A Conversation With: Five Alarm Funk
Recently I was lucky enough to sit down with 3 members of the Vancouver Funk Rock outfit, Five Alarm Funk.
As I awaited their arrival on the patio at The Horseshoe Tavern I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the distance I heard the gentle ‘clip-clop’ of, what sounded like, a fast approaching horse. I turned to see the gentlemen I would be spending a portion of my afternoon with: Tom: dressed in a bright red onesie, goggles and afro style clown wig gently banging two coconut halves together to generate that signature horse trot sound. Carl: dressed in white shorts, a white top and a captain’s hat. And lastly, Dameian: clad in several beaded necklaces, and a dark fur coat.
There was no doubt in my mind that this was going to be fun.
Dameian: (Clip-clop-clip-clop-clip-clop [horseshoes on cobblestone sound effect made with coconuts]) Welcome to the interview!
Best intro ever! How are you guys liking Toronto on this beautiful day?
Damien: It’s wonderful. Amazing. It’s nice to be hot, and not worry about cold. We had a long cold winter.
Sadly we didn’t. But I guess in Vancouver you did?
Dameian: We did. We definitely did. We didn’t have the 30-degree February. We had a lot of rain out there, so it is nice. Actually it’s funny, we had a week of glorious weather before we went out on tour, so we figured that as soon as it got nice we had to split or something. But at least it’s nice everywhere else we’re going. So that’s pretty dope.
I saw on Twitter that you guys were here a couple of days ago; then you played a show in Hamilton, and then you went to Sarnia, and now you’re back. How did your shows in Hamilton and Sarnia go?
Damien: Awesome! We played at a place called The Casbah in Hamilton, it was totally pumpin’. I think there were actually 3 other bands that played that night as well, which is crazy because the place isn’t a big venue. It was a really pumpin’ show. And then we played….where did we play next? Sarnia!
Carl: The place was so big.
Dameian: It was. They fed us lots and lots of beers. We had a great time. And they booked us for another gig on our way back! Straight up just booked us again.
Carl: We’re booking a whole other tour while we’re on this tour.
Dameian: Yeah, I think we had like one show in July when we left Vancouver, and now we have like 4 in July.
You guys are driving everywhere for this tour right? How is that?
Dameian: There are 9 of us in a 15-passenger van.
Carl: In the summer, it really starts to stink. You have to stay on top of the garbage and we’re really bad at that. Generally, we just throw it on the floor and kind of let it ferment. But I cleaned the van out last night.
Dameian: Yes, Admiral Carl has taken care of that. He’s making it happen. We cook for ourselves. We’ve got a hotplate on this tour.
Carl: yeah, we cook our own meals.
Dameian: Wake up in the morning, get some bacon and eggs on the go.
Carl: Lots of baked beans though. I mean, I like beans, but –
Dameian: It’s good for you!
Carl: But how long can I eat beans for?
I suppose you guys have to consider the best source for sustenance. It’s not a good idea to eat McDonald’s for every pit stop.
Dameian: Exactly! And I’ll tell you what – the van smells a lot better since we haven’t eaten fast food on this trip.
Carl: Actually, I don’t think I’ve eaten McDonald’s at all on this trip.
Dameian: Me either.
Carl: Wait a second. Are we recording this?
Dameian: Yes, I guess you missed when we started doing that. We started with the coconuts as an intro!
Carl: How are you going to transcribe that? Are you going to do the Clop ‘dash’ clop?
I definitely will.
Dameian: Not Clop ‘comma’ clop?
Carl: It’s got to be a dash! That’s the big thing on this tour. We’ve been trying to get people to write the coconut sound properly. A lot of people struggle with that. I mean, we’re not scholars, it took us a long time to figure that out too.
I’ll be sure to remember! Other than beans, what else helps you survive the tour?
Carl: Quesadillas help too.
Dameian: Survive? This is what we want to do. We live for this. I wouldn’t call it surviving. We just happen to be eating better while we’re on tour.
Carl: What keeps me going is looking out into the crowd and seeing all the young women that come to our shows. I wear these sunglasses so I can look right at their chests. We’re breaking hearts all across the country. Pretty simple operation at this stage. It’s clinical.
Tom: Speaking of clinics….
Carl: Let’s not go there again.
Off the record?
Carl: Oh it’s on the record. (points at iPhone) That’s a record player?
(Laughs) Yes. You guys play like a show a day. How do you make sure you don’t burn out?
Carl: Well, let’s ask Tom.
Tom: Well sometimes you feel a little bit sub par, and quite frankly. I don’t know how we do it.
Carl: Tom puked just before the gig from partying the night before. But he, bless his brave soul, he put on that strong face and he did it.
Tom: That’s what you gotta do. Put on your goggles, hide your grimace and just go for it.
Carl: Hide your shame, hide your grimace, it doesn’t matter.
Dameian: Yeah, put it away. You don’t need it.
