Our very own Adrian Grainger had been exceeding all his review targets here at musicmuso, what better way to thank him for a job well done but to send him off to Bristol, armed with a place on the guestlist and his shiny new iPhone6 with inbuilt voice recorder to catch up with the guitarist of legendary Welsh Post Hardcore band Funeral for a Friend.
Adrian arrived at The Fleece earlier than planned and met up with guitarist Kris Coombs-Roberts to chat about, well, judging by the size of the transcript, just about everything but the kitchen sink! Let's go to the dressing room where Adrian was sat with Kris, relaxing over a can of SKOL and a Cuban cigar....
Music Muso: Pardon the pun but Please give me Chapter & Verse on [new album] “Chapter & Verse”
Kris Coombs-Roberts: Chapter 7 verse on “Chapter & Verse”..... not the heaviest thing we’ve ever done but raw-er than anything we’ve done.
MM: Yeah I’d agree
KCR: Sort of rough round the edges but I like it.
MM: I’ve got a note that you recorded it in two weeks so I’m guessing that’s sort of quick for you guys?
KCR: Yeah it is but that’s becoming quite common for the way that everything’s going for bands these days.
MM: Less money and stuff?
KCR: Y’know everyone’s restricted, there’s not the same investment into the music industry as there was. Even in the upper reaches [of the industry] it’s not the same as what it was. When you consider that albums selling 300,000 is considered to be an absolutely incredible achievement whereas that was taken as “moderate to good sales” before.
MM: Downloading’s killing it, isn’t it?
KCR: Well yes, the problem with music is you’re always surrounded by it, so people, because they’re always surrounded by it, think it’s something that should be free, nobody thinks of it in terms of.....like.....
MM: The effort?
KCR: Not in terms of the length of time it takes to make a record but the amount of investment you have to have off someone who believes in what you do. It’s kind of a strange place that everything’s in right now.
MM: Someone - I think it was David Coverdale - once said it used to be that you toured to promote your album. Now it’s kind of you make an album to promote your tour, almost.
KCR: Yes, well that’s the only place you’re going to make money anymore. When you consider things like streaming sites that people pay for the returns on how much money that you make per play are ...... unbelievable......
KCR: Yes - it’s insane. The comparison with like radio play, well it’s completely different but as long as people can make music and people are still getting it, they will find bands that they love and support the bands that they love, I think that you can still do this as a profession, do you know what I mean?
MM: I suppose you have to find different ways to make your money?
KCR: You’re definitely right. You release a record now because you have to be able to go out on tour because that’s basically where you make your living.
MM: Going back to [recording the album in] two weeks, obviously less money, less time. How does your approach change because presumably some of your earlier stuff when you were financed by a major label, you were able to take months recording it – how did you streamline your process?
KCR: To be honest with you, you don’t need to spend 3 to 4 months doing an album. It is a luxury to do it, but it is a waste of money, at the end of the day. If you haven’t got the songs sorted out before you go into the studio, no amount of hotching about with them is going to fix them. For us, we always collectively wrote. We all collectively write ideas so when we finished [previous album] Conduit, it’s not as if we didn’t play guitar in our spare time or write ideas while we were on tour in dressing rooms. We collected all the songs on “Casually Dressed....”. “Casually Dressed...”?
MM: A little bit of a while ago!
KCR: (laughing) No not “Casually Dressed...” – “Chapter & Verse”. We collected all the songs over a period of around 18 months, Then we gave ourselves a three week period to discuss the ideas, see what we wanted to make of them as songs, what we felt they should be, hammered them out and then went into the studio and recorded them. Our process is going from having stripped bare bones, y’know, just guitar parts to discussing the idea and talking with each other about things you hear. Our communication had to be done. It wasn’t a case of listening to what somebody had done without talking about a part beforehand and discussing what should be on [the song]. Things which go with it, things which wouldn’t, so basically for almost every song we had a kind of brief of what the song should be and then we ready to go into the studio to record them and it was easy.
MM: In one of my bits of research I found that you guys are from Bridgend – do you all live locally?
KCR: I live in London. So that’s definitely not locally!
MM: So is it a case of you’ll have concentrated times when you all get together and bash ideas out?
