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Friday, April 8, 2011

Akron/Family Talks Performance Art, Live Vs. Recorded Music, and Giving All Your Money Away

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2011 at 11:43 AM

click to enlarge akron_family_thumb_500x330.jpeg

Between its 2005 self-titled debut and its latest album, s/t II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT ("We have no idea what that means," says the band's label), Brooklyn-and-Portland trio Akron/Family has established itself as one of the brightest outposts of New Weird America, and at the same time one of the most inclusive and accessibly intelligent. The band's spacey, shape-shifting compositions are far-out and mystical, but also extraordinarily precise; its shows feel like massive communal seances, and, according to everything-player Miles Seaton, that's exactly what the band is going for. We spoke to him yesterday while he was loading out of The Echo in Los Angeles, preparing to head to Santa Barbara. Akron/Family will be at The Independent tonight with Delicate Steve and Honeymoon and The New Parish tomorrow with Delicate Steve and 3 Leafs -- a "battle of the bay," Seaton calls it -- bringing a generous, freewheeling, and unexpectedly refined noise to the masses.

How has it been being a bicoastal band?
It's been an adjustment, but we've always been sort of nomadic, and everyone's always lived in different places, so it's actually kind of par for the course. At a certain point it's easier to get on a plane than it is to drive six hours to someone's place in the country.

So how's this tour been different from past ones?
We've done a bunch of different kinds of touring in the past, so it's not the most unique in the sense of routing or anything, but I feel like internally all of us have really been developing a really deepening relationship with one another, as friends and as musical collaborators. I feel we're all really growing a lot in that capacity. A lot of friends that come out and see us along the way have been totally blown away by the positivity and the feeling of the relationship coming off the stage. In a sense, we're closer than we ever have been, and I feel like that's what's emanating. That hasn't always been the case, but as we get older and better at communicating with each other, our vision is just a lot clearer. So it's been great.

What about in terms of the audience?
That's always been a variable for us. There's 600 million shows happening all the time and tons of new bands starting up, so sometimes the room is full, sometimes it's not quite full, but the people that we're playing for seem to be really clued in, and it feels like we're playing for our audience in a way that we haven't always experienced. It's less casual or passive listeners in the audience right now. Last night was totally off the chain -- like, crazy crowd-surfing nutjob kids -- while some other places it's more like a quiet, tuned-in listening audience. But it's always been people who are excited about the music and aren't just like, "I wonder what's going on tonight," or "I read about this on Pitchfork." It's more people who know what they're getting into and are really excited about it.

And how would you articulate what they're getting into?
[laughs, somewhat maniacally] I don't know. Fun, with complications. I feel like we're trying to create a powerful community artistic experience with people; there's a lot of communal drawing attention to the nobility inherent within people. All of us feel there's a real power in art, to empower people to feel good about themselves; there's a lot subliminal positive messaging that people come to expect from us. A lot of joy and a lot of passion. Also, these days especially, a fair amount of humor. People will come at this point expecting to hear some heady psychedelic music, but always with a twinge of trying to reach out and create an experience where everyone feels like they're together.

Right. And you have a sense of humor about yourselves, too.
Right. Well, not about me. I have a sense of humor about them.

How do you reach people differently live versus on your recorded stuff?
Well, I think it was John Cage who said he didn't think recorded music was actually music -- it's a record of music. That's a very strict way of looking at it, but it helps me as a framework to look at these things as totally different experiences. With performance there's a whole different intentionality, and with making a record you're creating this thing in a totally secluded world, that you then go and present to people and it's supposed to communicate something to them. A lot of times our records end up communicating a lot about us and the story we're trying to tell, whereas playing live is about the experience of the moment. We approach by trying to be very present. We're trying to learn how to keep saying yes to all of our impulses so we can have a clear flow in and out of the moment.

That's interesting -- to keep saying yes is something you do in improvisational comedy, which makes me wonder what other forms of performance are important to you.
I love performance art; I really relate to theatre as well in a lot of ways, but much more to performance art. I kind of got a little obsessed with Marina Abramovic for a while. The idea of playing with perception and people's boundaries is something I really respond to. It's more about the intention of the performance, the idea of being able to move back and forth between the communal experience of everyone being in the same room and people being able to experience themselves and feel hyper-present in their lives outside of that initial context.

What's the best concert you've ever seen in that respect?
I remember when I saw Fugazi for the first time when I was like 13, there were these moments of them pulling back and being totally invested in what they were doing on stage -- they were alley-ooping with each other, pumping each other up, and there was a relationship with them -- and at some point they flipped and addressed everyone, and the fourth wall was just blown. After having watched them and feeling so moved by the performance and the music and the feeling, when they lowered themselves to my level and addressed me and obliterated that barrier, I felt so hyper-present in a way that totally changed my life. The same thing happened when I went and saw the Boredoms: they created this experience where we were all there together, and it removed a lot of the boundaries for the people there. It was not a passive thing, it was not observation; it was an experience of the moment, and just being present there -- what do my feet feel like? -- was this tremendous gift.

What do you think you'd do if you weren't musicians?
All of us have different ideas, but all of us want to be artists in some capacity. I imagine I would probably try to do some kind of weird performance art, although I've thought a lot about teaching as well. Music is the thing I'm best at, and the place where I feel I connect to something outside of myself and something deeper inside myself at the same time, but the idea of teaching, working with kids, is something I can notice a quiet passion for somewhere. So something like that. Dana [Janssen, fellow A/F member] always talks about wanting to build boats.

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Daniel Levin Becker

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