Akron/Family | Interview with Dana Janssen

Discorder Magazine (Vancouver) | Luke Meat

The best thing about people comparing you to The Beatles is that you sound nothing like The Beatles

Feb 06

It's your typical "move to New York to follow your dreams" story. Only this tale doesn¹t have a Midnight Cowboy­style ending. Described as "four extremely nice, sincere and well­ mannered young men from rural America who came to New York City in 2002 to make music," the Akron/Family made three home studio demos before attracting the attention of Swans founder, poet, and Young God Records owner Michael Gira. Not only did Gira release Akron's first two albums, but he also requested that they become the backing band for his own solo project, Angels of Light. One impression you get when you hear Akron/Family's music is that of total
happy abandonment. No Wave Noise blends into four­part harmonies while The Band plays on. Their live shows have been described as orgasmic chaos.  Talking to Akron member Dana Janssen on the phone was more like a jovial chat over pints at the local, rather than an interview.

Dana Janssen:Bonjour?
Discorder: Bonjour Dana? J'mapelle Luc Meat. 
Ahhhhhhhhh! Monsieur Meat!
Comment ça va?
I can't speak French man! [laughs]

How are ya man? I'm so glad we finally got to hook up! We were playing phone tag for a week or so. 

Well, did you hear how dramatic it was the last time you called?
I heard you spilled coffee all over your crotch?
[maniacal laughter] Yeah, my phone was across the table and I heard it was ringing and I was like, "Oh shit, I know who that is." I did this dramatic leap across the room but unfortunately there was my coffee in my lap!

I'm sorry to have caused you such pain. Will the Vancouver show be your first time in Canada?
No! I'm in Montreal now! We played last night and Toronto the night before. It was fucking amazing! I gotta tell ya, the Canadian crowds, dude they're the best we've ever had! Seriously! In Montreal these cats can fuckin' throw down! You guys have some pretty high expectations too, man. It's our third time here, we love Canada
What about the West Coast? Do you guys throw down?

Uhhhhhhhhhhhh. I dunno, Dana. Vancouver's reputation as an audience has been compared to a rug on Valium sometimes.
[laughs] I understand. There's a bunch of hippies out there, you guys are all

Well you guys have a song called "Future Myth"? What you just said is the "Urban Myth"! [both laugh] Does the Akron/Family record every jam they do? How "rehearsed" is the band?
No, we don't record everything, though we love spontaneous improvisation. We think that's the truest form of music. We are very, very rehearsed but we do improvise a lot. The live show is really improvised.

That leads me to ask, what are we going to see on March 4th at The Media Club?
Ohhhhh man! It's gonna be off the hook man, it's gonna be great. For example, last night before we started, the DJ was playing "Hey Ya' by Outkast and we said to the crowd, "We're not gonna start playing until you all start dancing to this!" and we started jamming along to it which led to a noise jam, which led to a song. It was great.

Michael Gira has always scared the shit out of me. I love his music, and the Swans always struck me as the type of band who if you didn't like would fuck you up sonically regardless. What is the difference between an Angels of Light session and an Akron/Family session?
Playing with him is different, because, well, it's a different kind of music. He's mellowed out a lot, he's like 51 or 52. Apparently he used to be kind of an ass. He was really difficult to work with, which was why there were constantly revolving cast members of the Swans, but he's just very specific and he cares a lot about his music.

Did he approach you or the opposite?
We approached him. When we were sending out CDs we specifically sent one out to Young God and he got back to us immediately. He came out to about four shows, and he was like, "We should work together."

Since you share a label with Devendra Banhart, does Akron feel an affinity with the so­called "freak­folk" movement? Bands such as Sunburned Hand of the Man, and Six Organs of Admittance is there even a "freak­folk" movement?
I dunno man, maybe there is! I guess with the term "freak­folk" it's like writers and critics need something to compare us to, so they find a bunch of bands that are kinda the same, but not really, y'know?

Your harmonies are incredibly clear. Does the band actually warm up vocally before practice?
Y'know it's funny, our first practice space didn't have a PA. We were sometimes just trying to sing over the amps. A lot of the time we would just go to the studio and practice with just our voices, so a lot of the record came out of that.

Okay, one final question. You do know that comparisons to The Beatles have been brought up in reviews?
[sighs] Yeah

That's a pretty tall glass of water to choke back. How do you feel about it?
My Mom read me this review of us once and she said, "The best thing
about people comparing you to The Beatles is that you sound nothing like The
Beatles!" [laughs]