eMusic Selects: Family Band
[eMusic Selects is a program designed by eMusic to give exposure to unsigned or undersigned bands. This month's selections are Strand of Oaks and Family Band]
The arresting, winter-bitten folk songs of Family Band feel like dispatches from some older, crueler place and time: a typhoid-wracked 18th-century town, perhaps, or a medieval village gripped by witch trials. In reality, it is the project of two latter-day Brooklyn expats — Kim Krans, a visual artist, and her husband Jonny Ollsin, a virtuosic guitar player who had logged in 17 years in a series of punk and thrash metal bands. The couple bought a cabin in upstate New York, and Krans, alone in that cabin, began writing the first songs of her life — haunted, elemental songs full of deeply enigmatic lyrics that felt like telegrams from the unconscious. Her voice — icy blue and pond-still, rich with smoky dark notes — only made the music more darkly enticing. As Ollsin tired of his life in metal and Krans’s songs grew in power and quantity, a tentative musical project was born, one that solidified the moment bassist and lap steel player Scott Hirsch saw the couple perform live and was electrified. Together, they have made a gorgeously bleak diamond of a record, one that has raised the hackles of anyone who has heard it, and you can count us among that lucky crowd. All of which is to say that we couldn’t be prouder that Family Band are the latest band to joining eMusic Selects.
eMusic’s Jayson Greene caught up with Krans, Ollsin and Hirsch (drummer Adam Cimino, who peformed on the record, has since been replaced by former Yeasayer drummer Luke Fasano) outside a Brooklyn pub.
On the gradual realization that you’re a band:
Krans: Jonny and I have been together for six years, and we’ve been tinkering around with the idea of making music together, but it wasn’t really happening. Or it was, but it was very unofficial. I would say it’s within the last two years that we were playing together, recording, playing more shows.
Ollsin: Really, I feel like Family Band solidified when we met Scott. Before that, it was like a couples thing, and we could kind of brush it off more. When you have somebody else involved, who’s not in that relationship, you can really focus on the music.
Krans:: You kind of have someone else keeping you in check, so it doesn’t become too much about coupleness, you know? In our lives, our coupleness is very awesome, but it’s also very helpful to have other people around so we don’t end up just watching movies [laughs].
On leaving a life in metal:
Ollsin: It was difficult in a lot of ways, because I think I had my ego and identity sort of wrapped up in that world for the last 17 years. I had been doing the same thing, essentially, since I was 15. I’ve always played other music and listened to as much other music as possible, but all of my bands had been progressive thrash bands! Before I moved to New York, my whole social scene was based around being part of that world. But as we get older, I don’t know, interests change, and as I transitioned out of metal, I began to realize how much fun I was having with Family Band. Starting Family Band with Kim wasn’t at all difficult, but deciding to make it the primary focus of my musical endeavors was a little bit more of a big decision. And now, I have no regrets at all. I’m so psyched to be making this music. I’m not done with metal, but I had to make that extreme of a break with the lifestyle and the identity of it, because it was sort of all-encompassing.
Hirsch: But what I love is that that musicality is still very much with us.
Ollsin: I think I approach guitar playing from a metal-interlude point of view in many ways.
On the dark genesis of the song “Hatred,” and the creepiness/sadness of other people’s stuff:
Kim: That song was written immediately after we got our land upstate. There was a giant trailer on the land that was abandoned for seven years or so. The people basically just walked out, and they left all the food in the refrigerator, things on the table, clothes, pictures — their whole house was just abandoned. We were all excited, we had just gotten our five acres, and we had this whole outlook about what upstate could be like for us, but we needed to deal with this really ugly thing first — like, this giant, rotting house — and it was brutal going through their things, throwing them out. Just thinking about what happened in their life. It looked like they left for the weekend and just never came back. It made me think about us; people could potentially go through our house at some point. It was an exciting renewal of the space, but it was also really dark and shitty. We took stuff to the dump and we burned a bunch of things, and the fire went on for days and days. Our friend made a Super 8 video of that song from that whole process. After all that, everyone left, and I was just at the cabin, which was hardly built at all, but it was close enough that I could sort of live in it. And I had this really sad feeling of taking over someone else’s space. That song came directly out of that place.