KCR: Yeah. It’s kind of like that....I guess.... in a weird sort of way......the process of making an album..... well we collect ideas. All of us have means of recording an idea – the same as anyone who has a laptop. You can knock an idea down on a guitar and email it over [to the rest of the band] so everyone can listen to it and get some sort of semblance of what you’re trying to do. We then get in to a rehearsal space - we use a place in Cardiff called Music Box – and lock ourselves in a room for two weeks and just hammer the songs out until they’re right. Some American bands they’re not even from the same towns or states and the distance drive to rehearsals is greater than from here to the top of Scotland [NB: We’re in Bristol, UK]
MM: Yes, Was it Feeder – their bass player lives in America. I’ve played in bands so I understand where you’re coming from with the “knocking things together [as a band]”. Is it fun to get in and just jam together, do you get songs out of that?
KCR: I think that anytime when people say they go in and just jam... I think it’s an absolute lie. They’ve got an idea but they just don’t want to say “I’ve got an idea” they’ll just start playing it and wait for someone to say “oh that’s quite cool, let’s have a go at that”. I don’t think anything just spontaneously falls out of an instrument. I think that songs change by accident, and ideas change but somebody’s always got [an idea] in the back of their head that they’ve been playing around with, for a while.
MM: Or “I’m trying to work out how that they play that song I like and oh hang on that sounds cool”?
KCR: Yes – Imitation....
MM: Yes, we’ll steal that - The sincerest form of flattery.
KCR: Exactly. You’ve got more chance of saying a sentence that’s never been spoken than playing a sequence of chords that hasn’t been played [before].
MM: Yes there’s a finite number, isn’t there?
MM: The album comes out Monday (January 19th) and I’ve heard it and being totally honest, it grew on me. My tastes are normally more melodic, my favourite album is Memory & Humanity.
KCR: Right, ok.
MM: Confession – “Waterfront Dance Club” is my ringtone.
KCR: wow – awesome!
MM: So....umm.... where was I going with that, oh yes.... Christmas and New Year, were you working on sorting out a live set or did you have time off?
KCR: Yes we had time off and we were able to do the family Christmas thing. It’s unbelievably important to make time for your family. And then I think with this record.......more than anything...... is that I think.......especially with people only hearing individual songs....not hearing the others.....we purposely recorded this record, regardless of the fact that it was done in two weeks, we purposely set out to do something different. Everything [else nowadays] you hear sounds flat, it’s all flawless – there’s no mistakes in there – everything is played so perfectly, it’s all put to a metronome, to a click and it’s keeping everything perfectly in time, all the drums are quantised for samples and things like that.....
MM: So you lose the feel then?
KCR: It’s not that you lose the feel, well you do lose the feel but what you have is that I think that the qualities that make you as a musician are not in what you do right but in how you play things wrong but get away with it.
MM: Not how good you are but in how good you are when you are bad?
KCR: No, it’s how good you are at what you do. It’s your style. For me, the imperfections of playing, show that it’s being played by a human beings, it’s real – we’re not flawless. Nobody will ever do something perfectly, every single time they do it – there will always be a mistake in there somewhere. So to record the music that’s really perfect – I understand having the technology to do it and the reasoning – well you can do it but at the same time it takes the sort of personal and human aspect out of it. A lot of albums, I guess kind of like the Johnny Cash Sun recordings through to the early Black Sabbath recordings, Zeppelin recordings – they’re all real – they’re not perfect.
MM: Sort of played live with a microphone in the corner?
KCR: Yes they are – but that’s what’s so great about them. The reason that they’re great bands is that you get to hear what they’re actually [doing]. What you heard back in those days was sort of a very small version of what you’d get if you saw them.
MM: And that's what you’ve tried to capture with the latest album?
KCR: Yes definitely. We deliberately steered away from making......
MM: Pro-tools and the like?
KCR: If people don’t like it or don’t like the production on this record, then that’s fantastic. That’s the whole point. It’s for people to have an opinion on, it’s not meant to be “flat”. You hear it and it’ll either grate on you or you love it – and that’s exactly what we set out to achieve.
MM: I’m heading towards the “loving it”.
KCR: Thank you.
