Funeral Diner was one of my absolute favorite bands. This interview was conducted in 2007, shortly after they called it quits. It’s my own personal contribution to explore the band’s history and the ideas behind their amazing music. I was still a teenager when doing this interview, but I’ve tried to craft some interesting question touching on various subjects. All questions were answered by their drummer Mathew Bajda alone and the interview was published on paper in my old zine called Tigersuit.
Funeral Diner started in 1998 after the break up of Nexus 6 as well as a few other short-lived projects. Matthew, Dan, and Dave were all in Nexus 6 together as well as the other projects, but didn’t really get something solid going until Funeral Diner started. There were a few bass players that came and went during the 9 years of the band, ending off with Ben Steidel; the others being Sean O’Shea, Rob Beckstrom, and Andy Radin. Dan Originally sang in the beginning but decided against it in order to concentrate more on just playing guitar. Phil Benson sang at first, but parted ways early on. Seth Babb replaced him later on and remained until the end.
Funeral Diner has become one of the most important screamo bands in the worldwide community. Why did you brake up and what is the most important thing you have achieved during near a decade of existence?
This is really my own personal opinion on the matter, so in order to get a more complete explanation you would have to talk to the other guys in the band. I think they would agree firstly in that it seems that the band had run its course. Living in San Francisco is not cheap, so money was an issue when it came to tour. Ben had started a new project that was taking some time as well. There were also time constraints with jobs and getting time off versus wanting to quit the job and have nothing to come back to after going on tour. No one is going to want to give you your job back if you leave for 4 or more months to go on tour. It takes a lot of dedication to do something like that, and people get older factors like that come more into play than they used to. During the last few years you have been extensively touring United States, Europe and even Japan.
What is the difference between shows in the States compared to Europe and Japan? Also do you play in autonomous spaces like squats etc? What’s the role of these places for the hardcore community?
Touring the United States is like taking a drive through your own neighborhood; it’s very comfortable. Of course you do not know what to expect with every show, but you take comfort in know that when you get up in the morning you are the one in charge of where you are going, you know where the grocery stores are, and you are comfortable in the feeling that you are in your own element of sorts. When touring around in Europe you have less of the feeling of security or being at home. The trade off is that you do not have to worry as much about how to get to the show or driving the van. You also get the benefits of getting fed dinner and breakfast at almost every show. You are also given a place to sleep after every show. In the U.S. there is not really any guarantee that you will even get a place to sleep after a show. Europe is more like a package vacation tour that elderly people go on, except you play a show every night and there are no old people. Our friends have always driven the tour van around in Europe, which makes things way better. They usually want to get to the next city early as much as we do, since then we can all go out and sight see together before having to be at the show.
Japan is intense. There is no better word to describe it. There is a lot of long drives in small vans with little space. There is a large language barrier, which makes things a lot more complex. People find it hard to tell you what is going on so they just tell you to wait. It is the kind of touring where you put all your trust into someone else’s hands and believe in them to make it all come together. The big benefit there is that people are so enthusiastic about watching you play. People still stage dive, people still sing along, and people still cry when they watch you play. It is really wonderful, not to mention the heavy use of animated characters or cartoons in everything that you see.
In general we have played anywhere and everywhere; Squats, houses, clubs, sheds, bars, living rooms, basements, and back yards. Autonomous places work the best because there the people putting on the show will not lose money, which will better insure that they can put on more shows in the future. The drawback is that they seem to be more heavily targeted by local law, and tend to get shut down.
What are your feelings about the DIY scene and growing older? What is it like for you integrating hardcore/punk into your life and staying true to the DIY ethics?
The DIY scene is really what you make it. DIY in Europe is different than the United States as well as Japan. People will trash talk a band in a heartbeat if they think someone has sold out. But, who draws the line as to where the sell out point is? As I have grown older and seen bands come and along, Funeral Diner now being one of them, I can say that DIY can be as well planned or as sloppy as the people in the scene want it to be. The truth of the matter is that it is there for the people to enjoy the music rather than for one person to make money. As you get older, you come to realize that there are ways to get larger as a band, but you have to go through the right channels to get to that end. The DIY scene may or may not be one of the. It’s like paying dues. If you put in enough work helping people out in your scene and doing what you can, then if you end up getting big, then there should be no complaints as long as you are not ripping people off. If you try to go to shows and charge horrendous prices for a shirt that costs little to make, then you should be ashamed of what you are doing. in the end you just have to think about the decision you make and how they will have an effect on other people or what will happen in the future.
One of the greatest things about the DIY scene is that many of the bands release their records on 7″ with handmade artwork and packaging, which brings very personal touch when you get the final product. And you guys have a lot of great 7″ splits with awesome bands. But most of these releases are in limited quantities. So what do you think of the expensive ebay prices for your records? Do you like to know your music is freely shared hand to hand, and by Internet worldwide rather than hundreds of bucks on ebay?
