Five Alarm Funk has spent a decade recording and touring together. They will be kicking off a weekend of music at the Glaicer Challenge on Friday, Aug. 2, at 10:15 p.m.
I spoke to drummer and singer Tayo Branston while the band was in Winnipeg, on its way back west from a cross-country tour that brought them all the way to Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
RTR: How’s the tour?
Tayo: “It’s going fantastic, man. We’ve had some really, really good response, which is nice because this is our fourth year of touring across the country, and we’re definitely seeing it build. It’s inspirational to see all the people coming out. We’ve had great crowds, good response and pretty much having the time of our lives.”
You’ve been around for what, a decade now?
“We started in 2003, so it’s been 10 years. The progression of the band is pretty wild. Through our albums and even through our live shows, you can see Five Alarm Funk growing into this kind of monster that we’ve become. A monster on stage and of sound. We’ve been developing our sound. We’ve got a bunch of new material on the road this time. We’re super excited. It’s always fun to play new stuff, and we’ve got a ton of old stuff in our repertoire. We’re having a great time.”
For the uninitiated, who or what is Five Alarm Funk?
“Five Alarm Funk is an all out gypsy power funk explosion of musical mayhem. It has become this savage beast of sound. Not only sound, but of sight as well. Our whole thing for the show – for life in general – is to have fun and be enthusiastic. When you come to a show, you get to see this super vibrant stage show along with this technically kind of insane music. That is what Five Alarm Funk is – insanity, right there.”
What makes you worth of the five alarm designation?
“It is pretty much the hottest funk around. I think it would have to be put up there because we make everybody sweat wherever we are. We aren’t the most physically profound young men, but we’re all up on stage, shirts off, just buckets of sweat pouring out. I think the massive, profusive sweating could give us the five alarm credibility on that one.”
You spent a lot of time on the road. You’ve done four trips across Canada. Do you have any particularly memorable road experiences – either from a show or travel in general?
“That is a really tough question to answer because every night is an amazing new experience when you’re on the road. The things you encounter and the people you meet are so incredible everywhere. It’s tough to talk about this one memorable experience.
“The thing about touring is the whole thing is this giant experience. I think for any musician who tours, you really have to get it going on. It’s a change in your mental state and a change in your physical state. You can feel the road and you feel the power from all the people you meet along the way. I’m not going to dumb it down to one crazy experience, but I will say the whole experience of touring in general is probably one of the greatest experiences on earth for a musician, or for me, at least.”
If you could play with any two bands, past or present, who would they be and why?
“I got to go with one of our inspirations from the past. A band I’ve seen five or six times – Tower or Power. They’re the funk inspiration that we get. I’ve seen them so many times and those guys have been around for 50 years now. It’s so wicked to see a band that continues to shred the gnar and constantly knocks people socks off with their music.
“The other one that is also an inspiration of Five Alarm is Frank Zappa. I would say his band in the 1980s, that would be the other show that I would really want to play along with. The funny thing about our music is you do hear some of the funk stuff, but it’s also all this other weird (stuff) going on. That is a lot of the inspiration that me, personally, I got from Frank Zappa. He’s just musically just a genius. His music is so incredible, it’s blowing my mind in so many ways, it’s really what has changed Five Alarm Funk from a funk band into this behemoth of sound. Whatever we want to do, we can do it because really, there’s no boundaries.”
You next album is described as, “as a story involving kidnapping, evil ice-cream salesmen, robots, natural disasters and particle colliders in the centre of the Earth.” Can you explain what this all about?
“It stems from last summer. We had this song We All Scream. It’s a song about this diabolical ice cream man. He taints his ice cream with pyschoactive substances. He lures Five Alarm into his factory and we all go on this giant hallucinogenic trip.
That song was in place, and through the tour last summer, there was all this fantasy stuff going on in the van. We were playing these role playing games. The guys are playing Magic cards and stuff. I don’t play the cards, but one of my things is I like to sit there and think. In my mind I was thinking, these guys are dealing with zombies and monsters and all this fantasy stuff. What if we wrote a song about all these fantasy things. We wrote a song called Attack, where all these evil beings come up from under the earth. That was the second song.
I’ve always love the idea of a concept album so I started trying to weave a story we could put to all these new songs that we were writing. We took a break last winter for six months and we sat down and said, listen, let’s write a concept album that is totally ridiculous, just like Five Alarm Funk is – totally out there and silly and fun and ridiculous. So we did it.
We sat down – it was me and the guitar player doing a lot of the foundation writing. We thought let’s just go with a totally ridiculous story. The story wasn’t written before all the songs were. We’d write a song and fit it into the story and say where is the story going to go next and what can we do. It’s turned into this massive hallucinogenic trip that FAF goes on due to this ice cream man and his psychoactive ice cream.”
*laughs* “The whole thing for us is just fun. All we’re doing is having fun. It’s fun for us to just sit down and write a song about a giant robot we ride to the crust of the earth and destroy humanity. It’s a big nasty song and you can hear the story in the song. It’s something we’ve never done. We just wanted to have fun with it and do something different,.
It will be released in 2014, I do believe in the spring. We’re going to take our time with this one until its absolutely perfect.”
You can watch the video for We All Scream on YouTube, or on Five Alarm Funk’s website, fivealarmfunk.com. Catch them live at Centennial Park during the Glacier Challenge on Friday, Aug 2, at 10:15 p.m. Tickets are $10 and gets you into the beer gardens for the whole weekend.