MM: My take on it is that I prefer it to [previous album] “Conduit”. Going on to the “Conduit” album, you had the drummer (Ryan) for a very long time?
KCR: Yes Ryan...
MM: ..... and then you had Pat for one album.
KCR: We had Pat for two albums – Pat plays on Chapter & Verse. During that time he got an offer to play for Modestep which was something he wanted to do, that was a bit different. Pat’s always wanted to be a session drummer, doesn’t want to be in a band and all of us were happy for him that he got the opportunity to go and session for somebody. What he’s doing will build his reputation as a session musician, not just as a drummer. It was all good with us.
MM: So what prompted the decision “ok right, we’re not going to have a full-time drummer”?
KCR: We’re not writing anything, so it’s pointless having a permanent member of the band, if you’re not doing anything creative. You need someone to come and play shows here and Casey’s a brilliant drummer, exceptionally good. He’s a lovely guy, he’s a Liverpool supporter and so am I, which is brilliant. Obviously, by the grimace on your face, you’re not.
MM: I know nothing about football, obviously as I am a Luton Town fan.
KCR: Get on, man, you’re a true fan – you’re a realist.
MM: It gets worse because I’m from Plymouth so I’ve got no real [connection to Luton]. You’d have thought, if I was going to pick someone at random, pick someone who’s going to win all the time.
KCR: Oh I don’t know, I think it’s quite good picking a team that’s going to offer you nothing but misery because when you win a game, it’s like winning the Champions League.
MM: We’ve won one major trophy in our life and we won The Conference last year and it’s like…. Woo, there we go. Whereas if you’re Man United and you don’t win anything, it’s “we haven’t won the FA Cup this year – what’s the matter with us?”
KCR: …god!!! we only went out and spent 150 milllion pounds on players.
MM: yes – it’s a nightmare
KCR: ….. so hard done by…..god!!!
MM: Sorry that’s digressing. Love my football as well…… Can I just ask about live stuff? Do you play the same set each night or do you vary it?
KCR: We generally work up a set for a tour so it won’t change we’ll stick to something for a period of time and normally during the first two or three shows we’ll iron kinks out, maybe swap the arrangement of things around but we generally stick to a particular kind of set or setlist but it always changes from tour to tour. It’s like when you release an album you have to kind of…….
MM: Play a few new ones?
KCR: Yes. Realistically the best way of promoting a new record is by playing songs live. I think people are very misguided if…… if we were a band and we only made our first two records and every year we went out to tour our first two records then we wouldn’t have been around for 14 years but it’s quite mad that people almost seem affronted “Oh you’re not playing the songs that I like from the albums from when I was a kid”. It’s because we’ve done a new fucking record, we’re still writing music.
MM: I can map that across – I play in a covers band and when we come up with a new song, it’s still exciting, even though we’ve just worked it out [rather than written it ourselves].
KCR: The difference between playing live and writing music….. you ask musicians “what do you prefer?” and you’ll always get different answers but for me the whole process of writing music, the creative aspect is far, far more rewarding than playing live. It’s amazing to share what you’ve done and to see people appreciate it but to be in a group of 5 people on the planet who’ve heard an idea is quite a special thing to have. It’s only the people that have heard that song – that’s a truely amazing feeling.
MM: I understand entirely. A while ago I played in a band that wrote original music but as it was before the internet and we lived in Plymouth, weren’t prepared to move so weren’t going to get anywhere but somebody once said to us that one of our songs really helped them get through their divorce and that is still one of the proudest moments in my life.
KCR: Yes, it’s one of those strange thing because, I guess it’s one of those things about writing music, it’s a very sharing experience. You have to write an idea and regardless of if it’s anything musical, anything like I write on the guitar, I always have some idea running through my head of a conversation or a person or an event, it makes me feel better about the writing and sharing of lyrics. When you’re sharing with people – when you release songs, they’re no longer yours, they’re now everyone’s. You become a cover band of your own material, the moment you put it out for everyone to listen to, you literally become a cover band for your own songs. You’re up there, playing the same songs, night after night after night. It’s amazing whether you’re playing on the main stage at Reading or if you’re playing in your local pub – it feels exactly the same. It just looks different.