I get mixed emotions when I look on ebay. Ones of pride and remorse come to mind. I get excited to know that people want our music so much that they are willing to pay a lot more for something. It makes it seem a lot more special in some way. On the other hand I get bummed out that people do actually pay an arm and a leg to get a record that has been out of print for years.
We have songs that we have for free on the website which are remixes, and we had planned on putting some other songs up for people to have, but have not had the time to get to it. It someone wants the music and cannot afford to pay for some record on ebay for $30, then they should get it from a friend burnt on a CDR. it is more about listening to the music and getting the message and feelings that come along with it rather than having some piece of plastic or vinyl wrapped in paper.
Which bands/people do you guys consider influences? In both your music and the way you think about things. Members of Funeral Diner have been involved in bands such as Nexus Six, Portraits of Past and Takaru, did they influenced the music and style of Funeral Diner?
Each of us in the band has different bands that we have drawn from or have influenced us in the way we have gone about things, so I can’t really go into it deeply. I can say that the bands that we are friends with play a big part in what we have done in the past. We always like to tour with bands that we are tight with. Past bands like Takaru, Nexus 6, and Portraits of Past have had an effect on how we think about things; mostly on how we would like to do something different or how we would like to take a different approach to a similar situation. As far as me personally, I always watch other drummers to see what I can pick up. Kaospilot, Gospel, Hoover, Haram, Zann, Universal Order of Armageddon, Drive Like Jehu, Her Little Sisters Motherless, and Maximillian Colby are a few bands in the hardcore scene that have shaped my drumming though that is not all. Bands like Black Sabbath, Fleetwood Mac, Bauhaus, The Chameleons UK, as well as some of the jazz greats has also added into how I play.
Actually, in our country DIY screamo is not well known. The majority of kids here do know screamo through mainstream bands with no messages and just about fashion. What’s your opinion about this? What do you think about this screamo term reclaimed by the mass media…?
I never really knew it to be called Screamo until after the media claimed it, so for all I know, it might be a major media term to begin with. It all used to be called Hardcore when we started the band. I don’t really use the term all that often. I’ve told people what we have been classified as and they have no idea what that is. I just end up telling people that I play in some sort of band that is between punk rock and indie rock. I can’t use the term Hardcore any more because people then think I am either talking about talking about electronic music, like Hardcore Trance or Gabber, or I am talking about some sort of Metal band. All the genre labels have been moved around in last 10 years or more so things do not mean what they used to.
Emo now means Dashboard Confessional when it used to mean Anasarca. Hardcore means Hatebreed when it used to be Minor Threat. I guess the mass media can have the term Screamo at this point. It doesn’t really mean that much to me anyhow. I will just keep telling people I play something in the rock category.
Your lyrics seem to be very dark and bleak, you say they address the contradictions and personal conflicts that arise from living within a society in decline? But is there a specific (political or whatever) message you want to transmit through these lyrics?
The lyrics are mostly about messed up situations that arise between people. The Underdark LP was the main one that addressed the whole “society in decline” issue. There is no real set message in the lyrics or blatant statement in the lyrics because we want each person that listens to the music or reads the insert to take away their own meaning. Of course, the lyrics that were written stem from a certain situation and hold something personal to whoever wrote them, but we try to keep them vague so that others that listen can make their own conclusions.
What about the alienation between people nowadays? We meet people everyday in the streets, in the bus etc. But it’s like we don’t belong to the same species. And people seem to get used to not caring about the others.
My friend Jane told me a story about this just the other day. She was out running on a holiday this last week and was running across the street before the traffic light changed. She was sprinting really fast in order to make it in time, but when she got to the other side she fell and skinned both her knees on the ground, bruised her hip, and scraped her arm. She was laying face up on the pavement bleeding and not one, but 2 separate people stepped over her like she was a piece of trash covering the sidewalk. They didn’t walk around her, the stepped right over her. It was so absurd that I laughed. I would like to think that caring about strangers is not something that is totally dead, but with the way that society is going it is hard not to blame people. Just look at the amount of people who get mugged, molested, murdered, or raped by someone that claims to be in trouble only to turn the tables and make the savior the victim.
I have had this happen to me. It was hard to open my feelings back up to a person’s plight that I didn’t know. How many times will a person begging for money really need food rather than drugs? How many times will you give panhandler money that is “homeless and hungry” when you are thinking in the back of your mind that they are really headed straight to the liquor store for a bottle. You really have to choose where and when you help people. I still go out of my way to help people that I can. I will ask elderly ladies if they need help with groceries, I will open doors for people, I will help someone that I know is in need and I will try to take care of those that are in trouble. I would hope that when others see my actions they would get motivated to do the same. It is something that I like to believe is contagious or inspiring for others. It is easier to become complacent or apathetic, but when you help someone there is satisfaction. You don’t really get satisfaction from stepping over a bleeding person in the street.
