Interview with Seth Olinsky from Akron/FamilyÂ» EXPRESS: Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
Â» OLINSKY: Wonder Woman. Neither from Akron nor family, the Brooklyn-based quartet creates lovely oddball Americana. All four members — Dana Janssen, Seth Olinsky, Miles Seaton and Ryan Vanderhoof — sing, and the group trades instruments like baseball cards. It's backporch music writ large: The layered melodies and frequent four-part harmonies sound like Brian Wilson producing a Carter Family record after overdosing on the Grateful Dead.
Akron/Family's jam-oriented creed is known as "AK" or "AK-AK" within the band, but it's less a religion and more a shorthand way for the heavily bearded musicians to describe their close-knit nature and improv-friendly approach to intimate-but-grand tunes.
The group is on tour in support of "Love Is Simple," its latest CD for the Young God label, which first released the music of freak-folk guru Devendra Barnhart into the indie-rock wilds.
Since Akron/Family is cooped up in a van, traveling from venue to venue and knocking out tour press like assembly-line workers, Express decided to give the group a respite from boring old questions by offering the band even older boring questions — if you consider "What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?" to be boring, that is.
The questions we asked were pulled from the questionnaires that French writer Marcel Proust answered during two social engagements — at the ages of 13 and 20. While he didn't write the questions, Proust's thoughtful, sometimes melodramatic answers — plus that long-ass book he penned — helped propel the combined questionnaire to the semi-legendary status it holds today: Vanity Fair uses it in every issue, and "Inside the Actor's Studio" host James Lipton busts out a Bernard Pivot-penned variation on the inquiries so the likes of Kiefer Sutherland can groan "gravitas" when asked to name his favorite word.
Seth Olinsky was on the other end of the phone to represent Akron/Family, but his bandmates frequently chimed in with muffled responses from deep within the tour van.
» EXPRESS: What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
» OLINSKY: [Laughs] That's where you start off? France is a complex place — with good cheese. ... To live with an absence of love, I guess. [Proust's answer: "To be separated from Mama."]
» EXPRESS: Where would you like to live?
» OLINSKY: America.
» EXPRESS: What is your idea of earthly happiness?
» OLINSKY: Wow, this is a heavy questionnaire. [After he hears Proust's answer — "To live in contact with those I love, with the beauties of nature, with a quantity of books and music, and to have, within easy distance, a French theater" — and laughs]. That's amazing. I think that's good. Plenty of nature around, with at-hand cultural stimuli, and to be surrounded by loved ones with good food and coffee. With accessible, high-quality YouTube that's been filtered by someone else.
» EXPRESS: To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
» OLINSKY: Somewhere between overconsumption of coffee and some sort of ego-tripping, which is inevitable when you do interviews and play music on stage in front of people.
» EXPRESS: Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
» OLINSKY: The indie rock response would be Holden Caulfield, but that's not really true. I'd say Kurt Vonnegut's cast of anti-heroes.
» EXPRESS: Who are your favorite characters in history?
» OLINSKY: Woody Guthrie. I just wrote an article about him for State of Mind, a jam-band magazine in Vermont. I like all the big religious figures: Jesus, Moses. Noah's cool. Zeus.
» EXPRESS: Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
» OLINSKY: Did Proust say his mom again? Um. Uh. Wow. [Long silences punctuated by barely audible shouts from his bandmates] Joan of Arc. [Laughs] Obviously, we're a heavily masculine band, as you're finding out.
» EXPRESS: Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
» OLINSKY: Wonder Woman. I absolutely hated "The Scarlet Letter" in high school — that was one of the worst experiences I ever had reading a book — so [Hester Prynne] would be my least favorite heroine.
» EXPRESS: Your favorite painter?
» OLINSKY: There's this guy, Kehinde Wiley; I think he's out of Brooklyn now. He paints these amazing urban youths, with bling and jerseys, and sets them against these Renaissance backgrounds. They're really amazing paintings. I really wanted to use one of them for our cover art this time, but it didn't really work out.
EXPRESS: Your favorite musician?
» OLINSKY: There's not one who stands out. But I love classics. Jazz figures, like Coltrane and Monk. And I love Dylan. And Jerry — Jerry Garcia. And as I get older, the music that my friends make.
» EXPRESS: The quality you most admire in a man?
» OLINSKY: Sincerity.
» EXPRESS: The quality you most admire in a woman?
» OLINSKY: Sincerity. [Laughs]
» EXPRESS: Your favorite virtue?
» OLINSKY: Um, honesty? I don't even know what the virtues are.
» EXPRESS: Your favorite occupation?
» OLINSKY: I'm not a fly fisherman, but I have a lot of friends who are and that seems like a lot of fun. And basketball.
» EXPRESS: Who would you have liked to be?
» OLINSKY: Michael Jordan.
» EXPRESS: Your most marked characteristic?
» OLINSKY: These guys might give a more objective answer. ["Hubris" is screamed from someone inside the van] Hubris. He's been answering that to every question. [Laughs]
» EXPRESS: What is your principle defect?
» OLINSKY: Hubris. [Laughs] They tell me I'm like a squirrel — a really good guitar-playing squirrel.
» EXPRESS: What is your favorite color?
» OLINSKY: Purple.
» EXPRESS: What is your favorite flower?
» OLINSKY: Lily?
» EXPRESS: What is your favorite bird?
» OLINSKY: Damn, there's so many good ones. I was called Sparrow for a while, so I feel like I should go with that. But I want to say hawk because I like seeing hawks — and eagles.
» EXPRESS: Who are your favorite prose writers?
» OLINSKY: Vonnegut. There's a connection of spirit there that I can't overlook. I wrote and tried to get Vonnegut to sing on our most recent record. I tried to track down all his publishers and lawyers, and I sent out a bunch of CDs, but it didn't happen. That was right before he passed away, which was a big bummer.
» EXPRESS: What is it you most dislike?
» OLINSKY: Food in the Midwest.
» EXPRESS: What event in military history do you most admire?
» OLINSKY: The building of the pyramids? That's my Dadaist answer because I couldn't come up with something.
» EXPRESS: What natural gift would you most like to possess?
» OLINSKY: Agility.
» EXPRESS: How would you like to die?
» OLINSKY: When I was young I think I would have said in my sleep. But I definitely don't want to die while falling asleep with the TV on.
» EXPRESS: What is your present state of mind?
» OLINSKY: Void, slow and a little bit cloudy, which is inevitable on tour — no matter how many books you bring, or interesting CDs, or car games you play, or coffee you drink.
BONUS EXPRESS QUESTIONNAIRE
» EXPRESS: Manson family or Partridge family?
» OLINSKY: Partridge family.
» EXPRESS: Who has worse bathrooms for a touring band: Europe or America?
» OLINSKY: The clubs in Europe have better bathrooms; the clubs in America are really horrible. But the roadside bathrooms in Europe — there are no toilet seats and often no toilets.
» EXPRESS: Beards or wigs?
» OLINSKY: I'm going to go with wigs, just to change the perception of this band.
» EXPRESS: Ever been booed?
» OLINSKY: We've been heckled but never really been booed. It was a bad heckle, but a friend said, "You know, they used to heckle Ornette Coleman, so you're in good company." That made me feel good.