In a world where everyone’s cousin is in a garage band and their roommate is a DJ, music alone is not enough. Every act is searching for the elusive hook that will separate it from the crowd. For Akron/Family, finding theirs has been a mixed blessing. But no one ever said starting your own religion was going to be easy.
The group began as a bedroom project between New York-based coffee shop co-workers Seth Olinski and Miles Seaton. In their spare time, they developed subdued lo-fi soundscapes, incorporating organic sounds, such as kitchen objects and children playing, into their work. As the songs developed, the duo began to expand their lineup. Soon, Olinski’s childhood friend Dana Janssen was brought into the fold, followed by Ryan Vanderhoof. “It took about half a year to get everyone together,” says Olinski.
The group then abandoned their initial work for a more traditional rock sound. “We then reached a certain point with that and then we started to revisit the older, apartment-recorded stuff that was much more quiet and acoustic-oriented,” says Olinski. “Eventually, after about a year or so, we came to a kind of middle ground between the two places.”
Soon after, the group began sending its early recordings to labels. One of the few to get back to them was Michael Gira of Young Gods Records. The label had recently become prominent through the success of freak-folk wunderkind Devendra Banhart, and Gira’s own past as the frontman of influential New York City art-core act Swans offered a certain prestige of its own. “He gave us some nice feedback and asked us to continue sending stuff,” says Olinski. “So we just continued sending him CDs every few months when we would finish one. Then in about the fall of 2003 he came up to see us live and he really liked us live, so he decided to work with us.”
It was at this point that a two-letter word, “Ak,” transformed Akron/Family from being just another New York indie-rock band.
The word comes up constantly in the band’s press. Thought to be the title of their self-contrived religious belief, it has shifted perception of the band from being seen as “four dorky dudes” to modern-day bearded gurus of a backwoods faith. The truth? “It’s no mysterious religion,” explains Olinski. “It’s just a word we used to say. Michael made something up about it in an early write-up on us and it has kind of spiralled.”
Olinski attributes the resulting fascination with “Ak” to people’s need to find a mysterious force propelling artistic thought. “It’s like in that new Bob Dylan documentary,” he explains. “At one of the press conferences there is this guy who keeps grilling Dylan on what the motorcycle T-shirt he is wearing on the cover of Highway 61 really means. Finally Dylan is just like, ‘It’s a fucking t-shirt dude.’ It’s human tendency to do that. If you read Dylan’s autobiography he just put a lot of work into being a really great songwriter, but people almost need to believe he is a prophet. Similarly, I’ve read press where people have said our music is unintentionally intellectual, where they prefer to give us credit for starting a religion than knowing what we’re doing with our music.”
It’s easy to see how this kind of thinking has spread to Akron/Family. The group’s sound is a crashing fusion of old and new ideas. The mixture creates a somewhat innocent feeling that propels the band’s delivery. This may in turn lead to the high points being written off as accidental. “We keep putting out albums and playing shows for people,” says Olinski, “but they seem to need that extra element of mystique.”
Now the band is trying to put the emphasis back onto the music. Listening to the recently released split LP with Gira’s Angels of Light, it doesn’t seem like this will be much of a struggle, unless of course some new rumours once again steal the focus.
Olinski ponders this. “The thing is; we’ve recently attained the ability to move objects and control animals with our minds,” he says. “We also have a constant telepathic link with Tom Cruise, since we’re each carrying one of his babies.”
Akron/Family w/Windom Earle, March 25 at Stage Nine, Grafton at Blowers, 10pm, $8