Bored and tired, trapped in the consumerist state of mind we are imprisoned in a scheme we can’t escape. But is there an existential hope that keeps us fighting? Do you still believe that we can make a difference?
Whether it would be through music or any other way. I think we can make a difference. You can’t walk around thinking that you are going to change the world, but you can change little things about yourself that will help. It is all a matter of training yourself to think differently. I rarely watch television or movies. I know my time and money can go towards something else. I would rather spend money on food, on dancing, or on part of a plane ticket to somewhere awesome. You just have to think, “do I want this hoodie that looks cool, of which I don’t really need, or do I want to get to Japan and travel around?” I would rather go to Japan. As far as making a difference in the world around us, all we have to do is take a little time everyday and do what we can.
Volunteering at different non-profit organizations is a good way to help others, but if you don’t have time for that, then find something you do have time for. Or the next time you see someone in trouble and need of help, rise above your fear and try your best to help them. If everyone did, then things would not be so bad. I am not saying I am perfect. I have my moments of selfishness or apathy, but keeping it in mind to help others is a good first step to action.
Do you think that the problem is in the society/social system itself or within us, because the problem could not be just in the “system”, but also within us inside our way of thinking?
I think it is a little bit of both. Television and Movies portray violence a lot. The newscasts talk more about maladies rather than the good parts of society. The woes of the human condition are what get ratings for television networks. This in term leads to a condition called “The Mean World Syndrome”, in which people become afraid of the world they live in. They are fearful to go out or to help others for the fact that they may fall victim to the calamities that they’ve seen on television. Mixed with that is the fact that humans are self-serving by nature. It probably stems from Herbert Spencer’s term, “survival of the fittest”. Why help someone else get better when it is going to interfere with your struggle for dominance or survival. I know that sounds really archaic, but it is just a possible explanation. The fact is that people tend to be selfish, and it takes a lot of effort sometimes to help others. Either way, once you realize what it is that is going on, then you can personally take steps to do something about it.
How do you see the society after 50 years? Will we be able to save the planet and ourselves or we will self-destruct?
That’s a good one. I have a lot of friends that tell me not even to bother saving for retirement because global warming is going to kill us off before I have a chance to enjoy it. There are some countries that are taking measures to help turn things around, but there are also companies that are trying to make money regardless of what happens 50 years down the road. I can’t really say. I do have a hunch that we are going to have to hit rock bottom at some point before we learn our lesson, at which point it might be to late to turn it around.
Are you vegetarians/vegans? How do you deal about the animal rights issue? Is it something important for you?
Funeral Diner has two vegans, two vegetarians, and one omnivore. Animal Rights is important to each of us in a different way, but we respect that fact that other people do not want to hear you preach to them about it. We tend to help make a difference in each of our ways. In the band we each respect the other’s food choices without lecture. Outside of the band we each do what we can. Most of the time it is in the choices to go to a certain place to eat or buy a certain product. Even if that place or product has a vegan piece of clothing or food item you can always put your money towards something a bit more beneficial to the cause. In some cities it is easier to do this than others, but you have to take the good with the bad.
What’s your opinion about the importance of love in human life?
Everyone needs to be loved. Without that, life can seem pretty pointless. Why stack up accomplishments when there is no one to share them with? The real hard part about love is the whole game of finding and losing it. It’s a tough journey going through life finding and losing love, but you have to keep in mind that it will always be there even if it changes from person to person. What are your future plans after the brake up with Funeral Diner?
Are you guys playing right now with some other bands or any upcoming projects?
Everyone is already doing something new in terms of music. Dave and I started a new band with a long name. Let’s say the name is …Who Calls So Loud for sake of having to write it all out. Seth is in a band called Sterling Says. Ben is in a psychedelic dance band called Lemonade. Dan is currently working on some solo stuff, though I will help him with drums when the time comes. We are brothers after all. I am not sure about the future plans of the other guys but I know Dave and I plan on touring for 6 and a half months this coming April if we get it all planned out properly. It would be another long world tour type thing where we try to go to some new countries and see new things. We have done US, Europe, and Japan, but this time around we wan to try and hit some Southern Asian Countries, Australia and maybe some places in South America.
Some more words to end this interview.
This interview is mainly my own personal opinion, so keep that in mind after having read it. I know the band would like to say thank you to everyone and anyone that has ever taken part in helping us out with shows, records, food, merchandise, or anything along the way. From the people that we work with to get stuff put out all the way down to anyone that has given us words of encouragement at shows or through email. I would like to say thank you for wanting to interview us even though our band has fallen by the wayside. Beyond that, just do what you can to make little changes everyday to make yourself and the world around you a better place.