By Blake Morneau
For 10 years now Vancouver’s Five Alarm Funk have been dominating dance-floors across the country, making new fans everywhere they go with their high-energy party-rific funk music. It is a simple mission they’re on, but an important one. Maniacal drumming front man Tayo Branston sums it up: “Basically the whole point of our band is to have fun and make you move and have a really positive, sweaty, wicked time. We’re not here to convey any political or love messages or anything like that. We’re just here to let you free your mind and let you be one on the dance floor and just rip it up.”
With multiple albums and a whole decade of rocking audiences under their belt, Five Alarm Funk just finished their busiest year yet, highlighted by a marathon coast-to-coast Canadian tour, including stops at the Victoria Jazz Fest and Shambhala Music Festival in Salmo, BC. “It’s really awesome and super-positive for the band because we’re seeing all this work we put in going across the country, just grinding our way and it’s so great because now we’re actually seeing it pay off. We did 35 shows in 42 days all the way to Nova Scotia and back to Vancouver. The amount of people who were repeats from the past and the amount of friends we’ve made – it’s crazy! We had such great crowds all summer,” says Branston, talking to me on a rare off day at home in Vancouver.
Though rooted in funk, the band’s “genre” is extremely hard to pin down. Branston thinks it’s just a symptom of having working worked in band that lists 10 ten musicians amongst their ranks. “You look around at what kind of music people have grown up on and everybody is totally different. That’s I guess where you get the Five Alarm style from. For me it’s almost becoming its own genre. You can hear when something is Five Alarm Funk because it’s so ridiculous and out there.”
The “Five Alarm Funk genre” continues to evolve as the band is currently working on a new record, with eyes on a Springspring 2014 release. The songs, while still rooted in the blazing funk that the band it took as its namesake, are markedly different that prior material, featuring harder sounds and an abundance of lyrics. “They’re different from our old songs in that they’re more aggressive and extremely precise. It’s not as much of a dance-party as it is a jump-fest,” explains Branston.
A big departure for Five Alarm Funk is the inclusion of a full story, with lyrics to help guide the listener through a bizarre adventure filled with, among other things, giant robots, Higgs-Boson particles and the end of the world. “Last summer, we were on tour and I started thinking about different ways to write songs. Normally we’d go into the rehearsal space, all get together and if anyone had an idea we’d all pick at that and see if we could get anything going that way. It started hitting me last summer, imagine if we created a story for a song then tried to write music that went along to that story,” says Branston, describing the process that’s resulted in this new(ish) direction for the group. “It started with this song “Attack!” which is about zombies and basilisks and evil beings coming out of the ground to fight humanity. The more we started writing songs with all of these conceptual ideas we started linking the songs together in this big story. All of the new songs, when they’re played in the proper order that they’re going to be on the next album, is this wicked, wicked tale of hallucinogenic ice-cream and the end of the Earth, kind of thing… It’s a really wild story and it’s a way for us to have fun in writing our music.”
“I think the thing that is going to really knock these songs out of the park when they’re recorded is that people will get to listen to them and form a bond with them, whereas the older songs you don’t necessarily need to bond with because it’s just groove, then big horn lines, then lots of groove, then a solo. These songs are very concise and you have to pay a lot of attention to realize what’s going on,” Brantson says with a laugh. “I think it’s going to be really cool once people can form those bonds with them and be able to be as free on the dance floor as they are with our other stuff.”