Akron/Family | Interview Miles Seaton

Copper Press | Jedd Beaudoin

I’ll hear a melody and get a visual in my head that I’ll try to replicate with sound

Issue #24 Summer 05 “It’s like the wheel is an extension of the foot,” says Akron/Family’s Miles Seaton. He’s speaking of his quartet’s fascination with the studio and the unit’s impressively prolific nature. The multi-instrumentalist band – based in New York City, by the way, with no real ties to Ohio, thanks – has amassed an impressive (much of it still unreleased) body of work since its 2002 formation in The Big Apple, a body of song that might even leave a young Lennon and McCartney baffled as to four young lads can do that. But, Seaton, continues, he doesn’t think much about it. “It’s almost like that for me where there’s a creative unconscious,” he says, then continues to point out that it never hurts to have plenty of recording equipment around. “I’ve always wished that I could plug a quarter-inch cable into my brain and run that into a tape player. The fascination with the studio, for me, is that it affords people a real window into what you’re thinking, musically. It’s a pretty mechanical relationship. It’s a tool. And you can get lost in it for hours.” He’s quick to note that having an outside ear - such as former Swan Michael Gira on hand should the going get rough and should there be too many ideas to sort through - will probably never be an impediment to a young band’s progress. “Michael will remind you that time and space exist,” says Seaton. Gira was an unlikely mentor for the band. Seaton recalls that he may have been most familiar with Swans around the time that his band mate Seth Olinksy suggested that Akron/Family seek a home on the same label as a rising singer-songwriter named Devendra Banhart. In the process of familiarizing himself with Banhart’s work, Seaton also found himself reconnecting with Gira’s work via his post-Swans project Angels of Light. “We’d sent our work to a lot of labels and pretty much heard, “This is interesting but not for us,” or, “Leave us the hell alone.” But Michael responded to our email, which was pretty weird because the submission policy at Young God is pretty foreboding. And there’s a pretty intense aesthetic in terms of the uniform lines. And, “he says with a touch of nonchalance, “his reputation with Swans certainly gave him something of a reputation.” Reputation of a reputation or no, the former Mr. Jarboe took to this band of twentysomethings, offering plenty of advice. “He really took the time to listen to it and respond and he was nurturing but also qualified all of that feedback as just being his opinion. But he did suggest that although he was busy we should continue to send him more stuff. So we kept sending more stuff.” Seaton’s recollection is, in a word, rapid-fire and nothing short of enthusiastic, as though the events are still unfolding, even after having worked with Gira on not one but two records (Akron/Family - which also features Dana Janssen and Ryan Vanderhoof - figures prominently on the recent Angels of Light outing Other People). And all of it - the records, the recording contract and, perhaps most importantly, the experience - happened organically. “It’s not like we hung out on the scene and met Michael through a buddy. It was great to have somebody say, “Hey, you sent me a CD. I liked your music. You’re not crazy.” Gira may have been among the first in the quartet’s peer group to give such feedback. Not ones to engage in hobnobbing, schmoozing or “fucking a whole bunch of people,” the Family didn’t really expose many other musicians to its work. “We got really great response from people who weren’t musicians, though,” says Seaton. “If you don’t want to be part of the scene, it’s hard.” Not that you should conjure images of four guys sitting in a cramped loft gazing at their bellybuttons and waiting for that right tenor banjo riff to come to them. At least not exactly. “A lot of times,” the former Seattle resident continues, “you’ll meet someone, find out that they have plenty of things in common with you and then, later, after you’ve hung out for a while, you find out that they’re a musician. It’s usually some weirdo who really doesn’t fit in. The cool stuff happens in this very different world.” But Akron/Family is cool, right? Well, sure. But not cool in the way that MTV Cribs is likely to profile Chez Olinsky or Vanderhoof some time soon. Cool in the sense that it’s cool to swim against the tide, think outside the mall - that sort of thing. These are, after all, guys in their twenties who listen to Bach as much as they listen to The Beatles. “I end up listening to a lot of stuff from the ‘60s and I like some of the free improv stuff that happens here, though hearing that usually involves going out. I don’t know. I guess I just haven’t heard a lot of stuff going on here right now that I like. “And,” he continues, “I also like sounds. If it’s a difference between something that’s not any good and something that’s powerful to me personally, I’d rather stand outside and listen to weird harmonics coming from truck brakes. Better yet, it’s springtime now and I can hear all the birds. That’s really pretty.” Of late, he’s also taken an interest in the visual arts, admitting that before relocating to NYC he wasn’t much interested in that realm, until a visit to the DIA in Beacon, NY was, well, eye-opening. “There are these great pieces there. I really got into these Richard Serra pieces. They totally blew my mind. That really started to interest me a lot in visual art. Not,” he says, “that I necessarily keep abreast of it. But I think about it. I just got back from Italy where I saw these really potent religious paintings that really, really affected me. But I’m not really interested in doing it myself,” he cautions. “But I am inspired more and more by the visual to do music, though it’s more in an abstract sense. Many times as I’m making music, I’ll hear a melody and get a visual in my head that I’ll try to replicate with sound.” As for the future of the band - which Seaton refers to as “a regular, space-age democracy” - the multi-instrumentalist/vocalist (a complete redundancy in a band where all members sing and play virtually every musical instrument under the sun to include, perhaps, the bowed saw) is optimistic. It helps he believes that the unit is largely a faceless entity that’s not bound by traditional roles. “A lot of times, bands go through that classic thing where you get somebody who’s the face and that creates a lot of inequalities,” he notes. “It can create a lot inequality within in the band and gets in the way of the family aspect.” And if Seaton doesn’t speak of his bandmates in gooey terms, or directly as “brothers,” the message that there is equality in the ranks is clear and that, for the foreseeable future, that’s how things will remain, whether splitting duties on vocals, guitars, or figuring out whose head to hook up to the tape recorder.