For a band that came out of the depression of being trapped in a small town, the Los-Angeles-based Funeral Party churn out surprisingly upbeat songs, even if the lyrics are well, often not. The three-piece band consisting of Chad Elliott, James Torres and Kimo Kauhola formed in the town of Whittier in the outskirts of Los Angeles County, and they have gradually gained mainstream momentum with the spring release of their debut album "Golden Age of Knowhere." Their first single, "Finale," is breaking through alt-rock stations (it's the song of the summer, as far as I'm concerned), and the trio have already made it through the late-night circuit, appearing on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and "The Late Show with David Letterman." The band has also gotten mileage from opening up for such acts as Panic! at the Disco and Julian Casablancas. I caught up with frontman Elliott earlier this week and asked him about Funeral services and what it's like touring their small-town asses off in various big cities around the world.
Jon Chattman: Your songs are surprisingly upbeat despite your lyrics and small-town angst. Would you agree?
Chad Elliott: Oh, totally. You have just deconstructed our formula, but I have to be careful of what I say. Actually, it's not as contrived as that. I think maybe the music expresses something visceral and the lyrics express something mental and emotional. Who knows? Maybe the upbeat music is directly representative of the musicians who are playing, and the lyrics are more a representation of me as a writer, or the various personae I inhabit when I write. The paradox you've pointed to is definitely characteristic of many of the songs on "Golden Age of Knowhere." Then again, what you refer to as "upbeat" we might describe as "frenzied."
JC: Well said. I know how you got your band name, but how much thought went into your debut album title?
CE: Well, it depends on how you look at it. We approached the record as if we were setting out to do something new, like building a new society from the ground up, but with kids making the decisions. We took the ideas from "Lord of the Flies." In our own lives, and as a band, we felt fairly isolated. We wrote half that record in our friend's garage, so that furthered our sense of otherness. We felt shipwrecked, but not in a negative way. It was more like, we're all out here doing this together, in a nowhere town, and as far as we were concerned, in sort of a nowhere time, so the album title is significant and has meaning, but we didn't wrack our brains to come up with it. It just sort of made sense, and I liked that it had a literary feel to it.
It's faux-literary, just like many songs are bastard poetry, unless they adhere to some kind of poetic form. We think form is restrictive, which is why we go through different writing phases to shape our songs, or find a shape we can all live with.
JC: Do you enjoy playing festivals -- they are so king in summer -- or do you fear you'll get lost in the crowd?
CE: Our first real shows outside the backyard party scene were festivals. We had opened for The Faint and Crystal Castles, so we knew slightly what to expect. Our first show outside North America was Fuji Rock in Japan in 2009. That was kind of daunting, because I had never seen so many people jumping in unison to our music. I had to remind myself that it was really happening, and that I wasn't watching someone else's DVD or something. That was good training for many festivals to come, so, yeah, we love festivals. We can't wait to get back to Fuji Rock, Reading and Leeds this year.
JC: "New York City Moves to the Sound of L.A." is one of my favorite tracks off the debut. What's the story behind it?
CE: There are several meanings contained within the lyrics of that song. It's about the inability to escape repetitious cycles in music, fashion, politics, whatever. It's so easy to see, yet so hard to break out of, so it's about personal hypocrisy, too. In that song I am calling everyone out for copying the past and being mindless followers, but in my allusion to Bowie, I say, "I'm a dumb American." That's an expression of frustration, an inescapable paradox. I pay homage to Bowie, but I don't want to be a Bowie throwback. There are many more interpretations listeners can pull from the song.
JC: Were you surprised "Finale" took off as the first single?
CE: We create the music, what we view as a cohesive body of work. It's the job of others to reduce it to categories later, like, "This is a single!" or, "Yeah, this one might be cool for a B-side, or on the vinyl." I try not to see things that way; it's like asking me to decide which parent I love more. We are glad that our music seems to reach an audience.
JC: Did any of you ever not think you'd be able to break out of your small town?
CE: No, especially because we haven't yet. I don't think it's fair to say we broke out of there until we don't have to go back. We're just lucky we get to leave to go to work. Ironically, now we sort of miss the place, since we're hardly home.
JC: You've shared the stage or warmed it for amazing talents. Did you learn anything from any of them? Or did you learn how not to do something or simply go about your business?
CE: We're mostly too focused on what we do to pay much attention to what others do, but we definitely learned the importance of giving a good show, even when we're tired or just got off a plane or whatever. The most important thing we've learned is to show up, because we've seen people not show up before, and now no one remembers their names.
JC: If you were a wrestler, what would your name be, and what would your finishing move be?
CE: Um... "The Taxidermy Terror." I don't know the move, but it would involve embalming fluid.
JC: If you could offer someone in a small town who learns music the advice they need to break out of said small town, what would it be?
CE: Do the work, and be ready not to have time to see the places you visit, except through a window.