With their new album Sweat, out March 3, Vancouver’s Five Alarm Funk believe they’ve finally made a record that not only lives up to their stellar reputation as a live band, but is also a testament to the wide-ranging musical vision all eight members have dedicated themselves to for over a decade.
Blending monster horns, crushing percussion and shredding psych-rock guitars, Five Alarm Funk aren’t your typical instrumental groove merchants. While booty shaking remains their top priority, achieving that end comes via elements of gypsy and Latin rock, ska and prog-metal, on top of their traditional funk foundation.
The band teamed up with producer Ben Kaplan (Mother Mother, Biffy Clyro) for Sweat, and his main task—according to drummer/vocalist Tayo Branston—was basically to drive the freight train of sound that Five Alarm Funk laid down in the studio. Coming off releasing a live album in 2016, the band was certainly in top fighting form, and it’s a safe bet that Sweat will build on Five Alarm Funk’s previous Juno-nominated and Western Canadian Music Award-winning albums.
Branston shed more light on the creation of Sweat on the eve of Five Alarm Funk’s B.C. to Ontario tour that kicks off March 14 in Kamloops. For full dates go to fivealarmfunk.com.
What sets Sweat apart from your previous efforts?
Sweat is by far the tightest, most cohesive album we have created. We took all of what we had learned from our first five records and applied that to our writing process. Over the years our sound has spanned many genres, and this time we really tried to pinpoint what that was. So I’d say that Sweat is really the signature Five Alarm Funk sound—short bursts of gang vocals, driving percussion, heavy guitar tones with horns leading the melody and intensity. It feels like our desire to not be locked into any particular genre has led to a sound and style very much our own.
How does your creative process generally work?
The first step is rehearsal—twice a week, every week. We tighten the screws on existing material and always have some fun throwing around ideas and playing. If someone has a groove idea, we’ll play around with it and see if we can make any concrete progress. Once a great rhythm and groove have been locked in, we’ll take it out of rehearsal and into a smaller group. That’s usually two or three members who will focus on that idea and what they think will create a great song. Then over a few small group sessions, a real foundation will appear. Once we reach this step, the song is taken back into rehearsal, and put through the ringer. Everyone has input, and it all goes into trying to create a really exciting and compelling piece together.
What's the biggest challenge of being in a band with so many members?
Throughout our history the biggest challenge has been the cohesiveness of relationships. Just as in any situation, everyone’s personality and attitude always has a huge effect on the overall health of a band. You spend so much time together in a very passionate environment so it’s easy for different minds to collide. Happily, I can say that through years of developing how to positively navigate the waters of being an original unit, we’re as dedicated and healthy band as we’ve ever been. It’s a very exciting time for us. The biggest issue we face today is scheduling, which in the grand scheme, is a walk in the park.
What have been your most memorable touring experiences so far?
The best experiences for us are music festivals. They have given so much life and inspiration to the band through the years. Shambhala, Evolve, Rifflandia, The Jazz Fest circuit, the list goes on and on. Fests have really shaped the spirit and drive of FAF.
What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned as you've built your career, and what advice would you give?
Persistence and positivity have definitely been the largest life lessons I have taken away from being a musician. We enter alot of working scenarios that involve people you don't know—sound techs, lighting crews, house staff, coordinators, etc.—and the ability to put on a great night really depends on how you present yourself and how you treat others. The show starts long before the actual concert and to enter these new working relationships with a great attitude and a professional demeanor can be the difference between the success and the failure of an event.