Akron/Family | Interview

DAILY BRUIN (UCLA) | David Greenwald

Akron/Family brings unique version of folk music to Cooperage

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Akron/Family may be known as a folk group, but its four members have exactly one thing in common with the average folk musician: beards.

The quartet, which will perform tonight at the Cooperage in a concert sponsored by Campus Events, makes adventurous music full of multi-instrumental layering and unexpected sonic detours. In 2005 alone, Akron/Family has been remarkably prolific in carving out its niche, releasing a self-titled debut LP as well as a split LP with Michael Gira's Angels of Light and serving as his backing band on Angels of Light's "Sing Other People" album.

"(Gira) just had this idea (that) to get us some exposure, he would take us out on tour opening for him and also starting as his backing band. ... We ended up(recording) his whole album with him," guitarist/singer Seth Olinsky said. "It never really was planned to do that; we were just supposed to play a little here and there and ended up just doing the whole album. He was really open to our creative input."

Former Swan front man Gira is the proprietor of Young God Records, the label of freak-folk icon Devendra Banhart as well as Akron/Family and his own Angels of Light project. Olinsky said it was the forward-thinking label's response to Akron/Family's demo submissions that made it stand out.

"The first time we sent him a CD, he was one of the only labels that replied and said, 'I like this aspect of it; I'm not too into this other aspect, but keep in touch. Keep sending me stuff,'" Olinsky said. "He responded right away and gave us creative feedback and seemed really down-to-earth about it, which was really cool."

It was the band's collective approach to writing and recording that piqued the interest of the label, as well as that of a rapidly growing fan base. Songs from the "Akron/Family" album such as "I'll Be On The Water" began as a fully-formed acoustic composition to which the band added field recordings and other effects, while the pulsing centerpiece "Running, Returning" began as a bass line that the band built into a song during live performances. For a group previously restricted to recording on Fruity Loops computer software, signing with Young God meant the opportunity to bring its varied approach to a studio environment.

"It really facilitated us recording more as a band," Olinsky said. "The Fruity Loops process is mostly one guy on a computer, you know? People could add stuff, but it didn't really facilitate being a group and having ideas really spontaneously. The studio just helped us. We could record live as a group; we could all overdub. It just expanded our palette, mainly."

That palette extends to the live setting, and Akron/Family will be arriving at the Cooperage with a variety of instruments in tow. "Live, we tend to take a pretty different approach than we do in the studio, but we also have these little knickknacks that we use on stage. Our bass player has hand-held tape recorders and stuff, so he'll use noises from that. We all have little shakers and kazoos and contact microphones; all these noise contraptions that we use to add some of those sonic things," Olinsky said. "Even on the album, the intention of those sounds is more just creating an experience to accompany the song."

Akron/Family has spent much of the last year on the road, touring several times across the U.S. and Europe. Plans are already being made for the next album, and when it seems the only thing the busy band has time to do is grow out those beards, keeping it together after their whirlwind year has been a matter of putting things in perspective. "I think we had ideas of what we'd hoped would happen, maybe, but everything turns out to be different than you thought it would be anyway," Olinsky said.  "I never had too many expectations. We're working out; we've run with it and rolled with it. When I look back on it ... it's amazing where we're at.