MM: So going back to your set, how do you choose from 7 albums? Because I’m a bit of a “Johnny-come-lately”, I have a few songs that are my favourites but I wouldn’t be able to tell you what your singles were as I didn’t follow your career. Presumably you’ve got certain singles that you have to play as they’re the fan favourites or do you just say “no, sod it – we’re pleasing ourselves”?
KCR: Yes sort of – I think it’s very difficult because everything we’ve done as a band, we’ve always been very honest when we’re doing it – we’ve never been forced into doing anything. Any direction we’ve taken has been our decision to go there.
MM: A nice place to be.
KCR: Yes and I think on reflection there are some albums that we did we were very overworked when we did them and we’d become quite tired and very.... well we needed a break and as opposed to having a break, we kind of forced ourselves to do records. “Tales Don’t Tell Themselves” I think is a record like that where realistically, we should have come off doing “Hours” and taken a solid year off before even contemplating writing a record. There was no rush for us to do an album. On a personal level, financially we didn’t need to do it – we had enough money, I guess to kind of get by a year – (laughs) but we would have been broke after that point but we would have come back into it, wanting to do it. We forced ourselves into doing a record and when you’re that tired and your band is no longer a band it’s a business and other people are relying on what you’re doing it’s very easy to be moved along and talking about the importance of things but I feel the importance of writing music is to take enough time to make you want to do it but for us, I guess....well “Memory [& Humanity – their 4th album], I’m not a big fan of either....
MM: Are you not? Well one of my questions was going to be: to the newcomer to your music, which 6 months ago I was, so I made my own path but to the newcomer which albums would you suggest they listen to first and which albums would you say “leave these until you are a bit more hardcore?” I’m guessing “Tales [Don’t Tell Themselves] and Memory [& Humanity]......
KCR: For me the truest representation of what this band has always been about.... I’d say for people to listen to “Seven Ways To Scream Your Name” which is the first two EPs compiled into a mini album and then to listen to “Hours” and to listen to “Chapter & Verse”. I think that pretty much everything between those points are us finding ourselves. Even “Casually Dressed.......” was us trying to find ourselves because we changed our line-up from our first EP. I know that people hold that album in very high esteem or regard.
MM: One of my questions was that it’s been put into “Rock Sounds Hall of Fame” and it’s cited as an influence on Fightstar, Kids In Glass Houses...... – how do you feel about that?
KCR: That’s brilliant - It’s great to hear. There’s albums that have influenced me and I’m sure if I spoke to the band who wrote those records, their not their favourite records they’ve done, do you know what I mean?
MM: Who does influence you?
KCR: For me, The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream is my favourite album ever. I’m a massive fan of Nirvana, huge fan of Pantera, big fan of Sepultura. When I grew up, pretty much anything which was either alternative mainstream rock – I loved Pearl Jam – (laughs) pretty much anything that came out of Seattle I love. And I love a lot of the big classic metal bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica. Other bands I love? I love Drowning Man, I loved Stamping Ground who were a British band, Earthtone9........ I think the thing with “Casually Dressed” and the way that people look at it.... for a lot of people the largest “growing” before you get married or you have kids – I don’t have kids – I’ve still got all that to come.....
MM: I’ve avoided that as well.
KCR: ..... the way that your life kind of changes – the biggest period of growing you do will be from the time that you’re 12 to the point that you’re 18 and I think that for a lot of people, “Casually Dressed” was the album that accompanied them through those years. So they’ve got a lot of “first experiences”: First girlfriends, first drink, first anything, they associate with that album, so because of the memories they’ve got with it – the albums held in such high regard, do you know what I mean by that?
MM: Mine is from 1983 – I’m that old.... but what you’re saying is so bang on.
KCR: Not just for me though but it’s the reason why I love Siamese Dream it’s the reason why “Far Beyond Driven” is probably my favourite Pantera record. It’s got everything to do with the record but it’s got more to do with the way I felt at the time and what I was doing at the time.
MM: The band line-up has changed quite a bit over the years – are you still in touch with past members
MM: (laughing) ever have a big reunion party?
