After releasing an initial demo in 2013 and a few split 7”s (including one with labelmates Former Ghosts) Funeral Advantage‘s debut LP Body Is Dead (2015) and subsequent Body Is Dead (Demos) (2015) found its stylistic footing. Layered guitar pop complete with dreamy synth tones and groovy basslines encompassed a wide spectrum of emotions: nostalgia, melancholia, and hopefulness.
The project is the brainchild of Boston musician Tyler Kershaw who writes and records songs solo before touring and performing with a live band. It’s a pity humans are only endowed with two hands.
After listening to Funeral Advantage’s forthcoming EP Please Help Me (2017), I had to scrap the titular punchline “Putting the ‘fun’ in funeral.” The six track album ruminates on loss and uncertainty, and while not entirely cloaked in darkness, exposes a vulnerability that comes with exploring inner turmoil, the baggage of your own life and those you love.
What I admire about the project is its vision from a singular auteurist perspective in the DIY tradition. Because you write all the music yourself, is there anyone you turn to for input or second opinions?
Normally not until it’s completely done. While I’m working on it, it’s just me. With this EP, the only person that heard it before it was done was one of my friends that came in and did vocals for it, and she helped me with a couple of melodies. Otherwise, I never really turn to anyone for any sort of creative input because I have a certain vision that I need to stick to. It wouldn’t feel as rewarding to me if anyone else was helping I think.
But then it does turn into somewhat of a group effort playing it live with your band. How do you take your vision and then project that into a group setting?
So a lot of people think it’s kind of like a dictatorship or something where I make people adhere to my vision to a T. We use the song structure, as recorded, as a framework for what we do live. So it’s not very different live. The song structure is very recognizable but everyone definitely has their input and their own interpretation of the song and I don’t want to make it so everyone has to play exactly what’s recorded. There are different vocal things that I do live. We try to fill it out because the recordings can be sparse at times and not really lend itself to an entertaining live show. I try to make it more exciting by letting the people in the group do what they want.
So it sounds like the live part comes after but do you ever think about live arrangements when you’re writing?
With this new album, I definitely had [performing it] live in mind a lot more. With the last album I did, I would just layer guitar on top of guitar on top of guitar and not think “Hey am I gonna be able to get twenty people to play guitar live?” With that one it was no holds barred but since I’ve been playing out a lot live, I knew I needed to cut back a little, refine it a little bit more. I still kinda went off the rails at some parts like, how are we gonna do this live? But it’s been going well so far, having it translate over to live. I try not to limit myself because it’s not going to sound good live. The record’s more important to me than live, honestly. So I try to make the record sound as good as possible but with this last record I wanted to be realistic about playing it live.
I read somewhere that you used to drum in a hardcore band. Is that true?
Yeah! I grew up listening to and playing only hardcore music. Anyone that can play drums is probably gonna say drums is their favorite instrument because it’s objectively a fun instrument to play. I do consider myself a drummer first and foremost. I played drums in a couple of touring hardcore bands and toured like every state with this one hardcore band, took off my job to tour with them. They’re this band called Bear Trap. They’re like a powerviolence band; their songs are like 20 seconds long. My idea for this band actually came from that band because they were kind of like Funeral Advantage in that the singer played all the instruments and wrote all the songs and got a band to play them live. While I was touring with them, I got the idea maybe I could just do this and not have to worry about anyone dropping out or quitting. That’s always the downfall with bands, everyone just quits. But to answer your question, yes. That was how I learned to play music with hardcore and metal and stuff like that.
I can tell you have chops drumming because it’s sort of a standard for solo or dream pop endeavors to use electronic drums. But you can definitely hear the live drum sound.
Yeah I hear what you’re saying. Like most of those famous dream pop or bedroom pop acts have the drum machine. So I try to shine a little. I have confidence in myself as a drummer so I try to juice it up a little so to speak. I’m glad you noticed that. That makes me feel good.
Since this album comes from a little bit of a bleaker place is using a live drum kit cathartic? Perhaps in a different way from other instruments you play?
