectation on us, and I think it was very apparent that we were struggling with that.”

Waiting until enough new songs had entered the demo stage, Davies-Kreye finally revealed his plan to the rest of the group. “I’ve got a concept album. I’m not telling you what it is, but I’m just going to write a bunch of stuff. And I’m going to rework some of the existing songs and incorporate them into this story of mine,” he told them. “And they went along with it.”

The end result, however, didn’t quite take shape the way Davies-Kreye envisioned.

“The story is completely out of order”

“When you listen to Peter Gabriel singing the songs on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, it’s telling the story,” the singer says. “I thought I was doing something as fucking cool as that, but in actual fact, I was probably writing CliffsNotes” – study guides for novels. The result was an album that had an emotional throughline but which didn’t cohere, narratively. “You can play the songs to somebody who is not familiar with the album at all, and they wouldn’t have a fucking clue. Which is either a failure on my end, or a blessing,” Davies-Kreye laughs.

In the event, in Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’ final assembly, any semblance of a linear plot was “thrown to the fucking wind”.

“The thing is, I wrote a concept album, the guys didn’t,” the singer continues. “There were a lot of feelings in there, so they saw enough of the loose theme in the lyrics, but they felt it could stand up to being moved around.” Radically, the album’s original closing song, Reunion (Into Oblivion), saw both its title and its placement on the tracklist rearranged, so that it actually opened the record as Into Oblivion (Reunion). “That was meant to be the return of the narrator to his wife. To be able to find a way up out of the depths and into clear space,” Davies-Kreye reveals.

“The closest thing we came to acknowledging the progginess, other than the album’s actual theme, was All Hands On Deck, Part 1 and Part 2, Raise The Sail and Open Water, where the vessel the main character’s on gets beaten the shit out of by the colossal storm. And then it’s the aftermath, when he’s fighting for his life in the open water, with no chance of survival. That’s the only point where it is essential that those two songs are back to back. So it doesn’t work on that level,” Davies-Kreye concedes. “The story is completely out of order.”

Musically, however, he notes, “It’s really cool. You don’t often get the opportunity to make a bombastic rock album like that.”

“We were given carte blanche”

From the opening seconds of Tales Don’t Tell Themselves, it’s clear that Funeral For A Friend were radically overhauling their sound: jittery synth patterns, ominous string arrangements and cinematic choral vocals precede anything like the group’s earlier music. The album also found the band working with producer Gil Norton, known for helming records by alt-rock icons Pixies, British new-wave firebrands Echo And The Bunnymen and Dave Grohl’s post-Nirvana outfit, Foo Fighters.

“The music we were writing was a lot more rock than metal or punk,” Davies-Kreye says. “There were still elements peppered throughout, but working with Gil Norton may have swayed things. The album’s sound is definitely him. He wanted to dial back on the distortion.”

But while guitarist Kris Roberts struggled with Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’ cleaner, more direct production (“My guitar tone sounds like shit” was one complaint; “He really didn’t like the fact that his stuff was simplified,” Davies-Kreye says), it’s radio-friendly sound helped Funeral For A Friend score their highest-charting record, hitting No.3 in the UK.

“The songs became more direct, more melodic,” Davies-Kreye notes. “There are no aggressive vocals on the album. And it certainly presented the band going in a different direction – one which you have to commit to, if you wanted to really mine that route. And we never could.”

In that moment, however, it was a route they were keen to follow for as long as they could. “It was an interesting experiment and exploration, in terms of how much we could push, musically,” Davies-Kreye says. “How rock could we go? There were stupid amounts of vocal harmonies – Boston-amounts of harmonies on there. We went the whole nine yards with our 80s, AOR-rock-worshipping in some of the elements – six-part harmonies, eight-part harmonies… I’d have to put my finger on my head and move my hand in a particular direction to hit the note.”

Tales Don’t Tell Themselves also unfolded with sky-scraping arrangements which sought to evoke the experience of the album’s protagonist as he sat adrift in the vast expanse of the ocean.

“The Sweetest Wave is one of my favourite songs that we’ve done, because it doesn’t rely on the usual Funeral instrumentation,” Davies-Kreye says. “It relies on classical instrumentation, which is pretty cool.” The song, which closes the album, was, the singer adds, originally intended to be its penultimate track.

“We were given carte blanche,” Davies-Kreye recalls of the ideas that went into pushing Funeral For A Friend’s new direction to the limit. “‘You want the London Philharmonic Orchestra on it? Just go ahead. The choir who were recorded in the Harry Potter films? Yeah, go ahead. Kitchen sink? Throw it on there! What’s a budget?’” he jokes. “Everything was approved. We asked, and we were allowed! If I was an A&R man and my band came to me and said, ‘We’ve got an album about a man lost at sea. Can we do this with it?’ I would have been like, ‘What the fuck are you talking about? Get back to the rehearsal space!’”

“Of all our albums, it’s become the grower”

Released on 14 May 2007, Tales Don’t Tell Themselves puzzled some fans who expected more of the high-octane instrumental pyrotechnics and directly relatable lyrical content that had characterised the Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation and Hours albums. “It’s an album that found its place years after the fact,” Davies-Kreye notes. “There were people who came aboard with it but, for some of our fanbase, it was a bit of a misstep. If we’d slapped another band name on it and put it out as a side project, I’d have been interested to see how it would have done with the Imagine Dragons crowd.”

But, the singer adds, “A lot of the kids who got into us through Hours or Casually Dressed and who maybe didn’t like Tales when it first came out, as they’ve grown older it’s grown with them a bit. Of all our albums, it’s become the grower. There’s a lot more appreciation for it now.”

The singer himself admits to having “made my peace with it over the years”, adding, “I really like the record, because I see it as a body of work – as an album in itself. It’s remarkable what we managed to pull off considering that we had so much writer’s block.”

Reflecting on Tales Don’t Tell Themselves’s belated happy ending, Davies-Kreye adds, “Maybe one day we could rejig it to actually put the songs in order, to tell the story the way it’s meant to be told.”

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.

Buy them at the Dig! store.

 

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