Tuesday, July 31, 2007

INTERVIEW: P.H. Lovecraft of the Funeral Crashers

The Funeral Crashers have been kicking around New York in one form or another for a while now, and it's quite nice that they're starting to get some recognition for it. Whereas a few years ago, the kind of music they play might have been rather contextless amidst the New York music landscape, they're finding their audience quite nicely now and even have some kindred spirits in the likes of the Hunt, Blacklist, or out of towners like the Opposite Sex, who have rolled into town to play with the Funeral Crashers on a few occasions. In addition, they all fall into the "righteous dude" category, which is to say they're the kind of guys you'd be happy to go out for a night on the town with in addition to seeing on the stage.

This following interview was actually not meant to be an interview per se. It was conducted by email with FC singer Phil (aka P.H. Lovecraft!) to help give me the necessary background information to write an article which now appears in the pages of the debut issue of Deathrock Magazine. Phil, being the industrious chap he is, went all out for the interview, and provided me with much more than some notes from which to cull some quotable material. So this post will serve a dual purpose; 1. encourage you to check out the Funeral Crashers (more specifically; check out their CD, which has been recorded and will come out in one form or another in the coming months! Or, alternately, you New Yorkers can check them out with at Club Midway on August 2nd with Woman and the Holy Kiss-- a recommended show if there ever was one!); and 2. encourage you to check out Deathrock Magazine, which should hit the shelves right about now.

Augenmusik: How long have the Funeral Crashers been around in total?

P. H. Lovecraft: I'm not sure that's something I want to claim bragging rights on; I'd have to say about 7 years now. For at least 3 and a half years of that time, the band was "inactive" if not completely defunct.  It was a very restless corpse, though.  There's an involved, tragi-comic history too long to recite here. I think the point where it became a real band and a cohesive unit was when Frank joined in the summer of 2005.  Before that it all we had was a clever name, a set of demo recordings and some conceptual aesthetics that had yet to be fully realized.

Augenmusik: Could you describe some of the major hurdles you've had to overcome  in forming the band/ getting it to the point that you're at now?

P. H. Lovecraft: For me, the main thing was just finding people who would have enough dedication and shared sensibilities to make it work, which is harder than you might think in New York, especially if you have a particular idea of what you want. A revolving door lineup only works if you're the kind of Bowie/Reznor songwriting virtuoso who'll drive the band. I'm not a singer/ songwriter, I'm a vocalist and a music aesthetician, so I need collaborators.

After the original lineup fell through I was "over" the Funeral Crashers; I had always wanted to do a band but the early material was a lot more horror-punk than I'd hoped.  After making the rounds looking for other bands and an ill-fated attempt in '03-'04 to reconnect with old members and record the original set of songs, it started making sense to revive the band and just develop it in the direction I had wanted.  It was like rebuilding a scrapped car; that's a weird metaphor, but accurate, because there was kind of a shape to it. My bandmates evolved things a lot, especially Ed's guitar playing because he has such a wide range of influences, but Frank and Oliver both brought a lot in as well. None of us are into exactly the same things but we share common ground.

[Photo by JKart

Augenmusik: What was the original line up of the Funeral Crashers? How long did  it last?

P. H. Lovecraft: That would have been me, Mark Splatter playing bass, Jeremy "Bastard" Alisauskas on guitar and Steven "Dead Beat" Napolitano as drummer.  I think that lasted about three months before Mark moved to LA; we never even played out.  Steven, Jeremy and I carried on for about a year with Rick "RickFits" Holler on bass, and then, briefly, Matt Smith from Saetia and Hot Cross.  Matt wasn't permanent and Steve left, and although we tried to rotate in a different rhythm section, personality conflicts had set in. By spring 2001 things had run their course.  Not a note was heard again until late 2003.  Steven was also in the original lineup of the Memphis Morticians, and Jeremy went on to play in Unto Ashes and Autodrone.

Augenmusik: During the Funeral Crasher's first incarnation, the dark music  scene in NY was vastly different. What were some of the bands you  played with then, and where would you play? Could you remark on some  of the differences between now and then?

P. H. Lovecraft: How much time do you have? In 2000, "dark music" mostly referred to "goth", which at that time meant either overly Sisters of Mercy/ Dead Can Dance influenced bands or synth-heavy industrial.  The Funeral Crashers were supposed to be a reaction to that, bringing back a lot of punk and post-punk and Batcave/ deathrock and experimental/ psychedelic rock influences and the idea of energy and spectacle to this very formulaic and boring scene.  That was pretty much it-- we were a very dark rock band.

There were a few oddball bands, most of whom also folded around 2001, combining punk and rock and electro elements with a gothic sort of aesthetic, notably The Brickbats and the Skabs who Funeral Crashers Version One played out with in 2000.  The Stiffs Inc. (one of the best New York bands of the 90s before they broke up in 1998) were a huge influence on me personally.  I think most of the first venues I played literally do not exist anymore or have been renovated beyond recognition: CBGB and CB's Gallery, the Collective Unconscious space, Bellvue Bar, Nightengale's.  The first Funeral Crashers show ever was at Nightengale's, back when it was a total dive that did 18+ and all-ages punk shows.  The Unseen were on the bill.  It was terrible.

Augenmusik: How do the hardships of doing a band in NY affect the Funeral  Crashers?

P. H. Lovecraft: New York is a "tough" town, not as much in the sense of high crime and being physically dangerous, like in the 70s and 80s, but in the sense of being absolutely pitiless.  Economics and money drive everything here, you can see that from the massive gentrification of Manhattan and Brooklyn to CBGB getting closed down over a rent dispute; a friend of mine argued that there isn't a New York music scene, just a bunch of "very efficient parasites."  It's this brutal survival struggle of art against commerce.