Can you offer any advice to any bands that are about to go on tour for the first time?
Carl: Yeah. Be in a good band.
Dameian: (laughs) Yes!
Carl: It helps a lot with meeting people and people’s reaction to you. So to go beyond that; if you want to tour well, you should probably start with rehearsals.
Dameian: Yeah. But if you do get to the point where you do get on the road I think the best thing is cooking for yourself.
Carl: Yeah, cooking for yourself. And stay hydrated. And bring a lot of fucking weed. Don’t go out there thinking it’s going to get better, just bring it.
Dameian: (laughs) Yes. Real deal here.
Off the record I agree.
Carl: What about on the record, do you agree?
Dameian: Megan’s a chronic.
Tom: (to a little boy passing us on the street) Stay in school or else you’ll grow up to look like us.
Carl: (to Tom) What did you just say to him?
Tom: I told him to stay in school otherwise he’ll turn out like us. I didn’t want to give him the false hope that looking like this was ok.
Dameian: Dude, I went to school for a long time to turn out like this.
Carl: Tom just finished up 7 years of school.
Tom: I just grad-umac-ated!
Carl: He’s a doctor of gynecology. He’s an expert.
Tom: Actually it was a major in natural resource conservation with a minor in female anatomy. I failed. Miserably.
Carl: He could never figure out the foreplay thing.
Tom: Is that a minor with an ‘o’ or an ‘e’?
Carl: THAT works on text. On the record!
Tom: There are so many bad jokes that only work when they’re written. Like putting the phallus in “Logical fallacy”. It doesn’t work when you’re just saying it.
Carl: Oh man, everyone hates us down here.
Nobody hates you down here. Everyone loves you down here!
Carl: No see, I have to keep my expectations low, cause then I’m always pleasantly surprised.
Carl: Let’s race for answers now! Only yes or no questions! Go!
I don’t have any other yes or no questions!
Carl: This interview is over!
What is your favourite Toronto venue?
Carl: We played at the Horseshoe. That was great. We played at The Rivoli. We did a CMW thing at some shitty bar up that way. So, my favourite place to play in Toronto is here, at the Horseshoe. We’ve only played like 3 or 4 times in Toronto. We did play Nathan Phillips Square for Jazz Fest a few years ago. That was pretty cool.
How do you feel festivals compare to playing a bar show?
Carl: They’re better. They’re bigger, you get more money, and more people stare at you. Which is what we’re all about.
Tom: I just want to say that as a word of mouth band that relies solely on people’s live experience, we do depend on natural draw. So when we play a place we haven’t been before, it’s kind of hard to get the established crowd. Whereas with a festival, you show up, and there’s already a crowd of people there and all we have to do is play our set that we know is going to rock their socks off, next thing you know? You get a thousand new fans.
Carl: And you get to play to different demographics. You know a bar crowd is going to be a certain age group. They’re going to be 20-40, but at festivals we get to play to children. And I personally love small children.
Dameian: Who doesn’t love ‘em.
Carl: I really enjoy their company.
Moving on. Does that need to be off the record?
Carl: That shit is very much so on the record.
Dameian: Ok, let’s start the interview.
Carl: We haven’t started?
Dameian: Well we did. We clip-clopped into it.
Your sound has been described in many different ways. “Nuclear Orgy of Sound” was one…
Carl: We’ve been called ‘Canada’s Largest Mobile Sausage Party’. We’ve been called ‘Canada’s Finest Honkies’.
Tom: Oh! And ‘Heavyset Champions of Vancouver’.
Carl: Right! Weighing in at like fifteen hundred-seventy pounds, or something like that.
Dameian: All of us all together.
Tom: And 3 ounces! Half is mine!
Carl: You always get the bigger share.
How would you guys describe yourselves for someone that maybe hasn’t heard your stuff before?
Carl: Sex Rock.
Dameian: Sex rock. That’s a new good one. I like that!
Why ‘Sex Rock’?
Carl: Because sexuality comes out of our pores. And when I spray my hand sweat at the audience, it flies onto them.
Tom: We exude sex.
Carl: The pheromones are thick in the air. It’s like the air in a bingo hall in Sudbury on a Tuesday night.
Dameian: Basically people just start taking their clothes off.
Carl: Have you ever been to Sudbury, Megan? Tuesday is a bad night.
Can’t say that I have. Next question; why funk music?
Dameian: Well, it’s not just funk music. We kind of play everything. We play metal, we play rock, we play Afro beat. I think we’ve even toyed with taking ‘funk’ out of the band name.
Carl: Yeah. Just be ‘Five Alarm’. See with funk, people don’t typically like funk.
Tom: There’s definitely a stigma around it.
Carl: Yeah, shitty bands that play shitty funk.
Dameian: And there’s so many shitty bands with the word ‘funk’ in their name. ‘Groove’ is another one. If the word ‘groove’ is in your band name that just sucks, man.
Carl: What about ‘motion’?
