Think the major labels don’t interfere with their artists’ creative process? Think again.
When Welsh rock band Funeral For A Friend were on album number three singer Matt Davies was politely asked to dumb down his lyrics by the bosses at Atlantic.
“I’ve never had so many people come down to practice – to sit and listen in and give their opinions,” he says.
“I knew in my heart the situation when the A&R man asked me to change lyrics because they were too intellectual.
“To be honest it was the best compliment I’ve been paid. But it was then the alarm bells started to ring.”
Tales Don’t Tell Themselves, released in 2007, sold more than 25,000 copies in its first week and was eventually certified gold.
It was a concept record completely unrelated to the band’s two previous records. In came pompous orchestration and chart-targeted singles. Out went the hardcore, heavier guitars and aggressive melodies.
Davies says he regrets the move, but the group were exhausted after flogging themselves to get that far.
They’d been on the road non-stop for two years after releasing sophomore album, Hours. Within a week of the tour finishing they were in a basement studio with no windows being cajoled to make its follow-up.
They caved to label pressure and chased commercial appeal. It bypassed their traditional audience who shouted sell-out.
“That is the double-edged sword of the music business. We’d put so much work in we couldn’t stop. Even though we were making something we didn’t want, we were still determined to make it the best we could. We went all out. We even tried to sabotage their label but ended up doing a massive faux pas.”
On the two albums which followed, the band made a return towards their aggressive DIY roots. Back came a metal aesthetic and shouty vocals. On went the search to find the alchemy that made debut record Casually Dressed & Deep In Conversation, inducted into Rock Sound’s Hall Of Fame and credited as a key landmark in the post-hardcore sound, a success.
Their latest effort, Conduit, is out on Tuesday. Long-term songwriter Kris Coombs, who has been with the band from the start, penned the music. Davies wrote the lyrics. He says Conduit is back to the beginning.
“As much as I hate trying to compare records – it’s almost like picking a favourite child – I feel close to when we started out in the way we wrote it and the way we all were with each other.
“It was as if we were starting out for the first time and it shows in the record. It captures that sense of excitement. We experiment with song structures. If this was our first record I would be stoked.”
FFAF operate on the fringes of common mainstream music. The best place for them is on an indie label. Conduit is out on London’s Distiller Records.
“We know people who run labels first-hand and given our background and where we come from it’s important for us: it was the punk hardcore scene that formed us and is inherent in our blueprint.”
Much of the grassroots approach comes from geography. The isolation of growing up in Bridgend, “the back of beyond” and a mining town, offered few outlets except creativity.
Yet it’s hard to believe the anguished writer grew up dancing around the room to Beatles records and singing into a hairbrush pretending to be John Lennon, when his dad, a bass player, would go out gigging with his friends.
“I used to covet his record collection. Whenever he would work away I would put on the record player in the corner and grab a hairbrush. Even from that age I loved creating something. I didn’t want to be a rock star, I just loved being able to express myself through music.”
Once he discovered MTV and punk rock, including bands such as Bad Religion, his life changed.
The internet barely existed at the time so he’d dash down to Cardiff and buy the latest releases and take chances on records he’d not heard but which had great artwork.
He still places emphasis on a record’s sleeve, and asked another old friend – the FFAF vocalist he replaced, Matthew Evans, who is now a painter – if they could use one of his works for Conduit’s cover.
“The cover came about from searching for something that would encompass the music and themes because it has a specific direction from the previous record. Conduit is a completely different beast.
“It is about evolving and a sense of growth. The artwork spoke to us as representing creativity and expression and vibrancy and energy, which really captured the album.”
Lyrically, Conduit is “a love letter to the cathartic experience, to self-expression, channelling anger and hate, to find resolution with people.”
Davies says it is an angry record and admits, “I’m always angry – I internalise a lot – and I find a way to vent that through Funeral.”
He was helped by a new drummer, Pat Lundy (once part of London metallers Rise To Remain), and Gavin Burrough and Richard Boucher, two new additions before 2011’s Welcome Home Armageddon.
“Change is a part of what makes this band. We didn’t think we should stop or the band would disintegrate.
“Me and Kris are always the driving force, but now Gavin and Rich are contributing it is more Funeral than Funeral. We are more like us than before.”
Funeral For A Friend play The Haunt, Pool Valley, Brighton, on Monday, February 4. Starts 7pm, tickets £14, call 01273 606312