“True emotions:” Meet the Funeral Portrait

The Funeral Portrait, comprised of vocalist Lee Jennings, bassist Robert Weston, drummer Homer Umbanhower and guitarists Cody Wessinger and Caleb Freihaut, poses for a photo. // Photo courtesy of Dom Delfino

Home to more than 30 concert venues and over 100 recording studios, Atlanta is a vibrant music hub within the South. While many people view the city as the center of hip-hop and R&B, it also contains a thriving alternative scene, going strong since the early 1980s. 

As the birthplace of many well-known names ranging from Lil Nas X to the Zac Brown Band, there seems to be musical greatness wherever people look. However, Atlanta is not just the home of artists who have already made it big. The city is also represented by the local artists who work to build their careers and add their names to the diverse and distinct culture of Atlanta music. 

One such band is the up-and-coming emotional-hardcore band The Funeral Portrait. The five-piece rock group is comprised of vocalist and frontman Lee Jennings, bassist Robert Weston, drummer Homer Umbanhower and guitarists Cody Weissinger and Caleb Freihaut (who also plays keyboard). Though the band first formed in 2014, the current lineup was established in 2019, with Jennings being the only remaining member from what he referred to during an interview with the Technique as “TFP 1.0.”

In their current form, The Funeral Portrait combines the musical stylings of punk, early/mid-2000s “emo” and alternative rock to create their signature “dark, spooky” sound and open, vulnerable lyrics. 

When talking about their music, Jennings admitted he tends to focus more on the lyrics than anything else. He told the Technique, “I think it’s important to have music that actually represents true feeling. True emotions and true self.” 

Channeling the same emotional honesty that popularized bands like My Chemical Romance and La Dispute, The Funeral Portrait strives to record music that makes their fans feel less alone in the world, a feeling that Jennings appreciated in the bands he grew up listening to. “I really wanted to focus, with our new music, on finding that [relatability],” he said. “There [are] a lot of people out there that I think it makes them feel better about themselves to know that they’re not the only ones struggling with something.” 

The band has a large social media presence, particularly on TikTok, which Jennings likes because it enables him to explain the meaning behind different songs, allowing a broader audience to understand and connect with the music. 

Social commentary is a staple in alternative music, especially within the punk subgenre from bands like Green Day, and The Funeral Portrait is no different. They join the ranks of socially-conscious bands by addressing themes such as mental health and issues within LGBTQ+ communities. 

Such topics have seen an increase in awareness recently, especially as specific communities face discrimination both on and offline. When asked what he thought about their music resonating with members of these underrepresented communities, Jennings told the Technique, “Having members of the queer community in our band and being in relationships with people that are part of the queer community, I think that’s something that’s really important to us.” 

Given Jennings’s emphasis on lyrics, the Technique asked him about the songwriting process. One strategy he explained included using Spotify’s lyrics feature underneath songs to gain inspiration. “I think it helps me become a better writer, [because I can listen to songs while reading the lyrics and say] ‘oh, that’s what that is. That’s the true emotion.’” While writing, Jennings also thinks about how he plans to sing a song or how the rest of the band might play it. He said, “For me, it’s about [the] deliverance of how you say something or how you sing it, and I guess that’s the musical theater aspect of me.” 

Jennings shared that he was a theater kid when he was younger, factoring into The Funeral Portrait’s live performances. He is not the only one who loves a high-quality performance, however. All five members seem to enjoy putting on the band’s trademark over-the-top shows. 

Talking about their performance style, Jennings said, “We practice [playing the songs] first, of course, to make sure [we] sound good. Then it’s like, ‘Okay, well, what can we do to add to the show?’ And then one thing led to the next, and now, we’re this theatrical rock band.” 

“Dull” is never a word used to describe a TPF show. Whether performing for 1,000 people or just ten, the band puts their all into each show, creating an energetic chemistry that has people who entered the venue having never heard of them leaving as new fans. Every member performs with a passion that shows they are not just doing a job, they are having fun. 

From Jennings’ fluorescent hair and constant movement around the stage to the stage actors who appear as characters from cover art and music videos, the shows have no shortage of memorable moments that help The Funeral Portrait stand out amongst other performers. 

One particular element of the group’s stage presence is an onstage kiss between bassist Weston and guitarist Freihaut. While the two men are not in a relationship, Jennings explained that they “just did it” at one of their shows and were met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the audience. 

He said, “We started posting photos of [the kisses] online. And then I guess it just spread around that it was ‘a thing’ that our band does…And it’s now turned into this brand.”

The so-called “brand” has not only helped The Funeral Portrait raise money for charity through merchandise inspired by the kiss but also helped the band establish itself as a safe space for many of their fans. 

Affectionately dubbed “the coffin crew” by the band, The Funeral Portrait truly treasures their fanbase. While talking about touring, Jennings told The Technique, “Really, [my favorite part is] meeting people…that’s something that’s so important to me…I do like playing the show, don’t get me wrong, I love the performance. But for me, it’s way more about sitting there talking to people and answering their questions or seeing how they’re doing; I think that’s the best part for me.” That focus on people extends past just conversation, too.

Jennings likes to personally run the band’s merch table – with the occasional assistance of an additional helper when the crowds are too much for one person. He explained, “You’re spending your hard-earned money on this stuff that I create — or helped create — and you’re here [at the show. I feel like the least that I could do is be there for you and talk to you and see what you’re going through because I’m probably going through it just as well.”

While the frontman oversees the merch immediately following the performance, the other four members pack up their gear before joining Jennings at the table, where they hang out with fans, take pictures and sign various things. 

Despite their electric intensity onstage, interacting directly with the band offstage feels much less intimidating. While talking with their fans, all the members of The Funeral Portrait seem to share the same down-to-earth modesty that makes fans feel genuinely cared about rather than an obligation. 

Regarding the band’s future, Jennings said, “I can only control what is happening right now. I think a lot of people really focus on the ‘future’…I think we have finally found our place and our fans, what we call ‘the coffin crew.’ If it grows, it grows. And if it’s huge, that’d be sick, but I don’t live for that moment. I live for now, and I live for the people that are here, that are listening and that…really identify with…the stuff that we’re talking about….That’s huge for me, I think that’s the feeling that I live for.”

Between their unique and catchy sound, unforgettable live performances and friendly, compassionate personalities, The Funeral Portrait is a force to be reckoned with. The band has plans to release their debut album this year, along with soon-to-be-announced tours.