Gilding the lily


FOR THE PAST 18 months, Funeral Suits have been playing a waiting game. Back in January 2011, the band finished their debut album, Lily of the Valley.

It had been recorded by Stephen Street, mixed and mastered. It was ready for the world.

However, instead of releasing the album there and then, the band held onto it. In an era when tracks often appear online within hours of recording, this policy may strike some as odd or old-fashioned.

But, as Funeral Suits’ vocalist and guitarist, Brian James, explains, there was a plan behind it all. “The plan was always to go for England and Europe, no disrespect to Ireland, and it took time to get booking agents and a team in place. Now, the time is right to release it, as opposed to releasing it and then trying to get those people on side. We’ve had our ups and downs because of that, but I’m sure every band goes through that.”

James admits the wait was difficult. “When you’re in the black hole of waiting, it’s very hard to keep hearing that the album has to go back because of this or that. All the reasons were proper, legitimate reasons. We didn’t have a label for a long time. We could have put it out ourselves, but would that have been the right thing to do? I’m not sure. I don’t remember half the reasons and I don’t really care any more because I know it’s coming out in June.”

He tells a story about an earlier incident which made him realise that getting things right in the music business requires time and patience. James joined the band in 2008 and, six months later, they landed a bunch of support shows with Franz Ferdinand.

“I was so excited. I thought ‘yes, it’s all going to happen now, here we go!’. Everyone was telling me that this was it. But what I thought would happen then didn’t happen and I don’t mind that now. We weren’t a band then the way we are a band now. We weren’t ready for anything. We’re best friends now but we weren’t back then.

“When you look back and realise how far you’ve come in a year, you see it as a good idea. It’s been totally worth it. It’s still the same album as a year ago and we’ve probably moved on a little as a band musically, but that was always going to happen.”

One of the changes James talks about is the band’s approach to making music. “In those dark days when we didn’t know what was going on, we didn’t stop writing. We’ve discovered new ways of writing as a band, we’ve discovered more about ourselves as musicians. We were getting out our frustrations through our music. We took the time to learn about Ableton and Reason and Pro-Tools and immersed ourselves in that world and our second album, which we’re nearly finished.”

Don’t expect Funeral Suits to ditch the guitars for laptops, though. “I see a lot of people with Macs onstage and I’m not into it in the same way as I would be when I see a band like Arcade Fire onstage with all that energy. It doesn’t grab me in the same way and Macs and samplers don’t move me in the same way so it’s not a route we want to go down. At the same time, we’ve been playing a lot with an electronic sound without losing what we are as a band.

“It’s experimentation and trying to find new ways of doing things – not new to the world but new to us.”

James talks a lot about what the band want to achieve with this album and how their music is always changing. Standing still doesn’t appear to be an option. “It’s like you have this goalpost ahead of you and you’re getting to it and just as you’re about to reach it, the goalpost moves. I will never stop wanting something else and we’re all the same in this band.

“We have unbelievable drive and ambition and when things are going well, the buzz is amazing. But I don’t think we’ll ever be happy or will accept ‘sure, it’s grand’ as an outcome. We’ll always want more.”

Their wish-list contains things that James says are probably “not massive things” to many. “We were playlisted three times in a row on XFM in London, for instance, and that, for me, is really great. I really want to tour in Europe and slowly build a fanbase. Just play cities and see if we can build up audiences there. Then, we want to see how the album is received and hopefully it will be received well and give us the encouragement to keep on going and do a second album.”

After all, reasons James, he and his bandmates are ill-equipped for alternative careers. “I mean, what else am I going to do other than the band? I’m not a computer tech and I’m never going to work in a bank. This is what I am. There have been days in the last year when I’ve gone ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ You want to have things like houses that normal people have but people in our position who make music and art are not normal people. You put in so much work, so much dedication, for a very long time and it’s immaterial.

“I’ve lost my way at times and have become disillusioned with what I do and it has affected what I do. But I’ve always come back around and there’s someone to pull me back out. As a band, we’re prepared for the long, hard road.”

* Lily of the Valley is released on Model Citizen today, and is reviewed on page 14. Funeral Suits play Bourke’s, Limerick (June 6); Whelan’s, Dublin (7); Róisín Dubh, Galway (8) and Pavilion, Cork (9)

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