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Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation: Matt Davies-Kreye Talks FFAF’s Debut Album
Interviews

Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation: Matt Davies-Kreye Talks FFAF’s Debut Album

‘Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation’ ‘still blows my mind’, says Funeral For A Friend frontman Matt Davies-Kreye.

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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”.

Buy the ‘Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation’ reissue here.

 

“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.

Happily, it would be the latter. After releasing Between Order And Model on the Welsh indie label Mighty Atom Records, Funeral For A Friend were quickly signed to Infectious Records, who released Four Ways To Scream Your Name in April 2003 while the group went to work on what would, a mere six months later, become Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation.

“We rushed that record to completion,” Davies-Kreye reveals. “We had songs that we decided to incorporate from the EPs, purely because we did not have enough material. Infectious, as well, were like, ‘These songs are too good to languish on an EP. We want to give them a wider shot.’… We threw everything on there. Every song that came through was in full contention to be included on the record.”

Alongside re-recordings of Juneau and Red Is The New Black, Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation also gave a second home to Four Ways To Scream Your Name’s She Drove Me To Daytime Television and Escape Artists Never Die, while the group hunkered down for two weeks in a rehearsal room in Putney, in South West London, and “bashed out the rest of the album as quickly as we could”.

“We formed what I consider to be some of the most iconic Funeral tracks in the space of an hour in that room,” Davies-Kreye reveals. “Didn’t really give two flying fucks about whether or not they were perfect – just, ‘Yeah, that riff’s cool.’”

Released as the album’s second single, a double-A-side with She Drove Me To Daytime Television, the high-octane Bullet Theory was fashioned in mere moments while the group took a break from “something that wasn’t getting anywhere”, Davies-Kreye says. “I went back into the room, picked up Kris’ guitar, started playing the intro riff, and then Kris heard me in the other room – ‘What the hell is that?’ – and they all came straggling back in and we literally knocked-up the song… Quite a few of the songs were developed from that – or at least from songs that we had briefly demoed. We just thought of how to rework them to fit what we’d already made… We weren’t too precious about what we were doing to not want to mess with it a little bit.”

“There was no idea of how important this record would come to be”

With the songs finalised, Funeral For A Friend recorded Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation with co-producer Colin Richardson at Chapel and RAK Studios in London. “Something I’ve always felt very proud of was that we’ve always been very efficient,” Davies-Kreye says. “Even though we’ve rushed things, we’ve always been very good at getting to the core of an idea.” But while the group felt “no pressure – there was no external idea of how important this record would come to be for the band. So we were allowed to dick around a bit,” they soon “became very much aware of how much pressure Colin felt”.

“He was meticulous about everything,” Davies-Kreye continues. “I’ve never met a man so meticulous about cymbals, drums – everything. It came to the point where we ran out of time in the studio. We literally came to the very last day, and that’s when we started doing the vocals.” Forced to cram his vocal recordings into ten days out of the two weeks put aside for mixing the album, working from 10am until 2am each day while the record was finalised, “beat my little Welsh body down into dust”, the singer says. “It destroyed me.”

The results, however, were worth it. With the four EP tracks bolstered by eight new songs – among them the breakneck riffage and soaring chorus of Rookie Of The Year, the body-slamming dynamics of Bend Your Arms To Look Like Wings and the surprisingly folk-tinged Your Revolution Is A Joke, whose strings and acoustic guitar offered a gentler moment of introspection as the album entered its final stretch – Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation introduced Funeral For A Friend as a fully formed powerhouse in modern rock. Hailed by NME as a “fiery, dynamic hulk of a record” that would be the first release from among the group and their contemporaries to “break properly out into daylight”, it also thrust the Welsh five-piece into the glare of a spotlight brighter than anything they had bargained for.

