Life moves fast these days. Look, we’re already into the third month of the year. When you’re young, days seem to move a bit slower. But when you’re living beyond your years, two years can go by with the flash of an eyelash.
Such is the case for Funeral Party, made up Chad Elliot (vocals/lyricist), Kimo Kauhola (bassist), and James Lawrence Torres (guitarist). In their teens, these aspiring musicians started off two years ago with nothing more than the talent in their hearts and heads, and an undying passion to make music. That’s all they needed.
In just twenty-four months (give or take a few) the East L.A./Whittier boys started with a reputation for playing parties known to invite the cops to party, and expanded their reach with a handful of electro-rock songs that sent their fans into a frenzy. Funeral Party then hit up the festival circuit with the likes of Kid Sister, Spank Rock, The Faint, Crystal Castles and Cut Copy, often killing the enthusiasm for those acts that followed their bombastic performances.
After getting college radio airplay, securing an opening tour with the pièce de résistance electro dance troupe, Yelle, and signing to Warner Music Group, Funeral Party is heading into a new chapter of their life and career, their own musical equipment (finally), and into the studio for their debut full-length, The Golden Age of Knowhere, due out this spring.
Their talent has also caught the ear of producer and member of Mars Volta, Lars Stalfors (and producer of Matt & Kim), along with Alfredo Ortiz (Beastie Boys’ Percussion Player), who will be working with Funeral Party on said album.
The time of your life, right? Well, even though Funeral Party’s music is heavily influenced by the deep, heavy, beats and rhythms that jolt one into an uncontrollable dancing session, it’s not all ironic, neon headbands and jungle juice.
“It’s kind of surreal for us to be getting into the music business at a time when the economy is collapsing,” said James, calling from the studio in L.A. Members of the band, each with their own personal story, have felt the effects of what our country, and the world, is going through right now. But that’s fueling their determination even more.
“The economy being the way it is, the way things are heading in a downward spiral, it does have an impact. We come from a lower-middle class family, or if there is an upper/lower class. We didn’t have instruments when we started this band, which made things difficult. Being hit by the economic crunch had an affect on our families. I can say it definitely affects me when I’m on stage.
My girlfriend got laid off because the [California] governor needs to make these tax cuts. I want to write a song because that’s bullshit. They shouldn’t take money away from schools. How are our kids going to get smart? That’s not a solution. They should pull money from another place. As for the other guys, I’m not sure. They might not care, but I’m sure they do.”
So amidst heavy guitars, belting vocals, and heart-pounding drums, when you pull back a song’s skin, you’ll discover darker, lyrical connotations that speak loudly to the introspective ideals of lyricist Chad Elliot.
This is, of course, complemented by the other members’ ideas and instrumental collaboration. James explains, “We give our ideas of what the songs could be about. Every person is their own key player. The drummer makes his own beats, the singer writes his own lyrics. That kind of freedom unites the band.”
Since James was literally in the studio, I couldn’t help but ask: of all the new songs on the album, which song best personifies the sign of our times? Without hesitation he replied, “‘The Golden Age of Knowhere.’ Things aren’t going very well for a lot of people. It’s a hard time for us to be entering this music scene. It’s just a blessing to be signed before, or actually, during this time.”
Funeral Party has gotten this far because of the constant fermentation of their sound, adding hints of funk, aromas of disco, and subtle layers of vintage ‘80s punk.
Going all the way back to December of 2008 and their Bootleg E.P., “Car Wars” took on a new level of instrumentation, especially for James’ lead guitar.
“At the time, we were listening to a bunch of local groups in L.A. and southern California. At the time the Rapture was about to release Pieces of People We Love, and that had a main influence on it for Chad. He wanted it to be a post-punk song, but it still had a slightly alternative sound with the piano. The bassist was listening to some hip-hop songs at the time, and he threw that down. And on my guitar, I was feeling a lot of At The Drive-In.”
Then there’s the song that’s ripe for a Will Farrell cowbell invasion, “NYC Moves to the Sound of L.A.,” and a potential video could tap into a modern-day, punk influenced version of Austin Power’s city street dance off down Broadway. So, was this a similar response to the old school rap, west coast vs. east coast beef?
