Funeral For A Friend's Matthew Davies could get a refund on his Sat Nav, because while most musical diversions stay within hailing distance of the mother band, this hardcore frontman's new side project, The Secret Show, has ended up deep in the country.
The band is completed by Lianne Francis, Mark Foley, Andrew Plain, Rhod Viney, Stu Michael and Cate Timothy. Their debut album, Impressionist Road Map Of The West, is reviewed here, but DiS was curious about how, and why, this party started, but went on to uncover a crisis of (hardcore) faith and a very healthy social conscience.
Was your interest in hearing and then playing country tinged music a recent love affair?
I wouldn't say it was a new thing, no. It's how I learnt to play guitar actually. I wrote a couple of country-ish songs before I'd even started with Funeral so it's been like coming full circle for me. When I was about nine or ten, the first thing that I ever learnt to play was from an Eagles tab book and I've been listening to country music and folk music since I was a child, really, so it's just that I now have the opportunity to rediscover my roots, having been such a hardcore fiend.
That's what you're meant to do, isn't it? Have an introduction to good music from your parents and then rebel...
Yeah, you're meant to rebel and your parents are not supposed to like your music - but my parents actually like my music, so that's a bit wrong isn't it?
The Secret Show is so different from Funeral that it must be mind blowing for Funeral fans when they hear what you're doing now…
I could probably say that it might hit them as a kind of a surprise. When we put our MySpace page up, I hadn't been expecting the kind of open reaction that we received. It's not out-and-out country but it has its moments. I've always liked different kinds of music and I really got into Wilco and Uncle Tupelo in about '98 and I've always gone out of my way to approach music with an open mind. It's nice to see kids come along to our shows. They are kind of intrigued by the idea, but I'm in no way going to hold it against them if it's not their cup of tea.
What is it about country music that appeals to you?
I think it's the bare, stripped-down passion, honesty and emotion of it; it's like a working man's music in that anybody could do it. It's the cultural equivalent of storybooks, really – anybody could play and anybody could tell a story through it and with just the simplest of chords could blow somebody's mind. I love the idea of there being just a voice and a guitar with nothing to hide behind.
Which of your two bands do you think will have the longest shelf-life?
Oh boy, that's the kind of question you hope you never get asked. It's so hard to say. People who want to pigeonhole Funeral For A Friend as being an emo band, I think they are going to get a drastic shock when the new album comes out.
Well, drastic might be a bit of an extreme term, but in my eyes I think it's quite a step on from what the genre is doing at the moment so we'll see. But I think everyone likes country music, don't they? Bloody hell, it's folk music isn't it, so it's been around since the dawn of time, probably. It's hard to say which band will go on and which band won't. I want The Secret Show to continue as along as I'm writing for it but with Funeral, who knows? It depends. I'm going to go N/A for that one. We'll see what happens when it happens.
With what you've just hinted at, I'm wondering if you're working with a kind of new hybrid style for the next Funeral album?
Yes, it probably is in a weird way. The charm and the storytelling aspects that drew me back to country music and folk music have probably seeped into the lyrical quality of the Funeral record. Yes, it definitely has those aspects, even if it's not glaringly obvious, but they are closely linked.
I had intended asking if this experience away from hardcore had revitalised your love for the genre, but apparently it hasn't as you've moved sideways, perhaps?
It's a peculiar thing because I still love, I still like, hardcore - it's been a big part of my life since I was a teenager - but I find it very difficult these days to find things that I like. I find... Gah. I usually go back instead of onwards, as there are not many new bands that I find can make me feel passionate about it in the way I used to feel. So... I dunno, maybe it's because I'm getting older, just growing up and finding musical avenues more interesting in other shapes and forms. I think it's healthy to move away from things you're familiar with from time to time and to try different things. It can only help creatively. I think hardcore and country music go together hand in hand, actually: it's the social and political aspects of both. There are a lot of people in hardcore who feel that hardcore is meant to be a rebellious form that should act against conservative qualities or whatever, even if that just means standing up and speaking your own mind. This is what a lot of the old protest singers like Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez and Pete Seger did, and it influenced a lot of people. Hardcore has done the same although, granted, not at the wider reaches of society. But it definitely has a Left, or Socialist, quality to it.
Who in hardcore has been effectively using their music to get their Socialist points over?
Boy Sets Fire were a band who really brought out that quality and were a very political band, although sadly no longer. Also, Refused: they spoke about things that had relevance in ways similar to the protest songs of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. I think the qualities of both genres still ring true together in the music. All this appeals to me as I am a left-wing sympathiser, and a Socialist. It's something that I get from growing up in the south Wales valleys, in the former coal-mining areas. In certain respects, all of our families were affected by what the Tories did to us when they closed the mines. I'm from the people who, day to day, would risk their lives in those mining communities, so it still resonates strongly in the valleys. Amongst us, the wounds still feel fresh, so to speak, and it's all still relevant within the communities that remain. I don't think it will ever be forgotten or ever be forgiven. So our music is some kind of attempt to tell the generation that came before us that the newer generation still haven't forgotten, and that it still carries on.
You have a female vocalist in the band and, for the genre, she sounds like the real deal. Who is she?
Lianne Francis. We grew up and went to school together, and she would always sing in the school Eisteddfod (link). I had always been a fan of her voice and, in our late teens, we wrote a few pieces for each other. It never really got off the ground but it was fun to do. She has the kind of pure voice that I often think is really missing these days when most things are really over the top.
You've also press-ganged Rhodri Viney from Vito, and Broken Leaf.
Oh, he's a stunner - in a peculiar way. I was recommended to him by his other band mates and basically they told me he could play anything with strings, and that intrigued me. So he came along to rehearsals with his pedal steel and sat down and started knocking out these licks and it was just perfect. When we did our first Secret Show gigs last year, he opened up for us with a solo set which was amazing. He's a very, very talented individual and is very keen of lyric, too, with his storytelling.
With the fun you're having with The Secret Show, will it be a problem getting your head down for work again with Funeral?
Actually the songs for the secret show album were written and recorded at the same time as those for the new Funeral records so I was doing double-duty on that. Both bands coexist very well together for me. Funeral is still my main project and I think that by doing that it helps me to keep The Secret Show as more fun, more creative and more spontaneous. I'm quite relieved that it has its own life and it will do as it wants.
Listen to The Secret Show at their MySpace page, here. A single, ‘Lovers’, is released on February 19 via Atlantic.