Love Is Simple | ReviewÂ“It just feels good to sayÂ— Akron!Â” The guys of Akron/Family are, in fact, four unrelated gents based out of Brooklyn, NY—and only three of them have beards! So why exactly did they name themselves after the Ohio city that spawned Goodyear, DEVO, and LeBron James?
“It’s just an innately pleasing word,” explains Akron/Family percussionist Dana Janssen. “It just feels good to say— Akron!”
Aside from the pleasing but misleading name, Akron/Family has been challenging critics with plenty of other befuddling quirks ever since their self-titled debut dropped back in 2005. Having been discovered and signed to Young God Records by former Swans and current Angels of Light frontman Michael Gira, the band’s unorthodox brand of folkie psychedelia initially got them lumped in with their famous labelmate Devendra Banhart. Since then, Akron/Family has recorded three more albums of almost mind-blowing diversity, including the upcoming Love Is Simple. Despite steady praise for their efforts, however, Janssen feels like the essence of the band is still routinely misrepresented.
“Honestly, almost anything I’ve ever seen from critics, where they’ll compare us to Animal Collective or put us under the umbrella of freak-folk and shit like that—it’s just lazy,” he says. “It’s just a lazy way of feeling you’re familiar with it without actually participating in it fully. If you really absorbed a record or went to our show, you could grasp more of what’s going on with us, as opposed to taking a glance at Young God Records and just grouping us as a post-Devendra freak-folk thing. So I just hope people eventually give up on that stuff and just allow the music to be what it is.”
Janssen might seem peeved, but he’s actually speaking with the down-to-earth sincerity and friendliness of a guy you might randomly chat with at a ballgame. It’s not exactly what you’d expect from a member of a band this overtly strange, but it’s also rather refreshing.
Famous for their tireless touring, Akron/Family has hitched up the wagons again this month in support of Love Is Simple, a highly melodic album that tosses elements of tribal music, stripped-down folk, gospel, and wall-of-sound pop into a stew that comes out smelling strangely like Woodstock (the first one). Janssen credits the band’s new producer Andrew Weiss—formerly of Ween and the Rollins Band— for bringing a new outlook to the sessions.
“It was a big change for us,” he says. “Andrew’s method was a lot more relaxed than what we were used to. It was nice to have a different way of going about recording this album, because we’d been so locked into the same method—you know, like, get it done quick! And so this time we had a lot of room to stretch out and expand on more ideas. So that was pretty cool.”
In order to better recreate the new album’s vibe on stage, the band has expanded its lineup on the current tour, with core members Janssen, Seth Olinsky (guitar, vocals), Miles Seaton (bass, vocals), and Ryan Vanderhoof (vocals, guitar) inviting opening acts Greg Davis and Mega Faun to join in the headlining festivities.
“We wanted them to help us flesh out our tunes,” Janssen says, “because on the new record, there’s a lot of instrumentation, percussion in particular, that we really wanted to capture live in a different way. And these guys can all play a bunch of different instruments, so it’s made it easier. It’s partly about giving us a little more freedom in a way, but it also helps portray a bigger picture of what’s going on with us right now. It’s been really exciting.”
Along with their guest musicians, Akron/Family will also continue to incorporate their devoted fans into their energetic, marathon-length performances, creating a unique communal atmosphere rarely seen at modern rock gigs.
“That’s a big deal to all of us,” Janssen says, “to connect with the people and make them feel like part of what’s going on, instead of just observing what’s happening on stage. It’s great for us, too, because it makes the experience different every night. Different towns and crowds bring different energies.
“I grew up going to punk rock shows at the local community center. Everything there is teenagers, with all their teen energy, shouting and kicking and screaming and jumping around with each other. So it’s more like a house party than a show. And that’s kind of what we like to bring—a dance party at someone’s house—that kind of vibe,” he laughs. “That’s our scene!”