KCR: It’s quite difficult to do that because everyone works and everything. I still speak to Ryan [Richards – former drummer]; I still speak to Darren [Smith - former guitarist]. Haven’t heard from G [Gareth Ellis-Davies – former bass player] for a long time but he lives in America. Still speak to Pat [Lundy]; still speak to my brother obviously [Kerry Roberts – former guitarist], he was in the band and I still speak to him. We’ve never been a band where there’s been bad break ups or anything. It’s weird, we’ve been asked the question “Have we ever thought about throwing the towel in because if it”. It’s the equivalent of asking somebody “would you quit your job if your friend left it”? No you wouldn’t.
MM: This is your job?
KCR: If I don’t play guitar in this which I’ve been doing for 14 years, I’d play guitar in another band. I’d still play guitar, I’d just try to do it in another band and so what’s the point of doing it in another band when I’ve already got a singer I like working with and I’ve got friends that I’d want to work with doing this.
MM: So you’ve got a ready supply of.... or you know, should somebody leave.....
KCR: Well yes, we took the guitarist and bass player from Hondo Maclean (laughs)..... I’ve been friends with Gav [Gavin Burroughs – guitarist] since I was 15 or 16. We got a lot of our experiences, our learning experience of playing guitar, we kind of showed each other all the bad techniques we’d learned. Y’know Gav is probably the person that plays closest to my playing style, that I know and it’s because we went through that growing period when we were younger of trying to outdo each other with showing each other techniques and then it’s “who can play it faster and cram more notes into it?
MM: New trick – get it in!!
KCR: Yes - so we’re almost identical in aspects of the way we play – a lot more so than me and Darren but then me and Darren had a really good relationship in how we could write songs – Darren could find space in between things I was playing – Darren’s been one of the most incredible people I’ve known, well he is one of the most incredible people I know. He’s a very humble guy and the way that he writes the way that he looks at me - he never takes offence [at] “oh I don’t like that” – I mean most musicians are quite precious. I have been (laughs) very prima donna-ish about my ideas – do you know what I mean?
MM: But Sting once said – how do you tell someone their song’s bad – it’s like telling someone their girlfriend’s ugly.
KCR: It’s probably worse than that – it’s like saying your kid’s ugly!
MM: Well you have got that attachment to it, so you would be proud of it. Moving on…… What’s your favourite “Saturday night getting ready to go out and party” album?
KCR: Oooof – well I don’t really go out to party much anymore but if I’m thinking of putting music on before I go down to my local for a few jars, I listen to a lot of Johnny Cash, Elvis and Buddy Holly – a lot of really old, old music.
MM: Excellent – it’s really pure isn’t it, in a way?
KCR: Again it’s to do with the production of it all – everything is done in one take – “it has to be done in one take”.
MM: I’m assuming you’ve been to Sun Studios, then?
KCR: No, we haven’t.
MM: (rambling tale of getting my photo taken with a mic that Elvis used in the studio and being unable to help myself do the lip curl thing....) So when you go down to your local and there’s a band playing – do you ever get asked to go up?
KCR: No, because my local that I drink at tends to be – actually I’ve got two – one which doesn’t have live music and the other one is a jazz/blues bar and nobody has a clue what I do, so it’s quite cool. Nobody generally has a clue what I do anyway, I’m just another bearded guy that lives in London.
MM: So the anonymity must be nice?
KCR: Yeah. Well I don’t understand the idea of.......
KCR: It doesn’t make sense to me – it never has. I think I’ve been giddy meeting two people – Billy Corgan and Dimebag Darrell and that was like going back to being a kid, do you know what I mean?
MM: We’ve kind of skirted round this but I was going to ask you: was there a point where you thought: “Hang on, we’ve made this – we can do this as a living now, I don’t have to go and work in a supermarket”? Was there a crystallizing moment, say like when you stepped out on stage at somewhere like Brixton Academy or somewhere like that?
KCR: No, because I don’t think it works like that. A lot of people’s idea about the music industry is like that you get signed and suddenly you’re a millionaire – it’s sort of: “oh you get signed, you release a record and that’s it, I’m sorted for life”
MM: You’re paying it [advance money] back, aren’t you?
