Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Akron/Family: Flourish Flourish Flourish! Find intimacy in Noise! Find inspiration between Detriot and Japan

Boisterous albums can be intimate. Every so often, you hear an album that effectively translates the brimming excitement and inexorable motivation of the band. Not quite like the cliché of “being in the room with them,” and not merely the dynamism of the tracks that have been recorded (or, “captured”) but particularly intimate in that you, uncannily, become in tune with the people, the people behind the instruments, the people in the studio, the person at the sound board.

Really, said Akron/Family singer/multi-instrumentalist Miles Seaton, “There’s no real way to describe ‘inspiration’ on this basic, mechanical level…(for it) to be realistically digested by people who are, already, overloaded with information and don’t have time. The reality is, the generous thing to do, as an artist, is…”

He pauses. What does it really, simply, merely, come down to…?

“…is to make art.” And he chuckles.

But still, “I feel inspired!”

Listen: - Akron/Family - "Silly Bears"

Anyhow – this weird and invigorating “connection” can be found and felt on the Portland(/New York) based trio’s fifth proper full length, the curiously titled S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT (Dead Oceans). Equally surreal, sublime and smorgasbord, Akron/Family churn out a wooly folk/rock flushed with a transcendental wanderlust; equally electrified and psychedelified. After more than eight years together, the trio (with Seth Olinsky and Dana Janssen,) have assuredly bonded, with a camaraderie qualifying a “familial” bond, but also to the point of remarkable synchronicity –to the point of an almost telepathic tri-way of reading each other to facilitate an almost second-nature comfort level for the controlled chaos of improvisation.

“We’re not really a big rehearsal band,” Seaton quipped. “We figure out what to emphasize and how to frame it and just go for it. It has to do with us getting to a place where we’re communicating with one another, clearly, what we want to accomplish, and then reaching a decision. Then it’s just a matter of quick execution.”

So It Goes by Akron/Family from Secretly Jag on Vimeo.

Indeed. They took some time to hunker down with Chris Koltay at High Bias , on the fringe of Corktown, near the slopes of the emaciated Grand Central Train Station, in SW Detroit. Koltay recorded Akron/Family’s 2009 affair, Set Em Wild, Set Em Free.

But, actually, the album, (S/T II) was “born in (Japan),” Seaton said. “…An incredible, wild inspiration to us. Going there, we had been going in a million different directions, trying all these different things. And we were shook with surprise with how amazing it was; it shocked us back into place, it grounded us and there was an explosion of creativity that occurred around us there.”

The band seemed to find a muse in the land of the rising sun, spurred by their touring of Japan with Deerhunter through summer 2009, combined with what Seaton remarked as a particularly inspiring performance that Akron/Family attended, by Japanese noise-legends the Boredoms at last years’ All Tomorrows Parties festival.

“It was inside of us,” Seaton said, of this ‘explosion of creativity.’ “So, when we got to Detroit, there was a level of the rugged, feral nature taking over, being in the skeletal-ness of that city. Detroit’s kinda been vacated. We were hanging out at that train station, literally and metaphorically. There’s some poetic aspects to that.”

“I do feel like there’s a level of intimacy achieved in (S/T II). Our first record was almost entirely recorded with one crappy SM57 microphone in a shitty sequencing program. We embellished it in the studio. But, we were creating in a vacuum; we weren’t out in the world, in the scene, listening to a bunch of bands and approximating it, none of that. I feel like it was just this intimate, very direct sharing that was happening. That intimacy was very important.”

“When you improvise and when you are free and are making really loud, like—literally loud statements, there’s a level of everyone in the room being together, because they’re all being sucked up in the loud sound; everyone’s hearing it, they’re all having their own experience but everyone’s hearing it, so there’s this intimacy that can occur, or this sort of presence that can happen. I feel like there’s a capability in loud, really extreme musical circumstances, that can really happen but I feel like we hadn’t realy thought about it htat much or paid attention to that quality.

"Where, before, when we were first playing and Michael Gira (of Young God Records, their first label/collaborator) first heard us (at Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn), we used to get so quiet! It would be total silence. We’d sit in silence for a whole minute with an audience and everyone would be together in this silence. It wasn’t about us being interesting or about people being interested in us, it was just about the moment that was there. We tried to suffuse that more radical energetic expression, on a sonic level, with that intimacy and that intention.”

“Intimacy, that drawing people in, was the real intention behind the record.”

Akron/Family returned to work with their previous sound molder/collaborator, Chris Koltay, for S/T II. The band have made a personal, professional, and in some ways, cosmic, connection to the consummate, Detroit-based engineer (whose resume includes Liars, Deerhunter, No Age). “We’ve gotten close enough to him, at this point, where we kind of use him as a spirit animal. He really puts his heart and soul into what he’s doing; I feel like he really understands the musicality of sound. I can’t say enough about how awesome he is…On a sonic level, he just gets it.”

Akron/Family albums up to now have spanned from stripped down, obscuro-acoustic based folk experimentations, to saturations of eclecticism with banjos, sitars, and synthesizers under tribal/spiritual chant-churning drum circle-esque trance tumblers, to keyed-up, guitar-surged, raucous whirls. S/T II, with its cool; its confidence, its grace, balancing dreamy/hazy acoustic sways with the more cacophonous, rock-leaning exuberance, they blend funk and blues, to sun-soaked Americana.

What’s been steady throughout is, first, of course, their striking, honeyed harmonies and their penchant for found sounds spackling the edges of their songs. Set Em Wild Set Em Free and its predecessor, Love is Simple (2007) seemed rapt with the earthy/woodsy vibe, furled by cricket chirps, whereas their first album opened with the melodic elements of a cellphone. S/T II balances the elucidation of the outdoors with the tangled, humming wires inside a computer.

Listen: Akron/Family - "So It Goes"

“There’s definitely a weird nature aspect to technological stuff; technology sort of apes natural processes in a lot of ways; that’s just something we’re interested in. When I first started listening to John Cage or just more abstract music, there was this potential expansion; I’d always kind of enjoyed sound, like, I enjoyed the hum of an air conditioner or an engine or something, so I started to get into those sounds and it became musical to me in this way, to where I felt like I could walk around and be surrounded by music. So, for us, there’s this level of wanting to encourage and bolster that experience in listeners.”

He regaled Akron/Family performing at an abstract space, outside, at a festival on the East River in New York, when a boat went by and its horn blew seemingly in key with what another performer was doing. “There was this electricity. This real presence can happen when you’re really present in that sound. I feel like you can carry that presence into life and I feel like it’s lead me to feel happy. On a basic level, I walk around and I feel like I’m in a different world.”

“I feel inspired!”


Akron/Family returns to Detroit, to the Lager House (not far from Koltay’s studio); and to a town that the band felt “very cared for, there…it’s a really amazing town.”

And, this date, 2/22 at the Lager, it being a week and a half into their 2011 tour, Seaton said, “I feel like we’ll be there just around the time when we’re starting to get crazy…”

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