On a nightly basis, shoes, coins, children's toys and full cups of beer rained down upon Funeral for a Friend during the group's European tour opening for Iron Maiden last year. Strangely, the shows were some of the most rewarding the emo-metal outfit has ever played.
No, Funeral for a Friend aren't masochistic or self-loathing. They're regular blokes from the small town of Bridgend, Wales, who have quickly transformed from unknowns into national celebrities. And fortunately, all the hostility from Iron Maiden fans came right at a time when Funeral for a Friend were in danger of believing too much of their gushing press.
"It was a complete reality check," bassist Gareth Davies said. "Seeing 10,000 people who looked like they had been welded to the floor was really intense and challenging. It made us work really hard, and I started to learn how to play for me and enjoy myself onstage and do the best I can regardless of how the crowd is reacting."
After the tour, the band learned to steer clear of old-school headbangers, though Funeral for a Friend continue to be a favorite of Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson, who frequently plays the band on his British radio show. Fortunately for them, there are lots of music fans who appreciate their form of aural soul-cleansing. Linkin Park even handpicked the band to play the second stage of this year's Projekt Revolution tour.
It's easy to see why. Funeral for a Friend create crushing, abrasive songs that are reminiscent of Thrice but nearly as hook-filled as those of fellow Welshmen Lostprophets. The band's debut album, Casually Dressed & Deep in Conversation, is a developmental leap from the group's two EPs (which were compiled onto last year's Seven Ways to Scream Your Fate), expressing a range of sorrowful and contemptuous moods without straying from the band's melodic core. And the way the Welsh rockers confidently combine the attitude and emotion of '80s emo, the rage of hardcore and the slashing riffs of thrash metal gives them a credibility many of their peers lack.
"I was introduced to the hardcore scene when I was a late teenager, and I went through a phase of listening to nothing but [that]," recalled Gareth's brother and band frontman Matt Davies. "Then in my early 20s, I started to pick out different influences from my friend's collections and really getting into that stuff. And since being in a band with these guys, I've been exposed to metal groups like In Flames and Children of Bodom, which [guitarist] Kris [Roberts] and [drummer] Ryan [Richards] are really into. I like listening to stuff like that and cross-referencing it all. It's a cool way to grow as a musician."
Under the tumbling beats, concrete riffs, cathartic screams and soaring melodies is an underlying tension that stems from the naïveté, frustration and misdirected energy of youth. "We're very temperamental," Gareth said. "I can't count the amount of times I'm thrown my guitar across the room and shouted, 'F--- you, I'm off!' We all care so much about what we do, but we're all so damn tense around each other. Maybe that's what gives us our intensity."
Combine that tension with a bit of mental torment, and Funeral for a Friend's bristling music swims into focus. Matt wrote "Juneau," for example, after a bruising run-in with infidelity and humiliation. "When I was 18, I was head over heels with this girl," he said. "It was my first serious relationship, and I was blinded because I thought she felt the same way about me as I felt about her. And she was casually seeing my best friend behind my back.
"I caught them engaged in some activity at a Christmas party," he continued. "I was getting her a drink, and when I came back, she was gone, so I looked in the parking lot and there they were. When my friend saw me, he tried to pull his pants back up and apologize. But I kneed him in the nuts and decked him. Needless to say, he's not my best friend anymore and she's no longer in my life."
The pain didn't stop there. Like many singers, Matt may tend to get a little histrionic, but there's no denying the agony he was in when, partway through the creation of the album, he suffered a physical breakdown and contracted glandular fever.
"We were doing vocals seven days a week from 10 a.m. until 2 a.m. with an hour break for lunch," Matt explained. "And I was so paranoid because I couldn't figure out if what we were doing was good or bad. So I made myself sick and I developed an abscess in my throat that put me out of commission for a month. I couldn't swallow my own saliva or eat or drink. I lost a hell of a lot of weight, and I ended up in the hospital because I almost choked to death a few times in my sleep."
The treatment for Matt's ailment was almost as grisly as the illness itself. First, doctors drained the abscess with a long needle, then they prescribed the singer antibiotics, which caused an adverse reaction.
"I found out afterwards you're not supposed to give anyone with glandular fever antibiotics because they contract a huge rash," Matt said. "I had a rash from head to toe, and it took a week and a half for it to subside. I looked like a lobster, man. I have nightmares about it still."
Casually Dressed & Deep in Conversation will be released July 13.