Akron/Family | Interview with Dana Janssen

Albuquerque Tribune | Paul Maldonado Jr.

Justin Timberlake?

Music: Akron/Family: a far cry from humdrum

January 27, 2006

The musical collective known as Akron/Family favors experimental whimsy, creating a psychedelic, pastoral pop akin to the Beatles meets Captain Beefheart. On the band's latest release, the split CD "Akron/Family & Angels of Light," the group went for constant invention and sonic chaos, recording it live with few overdubs. The music is in perpetual flux, alternating between gospel beauty, psychedelic mantras and country stomps, often within the same song, yet grounded firmly by gorgeous vocal harmonies. "I like music that's diverse, not the same thing," says the band's Dana Janssen in a recent phone interview. He was taking a walk in New York City during a tour break. "I like to keep change in our music. It keeps it interesting. As for our music, I'd say it's psychedelic rock, just that."

The band, which besides Janssen is Ryan Vanderhoof, Seth Olinsky and Miles Seaton - all are vocalists and multi-instrumentalists - has been together for 2 years. 
"It's just a matter of knowing people," Janssen, 25, says, explaining the band's evolution. "I grew up with Seth in Pennsylvania. I met Ryan when I lived in Ithaca in upper New York state. And we met Miles at a coffeehouse, where he was performing; we asked him to join us. At that point we said, `Let's just do it.' " 

And since all the musicians are multi-instrumentalists, that makes for a mighty crowded van. 
"There's a bunch of . . . stuff used for something or other," Janssen says of the instruments the band lugs around. "Like too many guitars, a banjo, bells, keyboards, kazoos and a tambourine - and chairs. We make music with chairs.  "And contact mikes; we like to mike things to pick up different sounds. We bring just about anything we can find that makes a sound."  

And if you've seen Akron/Family before, Janssen says, you haven't really heard them before. 
"The set list changes every night," he explains. "A lot of it is improvised, so it's new for us every night, as well."  Asked about his influences, musical and otherwise, Janssen ponders the question before answering.  "There's a lot of stuff," he says. "Musically, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Flaming Lips, Justin Timberlake . . . Justin Timberlake?

"Oh, yeah," Janssen retorts, busting into an a cappella version of "Rock Your Body" before continuing, ". . . and the Roots, a lot of things really. And Slayer; I've been listening to a lot of Slayer lately. And Cary Riley, who I think is the best songwriter around.  "As for nonmusical influences: espresso, for sure, lots of espresso. And sunshine. And my mother."

Earlier this month, the band began its third U.S. headlining tour, which brings it back to Albuquerque after a show at the Launchpad in April. "The experience was great. The kids were awesome; I loved it," Janssen says of the Duke City. "There were the indie rock kids and the Goth kids; it was a lot of fun. There's a lot of diversity in Albuquerque. I could feel the love on stage."