A change has come to the band that inspired the phrase "beard rock", and now the Brooklyn foursome are now a trio. Akron/Family's discography has found them collaborating with Michael Gira of Swans and his Angels of Light project, as well as master percussionist (and Chicagoan) Hamid Drake, swaying back and forth between the yelping jammy joy of freak-folk and experimental jams utilizing their musical chops. With the departure of Ryan Vanderhoof, the band is adjusting to new dynamics and enjoying the ride. We sat down with Dana Janssen from the band to discuss the influences for the new record, last-second Chicago venue changes, killer Scrabble moves, and our predictions on how exactly the band will sell out to the man.
Gapers Block: Transmission: So I understand we'll be getting to hear a lot of the new album for the first time in Chicago.
Dana Janssen: Yeah, there will definitely be some new stuff... some of it we've been testing out on the road a bit. Inevitably when you play songs live for a while they crack open in new ways. Something we wanted to do for this record is to have some songs that able to play live for a little while before we recorded it because of the way that they change so much...most of the time for the better.
GB: I listened to some of your recent Daytrotter session — it sounds like you're leaning in a more Afro-beat, Fela Kuti kind of direction for this album, or at least the songs from that session — kind of dance-y, even.
DJ: Yeah — the danceability element, for sure, is more prevalent. And we've been really inspired by many artists from Africa, such as Fela — I'm a huge Fela fan — also Ali Farka Touré, Afel Bocoum, Toumani Diabaté — a lot of what I listen to currently is coming out of that continent. There's been some big influence on the new material from that realm. But it's not all from drawn from there we were going for some dance-y rhythms and there's some Roots Americana on a few tunes as well.
GB: So does the band have a set line-up now?
DJ: We just had the three of us — Seth, Miles and myself do this record. We brought in some friends for horns and strings but...the core of the group, and for the show, it's just the three of us.
GB: Now on the Daytrotter session, weren't The Dodos were supposed to show?
DJ: Yeah, there was trouble with their van, or they got stuck in traffic, or...something happened to them on their way to the studio, so obviously they couldn't make it, so — that was a bummer, but it worked out just fine.
GB: Do you have any plans to work with them in the future?
DJ: No, nothing set...we're certainly not against it, and maybe somewhere down the road... but for now, we're content to be focusing on trio material. It's something that's really appealing to us.
GB: I had read a bit about it in your interview with Grayson Currin — who I guess is a mutual friend of ours.
DJ: Oh yeah? How do you know Grayson?
GB: I know him through our friend Jamie Proctor. He's my old roommate — I think he actually interviewed you guys as well, while you all played a game of Scrabble at the apartment?
DJ: Oh right right...I don't think I went to that one, but I do remember the guys telling me about it. That's pretty awesome I wish I could have been there — I'm a huge Scrabble addict. It's all about the two-letter words — those are the moneymakers.
GB: Oh yeah. You gotta get all the qa's and the little double-consonant combos.
DJ: The xi bomb — that's the way to drop it!
GB: (Laughs)The whole Scrabulous thing on Facebook definitely brought me back into it.
DJ: Yeah, that's what brought me back in as well. I was all over that...it was exciting.
GB: Have you been having a good time with the transition from four-to-three piece?
DJ: Yeah! We did a few tours with friends — The Dodos, Megafaun...it's been interesting to hear the tunes w/different lineups — they're orchestrated with different energies when you have different people. there's a freedom to move, but there's also a duty to fufill — kinda takin' care of business. It's forcing new types of creativity, which is always welcome. You need that growth, the spontaneity...you have to fight the stagnation. Who wants that? You gotta mix it up...as you get older, your music changes...eventually everyone ends in their "Without a Net" era - you know, the Grateful Dead? They got all the money and the MIDI synthesizer and the polished sounds and whatnot...
GB: And "Touch of Grey'"?
DJ: Yeah - eventually we'll get to that stage.
GB: I can only imagine where Akron Family will be in two decades time.
DJ: What's your guess? Give me a guess.
GB: Ha, I don't even know....assuming this next album will be a massive breakthrough and get you on MTV and all the major magazine covers - you'll start your tour of Japan...give up all your ideals, and your spontaneity...probably end up collaborating with the Matrix just like Sheryl Crow?
DJ: That's probably pretty accurate. (laughs)
GB: I mean, you gotta go along for the full rock-star ride ups and downs - so you get the nice denouement at the end, right? Otherwise the Behind The Music special won't be long enough.
DJ: Totally, totally. (Laughing) That's exciting.
GB: There's also a lot of talk about your religious beliefs in the media — some rumors, some factoids here and there — is there any kind of official position on that?
DJ: That stuff is kinda personal stuff — it's not meant to be displayed more than it had been, if it had been at all. Ryan left to pursue Buddhism, and he's very enthusiastic about that, but the rest of us like to keep it personal. We don't want to wear our badge on our sleeve.
GB: It seems like a note that people always like to touch on - if there's any mention at all of religion, it gets the "religious band" tag, or a Sufjan Stevens analogy.
DJ: It's such a person-to-person thing. Obviously we have a few tunes here that mention it, but for the most part it's best just left out. As soon as you start mentioning things about Jesus Christ and Christianity, you automatically turn people off and others on, and we don't want that to happen with our music.
GB: Will the new album be released on Young God?
DJ: This record will not be on Young God, we're moving onto a new label. I'm not going to drop the name yet - we haven't completely finished the deal. But it will be our first record off of Young God. We're all exciting about it. But we left Young God on good terms -we just kind of outgrew what they could do for us, so....it was the next logical step.
GB: Have you played a show at the AV-aerie before?
DJ: Yeah, we've done it once before — recently....when was that? It may have been a while, but we played there once before and had a really good experience. I like the room. The AV-aerie is a nice little space though...its like a Brooklyn loft space, but a lot cleaner. Chicago is a very clean city. But yeah, what happened with the last show was that we were meant to play the Logan Square Auditorium. But they padlocked the door the day of the show — there was some falling out with the owners, and then drama ensued, so they moved the show to AV-aerie. There was a sign on the door that said "Shows been moved to AV-aerie, go there, blah blah blah", so...
GB: Did you find out from the sign on the door?
DJ: Oh no, someone called us ahead of time. That would have sucked. But now we're expecting to play at the AV-Aerie, so hopefully anyone who had some frustration with that will be able to make it this time.
Akron/Family will play The Av-aerie at 2000 W. Fulton on Tuesday, Dec. 2, with Angela Desveaux and The Mighty Ship starting at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and can be obtained through the Empty Bottle website. The show is all ages.
About the Author:
Dan Morgridge is a writer from Ukranian Village who still has an open-door policy to visiting bands seeking a good board game night.