Not really. I would say the vocals are the most cathartic. The drumming is not that hard hitting. If you listen to the old hardcore stuff like, I was definitely working through something there. It’s more about fun and learning to pace yourself and relaxing. The vocal part is the catharsis. It’s letting my inner feelings out more which is a lot harder for me than drumming can be and it’s a little more rewarding. I guess maybe a little with the drumming. I never really thought about it.
This record as well as your previous work has somewhat conflicting tones of uplifting dreamy melodies in combination with heavier lyrics and themes. How do you navigate this in your music? Is it ever hard to strike a balance?
It’s weird because that’s not a conscious decision. Until I started getting reviews back with people talking about it, I never saw the music as uplifting. I really think it’s a lot sadder than everyone else thinks! But everyone is saying you have upbeat music but with heavy lyrics and how do you deal with the yin and yang with that. I don’t know. I never really saw it as uplifting music. When I was growing up, I always listened to Tiny Tim and stuff like that. In high school, I was super into Tiny Tim for a long stretch. And everyone’s like, “that’s a really goofy guy,” but I never really saw him like that. I saw him as a very sad person singing these kind of uplifting songs but with a sad undertone. I was thinking about that a lot. I get asked about this record, “What’s up with the juxtaposition?” Like the album art is super dark, leather jacket and black photo, yet the songs could be featured in a Coke commercial. That’s what someone said to me. So that’s not what I thought. It wasn’t something I was consciously navigating at all and it wasn’t something I thought about until someone told me. I thought this record was going to be a lot sadder. When I had just gotten the first mixes back, I was driving to New York City with my friend Matt and he was like “So how’s the new record coming?” and I was like “Oh, I just got these new mixes back you wanna hear it? It’s a lot sadder than the last record” and he’s like “Yeah!” And I threw on the last song on the record and he’s like “That didn’t seem very sad to me at all.” I guess I don’t know, maybe I just see it as sadder.
Hmm. Yeah that’s interesting. It’s interesting too that you brought up that the album cover is darker, but what I took away from it is that it features your photo, in contrast with previous covers where there’s art. Or there’s one with what I think is your picture but you’re facing away and there’s a filter on it. Is it an intentional step out of anonymity by putting a face to the music?
That’s an interesting question. I never really thought of that. I suppose so. I think that’s what I was going for on this record—more me. This record is definitely a lot more me. The last record you couldn’t really put an event to any of the songs. You couldn’t listen to a song and, if you knew me really well, be like “Oh he’s working on that right now.” It has a certain feel piece whereas this record is about a specific event in my life or chain of events that happened. And that is more of a me step. So maybe that could be why. Again, that wasn’t a conscious decision, but that could be why I featured myself on the album cover. Maybe that’s why I wanted to. Or maybe I’m just self-obsessed, I have no idea!
In a similar vein on this album, I was able to pick out your voice and the lyrics were more clearly discernible. Is this a conscious decision motivated by a growth in vocal or lyrical confidence?
I think it was more of a growth in vocal confidence. I think on the last record I was trying to emulate something. I would run my voice out, my voice would get lost while playing live during the last album cycle and I was thinking about it more. I was reading up on people’s voices getting lost and a lot of times people will lose their voice if they’re playing a character in a movie that has a weird voice that’s not really normal to them and I feel like that might have been happening to me. I was trying to emulate a softer spoken person on my last album. That doesn’t mean I was playing a character or whatever but I felt like on this album maybe it was a conscious decision to be more me. Like less songs more me so to speak. I was trying to be more of myself and show more of myself on this record. It was important to have something to say about my own life on this record. My vocals on this record are a lot closer to my speaking voice: I use a lot of lower tones which I feel is more me, it’s closer to myself.
That’s what I got from that. I noticed a theme on the album seems to be youth and being younger, but whereas a lot of music and especially pop music romanticizes youth you sort of explore the darker side of being naïve and impressionable. Where does this come from?
So I don’t know. I don’t think that the main theme would be youth. Maybe I haven’t thought about it enough but I know what song you’re talking about. I would say it was more naive. There were a lot of things that happened the last year. I did a lot of growing. 2016 was a really rough time for obviously everyone, but also particularly for me with finding out how to be an adult and how to treat people. I was a little too self-centered last year and I ruined a lot of relationships I had with people due to me being naive about what their feelings were. I think I got sidetracked. What was your question again?
