Interview – Five Alarm Funk

Photo Credit: Maggie MacPherson

One of the most eclectic live bands in Canada has returned to wow us once again with their high energy and contagious rhythms with their sixth studio album Sweat. Five Alarm Funk, an eight member strong gang of musical deviants based out of Vancouver, is about to embark on their seventh national tour starting in Kamloops on March 14 and ending with a triumphant return to their home turf on May 27. A sonic powerhouse and the reason the term “wall of sound” was invented, this effervescent crew will get your heart pumping and your feet moving. I was lucky enough to get to speak with the band via email and ask them a few questions.

So, first off, for those who are unfamiliar, tell us about your music. How would you describe it? 

Tight, punchy and full of fun!! We’re self described as Gypsy-Rock, Afro-Funk, Reggae, Ska and Punk, but stray from convention or tradition within these genres. Our name in itself means intense, hot, powerful, Funk. Our goal is to create all out, feel good, dance parties from the moment the music starts until the very last note.

How did you find your “sound”?

Over a decade of playing together has really allowed us to hone our sound and find what we really love to create as a whole. Through transcending genres, we found our most desired aspects from each, and blended them into what is now the sound of FAF. Short bursts of Gang Vocals, heavy guitar, driving relentless percussion and Horns taking the melody and pushing the intensity. Still, we are very far from having a formula within our writing, but we always tend to steer towards these aspects as they have pushed our boundaries of fun and creativity within writing and performing.

And how would you describe a live performance for those who haven’t experienced one before? 

Hot, Sweaty and Relentless! We have always been known as a live band first. The stage is where the spirit of Five Alarm lives. To be up there giving everything you have to your music, bandmates and audience is one the most exciting and fullfilling experiences for us. The shows are a constant barrage of groove, melody, intensity and fun. Be prepared to dance, smile, laugh and get in a killer workout!!

How much do your songs transform during the writing process and what does that look like with this many bandmates?

Our songs transform regularly throughout the writing process until what we see as an excellent piece of music is complete. There is no limit to change or is there any members opinion less valid than another. Our writing process usually starts in rehearsal, where an idea is brought forth or comes to life naturally. After a great ‘groove’ foundation is solidified. We move into smaller groups of 2 to 3 writers. The writing will take place over a few of these smaller sessions with the focus on the entirety of the song. Once a ballpark foundation for the whole song is arranged, it’s brought back into rehearsal and put through the ringer by all members. Likes/dislikes, new ideas, criticisms are all taken in until we as a whole are proud and happy with the final creation.

There are quite a few members in the band, how do you manage to get along with each other and stay sane spending that much time on the road? 

It’s been a process to manage throughout the years but I can say with a great deal of relief that the band we have today is the most cohesive, tight unit we have ever had. We always aim for a positive and fun group dynamic. Through the years of touring together we’ve learned the fine points of each others strengths and weaknesses. Learning how to not bother people is a very important trait in the bus. One thing that has helped keep the band tight and happy in such close confines is everyone is delegated specific duties that have to be done to create a successful atmosphere. Whether it’s Tour Production, Merch Detail, Loading, Road Chef, Media, Setlists, Settling The Show, Driving, the list goes on and on. It’s all deligated appropriately so everyone is invested and not overworked in comparison to others, which for us aides in creating a really positive and unified band.

Ok, some fun questions. What are each members favourite flavor of ice cream? 

Tayo – Raspberry Cheesecake

Carl – Rocky Road

Thomas – Cookies n’ Cream

Jay – Heavenly Hash

Oliver – Vanilla with Fudge

Gabe – Strawberry

Kent – Butterscotch Swirl

Eli – Pecan

What’s the craziest thing to happen on the tour bus? 

Our tour bus is rather tame these days, it’s our place of business and our key to successful touring. We try to keep this sacred space just as that. I could speak of many funny scenarios because they absolutely occur, but I run the risk of embarrassing bandmates or myself. I’ll take the high road here and plead the fifth 🙂

What’s your ideal interaction with your fans?

We love meeting our Fans and having as much interaction as possible. Before the show the band is always present and readily available to talk to or say hi. We do our best to line the merch booth if anyone wants a signature or photo. The fans of FAF are the lifeblood of the band. Without them we would not have the opportunities we have today. We strive to make everyone feel welcome and create a genuine and positive environment.

What is each members favourite song to perform and why? 

Tayo – WidowMaker, “It’s powerful and intense with a great driving bass line. It thumps from start to finish,”

Eli – Capitol City – “Because I love hittin’ and sittin’ on a slow funky groove! Plus, I get to use my FX pedals to craft a funky sax solo over the groove, while the audience dances for days !

Kent – Horrible Sound, “Because I get to yell SHAZAAAM”

Jay – Iceberg, “because of the fatness! It’s arranged well and contains many elements of the Five Alarm sound.  The percussion and horn breakdown seals the deal when you thought it couldn’t get any cooler after the Big Drop!”

Thomas Towers – Ill Wind, “I get to do the jellyfish dance AND play the vibraslap”

Ollie – Gorilla, “It’s a heavy groove that is perfect for warming up the band and the crowd.”

Carl – WidowMaker, “I get to ride a shark on a sub (Woofer not marine).  It’s super fun!!!”

Gabe – Iron Pegasus, “We get to flap our arms like pegs”

And lastly, the most important question of all, how did the gorilla suit come about?

The gorilla suit came about through having fun with our performance. On the album art for Anything Is Possible we featured a Shark and Gorilla locked at the jaws in a fight to the death. Every since then there comradery has grown and there presence has become a staple for fans over and over. We are happy to announce that both our Shark and Gorilla friends will be joining us on stage throughout 2017.

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