Interview by Mark Bayross
Interview at the Astoria, London: 16 October 2003
Since I last met Matt Davies, the genial frontman of Funeral For A Friend, the band have played a number of summer festivals, toured the US, and released their eagerly awaited debut album CASUALLY DRESSED AND DEEP IN CONVERSATION to widespread acclaim.
Having been together for less than two years, the speed with which they have built a still rapidly growing fan base and won over the media and the industry is breathtaking – for starters, they are headlining at the London Astoria tonight! I caught up with Matt and guitarist Darran Smith to get the inside view on the amazing progress of a band still in its infancy.
Now the album’s out and it’s getting some really good reviews, is that adding any pressure, or are you just enjoying it?
DARRAN SMITH (guitar): I was quite amused to see that people gave us good reviews, but I think the 10 out of 10 in Metal Hammer was a bit scary…
MATT DAVIES (vocals): I chuckled when I read that. I mean, God bless Jamie Hibbard for all he’s worth ‘cos I love him, but he’s put us on a pedestal so high above everybody else – at least the other reviews were sensible…!
So, it’s positive pressure really?
DARRAN SMITH: Yeah, we’ve got no complaints about the way the reviews are coming out, there’s been a positive vibe to practically all of them…I haven’t seen any negative ones.
MATT DAVIES: So far so good…I’m just pleased people are liking it…
DARRAN SMITH: You can’t expect all good reviews; you’re always going to find some people who will dislike it…
MATT DAVIES: We haven’t had a mass slating, it’s all been quite positive and the feedback from it has been really good, so we’re pleased.
You have re-recorded some tracks from your earlier EPs for the album – what made you decide to choose those tracks?
MATT DAVIES: From the first EP – which we strictly think about as a demo anyway, because that is what it was intended to be – we always thought that those songs could be recorded in a much better environment, showcased with a better production, so we chose JUNO and we chose RED IS THE NEW BLACK for the depth of the songs. From the second EP, because it was a limited release, we wanted to showcase the best songs off that and give them a bigger push.
DARRAN SMITH: As far as the songs off the first EP go, we were able to give them so much more power by re-recording them with a different producer.
MATT DAVIES: We got to make them the epic songs that we always knew they could be. We had that much more time to spend on them, get all the sounds right, and go into a real big sound environment in the studio.
It does sound “big”…the low end really rumbles along…
DARRAN SMITH: You see, that’s amazing because we don’t think there’s any low end on the record!
MATT DAVIES: I went in and did some slight edits to some of the mixes to try and give it a bit more low end because we were like “it’s not heavy enough…!”, especially in certain parts, so I tried to rectify that. Still when we listen to it know, we’re like “it’s not quite heavy enough…”
Is there a general theme running through the album besides relationships?
MATT DAVIES: It depends…the songs are all different to each other, there’s not really a theme. It depends on what I feel strongly enough to write about at the time. There were certain things I was going through – personal problems – that are reflected in some of the lyrics on the album; there’s stuff to do with slight political themes, the way the world is perceived by the media and things like that. It’s not just your typical relationship record.
DARRAN SMITH: It’s bittersweet in some ways…
MATT DAVIES: There’s always a lot of aggression in the lyrics, I find. I always like to make things kind of Morrissey-esque! I’m a big fan of Morrissey, his sarcasm and his sugar coated hate towards certain things – it’s a highly refined art…
DARRAN SMITH: He has that gift to be able to write quite nasty lyrics but in a happy jovial way…
MATT DAVIES: Certain songs reflect relationships with people and some of them are written from a third person perspective, from a different angle, so you might want to choose a song and it may be completely different to what you might think. But everybody has their own opinion as to what they are about.
Which of the new songs off the album do you particularly enjoy playing live?
MATT DAVIES: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR for me, it’s quite a powerful little song! I think a lot of the songs come across heavier and a lot more aggressive live anyway. I feel like, live, we are a more aggressive band, but songs like MOMENTS FOREVER FADED, which is a very dark song for us really, they’ve got their own place. I really enjoy playing those songs too.
Is the album out in America at the same time as here in the UK?
