Five Alarm Funk: Servants to the Music

Spring 2011 | Renegade Radio | Online here

Five Alarm Funk

Five Alarm Funk onstage during the 2008 Vancouver Jazz Festival. Picture courtesy the band.

If you could somehow bottle up a Five Alarm Funk show, you’d have a new source of alternative energy.

The 10-man Vancouver band’s brassy blend of funk, rock and world music powers an onstage show complete with dance moves, choreographed arm movements and the occasional shark-gorilla wrestling match.

“It’s an all-around show,” says saxophonist Dameian Walsh, “not a music recital.” Almost all of the moves started out spontaneously, he explains. “It it’s cool, we keep it.”

It’s a sentiment that sums up much of what the band – which in addition to Walsh features four percussionists, two guys on guitar, one on bass, two blowing on trumpets, and another on the trombone – does.

After all, with 10 people in on the decision-making, things can get tricky. (Walsh figures he is band member No. 22 – they seem to go through the horn players the fastest, he notes – and there been as few as six and as many as 13 musicians involved at one time since the band got its start in 2003.)

“It’s like I have nine brothers,” says Walsh. “It’s not silky smooth all of the time. We fight, but we see the bigger picture; we’re all servants to the music.”

If the group dynamics weren’t complicated enough, each member brings his own musical tastes with him.“When we go on the road, if there are five iPods in the van, that’s five sets of completely different music,” says Walsh.

So in the end, there are just two rules: Majority wins, and more importantly: “If it sounds good, we’ll do it.”

That philosophy has led to a lot of experimentation, and explains how the band tapped into its genre-spanning sound.

“Our influences are always changing,” says Walsh. “Someone brings in a new album, and all of a sudden there’s a new sound that we want to try out. We listened to a lot of gypsy music a little while ago, so we started writing gypsy music. ”

The result is the eclectic Anything is Possible, the band’s third studio album. (The boys will spend the next few months crossing the country in a van to promote the album, travelling from B.C. to Halifax, with a stop in Toronto for Canadian Music Week.)

“It’s the idea of the band, captured on CD,” says Walsh of the album, and as such draws inspiration from progressive rock to the sounds of the Middle East, and from musicians ranging from J.S. Bach to Frank Zappa.

Released in July 2010, the self-produced disc has been well received, and was hailed by Chart Attack as a “potent mind-altering substance.”

Audiences seem to be equally hooked. Even when they’re playing somewhere new, Five Alarm Funk pulls in a crowd.

“It’s like this Pied Piper effect happens,” says Walsh. “By the end of the set, there seems to be a full dance floor, even if there were only two people in the bar when we started.”