James laughs, responding, “For us it’s really that L.A. is not a follower. We can lead as well in multiple ways. Skateboarding, for one, has a big influence on my life. We’re just trying to say, ‘Wake up. You’re not the only ones doing this.’”
During the last two years, the guys have drawn to them, mentors that have helped guide them in the studio, in their musical development, in their career, and continue to do so.
“The learning process is very, very enlightening. It makes me feel better about myself and what I’m doing. People like Lars; he’s such an awesome producer. Not only him. My management helped me find my niche, which I’d been looking for, for a long time. We experimented with a few things and after about a year now, I’ve been really focused on what I want to do with my guitar. Being labeled as a professional, that makes my parents proud. I’m doing this music thing because I want to give my family what we’ve never had.”
This is yet another aspect of the band and its guitarist, which is not a common trait with most young (or old, for that matter) rock musicians. The voice, even over the phone with echoing and conference call delays, was truly heartfelt about where he comes from and where he plans to go.
Speaking about his parents, James continues, “They are the people that take care of you. They’ve done so much for me and supported me through the band process. Maybe they didn’t believe at first, but I’ve kept at it. That’s why I’m here today talking to you.”
Funeral Party’s popularity has also led to a number of remix artists, many recognized, cream-of-the-crop names, to knock on their door, clamoring to put a new twist on FP’s material.
James, although flattered, has mixed feelings. “I really don’t have any objection to remixes. I can definitely say certain songs, I wouldn’t want them remixed, because they’re not meant for that. I don’t know, in short I would definitely approve of that.” The band has already sent some individual tracks of ‘Car Wars’ out for remixing, and Alfredo Ortiz has reworked “New York City.”
What about the whole illegal downloading thing, especially now that they’re on a major label?
“That’s actually a good question. My girlfriend did a college paper about piracy, and she wanted my opinion. At the time, not being signed to a contract, I didn’t really have an opinion. I thought it was a good thing because people get to hear more music, and it’s a bad thing because the artists don’t make a living off of something for free.
Now days, I’m not for illegal downloading, but I’m down for, if we make an album one day and want to put it out for free…just like Radiohead. They set a precedence and were the first major band to do something like that, releasing In Rainbows for free. If you wanted to download it for free, you could. If you wanted to pay them something, you could. I think that’s awesome. They’ve already made money and are well off. They can do that. For younger bands like us, it’s a lot harder. We need to make money to be able to do this. Until we have enough money to support ourselves for a few years, then I can be like, ‘Let’s just release an album for free.’”
For James, the tours thus far with Funeral Party have been a learning experience, one that he’s treasured, “You get to know the people around you so much more. It’s better for me to have that bond with them, being on the road in general is a dream come true.” The pinnacle moment for him and his family was their freshman performance at L.A.’s Henry Fonda Theater, which was sold out. “Few bands get to do that. Like I’ve said, we’re really blessed.”
Their last tour manager was an 80’s ex-pro skater, Spidey. And although you would expect that someone from that era in skating set the bar for a rock ‘n roll lifestyle, when Spidey was in the tour manager seat, it was a whole new ballgame. The band had the typically laid-back guy walking in circles and talking to himself. Woops.
“I don’t want to hurt the guy’s feelings, he took the job seriously…sometimes too seriously, and that made us want to act out even more.” Evidence? Their thank-you card at the end of the tour was in, actuality, a “Get Well” card.
“As far as this tour goes, I can only say that I hope we get into less shenanigans than we did last time.”
The tour with …Trail of the Dead has had Funeral Party on the road since mid-February and after hitting Denver this Monday, March 9, they keep going on to the west coast for some dates, head home for a gig, and get back in the van headed for Austin and SXSW, playing a showcase on Friday, March 20 at 10:00 p.m. slot at Buffalo Billiards (201 E 6th St), plus we assume, additional slots at numerous par-tays.
When you make it to their show on Monday, make sure to support the band’s endeavors by picking up the Bootleg E.P. (ignore the irony of the title and just throw down the $5 already), and the limited, handmade signature edition James tinfoil guitar picks. They’ll keep you strumming all night long.
“I always break my picks at every show and my strings, but I can’t really give them just a string…”
If you’re headed to Austin as well, check out their myspace for all their gigs during SXSW – myspace.com/funeralparty.