Q&A: Family of the Year

24 Jun

By Nate Jackson

It’s a given that large collections of folk musicians inevitably breed full-blown hippie communes. So it’s not exactly a surprise to know that the Family of the Year, one of Silverlake’s buzzworthy sextets, actually does live together in one house. Unfortunately it’s in a small house in LA, and not some forest shack in Big Sur. But listening to their music, you’d never be able to tell. Flush with young, hopeful gang vocals, acoustic simplicity and a stockpile of lyrics that read like dusty, introspective road diaries, the band’s sound is a heartwarming sliver of local sound that continues to impress.

Their latest EP, Through the Trees, was released in March and we caught up with drummer Sebastian Keefe who started the band with brother Joseph Keefe (vocals, guitar) in 2008. Together with members James Buckey (guitar, vocals), Christina Schroeter (keys, vocals), Meredith Sheldon (vocals, guitar) and Farley Galvin (bass), Sebastian hopes to reach out to as many FOTY fans as possible with the help of youthful passion, psych-pop and postcards.

Nate: Your band name, Family of the Year, came about because you all live together in one house. Does that ever lead to you being a (normal) dysfunctional family?

Sebastian: Of course! In our home, it can feel a lot like mom and dad are out of town and we’re going to throw a huge party, but it can also feel as if our six siblings are all at home from school sick! We are all very similar, but also quite different (if that makes any sense), so when things are good, they’re great. But things can get out of hand and downright dysfunctional pretty easily.

Nate: On your MySpace, you give praise to your touring van, Buttercup. Any stories you’d like to share about all six of you crammed inside of it on your most recent US tour?

Sebastian: Like any band, we have a loving relationship with Buttercup, our van. [My brother] Joe [Keefe] and I used to have the same exact year make and model and color, with one of our previous bands. He was totally shocked and a little emotional when I pulled up in Buttercup several months ago. He didn’t wanna get in! Reminiscent of a WWII pilot reliving the past at an air show or something! It’s actually alarming how attached you get to your van, it’s your rock when you’re away from home. It’s your space, and you really begin to feel it’s sanctuary when you’re 1000 miles from friends and familiar places. We’ll play trivial pursuit on long drives. Farley [Galvin] likes the thrill of gambling, so we’ll place wagers on random crap that nobody should care about. Christina [Schroeter] sleeps a lot, usually in the font row behind the driver, but when she wakes up she lights up the van with her jokes. Meredith writes  and draws a lot in her Moleskine [journal]. Joe [Keefe] is a reader. He’ll ride shotgun for a long shift and read a whole book. Books, we have tons of books in the van. From Helter Skelter to Dylan Thomas. I think I started four or five last tour and didn’t finish one. I’m too ADD or something. I drive a lot, maybe that’s why I don’t finish books. James [Buckey] and I do all the driving. Though I have to say he does the vast majority of it. He comes from a family of pilots–maybe that has something to do with his devotion to moving people inside of large objects!

Nate: Are there any notable examples of songwriting growth (or personal growth) on your latest EP, Through the Trees, that should make people excited for the new album that follows it?

Sebastian: We’re currently working on a new full length that will most likely be released early next year. The songwriting process changed with the writing of Through the Trees. A lot of the feelings we were trying to convey were emotions the whole group was feeling. Rather than one person showing up with a finished tune, it was more of a collaborative effort. That’s what has been exciting for us. We’re writing as a group and we feel that the music is strongest when we say what we mean and when we’re singing together.

Nate: How long was it before you guys really started to make the band a full-time job and what inspired that decision?

Sebastian: We formed last summer, and by the fall we decided to give this a real go. Once we began touring we had to leave jobs and apartments behind. It wasn’t so much that something inspired us to make this a full time career move. It was  more like we’ve known for years that we wanted to be in a working band. When we began working with our manager, Emily White, that was a huge catalyst for us. She is a wonder woman. She gives us a lot and inspires us. I guess we owe a lot of it to her.

Nate: Do you still have other responsibilities outside the band (work, school careers, etc.) that you still take care of when you’re not on the road?

Sebastian: Not really. We spend most of our time playing and recording music. We work sometimes, but mostly for friends. None of us have regular jobs. We all live together in a really small place so our expenses are quite small. We’d rather sleep in a pile on the floor and wake up a little hungry than wake up for the man and do what he says. It’s quite liberating.

Nate: Since all of you more or less share vocal duties, do you collaborate on song lyrics? How does your song writing process typically go?

Sebastian: Yes, we write lyrics together. Usually one of us will have a line or an idea and we’ll work together to pull a song out of it. Also, Joe will often write a song entirely on his own. So will Christina. Actually I guess all of us do that. So I guess I’m changing the answer to “it depends.” I guess we don’t really have one way of doing things.

Nate: It sounds like “Stairs” was inspired by a pretty rad house party. Is this the case?

Sebastian: We live on a stair street in LA. You park at the bottom of the hill and have to walk up a couple hundred steps to get to our house. The song was written shortly after we all moved in there together.  We typically came home quite late and we’re a loud bunch. We had a neighbor who didn’t really appreciate our late night  (early morning) shenanigans, and would leave really angry letters to us on our door. We never really saw her because we were on a totally different schedule than her. We would be coming home as she would be getting up for work. It was also a time of change for the band. We were making new friends and having new experiences, some good some bad. Some of us thought we were falling in love and others felt left out. All in all, I guess you could say that the song is about one long party that lasted a few weeks. It had the highs and lows that any good party has.

Nate: It might be easy for newcomers to your music to peg you as a folk/Americana band. But you also seem to share a number of different influences that go into what you play. Do your other musical influences come out as naturally in your music as the folk stuff or are they more of a challenge to incorporate into your songs?

Sebastian: We’re huge fans of song songs. It doesn’t matter what genre a song is to us. If it’s a good song, it’s a good song and we’ll sing along! We like to switch it up cause it’s fun.

Nate: How did you guys come up with the idea to sell postcards to your fans? What is the funniest/most embarrassing one that you can remember writing?

Sebastian: Jesse von Doom from CASH music gave us the idea when we were discussing fund raising ideas with our manager. It fit into our M.O. perfectly; we like to stay in touch with our fans online and this was a nice, physical way to do that. Most of them are pretty embarrassing!

Family of the Year are scheduled to play tonight, Thursday, June 24, at Bootleg Theater with The Steelwells; www.familyoftheyear.net

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