Akron/Family | Interview | Clayton Purdom

we geeked out high above the swamps listening to Zeppelin III and IV back to back.

December 3, 05 If it's not apparent yet, allow me to blatantly admit that CMG loves Akron/Family. I mean, the augmented acoustics and delicate surrealism of the debut were enough to win our hearts, but the tenacious bastards refused to quit, backing up Young God head honcho Michael Gira on Angels of Light's metaphysical Sing "Other People" and sealing the deal with a face-melting split LP. These four scrappy lads sit high atop 2005, casting a shit-eating grin upon the sallow worms that would attempt to steal their crown. Well, maybe the grin wasn't shit-eating. These guys are actually quite nice, a fact evidenced by their willingness to talk to CMG's Clayton Purdom about Slayer, espresso and quasi-religious cults. If you ever meet them, buy them a drink, and be aware that 1) "AK AK" is pronounced "ack ack," so don't spell out the letters like an asshole, and 2) Michael Gira's last name is pronounced "jih-rah," with an emphasis on the second syllable, so don't call him "Geeruh" like an asshole. Seth Olinsky found time to email us while the band traversed Europe, and Miles Seaton was kind enough to phone, even though it was just a few days after Thanksgiving and he was in Seattle with his family. Honestly, these guys are just sweethearts. == CMG: How's Europe treating you? Have you guys been before? Have any cute fish-out-of-water stories? Seth: Europe has been wonderful. We came over briefly last spring with Michael, but only played four dates, in four different cities. It was a great introduction, but nothing like this tour. This time we started out in the Moscow river on a boat and sailed starting through eastern Europe and spiraling around the continent (Europe's still a continent, right? EU aside) in and out of the EU. Then we played on a pirate boat in Paris, which was similar to the boat in Moscow, but different. Miles: It was a big, big long tour. I've only been there on vacation, in Italy, and as a band we were there once before with Michael but we only did four shows. CMG: Did that Italian vacation have anything to do with the song "Italy"? Miles: No. Seth was there, and that does have to do with the song. He's talking about his experiences from when he went to Italy, talking about wandering around aimlessly. CMG: What's the Akron/Family live experience like? Is there much improvisation? Seth: After touring so much this last half year, we have gotten better and to the point where most of our live shows work, in that they consistently are at a certain level. Before touring, one show was wildly different than the next, perhaps including more improvisation, and sometimes they worked better then others. There's something wonderful and romantic about going up every night and going for it regardless of whether it works or not, you know, starting over every night in a way. But there is also something to say about night after night, consistently getting the audience off, to the place they want to be and go and feel. I hope ultimately that, rather than strike a compromise, we can just figure out how to do both at the same time. Touring certainly helps this; it is the ultimate tempering experience. Miles: We play with a lot of exuberance and excitement and energy. Towards the end of the tour we tried freaking out a lot. Make a bunch of noise for awhile, start singing, kind of all random shit. It depends on how long we have. Some places we're the only band, so they want us to play for an hour and a half, or longer or whatever, so we have a lot more freedom to stretch it out. We played a couple sets where we were opening and we only had 30, 40 minutes. We try to bring as much energy as we can to however much time we have. CMG: So what's it like playing back-up for Angels of Light? Does Gira reel you in for that? Miles: When we're playing with Michael, it's all Michael. We're playing his songs. We're definitely able to be expressive as musicians, but we play the same set every night. He never changes it. We have pretty clear parts that we've written, and we just play those. CMG: How did you get hooked up with Gira? Seth: I sent him several love letters of the mind and we just sent him new music every few months, when we had it. Miles: He responded, gave us some really nice feedback about the music, and then a month later we sent him something else, and then a month later we sent him something else, and then a month later we sent him something else, and after awhile he stopped being so busy with Devendra's stuff and his own music that he had a chance to listen through some of the stuff that people had sent him. He contacted us pretty immediately and came and saw us, and he was like, "I wanna put your guys' records out. How can we do it?" CMG: Talk to me a little about the recording of the debut. Seth: Michael was really excited about the sound of the band, which was quite different live then on the home recorded CDs we had sent him, and we were all thinking that we would focus the record on the band and all new recordings. But Michael started listening to the home