KCR: But it’s not even that. Nothing is a given. I think for us, I’ve got amazing memories and I’ve done things that I’ve got to pinch myself over but I’ve never been at the point where I’ve thought to myself – “this is it”. I know this is not something I’m going to be able to do for the rest of my life, there’s no chance of it – it doesn’t happen anymore.
MM: The likes of The Rolling Stones and The Who are going to be the only ones who have these 50 year careers.
KCR: Yes that’s it – but I think one of the saddest things is that one of the reasons that bands break up is that everyone has the pre-conceived idea that bands are loaded that they are millionaires and they’re not. I live in London and I rent a one bedroom flat. My wife is a teacher, she’s got a very good job, a well paid job and that’s literally all we can afford to live in. I’m not playing the pauper by any means but the way that people look at musicians because of historically what it was – that isn’t the truth.
MM: I have a little bit of an understanding of that because of dipping my toe into this world and I know that, certainly in the old days it was a case of; “here’s you’re advance - you start paying that back when your record starts selling..
KCR: Yes but the difference was that if you did well and your record sold and you paid it back and you did make money off your sales – that just doesn’t happen now.
MM: I suppose it’s all merch and live ticket sales, now?
KCR: Yes but record companies do the whole thing now, they refer to it as a 360 deal, and it can be anything like them taking a percentage of your live and merchandising….. (Kris’ phone rang at this point)
MM: (after call) So 360 deal? I suppose that’s where you’ve got bands – like Marillion for example – are learning to become self-sufficient…..
KCR: Yes, if you haven’t got a label interested in you but you’re a band that’s been around for a while you’ve got things like “Pledge” and “Kickstarter” – I think they can really work for bands. If you’ve got a fanbase, you can make records for them but they have to buy it before you even start making it, almost. I mean it’s like they invest in you. We did a “Pledge” thing and we did it in the very, very early days and we had unbelievable support from our…… fanbase – very weird word to use “fan” or “fanbase”?
MM: What else can you say?
KCR: A demographic?
MM: I have no hesitation in calling myself a “fan” – I enjoy your music.
KCR: Oh thank you – thank you very much.
MM: I will also ‘fess up – I’m normally pretty good…….. because I’m a drummer I kind of can learn music and I do backing vocals so I learn words etc, but I can not make your song titles stick and I’m listening to your stuff a lot.
KCR: No? It’s normally because they’re not related to the song. That’s kind of Matt’s [Davies-Kreye lead vocals] pet peeve with songs is when the title of the song is………
MM: Repeated in the chorus all the time?
KCR: Is the most over-used word. With a track of ours off “Tales” called “Into Oblivion” – the song is actually called “Reunion” – well that’s what we titled it. It was the final part of the concept of the story and it was about [story concept main character] David getting home. It was actually the first song of the record but it was telling you that everything else that had happened in it was alright because he got home. The rest of it was about the journey but because it’s lyrics are: “I stared into oblivion” over and over again in the chorus, it was suggested to us well if people want it, they’re going to ask for the “Oblivion song”… which is why it’s called “Into Oblivion (Reunion)”. “Reunion” was our title - “Into Oblivion” was for the sake of the general record buying public.
MM: People like me! The whole concept, based on my limited research on Wikipedia and the like was that it was to do with Matt’s fear of water –
MM: Or was that just a made up Wikipedia “fact”?
KCR: Yes - but it was also a metaphor for what we were doing as well. It was also a metaphorical take of what we do – the idea of constantly going away. At the time it would be nothing for us to go away for 5 or 6 months and not get back. You’re asking a lot of people, for a partner – for someone to sit and wait for you for that period of time, so it’s a metaphor for the experience we were going through but its taken also with Matt’s irrational fear of water and put into a story which he could imagine himself being in if he carried on doing it [the band].
My phone rang, it was Steve from musicmuso HQ, checking that I had got here safely, I think Kris was impressed that I had their track as my rington, we wrapped up here, I thanked Kris for his time and we were ushered out of the dressing room to mingle with the other fans in the bar....
I'd like to thank Kris for sparing his time to chat to me about all and sundry and we at musicmuso wish him and the rest of the band every success with the remainder of their UK tour dates and the new album.
Interview by Adrian Grainger
We did a review of the Bristol show, click HERE to read all about it