Spotlight Ottawa’s Exclusive Interview with Five Alarm Funk

July 17th, 2013 by  |  Published in Interviews

Five Alarm Funk courtesy Johnny Liu Photography

Spotlight Ottawa’s, Jillian Szacki, talks new album, Calico bears and controversial dance moves with Five Alarm Funk’s drummer/vocalist Tayo Branston.

The ten-piece gypsy-folk band from Vancouver, B.C. are in the midst of their Canadian summer tour and stopped in Ottawa to play a wild show on Sunday night at Mercury Lounge. With a 2013 Juno nomination for ‘Instrumental Album of the Year’ under their belt, this “unstoppable orgy of energy” are a force to be reckoned with. And, I mean, who isn’t interested in a good old-fashioned orgy?

Spotlight: How did Five Alarm Funk’s ten member orchestra come together?

Tayo: Originally, me and the bass player [Neil Towers] had been playing together for quite some time and then we met Gabe Boothroyd [guitar] randomly at a party. We had a great session and then started playing with Gabe’s drummer too. By 2003, we were up to about seven members and we knew we wanted more. We wanted more sound and more power… and then the horn power came. The horns were the key. The most amount of people we had play a show together was about fourteen.

Spotlight: How has Five Alarm Funk’s sound changed from the first self-titled album in 2006 to the sound on the newest album, Rock the Sky?

Tayo: It’s changed a lot. There’s definitely been a lot of growth within the band. When we first started out, we were shooting for a pure funk or pure afro-funk sound because those were our biggest influences at the time. But, as you progress members start feeling more comfortable with what kind of music they want to do and what they really like. And then a lot of influences from the rest of your life start coming in. The sound we have going right now, I think it’s funny because it’s not classifiable in a genre, but it’s kind of definable under the funk sound. I believe we’ve created something for ourselves – something truly original.

Spotlight: For someone like me, who is attending a Five Alarm Funk concert for the first time, what would you tell them to expect, and more importantly, what shoes would you suggest?

Tayo: I would say, you should have probably worn a bathing suit and shoes – you don’t need any. As a band, when we’re playing we are exuding the most amount of energy. So, I play in swim trunks and a pair of aqua socks. It’s very, very intense. From the first down-beat, I would hope if you’re not out on the dance floor, you’re at least nodding your head and moving your feet.

Spotlight: What are your road tour vices?

Tayo: Oh, god… my vices. Well, I like to drink beer and I do smoke cigarettes, which isn’t a great thing because I’m also singing. Our sax player told me to chew on cloves to protect my voice, it’s a Native technique. But, I mean, I love touring. If I could tour for an entire year, I would. I’m the happiest when we’re touring. A year probably wouldn’t be the healthiest though.

Spotlight: You might get scurvy

Tayo: [Laughs] We try to eat a lot of oranges. We’ve had quite an exhausting tour so far. Tonight is our thirteenth show in a row. It has been very exhausting, but the best thing about Five Alarm Funk is that as soon as we start playing, the energy comes out from within you. The music is what gives us our energy. Life is good.

Spotlight: Do you have a spirit animal in your life?

Tayo: I would say it’s a bear. It’s probably a hybrid grizzly-polar bear cross. Some kind of savage Calico bear.

Spotlight: Five Alarm Funk has incorporated a lot of choreography into live performances. Do you have any controversial dance moves?

Tayo: Well, I don’t get to dance too much because I’m usually sitting. I definitely try to dance in my seat. But in terms of controversy, there was a point in Five Alarm time when we were very controversial. It started off small, but then our show kind of grew into this wild beast. We would have mannequins up on stage. But we’re always just having fun.

Spotlight: How does one Rock the Sky?

Tayo: Well, you start by getting on the back of a giant mechanical horse with wings and then it takes you there.

Five Alarm Funk performed songs from their newest nine-track concept album that revolves around the story of a diabolical ice cream man, who taints his tasty treats with psychedelic drugs. Five Alarm Funk’s energy was heavily climactic and had fans dancing throughout the entire hour-long set. The sweaty, half-naked renegades of the band blasted the crowd on a rocket ship ride through Five Alarm Funk’s solar system.

Meet the psychedelically-clad ice cream man and check out Five Alarm Funk’s newest music video for “We All Scream”:


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