Five Alarm Funk have been kicking around the Canadian music scene for a few years now, steadily growing in stature. They are known as a groove juggernaut playing music inspired by afro-beat, funk, rock, latin and hip-hop. However, their latest album, 2014′s ‘Abandon Earth’, is somewhat less funky and more of a frightening progressive rock carnival ride, and at times has a definite metal edge. I managed to hit up lead singer and drummer, Tayo Branston, with a few questions ahead of their January 30th gig at Sugar Nightclub in Victoria, BC (which is just a ferry ride away from their home base in Vancouver):
How long has Five Alarm Funk been around?
We formed in 2003. There have been a lot of changes in the line-up but we still have six of the original. We are now up to a nine-piece band. Basically it’s been twelve years of learning how to play music together and becoming this band. It’s only been in the last few years that we’ve found ourselves and the way we want to portray ourselves. It’s been quite a wild ride.
So you’ve been evolving?
Yes. We have really hit our stride in the past two or three years, just from playing together for so long. We’ve been learning how to write together – it takes a while, especially in such a large group. The band is always morphing and changing, which makes the writing so much fun. You can tell from album to album, the difference in the music. We are currently writing some new material, and it’s in a completely different realm. It’s really interesting to be involved in something that is not static and doesn’t have to conform.
Was there a direction you wanted to head in?
It was more the natural progression of getting a little bit older, a little bit wiser and more in control. As we grow older we learn more about each other and we learn different things we can play. And how to write in a different way.
‘Abandon Earth’ is definitely a concept album, in the sense that it actually tells a story.
Yes. Actually, the idea for ‘Abandon Earth’ came from a stagnant point for the band. It was 2011 or 2012, can’t remember which, and a few of the guys had gone out of town for a few months. So the band was not progressing. So, I was asking myself, “how can we keep this creative process going?” We started thinking that we can write in a smaller unit and write songs that follow a guide, follow this story that we can create. It took the band from a place of not creating much to everybody being involved.
It’s heavier than your previous stuff. I mean, there are parts that are almost heavy metal.
Yeah, absolutely. A lot of that had to do with the actual story. It’s not a super positive story, it’s literally the destruction of the Earth by a giant robot. All these malevolent things happening to the planet and happening to humanity. The music couldn’t sound nice and it couldn’t sound friendly. It had to be big and rocking. And scary at some points. You can’t have a concept album if the music is not capturing the feel of the story.
At your shows, do you play mainly from ‘Abandon Earth’?
No. You always get the full history of Five Alarm Funk. We run about twenty to twenty-five songs. ‘Abandon Earth’ is so heavy that during a live performance is almost a little too much. It’s so in-your-face that we need to break it up with material that is more light-hearted. So we play sets that involve all of our writing. Stuff that is really peaking for us right now. Plus, we play some of our new stuff that’s not recorded yet. Expect a giant dance party – full of sweat and full of fun and smiles.
What is the new material like?
One thing that we are really driving on right now is to get a positive flow, and there is a lot more original funk sound in it. Big funky horn lines. These are tunes you can really hit the floor with.
What else is the band up to?
We just finished up a music video for the song “Robot”. That’ll be out in March. We teamed up with an animation company, Atomic Cartoons in Vancouver, and they are helping us create this animated world that Five Alarm Funk enters into. It’ll be highly fantastical hybrid animation, with the band playing live action roles, with animated backgrounds and a giant digital robot. Also, we are branching out a bit and doing some collaborations with other artists. The ball is really starting to roll for 2015.