“At the time, we didn’t get to really think much about it other than, Yay, we’ve done an album. Is it any good? Not sure. But we’ve done an album,” Davies-Kreye says. Noting that “the American influence had been making inroads into the UK scene”, the singer adds, “Casually Dressed seemed to drop at the right moment… It hit at exactly the right time in the UK for that swell. And then it connected in a way in which, in a million years, I never would have anticipated.” Going from support group to headline act in a matter of months, Funeral For A Friend were thrust into a whirlwind of activity that was anything but casual.

“The early shows were like a wave of intensity”

“It was insane. I can’t remember half of it,” Davies-Kreye reflects. “So many tours. So many bands we played with. So many photoshoots. So many countries we ended up going to for the first time. We were in a very fortunate position.” If a prestigious support slot for Iron Maiden ended up being a gruelling experience at the hands of the heavy-metal titans’ notoriously unforgiving audience (“I still think we got off lightly compared to most other bands they’ve played with… We knuckled down, picked the best songs to fit the slot, and hammered it. We just bombarded them with our music and played and played and played and played”), the group had rapidly amassed their own devoted fanbase for whom Funeral For A Friend’s shows became cathartic experiences.

“We would always approach playing as if it was gonna be our last time on stage – it was just the level of intensity that we unloaded,” Davies-Kreye says. “And as the shows became bigger, I was always fearful of losing that intimacy with the audience. Because, coming from the background that we did, the audience were a major component of what made the experience of being in a band click for me. It was being able to allow the audience to share in what you were doing without any barriers, without any kind of hierarchy. The early shows, where things were really taking off, were like a wave of intensity.”

Towards the end of their tour in support of Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation, the group played to a packed house at London’s now-defunct 2,000-capacity Astoria, returning as headliners after having previously performed support slots at the venue. “It’s probably one of my most memorable shows,” Davies-Kreye recalls. When it came to Juneau’s standout line “And I’m nothing more than a line in your book”, “The entire room erupted singing that. And we all just looked at each other on stage.” Launching himself into the crowd, Davies-Kreye was briefly held aloft by fans before being engulfed into a sea of bodies. “As the middle section kicked in, the band pretty much stopped,” he says, still in awe of the experience. “The crowd threw me back on top, and pretty much everyone was singing… Words could not express that feeling. It was at that point that even I acknowledged, OK, these songs are no longer our songs. We’ve imparted them… It was very emotional.”

“It’s testament to the creative environment that we had”

Such was fans’ fervent connection with the group, many began cutting their hair to match Davies-Kreye’s, whose sweeping fringe was an accident of DNA, not a stylistic choice. “It wasn’t a haircut,” the singer insists. “My hair just grew – I hated having it cut. So people were coming to shows with haircuts based on the way my hair grew, and that span me out.”

Yet, with Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation, the group created a strong visual identity that transcended superficialities such as hairstyles and fashion choices. Taking its inspiration from a pair of paintings called The Lovers, by Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte, the album cover’s image of a man and a woman sitting facing away from each other, their heads wrapped in cloth that keeps them connected yet apart, introduced a visual motif the group wove through the record’s single artworks and promo videos.

“All of us, unanimously, thought it was a fantastic look,” Davies-Kreye remembers when the group’s then art director, Barney Bewick, showed them Magritte’s work. “We all instinctively looked at the image and thought, What can we do with this?

“Unlike today, when you can Photoshop things together, that was all photographed on location,” he continues. “It did something for the genre, which was introduce stuff that was limited to a lot of progressive-rock artwork – very much adding Storm Thorgerson, Pink Floyd-esque elements to it… We wanted to unify the feel of the album, and it just lent itself to so many different ideas, both photographically and in terms of music videos. I think we’re one of the only bands that have ever done music videos for B-sides – we did a video for the acoustic version of for Juneau, which followed the theme.”

Looking back at how Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation not only captured Funeral For A Friend at the birth of their peak period, but also elevated them to figurehead status for a genre of music just as it entered the mainstream, Davies-Kreye says, “It’s testament to the creative environment that we has as a band… It still blows my mind that we were able to create such a cohesive body of work, not just with the record, but with the whole thing… Not many bands get to have that experience so quickly in their career.”

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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