[Photo by JKart]

I mentioned that it's surprisingly hard to find people, besides that there's the astronomical cost of living in the NY metro area which makes it hard for people to exist low on the food chain and still afford rent and rehearsal space without getting swallowed up by a day job or getting all your gear stolen because you can only afford to live in the ghetto.

After all the New York bands hit over the last few years, the music scene here is also oversaturated with everybody lining up to be the "next big thing"; that's kind of exciting but it also makes it difficult to stand out or find a following in this huge mass of mostly mediocre and imitative bands.  It can take a while to get something going, and people inevitably end up complaining about having to compete with trust-funders who can devote more time to their band because somebody else pays the rent.

Something I find really sad is the decline of all-ages venues.  There's the nanny-state mentality fostered under Mayor Giuliani and still persisting that music venues are some kind of blight that we have to protect the children from.  I think it's ridiculous that you have to be 21 to see a rock show, and it's separating the people who are old enough to have gotten good at music from the people who are young enough to get really excited about it. Though that might also explain the recent upsurge in "kid bands" in New York--the teenagers have no places left to go.

And, of course, any time you are trying to work as an artist or entertainer, it's completely dependent on contacts and making connections to get your first breaks.  In New York, multiply that by 1,000-- it's all who you know and who you clique with here; bands who start with existing connections to the music and entertainment industry can have an unfair advantage.

 On the flip side, there are at least contacts to be made here, if you can find your way.  And there are still tons of places in New York a band can play; so long as you don't care about convenience, good sound, getting paid or whether anybody will show up, there are always gigs to be found.

Augenmusik: What are your immediate plans?

P. H. Lovecraft: We've done a lot of recording, so what we really want to do is release something. Whether that is with a label or on our own remains to be seen, but that's where we're at right now.  Beyond that, to write songs, work on our live show and leave a pint of blood on the stage.

Augenmusik: What are your long term plans/ aspirations for the band?

P. H. Lovecraft: Total world domination. No, actually, we're trying to focus on the present.  This group is either a cat's nine lives or the living dead.  All probability pointed to it disappearing on the scrap heap of musical history after Version One fell apart in 2001, and sometimes I'm surprised it's had this longevity.  That people have started noticing us is a good feeling (because they SHOULD be taking notice of us) but we have a long way to go before we've made a significant contribution to music.



Monday, July 09, 2007


That these is a whole network of bands influenced by that triumverate of the Birthday Party/ the Cramps/ the Gun Club shouldn't surprise anyone right now. What is pretty interesting, though, is that there is something akin to an industry segment of musicians who've got some association with that aforementioned legendary Australian band through only minimal degrees of separation of shared band members. Same goes for the others mentioned. For example, the Bellmer Dolls undoubtedly fall into this category [Bellmer Dolls-the Vanity Set-Grinderman-Birthday Party; 4 degrees of separation].

What's pretty amazing is that there's quite a lot of good bands out there on that dark, bluesy tip; just a little thought in that direction can yield the likes of Piker Ryan, Dimi Dero, the Devastations, the Drones, Woman, Alice Texas, and that will run the whole spectrum of that sound. Though I don't know how much the "degrees of separation" scheme works once you include bands like LA's Lion Fever, or SF's the Holy Kiss, but you've got two damn good additions to that list right there. Obviously I like the Holy Kiss plenty enough to put out a record of theirs that compiles rare and out of print vinyl and compilation appearances. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that I'm about to sing their praises.

It was Sweden's Release the Bats label that scored this Holy Kiss full length, and with "Shot Love on a Back Line," the Holy Kiss wrote quite a great album. They're ostensibly more blues-influenced than most of their compatriots (that is to say, their SF post-punk and indie brethren, or even the colleagues-in-spirit mentioned above), and of course they're treading some dangerous territory there, as most electrified bands sound trite and ridiculous when compared to depth and dynamism of a Son House or a Robert Johnson.

To avoid the boogie-rock trap, or the nostalgia-act route, some bands will meld feedback and dissonance into their guitars to build on the intensity; the Holy Kiss hold back on the noise-front, but manage to approach their songs with a more collected elegance. Where the Bellmer Dolls might come out and stab you with their jagged guitar lines, there is an ethereal quality to the Holy Kiss's guitars. Matty Rue Morgue's slide guitar dances around the notes, as in the opening to "A Dancehall Goodbye," where it maintains a calm vibrato until the chorus kicks in and explodes without ever sounding reckless. In fact, the guitars almost bounce off Nick Ott's pummeling drum beats, which masterfully calm into a heavy back beat in just the right places. It's undeniably held together by the steady low-end of Dawn Hillis's bass, as on songs like "A Slave Song," where it provides the foundation for a tense crescendo. One of the highlights of the album for me is surely Matty's voice, which retains the grainy quality of previous recordings, but manages to sound clear and unaffected throughout the songs.

They take these songs on the road in August, alongside New Yorkers Woman, who you will hopefully be hearing more about shortly, as they're quite deserving of some praise themselves. Check them out at the following dates:

August 2 @ Midway in New York with the Funeral Crashers
August 3 @ Cakeshop in New York with the Star Spangles
August 4 @ PA's in Boston
August 29 @ the Double Down in Las Vegas, NV with Jail Weddings
August 30 @ the Echo in LA with Old Time Relijun and Jail Weddings (All ages!)
August 31 @ Alex's Bar in Long Beach CA with Grand Elegance, Old Time Relijun and Jail Weddings
September 1 @ TBA in San Francisco
September 2 @ 12 Galaxies in San Francisco with Jail Weddings and Sixteens

Related Links:
Release the Bats Records
The Holy Kiss on myspace
Woman on myspace