recordings again, and I think really wisely, convinced us that we should use some of that stuff combined with the band sound. I think the results are somewhat ambiguous and disparate (at least compared to the new split), but also interesting and very personal in some ways. I really think that record reflects a lot what was going on with us, as far as our lives at that time being somewhat ambiguous, disparate, all over the place, heartbroken, etc. . . . CMG: You used Fruity Loops to put your tracks together, right? Miles: Yeah. A lot of times it'd just be, like, one person would come up with a riff, and maybe some words, or maybe an idea of a riff. We collected a lot of sounds, so we'd just wander around the apartment, try to find the right sound for that part. So if it was a plastic bag kinda rumbling in the microphone, then we'd spend time building that sound. We came up with a lot of source material, almost making samples, or loops. It's kinda hard to describe. We would just find a lot of sounds and then have various percussion things that we found that we would use instead of Fruity Loops' kitschy drum sounds. We'd kinda spend time tweaking and adding and adding and adding until the original sounds didn't really even run through anymore. A lot of stacking and weird stuff. CMG: Is it hard to translate all of that production and found sound into the live setting? Did you have to re-learn the songs, or was it more organic than that? Miles: Some of the stuff that we had on the record is more organic than that, and the stuff that we did on Fruity Loops, yeah, we learned how to play it as a group in a live format. It's a challenge, in some ways. Some of the stuff worked for awhile, but doesn't really anymore, some of it never really did, but, in general, we just kinda have at it. But like "Suchness" is one that we play a lot, and I was listening to it the other day; we play it a lot louder, a lot more as a band, "rocking," but it still has the same general compositional form. CMG: What type of stuff did you guys listen to growing up? What about these days? Miles: We generally connect with Zeppelin, Beatles, Hendrix, all that good stuff. I moved to Seattle at the beginning of the sixth grade, so that was the first exposure I had to metropolitan culture, but before that it was all pop music: Michael Jackson, New Kids on the Block, all that crap. I got really into hardcore music, personally. Seth: We all listened to a lot of really varied stuff growing up. Personally, I am a New Edition man. Over the last year or so we have all really connected on having grown up listening to classic rock, you know, Beatles, Dylan, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Neil Young. It's become our personal primordial ground. In the van on tour though, we will generally pick one song, usually short, and listen to only that and nothing else. On this last European tour, we listened to Slayer's "Angel of Death" 13,423 times. Miles: We listened to "Angel of Death" countless times. Seth: The second full length will probably be pretty heavy. CMG: Seriously? Miles: Recording's interesting, you know? There's this process when you're working with someone on production, and the stuff that we listen to comes out in whatever . . . We pick the elements that we feel like run a thread through that stuff. There's a certain unhinged, visceral quality to "Angel of Death," it's just completely, pure fuck-all, I don't know how to describe it. It's got this sort of physical presence as a song. At no time does it let up. For me, I connect with it deeply on the level that I connect with painful fucking noise. Nails on chalkboard, it elicits a physical response. I think there¹s some of that that will surface on our next full-length. We do some of that stuff live. We can get a little bit free with some of the more painful, loud qualities of our stuff. CMG: Think fast: "Stairway to Heaven" or "Teenage Riot"? Seth: Song-wise, I suppose "Stairway," but album-wise can you even compare Daydream Nation to Zeppelin's IV? I had both albums in my bedroom in middle school, but I really only worshipped one. On tour I rode with Michael one day on the long trip from New Orleans to Atlanta, and we geeked out high above the swamps listening to Zeppelin III and IV back to back. When we got to "Stairway," Michael exclaimed "I can't believe I am actually enjoying 'Stairway to Heaven'!" CMG: Your press release is pretty mythic. Gira talks a lot about "AK AK" and how you guys revolutionized the way he looks at music and stuff. How does all that strike you? Seth: It is ALL things, that's the point. "AK AK" the philosophy fortunately even incorporates and understands how we might feel awkward being marketed as mystics and informs and infuses us with coping mechanisms such as standing on our heads, repeatedly watching small parts of Anchorman, drinking raw egg; actually, we've found out that anything Rocky does, especially chasing around chickens to increase agility, definitely helps us out too, in the long run. Miles: Gira's a very flattering individual. Everything looks differently from his angle, but I guess what he saw was four guys that have