Akron/Family | Review

The Grand Rapids Press | Tricia Woolfenden

"We are not freak folk," Seth Olinsky said with a laugh

GRAND RAPIDS -- As labelmates of Devandra Banhart and purveyors of folk-meets-rock jams, it's little surprise Akron/Family mistakenly has been deemed a "freak folk" act. Although the New York City-based four-piece dabbles in the clunky sounds and genre-defying qualities of the freak-folk movement, it considers itself outside the trend. "We are not freak folk," Seth Olinsky said with a laugh, adding the band often is lumped into the category with artists such as Banhart, Joanna Newsom and Animal Collective. Akron/Family comprises Olinsky, Miles Seaton, Dana Janssen and Ryan Vanderhoof. Each is a multi-instrumentalist; all share vocal duties. The band is on Young God Records, run by indie music cult figure and former Swans leader Michael Gira. The band met Gira in 2004-around the time he recorded a pair of critically hailed Banhart albums when he attended an Akron/Family show. He quickly recruited the band to record its self-titled album. "He was enthusiastic," Olinsky said in something of an understatement. A blurb on Young God's Web site highlights Gira's passion for the band, which he hails as his "favorite 'rock band' in the world." "It all went really well," Olinsky said. "It's been a really fruitful relationship for everyone involved." Gira gave the band freedom, allowing the musicians to explore genres and noises. Organic sounds, such as a creaky swing-set and a human sigh, are juxtaposed with electronic blips and facilitating guitars. One of the band's biggest challenges was compressing its longer, more expansive songs into album-friendly tunes. "We have a penchant for longer songs," Olinsky said. "There were a few songs we couldn't (record) and a few we had to cut down." Olinsky said the band uses its live shows to flesh out songs trimmed in the studio. "We open up some sections," Olinsky said. "Some songs are rearranged. We have a lot of songs that are done differently." The band has logged hundreds of hours touring the world. This spring, it went on an international tour in support of Gira's newest project, "Angels of Light." After its current North American tour, the band will head to Europe. A tour of the West Coast will follow. In October, Young God records will release "Akron/Family & Angels of Light," which features seven new Akron/Family songs and five songs backing Gira. For its current tour, the band also is selling a hand-packaged album of previously unreleased material. "It's not as fully realized as the Young Gods record," Olinsky said. "But it's a window into where it came from.