MATT DAVIES: It’s coming out there in March…at the moment.
DARRAN SMITH: I don’t think we’ve finalised the exact date, but it’s going to be late March or early April.
Is that to give them a bit of catch-up time, because you are also releasing SEVEN WAYS TO SCREAM YOUR NAME over there, aren’t you?
MATT DAVIES: Yes, because we’ve have had such a positive response over here, we have a bit of a back catalogue, and in the States we’ve got nothing apart from the SEVEN WAYS TO SCREAM YOUR NAME EP which is coming out on the 21 October. We want to see how that goes over there…
How did the tour of the States go?
MATT DAVIES: That was with Cave In, From Autumn To Ashes and Everytime I Die…it was great!
DARRAN SMITH: Probably the next time we go over, which will probably be around April next year, people will have had a chance to check out our music and be able to buy some of our stuff over there. It’s going to be interesting to see the difference from when we went over this time and when we’ve actually got music out.
Did you tour the whole of the States?
MATT DAVIES: Pretty much, apart from the Southern parts, really. We only played two shows on the West Coast, but that was in Portland and Seattle.
DARRAN SMITH: We had to miss out California because we had to get back for this tour… it’s such a huge country, it’s difficult to see every state…
MATT DAVIES: If you play Texas, it takes two days to drive through there!
How has this tour gone? You’re midway through it now…
MATT DAVIES: So far so good…it’s been really amazing!
DARRAN SMITH: All the shows so far have been sold out – the reaction has blown us away…
MATT DAVIES: I think we got back into the “young rascals” routine with the US tour because nobody knew us, so we could get away with almost anything out there and make tits of ourselves, but over here everybody knows the songs, so if you fuck up they know it.
DARRAN SMITH: I think on our last tour we ended up being guilty of being a little bit complacent. Because things were moving so quickly, and we could see we were playing bigger venues, we fell into that trap of being a bit complacent, and I think the US tour gave us a bit of a wake up call – nobody knew us over there so we had to play with that much more energy, put in that much more of a performance…
MATT DAVIES: We were used to playing for 25 minutes – now we’ve got an hour…
DARRAN SMITH: I think it definitely made us appreciate the crowds over here a lot more.
It’s going to be great tonight…
MATT DAVIES: It’s a big buzz. To walk out onstage to that kind of response is incredible for us, because we feel we’re still the same band that we were when we started this – the same five prats that we were when we started this…[laughs] It feels good when people give a shit about us and the fact that they are putting us in this position, helping us out and making this a possibility for us, is unbelievable.
Plus you’re playing the Astoria…!
MATT DAVIES: Yeah…!
DARRAN SMITH: When we were soundchecking, we were looking around and it was like [mimes looking around a very big room]…fuck…! It just felt massive! The stage was so big… I’m really excited about tonight’s show.
And you played a load of festivals this summer, which did you most enjoy?
DARRAN SMITH: We really enjoyed Download, although we had a couple of technical problems. When we were looking on from the side of the stage, there were just people as far as you could see.
MATT DAVIES: When we turned up, I walked up to that stage and looked up and I was like “fuck me!”, my guts instantly wanted to take a shit and that went on for an hour! That was the first ever festival I have ever been to, even as a spectator, and we were playing in front of 35,000 people! Even though we felt honoured to be given that slot on the main stage, I would have felt more at home in the tent.
DARRAN SMITH: Initially, we were supposed to be in the tent, but there was a switch around with the stages and they got rid of a stage or something…but to be perfectly honest, we would have preferred to be in the tent, like we were at Reading…
MATT DAVIES: We played Reading and Leeds and that was far more comfortable. Again, we were offered a chance to play the main stage then, and we were like “no, we’ll stay where we are” – we wanted to open the Concrete Jungle Stage. A lot of our friends were on that stage as well, like BoySetsFire, Thrice and Poison The Well, so it just felt more comfortable for us to be on that stage than anywhere else. We opened at 12 o’clock and it was ten deep with kids…it was just really special. Even at T In The Park, we had an amazing show. We were the only heavy band for the entire weekend, if you can call us heavy…
DARRAN SMITH: Maybe some people weren’t expecting to see music of that kind because it was such an indie-oriented bill.