I wanted to ask about the theme of being young and the negative side of that–like in “Please Help Me” the line, “Said you were scared to have kids / Because the place you grew up in.” Or in “The Hanging Cage,” the lines: “Think someone might have disappointed your heart in your formative years.” Even in “Shining,” the lyrics: “Two young amateurs / Too stupid to knew we were / Too drunk to know we were terrified.” It just seemed like something that was in the music.
Yeah. Huh. I agree, I didn’t really realize that. This interview is really helping me work out all these things! I didn’t really think of it being a theme.
It’s cool I think because when I think of pop music, any sort of rendition of youth is “We’re wild! We’re free! We’re young!”
Yeah! Like the “you only live once” kind of thing. Like the comedy group The Lonely Island, the song “YOLO” which is from the exact opposite standpoint. You only live once, so be very careful about what you do. I thought about that a lot when you were saying that.
Speaking of youth, your video for “Gardensong” is made home videos of you skateboarding when you were a kid. Where did the idea for that come from?
Well the blonde kid in that video was my best friend growing up, this kid that I spent every single day with from ages ten to twenty-one and then we kind of drifted apart. Something happened between a girl, him, and I, and we just stopped talking one day. I was going through my parent’s closet because I was moving and I found all these tapes, and got the old tapes turned into digital, and I was like “What am I gonna do with this?” My label wanted me to do a music video, and I was like, “Well I have all this skate footage and I can try to write a message to this guy I haven’t spoken to in forever.” Be like “Hey, remember this? Do you want to like talk or something?” We ended up chatting a little bit after I released the video and I ended up sending him the rest of the footage. That was where the idea came from originally. I didn’t really think it was a good video, I just thought this was like a shitty video and I’ll put it on my Facebook, it’s not going to go anywhere and everyone ended up loving it!
Well, yeah! It’s hilarious and relatable and nostalgic and personal. I think it’s a great idea.
We made all those videos with the intention of making a skate video back in 2003 and we never had the money to edit it or even know how to edit it. So we just literally shelved it on shelves in a closet. So it was weird it ended up seeing the light of day like almost fifteen years later.
Better late than never. Can we expect any videos from this album?
Yeah I’m working on another video for the closing track with one of my friends that’s a director and reached out to me about doing another video. There’s a storyboard and everything and it’s ready to go, but I have to find an actor for it. Or I’m thinking about acting in it myself. I have to find an actor for it because it’s a pretty racy video. It’s very heavy content that needs the right actor. So it might take awhile but there will be another one.
What were you listening to when you wrote Please Help Me and what are you listening to now?
So I get into sort of a bad habit of listening to the same albums over and over and over again. My roommates recently (they didn’t yell at me) spoke to me about–you know that band The 1975? I’ve been listening to them literally non-stop for the past three years. I only listen to those two albums they made and they had to talk to me. I take a shower everyday and only listen to those two albums in the shower because it’s super fun to listen to while you shower. And they’re like “We can hear you playing these songs, could you maybe play something different or switch albums or something?” And I’m like, “No that’s my showering music.” So I only listened to those albums while making it. I listen to three bands religiously: The 1975, Owl City, and The Drums. Those are my three favorite bands of all time.
The Drums are the best.
I listened to their entire discography last night.
That’s perfect. There’s not one bad song. I listen to a lot of their stuff. I realize I might have lifted a couple–not parts–but my playing style is similar to The Drums’ playing style. That’s what I was listening to when I made this, but you could have asked me that question for any album I’ve ever made and the answer would be the same. I get really comfortable listening to stuff and I don’t want to change or listen to anything new really. I listen to metal and those three bands.
What’s the biggest takeaway from this record for you?
I thought it was really rewarding. Like how you mentioned I might have been more of myself on this record. To feel like I was creating art that was worthwhile. Why even create art if you’re not gonna pour yourself into it and see what comes out? That was a huge takeaway for me. Going forward I want to be more of myself with every artistic endeavor I set out on.
Written by Ally Mason