Dameian: ‘Motion’ isn’t a good name for a band. ‘Motion’. Put some lotion on it?
Carl: Man , I would love to be ‘Five Alarm Lotion’. It’s the hottest lotion in town!
Dameian: Where would you put that? What kind of lotion would that be?
I don’t want to know.
Tom: Some sort of Jalapeño, serratia, topical body lotion, not to be taken externally.
Carl: Yes! Exactly!
That should be your band description.
Carl: Not for external use?
Tom: My face is up here, Megan.
Carl: Stop checking out his package.
I’m not even looking at it, I can’t see it!
Dameian: Go show her your package.
Carl: It’s not a video interview. People aren’t even going to know what it looks like! You know what you could say, you could write that if you were looking at it, it would be jumping out of the page.
Dameian: It’s balbous.
Carl: I think the future is in 3D magazines.
Tom: Just wear the proper glasses, because it will take out an eye.
Carl: You could hurt yourself.
Dameian: I like the idea of 3D Magazines. It gives me something to look forward to. Just like when we finally get the flying car – why don’t we have that right now?
Carl: We do, they’re called airplanes.
You’re new album ‘Rock The Sky’ showcases your rock influence. What motivated you to have an album dedicated to that?
Dameian: It wasn’t motivated. It kind of just happened.
Carl: We only do things one-way – naturally.
Dameian: That’s just it – someone comes up with this wicked groove, and then we play it. If it’s not wicked enough, we don’t.
Carl: We’re ultra collaborative. Everyone writes the songs. We all get what we want out of it.
How did you guys all find each other?
Dameian: There was this ad on Craig’s List. Something like ‘looking to start-‘ what was it?
Carl: ‘Looking to start a wicked funk band’. Whatever it was. I don’t remember the exact wording of it. But it was like meet ‘here’ to start this band….
Dameian: and we all showed up.
Carl: – but none of us placed the ad.
Dameian: Yeah, we still don’t know who placed the ad.
Carl: I don’t know. Someone wanted this to happen.
Tom: Someone wanted us to come together.
Dameian: And then boom. We all just started playing. It started feeling really good.
Carl: It’s weird, because I’m from the east side of Vancouver, and Tom’s from the west side…
Tom: (sings) West side!
Carl: How are you going to print that??
Tom: Oh, I keep forgetting this isn’t a radio interview!
Carl: We transcend the written world. No medium can contain us.
Dameian: No ‘media’ can contain us.
Seriously? You’re sticking to that origin story?
Carl: It’s better than the Sunday School gangbang version we tell people.
I feel like you guys change your answer every time somebody asks you that question.
Carl: That is not true.
Dameian: It’s a total lie.
Carl: You don’t have to use that Sunday School story.
You didn’t say off the record.
Dameian: Everything is on the record! It’s all on there!
Carl: If I say ‘off the record’ it’s even more so ‘on the record’.
Tom: Our whole life is on the record.
Carl: What do you think the chances are of a girl walking up and making out with me before the end of this interview?
Dameian: Right now? Like, in the next 5 minutes?
Carl: Yes. Right now.
Dameian: I’m going to say doubtful man. If you were to have said is there a chance a dude would come up and make out with you, I’d say there’s a bigger chance.
Carl: I say there’s a pretty good chance.
Of a guy or a girl?
Carl: (points at dog passing on the sidewalk) Look at the size of that dog!
Tom: We have to take a picture of him and put it on facebook. (Runs toward dog. Dog barks and runs away).
Dameian: The evil clown scares the dog!
Speaking of Facebook – how do you guys feel about the increased use of social media to get the word out about your band?
Carl: We suck at it. I don’t even own a computer.
Dameian: Let’s Twitter this! I’m taking a picture.
Carl: Yeah, tweet that shit. Honestly; our online presence is poor. I think that’s why other bands are getting more famous. They don’t go around and play better shows than us, but more people know who they are, because they have more publicity than us that way. (poses for picture) Tweet this motherfucker. My job is to make the food, occasionally drive the van and play music. I spent most of my teen years bugging al my friends to come out to shows, and get people out that way, but I’m tired of it. I don’t like to be so self-promotional but you have to be you have to do it. How are you going to describe my thighs to your readers?
Good question. I’m going to say they’re supple.
Carl: Supple? Feel this. My calf feels like breasts under the right circumstances.
(laughs) One last question: there’s this stigma that Toronto audiences are a ‘tough nut to crack’, and as a result is losing it’s stride as a positive city for touring. How do you guys feel about that?
Carl: My only issue is that liquor stores here close at 9 o’clock. What’s up with that?
Dameian: Yeah, that’s a little extreme.
Carl: Seriously though, other than that, I love to rock Toronto. It’s always a good time.
Glad to hear it. Any closing remarks?
Carl: This interview was awesome.
Dameian: Yeah, Megan rocks.
Carl: You really captured the essence of my thighs.