[Loud screams erupt from the stage and resonate through the corridor]
Are you getting nervy about tonight?
MATT DAVIES: I’m pretty alright. I just get really excited. The adrenaline just seems to kick off in me. On this tour, I‘ve been fitting myself into it a lot better and I think I’m getting more comfortable as a frontman now. I know these guys are doing their job probably and are playing spectacularly, so I don’t have to worry about everything fucking up…[Laughs]
DARRAN SMITH: Thank you very much! [Laughs]
MATT DAVIES: So I’m confident with these guys, and I think we’re confident with each other now…
DARREN SMITH: Yeah, totally…
You’ve got a tour with Iron Maiden next month, haven’t you?
MATT DAVIES: Yeah, they’re supporting us on our European tour…[much laughter]. We’ve never been to Europe before and it’s an awesome honour to be asked to support Iron Maiden in Europe.
Have you really never played Europe before?
MATT DAVIES: Never.
DARRAN SMITH: After the States, we haven’t been out of the UK.
MATT DAVIES: …And we are really excited about it. I can honestly say – because I believe honesty is the best policy – that I’m not a true fan of Maiden, but I appreciate them for what they’ve done for metal and rock. The main attraction of this tour for me is just to play in Europe.
DARRAN SMITH: A couple of us are big Maiden fans and you can sometimes hear that in some of the guitar parts and harmonies, but, yeah, it’s flattering as hell to have an opportunity to play with those guys, even though we’re not sure how hardcore Maiden fans are going to take to us. But we’re just going to play the best we can and hopefully people might be interested enough to check out our CD.
Have you got any more singles planned off the album?
MATT DAVIES: I think there may be one coming out in February, but we’re not sure yet which song. A few have been mentioned, but we can’t say…we don’t even know. It’s nice to be asked, rather than being told we’re going to release “that” as a single.
DARREN SMITH: I think a lot of labels do sometimes choose for you, but to be fair to our label, they involve us in discussions and it’s usually down to us as well. At least if we say “we don’t want to fucking to put that out”, they won’t put it out.
So, what has been the highlight for you so far?
MATT DAVIS: Reading…
DARRAN SMITH: Yeah, Reading’s one of mine…
MATT DAVIES: You can pick any show on this tour so far and I can say, with my hand on my heart, that these have been some of the, if not the, best shows we’ve had so far.
How about that “Hottest New Band On The Planet” cover of Kerrang!?
MATT DAVIES: Oh, that “Hottest New Band” bollocks?
DARRAN SMITH: We were glad that they said it, but at the same time I thought it was quite a ridiculous statement. [Laughs]
MARR DAVIES: Yeah, I laughed my tits off when I saw that! [Laughs] Mind you, it is nice to be appreciated, and it’s nice to be given that kind of exposure on that level.
DARRAN SMITH: It was such a ridiculous statement to make, and a bold statement for them to make…
MATT DAVIES: Putting what was basically an unknown band on the front cover…well, I wouldn’t have done it, but it was their choice, not mine.
DARRAN SMITH: But Ashley Bird is a really cool guy…
MATT DAVIES: We trust in what he can do, and he’s doing a great job at Kerrang!
You won “Best Newcomer” at the Kerrang! Awards, as well, didn’t you?
MATT DAVIES: Yes we did…
…so it’s been a pretty good year…!
MATT DAVIES: So far so good! [Laughs]
DARRAN SMITH: It’s been a crazy year to a certain extent. It’s all a bit surreal at the moment, like an out of body experience. There are so many people we have met along the way.
MATT DAVIES: Bands that we’ve respected as well, who we’ve become really good friends with.
DARRAN SMITHS: The guys in BoySetsFire have become our friends – I never would have thought that was possible two years ago…we’ve met so many amazing people!
MATT DAVIES: I don’t think it’s truly sunk in yet. I think, when we have our time off for Christmas and we can reflect on the year, I think then we can appreciate the scope of what we’ve been through.