Houston’s fans of heavy music may already be familiar with local heroes Funeral Horse, but the band seems happy to casually fly under the radar, so you might have missed them. The group has already self-released three studio albums, and is already working on new material for their fourth. Meanwhile, they play Houston regularly, including Thursday at the Petrol Station, and somehow find the time to tour occasionally as well.
The path Funeral Horse has charted reads like a modern-day how-to manual for the DIY musician in a post-label universe of Bandcamp downloads and merch sales. Working, touring bands exist by force of will and are sustained by the love of the music they create.
When asked, the band members cite a wide variety of musical heroes and influences: Ace Frehley, Pete Townsend, Frank Zappa, David Gilmour, Jerry Garcia, Miles Davis and John Lennon. But it seems Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler come up repeatedly, and the guys in Funeral Horse openly cop to the influence. “You'll hear a lot of Sabbath in our work.” says guitarist/vocalist Walter Carlos. “Some of our newer material is exploring the styles heard on Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die.”
Funeral Horse also features bassist Clint Rater and Chris Bassett on drums. As for their creative process, Carlos explains, “Usually I will come up with a basic structure for music and a lyrical topic, then I'll present it to the band. We’ll hammer out the song until it's Funeral Horse. Sometimes it’s a straight shot from demo to final song; other times the ideas take a while to take shape.”
The group’s sound is most often categorized as stoner metal, which usually implies metal aesthetics set to a slower tempo (if it implies anything at all). But the band’s music has shifted gears enough from record to record that such simple labels become problematic. “We started out more stoner punk, similar to My War-era Black Flag, then evolved into the more typical stoner-metal style with the second album,” Carlos says. “Now we think of ourselves as heavy rock.”
Still, the guys seem to be at peace with the stoner metal label for now. “Yeah, nine times out of ten, we get classified as stoner metal, and we're all right with that,” Carlos says. Noting their new album will have elements of country and blues as well as doom and stoner metal, he adds, “the band is going to keep exploring heavy rock and Texas blues as we progress.”
Funeral House has been cranking out music long enough to have generated their own personal folklore. One place in Houston that brings back potent memories is the Ponderosa, a very informal co-op house/quasi-venue in the Warehouse District that hosted all manner of events while it was in operation.
“We've performed at a lot of strange places both in town and on the road. Ponderosa in Houston clearly comes to mind as one of the weirdest places, although we loved it all the same,” Carlos recalls. “Ponderosa was one of those places that shouldn't exist, but it did, and it was fucked up all around. Our band photo inside the Sinister Rites album is of us sitting outside of Ponderosa after it was firebombed. I never knew who really ran the place. because there was always someone different coordinating shows there.”
Walter has other colorful touring stories as well. “On the road, we played a gig in Tucson at a biker bar and our drummer got into an argument with a midget while the sound guy was smoking ‘flavored’ crack,” he explains. “Speaking of crack, we played at a crack house somewhere in Arkansas and after the show, a couple of guys were randomly shooting guns into the woods behind the house.”
Colorful road stories aside, Carlos is realistic about the special challenges Funeral Horse faces as a working, touring band. “Oh no, there’s no way we could do this as a daytime job,” he says. “Each of us has regular jobs that pay the bills. The band has reached a point where it can support itself [merch sales, gig money for gas, etc.], which is cool with us.”
Clearly the band members have been at it long enough to become fairly comfortable with the balancing act that working musicians must perform to pursue their passions. “We have to coordinate with our families and work schedules pretty far in advance before doing anything longer than a three-day weekend,” Carlos says. “Our jobs have been flexible so far.”
However, he does admit it helps that “we all work at places that have generous vacation policies.”
Based on music download stats from their online presence, Funeral Horse has identified a few hot spots where they have somehow managed to generate an international following despite never having left the United States. With that in mind, the group recently began making plans to play their first international dates.
“Outside of the U.S., our Facebook and Bandcamp stats note that we have a lot of interest from people in England, northern Europe and Italy,” Carlos notes. “So we are hitting England, France and possibly the Netherlands in August of this year.”
Funeral Horse will play a couple more local gigs and regional dates in Louisiana before officially going international in June when they venture forth into the urban wilds of Mexico. After that they head to Europe in August.
“The band is more than excited to explore performing outside of the U.S.,” Carlos says. “We’ve long known that our fan base in Europe and Mexico is strong, and we feel that we are in a solid place to finally make this happen."
Once they’re overseas, let’s just hope Funeral Horse decides they want to come back.
Funeral Horse and their friends from Brash Brewing Company will celebrate the release of play a special 420 party Thursday at The Petrol Station (985 Wakefield), and return to Satellite Bar on May 27.
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