Alright, folks! Next in the ongoing series of great Peterborough music is Five Alarm Funk, who will perform at the Historic Red Dog on March 26th. I would tell you about them myself, but what are my words compared to somebody actually in the goddamn band? Below is my interview with Tayo Branston, drummer and lead vocalist for Five Alarm Funk.
When did the band form?
We formed in 2003, and we have constantly been together since then. I wouldn’t say every week, but our religious schedule is two rehearsals a week. We have just tried to stay together and stay positive. To keep the healthiest, forward-moving band cookin’. It’s been 14 years of fun and determination.
So, did the band meet each other, as a group of friends that wanted to play music or…?
We met each other, and it kinda came together from different avenues of people’s existing relationships. Like, it kinda started at this little jam-party that was going on. Me and our old bass player, Neil met Gabe Boothroyd, our guitar player, and we had a little jam there. Then we said, “hey, let’s get together constantly, let’s work together.” Then, Gabe brought his old drummer, Karl, and our other guitar player, Oliver Gibson came in from another group. And then we added the horn players. It’s not like everybody came together at once and it happened. It’s more a sort of slow momentous build into the current situation of the band. And we couldn’t be happier with the way it did. I mean, it was very natural and very fluent.
Kind of like an amalgamation of different people through time?
Yeah, exactly. And it was Neil that was like, “I know a guy here, let’s call him” or “I know this person, let’s call them”. And so yeah, an amalgamation of musicians through time.
I love it! [Laughs.]
What are the influences that you draw on? Both obvious and some not-so-obvious ones?
I mean, everybody in the band is different, so that’s kind of hard to touch on. But my personal influences are from a very young age, 8 through 14, and then from 17 to current, right? So my influences, from back in the day, Rage Against the Machine, Primus, Nirvana, I loved all that stuff. I was a rock drummer through and through. And then getting in my older age, I got into Tito Puente, Seun Kuti, Fela Kuti, and then even into Frank Zappa. So, many different things. I am really not picky about any specific style of music. I think that kind of shows in my personal writing in Five Alarm Funk… Um, but then you have other guys in the group that love classic rock and jazz, so you know, no music is wrong. All music is great in its own way. And that’s kind of the mentality that the band brings as far as influences.
Wow. So, could you describe your sound in one sentence?
I know, that’s a tough one.
You know what, I have been doing this lately, and I hope it doesn’t sound cocky, but I now describe it as “Five Alarm Funk”. That was the name of the band because we wanted to just describe the music. Five Alarm Funk, right? And really, this is the sound that we have progressed through all these years, and really we have realized that from all of our genre-spanning ways that we have taken each part from what we really enjoy to do. And that was kind of more of a constant in all of our songs. So all of our songs have a similar feel with the gang vocals and the shredding psych-rock guitars, with the horns taking the wailing lead, and the percussion really being the train of the song. So, Five Alarm Funk is exactly what it is.
So, if there were one or two tracks off the new album to play for someone that doesn’t know your sound, as an introduction, what would they be?
Me, personally, I love Widow Maker, which is the first song on the new record. I also love Ill Wind. Ill Wind is a little more laid-back, less aggressive, maybe a bit easier to digest for some people. Widow Maker I love because it is a punch in the face, and that’s the music that I love and know [laughs].
How does Five Alarm Funk go about writing? How do ideas start? And how do they manifest into full-length songs, tracks, albums, etc.?
We always do it song by song. It is really a kind of creative and open process. We’ll start in the rehearsal space, with everyone there. Someone will say, “I have an idea for a groove”. And then they’ll play their lick, and everybody builds off of that until we have one solid foundation. Once that exists, we go into smaller groups. You know, two or three guys over four or five different writing sessions, picking apart that groove, asking where it can go, what chord changes can be put in. And then it’ll go back into the rehearsal space with horn lines, with an idea of the whole song, and then everybody will pick it apart.
As a mainly instrumental band, do you find that that hinders or helps you creatively and commercially? It is quite different to be a ‘pop’ band that focuses mainly on instrumentation.
Absolutely. There are benefits, and there are pros and cons to everything. Being that way doesn’t help us with say, popular radio play, right? Our particular style kind of hinges on licensing and stuff like that. It’s very aggressive, you know, mostly instrumental, and when there are vocals, they aren’t mainstream whatsoever. So, those are some issues that we have run into, but we have always based it on that we are a band, and a live band. A band that you go to see, and that’s where our music really shines because you know, we don’t try to spread too much of a message or get political, or tell you about personal emotions. We are there so when you come in you forget about everything and truly enjoy yourself. I think that has been crucial in building audiences everywhere we go, because it’s that release that you don’t have to think about your day or how crappy your boss is. In that respect, it’s been very helpful in helping us gaining fans.
Tell us about the live performance!
We’re bringing the hottest live performances that we have ever brought this year. Some serious props and costumes coming out on the road, and the band is super tight. We’re ready to make you sweat. We’re ready to make you jump and dance. It’s really the most excited the group has ever been. So, I think you are going to see more passion and more life on the stage.
Plug away on the new album. How does it differ/share similarities with previous albums? How does it fit into the catalogue of Five-Alarm Funk albums? Tell us about it!
The new record, Sweat, is our finest creation to date undoubtedly. It is twelve songs long. The idea for the record was that you can put it on front to back, and you can have yourself a dance party, wherever you are. We still hold onto that powerful feel of Five Alarm, but it’s got groove written all over it. And we couldn’t be happier with the outcome, the sound, and the process of the record. We hope everybody enjoys it.
Last question is a simple one: Favourite beer/alcoholic drink?
Ahhh! People are going to think I’m a nerd! [Laughs.]
That’s always a good end to an interview.
You know what? I’m a light beer and tequila guy. So my go-to’s are Coors Banquet and tequila, the white tequila, I don’t like the brown, or the gold as much [laughs].
What a nice guy! Don’t you feel excited, reader, now that you have read this? Don’t you want to go check out the show? And follow the band on Spotify? And listen to all of their music? Didn’t the discussion above make you all riled up and randy?
Seriously though, go see this fuckin’ band. The new album Sweat is hot. It moves you to relieve yourself of the burden of clothes. It makes you want to shake, shimmy, and rattle yourself free from any negativity. It’s pure spirit-moving at a quickening pace. It’s (insert clever metaphor).
5AF are funky (no shit!), and psychedelic. They have 8 people in the band (that’s a lot!), and the dynamic on the new record is congruent without giving up the band’s trademark looseness. Five Alarm moves through rhythms like how a black cat can dart across your path, and then disappear. They are fast, sneaky, and filled with energy.
Ten dollars, March 26th at The Red Dog. There is no cause for alarm.