On the awesomely terrifying video for “Children”:
Krans: Making the video was kind of like making the place that I had envisioned when writing the song. That is just a bad-feeling song, there’s all this tense stuff that happening. And when I was writing it I was picturing this couple in this different period of time and place going through something really brutal. The masks and costumes were there because we needed some sort of visual way to sort of get the people to transform into something darker and weirder. Our good friend Luke Meyer, who has a place upstate as well, shot that. He works for Seethink Films, and he’s the same guy who shot the Super 8 footage of our trailer wrecking.
On approaching everything from a visual artists ‘perspective:
Krans: This is my first band. I joined a band when I was 29, which is a little bit silly from a business point of view [laughing] but it’s really paying off. Writing the lyrics is awesome to me, and working on the songs collaboratively is a new thing, and making the video is a new kind of artwork.
Hirsch: I love it when we’re working on a song, and Kim says, “This is the wrong color.” That’s a really cool musical thing to be involved in, because then you have to interpret that, and that’s awesome. And it totally makes sense!
Krans: It can be a little annoying. Like when I say something like, “This part of the triangle is less high than this other part!” I write the song in a skeletal way, figuring out the chord progression and lyrics and the melody. It feels like a very private process for me. They are very based on a setting. They’re usually an imagined place. I start with that. And there’s something happening within that space. I do it by myself, trying to get whatever it is that is driving to make the thing out, to have some sort of resolve. Then I bring it to Jonny.
On roots and musical influences:
Krans: I grew up in upper-peninsula Michigan, which is cool for the landscape, at least during the summer, but then the winter is like, eight months long, and there is no culture. My town growing up probably had about 300 people. I mostly listened to the Oakridge Boys, Kenny Rogers — my family’s record collection was pretty country. Sometimes we’d listen to some Kris Kristofferson, which was really cool, and my dad was really into Bob Seger. I feel like I didn’t have that much music in my life until I was a teenager and started being crazy about Will Oldham and Smog. I love singing-based music — a Townes song, a Leonard Cohen song. I really love Superwolf, Will Oldham’s album with Matt Sweeney — it combined Matt Sweeney’s guitar laying and Will Oldham’s singing in a way that I was so thrilled about. To me, Will Oldham had never sounded better, and I had been a 10-year fan. I’ve heard that album was really difficult to make, but I kind of used it as a way for me to think about me and Jonny making music together, because we were working from similar places in my mind.
On “Death Games”:
Krans: That was my first song! [Laughs]. That song is really, really weird. I try not to be super-conscious of trying to get somewhere when I’m writing something. I will sing the same part over and over again with many different lyrics until something goes, “Oh that weird line showed up.” But that song is particularly dark. Again, I think it’s like dreaming into a really bad scenario. I don’t even know…I don’t even know how to say it in an interview. I think that song is about the bottom, the very bottom layer of when you’re dealing with yourself in a dark state and you’re trying to like protect your thoughts from getting too far into your person. You have to have techniques, like, “Keep your hands busy, go for a run.” It’s kind of like the song pays homage to those tasks you use to get out of darker places. I wrote that song in a super bummer time, when I was like, “How do you craft your life to veer away from your tendencies that you know are there?” As you get older, you sort of get to know yourself, and you figure out your own ways. Some people get real wasted; some people stay home and get bummed out; some people get real laid. We all deal differently.
On “No Sounds”:
Krans: That song is just about imagining negative things as far as you can imagine them, the sort of narratives you can dream into when you’re by yourself. When you’re feeling like you have something that’s so good that the risk of it not being in your life is a huge factor. I felt that way about the land upstate. It was the first thing in my life that I was like “Oh my god, this is so awesome,” but at the same time, what if something happened, what I didn’t have this anymore, all these what ifs. I feel the same way about my marriage. This is a thing that I love and want. How do you keep it, how do you tend to it? It’s sort of like being suspicious of good things. There are so many bad things happening, and yet it’s somehow all cool on the home front, you know?