all kinds of different ideas about stuff and all sorts of enthusiasm about sound and ways to describe things, and generally we¹re just not . . . When we started trying to get shows after we were on a label, and trying to figure out who we could tour with, it was just, like, impossible to come up with a list of bands that we were like, "Ah, it'd be great to play with these guys." We were so out of the loop because all we were doing was making music. So we'd refer to something as being so "ack ack," it was just this random sort of thing, that ended up being delirious and bantering. And he, I think, he kinda took that as us having our own, sort of, worldview on everything. I think the quasi-religious thing is a little over the top, definitely, but, to him, it must"ve seemed like we were weird, isolationist dudes, and it seemed a bit magical. CMG: Do you resent being painted that way? Seth: Michael has a knack for creating perspective. He doesn't invent things, he just takes the picture from a certain angle. It is frustrating at times to realize that you as an individual are involved in something so much and that to the media and the world, it is something totally different. At this level, of course it's not that bad, but even so, there is the idea of who we are based on media and our music and this is important, but not exactly who we are. But none of us resent this, it's how it goes. Miles: Whether or not it's valid, I definitely don't resent it. Seeing the stuff Gira's written, I think it's coming from an honest place. He writes things how he views them in the press releases. I guess it's written in a way that gets attention, but I don't resent it. I don't know much about the music industry, and I really don't care to. I definitely like the fact that people are able to be exposed to our music, I like that. If the word "ack ack" or Michael's opinion of us alerts people to the fact that we're doing something that nobody else is, then I guess that's great. CMG: Okay, but sometimes I feel like you guys are just fucking with people. Partially playing the part, partially having a laugh at us. It seems like a highly developed inside joke. Miles: I mean, we basically just spend too much time together, and are basically fucking cut off from the world because we're always working together. It is a massively developed sense of humor, and a communication with one another that is, you know, different from the way we communicate with other people. A lot of it has to do with sound. If Gira thinks that "AK AK" has to do with me hearing the wind in the trees instead of me hearing a specific melody for a guitar, then fine. CMG: So it's mostly a methods of communication as a band to one another? It's a songwriting vocabulary? Miles: How we overdub, the fact that we might bring up something and be like, "Yeah, this should be more" this color, and it would just seem like a completely ridiculous comment to him, but it made sense to us, and we could adjust it to fit the color specifications. CMG: What's the most flattering "rock moment" you've had? What's the worst comparison you've suffered? Seth: Perhaps the applause that we've gotten in Montreal. Both times it was so intense it upset my stomach, and the last time we were there, it hurt my ears more then any noise rock I've seen in New York. I'm not sure of the worst (comparison suffered), but my favorite was actually in French, from Montreal I think, and it said something about Godspeed et Grateful Dead. Jerry and Efrim sitting in a tree, J - A - M - M - I - N - G. CMG: Am I right to think that you guys all just kinda high-tailed it to NYC? Seth: Miles and I were the first to move to NYC. We met there in the fall of 2002, and after working on music for a few months, invited Dana to move from Florida, and later Ryan to move from upstate New York. I had grown up with Dana, and he and I knew Ryan from a few years back in Ithaca, NY, where we spent some time. Miles: We wanted Ryan to be our "singer." (laughs) That was the idea, that he was gonna be our singer. We told him to move to NYC and stop whatever he was doing and to be the "singer of our band." Gradually we came to our senses and realized that it was much better to have everybody involved in everything. Once we started working together as a four-piece things moved rather quickly. CMG: Didn't you guys live together? Who did the dishes? Seth: At one point, the summer of 2003, we did all live together in a big open space in Brooklyn and made a lot of music. It was a big mess. I don't know who did the most dishes, but certainly not me. I have sensitive hands. CMG: So do you guys still have day jobs, or are you full time rock stars? Miles:I wouldn't say "full time rock star," but we're definitely touring so much that we don't have time to keep day jobs. "Rock star" sort of implies that we have a massive financial cushion. Seth: Miles and I actually met at a really horrible coffee shop job. He and I continued to work in various coffee shops up until we left for this last tour. Dana worked in various coffee shops and restaurants. Miles: We're all really big into espresso. Akron/Family is majorly into espresso.