All in the family

Photo by Ian McNeil

When considering artists who could start their own record label, Akron/Family might seem an unlikely candidate. The band’s emotive folk rock explodes with no-holds-barred catharsis. There's not much calculated about it. The trio finds and exploits feelings with an ever-evolving sonic palate. There's little sense of focus, just the joy of musical discovery and a need to express ideas that burst forth from within.

But expectations were made to be defied, and eight years into its impressive run, the quietly emotional folk outfit that turned into one of indie rock's most beloved jam bands is taking a bold step forward. This week Akron/Family rolls through Asheville with Bad Weather California, the first signee to the group's brand new Family Tree Records imprint. Bad Weather's excellent new LP, Sunkissed, will drop in February as the first non-Akron/Family release on the label, legitimizing an enterprise that singer/multi-instrumentalist Seth Olinsky says the band has been working toward its entire career.

“The Family Tree thing’s kind of been a longtime dream of ours,” he says. “It even starts with the name Akron/Family. We’ve always had this idea, this kind of dream that it was less this band and more this like kind of Elephant Six or even Wu Tang, this kind of broader group of artists that came together to record different things. This idea of Family Tree Records has always been around us.”

For Akron/Family, the opportunity to start its own label is less a curatorial experiment than a vehicle for building a community. The band looks up to outfits like The Grateful Dead and Fugazi, bands that used their fame to foster larger music scenes in their respective hometowns of San Francisco and D.C. But in the digital age, they believe artistic and personal ties are more important than geography. They hope Family Tree will help them cultivate a larger, more diverse artistic community and give them a venue to explore collaborations with the artists therein.

“I think that there are bands we can relate to all over the world,” Olinsky says, “and trying to create this kind of worldwide community of artists and musicians and fans that we work with and collaborate with and kind of developing that idea is something that’s important to us. We’re trying to create something that’s a little more interpersonal as opposed to relying so heavily on the media.”

Sunkissed is a great example of how Olinsky hopes this might work. Akron/Family toured with Bad Weather California and got to know them on the road. Olinsky remembers that he actually missed that band’s first set on their initial outing and hence got to know the band as people before he fell for them as musicians. He was so taken with them and their sound that he ended up producing Sunkissed. The sounds they created certainly won't alienate Akron/Family fans, but they come from a different place. The record is a fuzzy, shape-shifting vision of West Coast vibrations from the '60s and '70s, and it varies from hazily pretty slow jams to fast-and-dirty garage rave-ups. It's not an obvious pairing, but their naturally close personal relationship makes for a winning match.

The first release on Family Tree lays down a blueprint for how this kind of collaboration can help Akron/Family grow. Digital project *bmbz* is an off-the-wall remix collection that mutates the band's big and boisterous 2011 LP Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT into a darkly psychedelic noise record. The Built to Spill riffs and stomping chorus of opener “Silly Bears” are twisted into a pulsing and scathing slice of avant garde electronica. Asian-inspired guitar jam “Fuji 1” is split into two remixes, one a fuzzed-out dub instrumental, the other a beautiful ambient number shot through with oddball field recordings. Chopped up and recreated by the band and a group of their friends as an Internet prank — the album was initially released in parts online —

was a way for Akron/Family to let off extra creative steam, one they wouldn't have been able to bring to fruition without their own imprint.

“It was a spontaneous collaboration,” Olinsky says, “It was this prank we did on the Internet, and it was actually really artistically successful and pretty far-out and f**ked up and crazy. It really embodied the spirit of Akron/Family being less about a few guys making a band and touring and doing the everyday band thing and more of this group of friends who get together in the spirit of having fun and making art.”

It's that spirit that has defined Akron/Family as a band, and it's also the mission that Family Tree was created to fulfill. As it turns out, running a label is just one more thing this trio does well.

— Jordan Lawrence is assistant editor at Charlotte-based Shuffle Magazine and a contributing writer at The Independent.

who: Akron/Family with Bad Weather California
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Sunday, Jan. 8 (9 p.m. $10 advance or $12 day of show.


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