Synchronized dance moves, high kicks, clown hair and free pulled pork sandwiches. Oh, and I almost forgot, awesome freaking music. It’s everything you can expect and more from a Five Alarm Funk show.
Celebrating the release of Rock The Sky, this record garners as much passion, dance and heat as their previous albums, but with an added rock and roll theme throughout. The ten-piece band known for its ability to rock the socks off fans at live shows has been doing so for close to a decade now. Guitarist Gabe Boothroyd hangs out with Pop Counter//Culture to reflect on this point in the band’s career, to explain how decisions are made (or not made) within the band, and to share his hypotheses on why their shows are always the best party in town.
How would you sum up Rock The Sky and what this album embodies this point in your career?
It is as the name implies – a lot more rock influenced than we have in the past. On our last album we started doing more of that – the heavy guitar riffs and the distortion, a little more of the higher energy stuff so that’s kind of the culmination of that influence. We’re just trying to make a better album every time we do it, learning more about the whole process and how to do that, what works in the studio in terms of who plays together and how we over dub stuff. We’ve gone through a lot of different processes to make these albums so trying to have everyone in the room playing together.
We rented out this room, which wasn’t really a studio, but we could really take our time in. We spent about two and a half weeks in there, where we could relax and figure out some of the solos, the little extra special stuff we could add to [the album].
Did the process turn out very different from your previous albums including Anything Is Possible or Voodoo Hairdoo?
It was different to have some time where we were more on our own. I got on the Pro Tools more than I have before because usually we’d have an engineer there. That was quite a bit of fun and a mystery until you get your hands on it and start working with it. It’s fun to have a little more control…Getting the guitar tones on some of the solos in there, we were working with this guy who’s a friend of ours, Jim Black, we would just sit there for a couple of hours just dialing these pedals and stuff, making all these horrible noises in the process, eventually getting something pretty cool.
Can you give me some insight on the iron pegasus on the album cover?
[Laughs] Well it started out with the song, “Iron Pegasus”. Originally we thought about calling the album itself Iron Pegasus, but then you know, decided to get a little subtler with the whole thing. Where did that come from, that imagery? I don’t know. It must’ve been one of those things, we always just try to think of something that sums up the feeling of the song, represents what it is in its whole. I feel like it sounds like something our conga player, Tom must’ve said.
Was the original intent of Five Alarm Funk when created, to have as many members and instruments as it does today?
It originally started out as six people. At the beginning it wasn’t exactly the intent. We just started playing together then we were inspired by a couple of different bands such as Antibalas out of New York and they have lots of members and a big horn section, that kind of thing. So we started out with one horn, one saxophone. It’s kind of a natural progression for the type of music that we do and especially what we started out doing was a lot more inspired by afrobeat so that music definitely required a big horn section. The percussionists were more just friends of ours. They started playing in the band by default.
With so many members, what’s the decision-making process like?
Chaotic [laughs]. Undefined mostly, but it really depends on what the thing is that we’re deciding. We’ve been doing this for nine years now, so [decisions] kind of work themselves out. Certain areas people take more responsibility. Song writing is pretty different from deciding on what gigs to do. We just go with the flow. Overall we’ve probably gone with the flow too much.
What’s the Five Alarm Funk secret to turning all of your shows from a regular performance into an all out, chaotic, sexy dance party?
Well I think the danceable music is important. The fact that people can tell that we are having a good time on stage and having fun is also key. Maybe it’s the demographic that we get out to our shows. People like to party and people definitely come out to our shows with the intent to party. The shows themselves have a reputation of being good parties almost independent of us.
Is the band inspired by a particular decade or era of music?
We try to incorporate a lot of different influences and from tune to tune, the influences will change quite a bit. And also from different times in our band’s life we’ve had different influences. A new tune we have in part is very bhangra-inspired with a little dubstep in there as well and like gypsy-circus music. And some kind of like Arabian stuff all mashed up.
What do you envision for the band’s future down the road?
Hopefully we can expand the areas where people know about us. A lot of people know about us in Western Canada – we’ve gotten our name out quite a bit, but the other half of the country not so much. In the States we started to get down to the northwest. The kind of music we do, it really requires us to go to these places and play live, it doesn’t really get spread by radio. So we just gotta keep expanding our reach.