Akron/Family | Interview with Dana Janssen

Hour Weekly/Montreal | Dylan Young

Jan 11 / 06

People in your neighbourhood

It's hard to tell whether we've given up on the whole music interview thing out of common disdain, mutual ambivalence or whether it's that we're both just really, really hung over. In any case, Akron/Family's Dana Janssen and I have spent most of the last hour trading party anecdotes, comparing rent between Mile End and Williamsburg, staring blankly into our coffee mugs, and pretty much avoiding most of the natural conventions of the music interview.

We're sitting in a booth at Gimme Coffee, the Williamsburg café that doubles as a drop-in centre for the neighbourhood's aspiring hipster population. Janssen will insist several times during our conversation that it is the best coffee in the world. I won't dispute it, mainly because I am hanging onto mine like it is the last hope for my waning ability to string words together.

Various people mill in and greet Janssen, shake hands with the guy from Montreal: a pretty brunette who paints pictures of show dogs, a sculptor from the '60s who lives in a converted Brooklyn schoolhouse, some dudes from other bands, a few cute girls who want to be put on the list for Akron/Family's next show.

Janssen is both a local son (despite being born in Pennsylvania) and local hero. He's transitioned from the day-job-slave/music-at-night life that many of his peers are still stuck in. Music pays the bills now, even if he has to sleep on a friend's floor between tours to keep those bills to a minimum. Akron/Family have just released their second album, a split with indie-legend Michael Gira's Angels Of Light project (for whom Ak/Fam act as backup band). Things are definitely looking sunny for the drummer/multi-instrumentalist and his psych-folk cohorts. And Williamsburg
loves him for it.

"It's great here," Janssen enthuses. "This is the neighbourhood, man. There's a great energy and there's this community that always seems to be coming up with something new. I love it. It's like this small town that's stuck inside this big city and everyone gets along great."

Suddenly, as if cued to some click track for irony, Janssen's face contorts in a comical expression of distress and his body slumps into the booth as an attractive girl walks by. A nearby friend laughs. Janssen gestures wildly for him to be quiet.

"The flipside is that it's hard to avoid complications when they occur," he admits when the source of his discomfort has left. "And that everybody knows about them," he adds, throwing mock hatred at the guffawing friend.

Two more refills and a couple of espresso shots later, the conversation turns naturally to music.

"You know, psychedelic music was never explored as thoroughly as some other types of rock," Janssen says. "People associated it so heavily with the drug culture that when the drug culture changed, psychedelic was abandoned. They forgot that there was still great music to be made there."

When I suggest that maybe it didn't get abandoned so much as hidden, that bands like The Cure and Spacemen 3 were psyching and that the rave movement was essentially a psych revival, Janssen concurs.

"Yeah, that's true. Thank goodness. Now we have all these bands that are getting back into exploring that sound. That's what we're trying to do, just make honest music that takes you someplace with all the flaws and mistakes still visible.

"So much of what you hear these days is manicured to the point of soullessness. It's like they're so stylized, so uniform in what they do, that every performance feels robotic."

McBand? No matter what city you're in, McBand is guaranteed to sound exactly as bland as on the album.