Five Alarm Funk crisscrosses musical genres to unite the old with the new

These days, it seems like the trend for most bands is to try to avoid being pigeonholed into one genre. Unfortunately, listeners are all too eager to lump bands into the seemingly all-encompassing genre of “indie,” to the point that an exceptional number of groups end up being either overlooked for their presumed lack of originality, or given too much attention for being thought of as merely part of the “scene.” Consequently, the hunt for a new, distinct and unique sound is the ultimate challenge for musicians and listeners alike.

While Vancouver’s Five Alarm Funk tends to fall through the musical cracks and slip through listeners’ fingertips, their sound is anything but indie. Rather than turning their backs to musical categories in an attempt to invent their own, FAF are more inclined toward stringing a whole whack of them together. The result is a sound experience that is wholly familiar yet undeniably fresh.

Perhaps the term that most closely describes FAF is “funk orchestra,” but according to guitarist Gabe Boothroyd, even this isn’t sufficient. “I think that in spirit we’re more of a rock band,” he said. “When we started off, we were really influenced by Afrobeat and Afro-punk […] We were originally playing more of that style of music, but most of us started out in high school playing in rock bands and so that influence started creeping in a bit more. We just wanted to rock out.”

Having rifled through an array of horn players in the years since the four original members got together in high school, FAF is now a solid 10-man crew. “It was really just the people who really wanted to be in the band and make it a priority above everything else,” said Boothroyd of the permanent lineup. In order to settle on the right musicians, FAF had to find people who could give up their day jobs and travel away for weeks at a time. “The writing process that we have and the kind of music that we play – it takes some work to put it all together,” he said.

For the most part, Five Alarm Funk leaves lyrics out of their tunes. “We don’t want a singer,” said Boothroyd. “The emphasis is really on the arrangements that we’ve come up with and the interplay between the instruments […] We’ve toyed with that idea but […] I think that one singer always puts the focus more on just that person, but this is more about the band as a whole.”

Songwriting is another thing that the band approaches with an everybody-is-equal attitude. Most songs come out of rehearsal, which Boothroyd ensures they do a lot of while in Vancouver. “Sometimes it’ll start just from one riff at rehearsal and we’ll just keep hashing it out over a number of rehearsals […] and develop it from there,” Boothroyd explained. “Other times someone does come in with a lot more flushed out idea and a bunch of horn parts and guitar parts. But then in the rehearsal process everything gets changed and cut and switched around once every body’s actually playing it.”

The band has seen its share of high points, having played to crowds of over 5,000 people at the Vancouver Jazz Festival and also having played a set during the 2010 Winter Olympics, but it is still chasing its ultimate goal. “If we were on tour and playing for great crowds every night – that would be our dream,” Boothroyd said. “We’re already doing that to a degree, but we just have to get a little bigger and better at it and then we can just all be doing it full time and really make it be the only thing that we’re concentrating on.”

For those who have never experienced the group live, Boothroyd warns people to “expect a lot of energy, a lot of varied musical genres [and] a lot of intense arrangements but also a lot of visual elements, with dancing and jumping around and a little bit of choreography and that sort of thing. Expect to dance, we’re into that.”

Five Alarm Funk will play at Belmont on March 15.



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