Akron/Family has never been an easy one to pin down. Since forming in 2002, the trio has managed to skirt almost every signifier thrown its way by crafting free-form experimental folk rock that, like its players, refuses to sit still for long. On the personnel side of things, Akron/Family is both tight-knit and amorphous. Members Dana Janssen, Seth Olinsky, and Miles Seaton are the band’s vocalist/drummer, vocalist/guitarist, and vocalist/bassist, respectively, but each can — and does — play pretty much anything thrown his way.
Retrospectively, the band has released six — soon to be seven — full-length albums, each more textured, dynamic, and intricate than the one that came before. For example, take 2011’s Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, a buoyant and dizzying experimental-pop endeavor, loosely based on futurism and the emotional power of a Japanese volcano. But onstage is where Akron/Family is perhaps at its best; capable of delivering one of the most kinetic and awe-inspiring live-music experiences currently making the rounds.
In keeping with their curious nature, this Tuesday, January 29, the band makes a stop at Muddy Waters Café as part of a short West Coast tour in support of an album that no one’s heard yet. I recently spoke with Olinsky about Mexico, metal, and the next chapter of Akron/Family.
You guys have been off the grid for a bit. What’s the band been up to? Well, at the end of the year, we finished mastering our new record, which is coming out in April. Last year was really devoted to that. It was a really fun recording process this time. We wanted to go somewhere more desert-y and Southwest feeling, so we went to this amazing studio called Sonic Ranch about 40 minutes east of El Paso, Texas, on this 2,000-acre almond ranch. It was so close to the border that our cell phones kept thinking we were in Mexico. Then we went up to Seattle, where our producer is, to this really amazing studio, and ended up mixing the record and finishing it up there.
Whom did you record with? His name is Randall Dunn. He works with that band Sunn 0))). He’s also recorded Earth, Wolves in the Throne Room, and a lot of more arty, slow-metal, heavier stuff. We wanted to work with someone who could help us capture and help interpret the heaviness of our live show, and he really got that. His recordings have this amazing space; they really sound huge in an almost a spatial way. We thought it would be a cool difference to have our music interpreted through that lens.
With all three of you in different cities, how does songwriting work? This is the third record where we’ve all lived in different places. For the last two, everybody wrote songs and we sent ’em to each other before we got together and started working on them, but for this one, we really wanted to write together, so we found little opportunities to play a festival here and there. We played a few shows in Canada, and then went and found this little punk-rock rehearsal space above a guitar shop in Montreal and camped out in there for 10 days and wrote. We did another period of writing around a festival in Athens, Georgia. There was this really cool nonprofit there that has rehearsal spaces for kids, so we booked a space, and there were all these kids around us. It was pretty fun.
How would you compare the new album to past Akron/Family records? It’s less hippie and more heavy. [Laughs.] I think we made a concerted effort to let ourselves be more intense on this record. Initially I went into the recording thinking that it was just going to be a heaviness, and that’s part of it, but it’s also a more intensely emotional kind of space. For me personally, the new record has to do with all of us getting a little older and being comfortable with who we are. But one of the unique things about our band is we all have very different perspectives on art and music and even what the band is doing at any given time. I think that’s sort of the combination that makes us who we are.
Do you guys feel pretty comfortable with where the band is at nowadays? I feel like we’re very much settled into being artists and being musicians. It’s not so much about relating to young bands as much as it is about this thing that we’ve been doing for a long time, and it’s still developing. It’s more individualistic. I think there are things in culture that we relate to, but I think they’re broad in terms of us collaborating with free-jazz artists in their sixties and seventies or collaborating with avant-garde composers in Japan who are in their fifties or playing with some band of guys in their early twenties. We have this broad palette of artists we’ve interacted with, so at this point, it’s more about stepping into our own mythology and not necessarily having to think about how this one expression relates to the next three months of pop culture. I think that’s the sturdiness that comes from 10 years of being in a band.
Akron/Family plays Muddy Waters Café (508 E. Haley St.) on Tuesday, January 29, at 8 p.m. Call (805) 966-9328 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets and info.