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Friday, December 5, 2014

The Family Crest on Frozen Yogurt and The Belief That Anyone Can Be Musical

Posted By on Fri, Dec 5, 2014 at 12:17 PM

The Family Crest plays the Independent this Sunday, Dec. 6 with Caught a Ghost and Ghost and Gale. - DANIELLE MASUCCI
  • Danielle Masucci
  • The Family Crest plays the Independent this Sunday, Dec. 6 with Caught a Ghost and Ghost and Gale.
It was a rainy evening as I approached Easy Breezy, a frozen yogurt spot in the heart of Noe Valley. It seemed like as good a place than any to chat with six members of the seven-piece San Francisco band The Family Crest. It was hard to miss the rather large group taking up nearly all of the tiny froyo joint (where you can choose between lego candy and gummy dinosaur toppings). Laura Bergmann — flute/percussion/vocals — is already finished with her froyo and apparently the gloomy weather doesn’t phase her. She proclaimed herself as obsessed with Easy Breezy and, in her words, "goes there way too much.” 

Originally the band was the brainchild of singer-songwriter-guitarist Liam McCormick, who was trained in opera, has the range of a tenor, and the skills of a true composer. The rest of the core band includes John Seeterlin on bass, Charlie Giesige on percussion, George Mousa Samaan on trombone, Charly Akert on cello, and Owen Sutter on violin.

But if you thought that was mouthful, consider that it doesn’t even include the 400-plus contributing musicians in their “extended family,” let alone the 80 people credited on their first full-length. The group hails from all over the states, coming from Wisconsin, Chicago, Alaska, Sebastopol, Pacifica, and Calaveras County before uniting in San Francisco circa February 2010 for their debut at Hotel Utah. They’re an eclectic group, much like their music. But they have undeniably mastered each of their respective instruments—- and they cover it all: brass, woodwind, strings, and percussion. When you hear it, you’ll wonder where you are. Maybe at the symphony, perhaps the opera, or a crowded living room indie rock show. That's part of what makes their music fascinating.

We discussed who can collect the most Ron Carter albums (Owen is in the lead with 15) and the possibility of frozen tongues in January. Before they get frozen out in the Midwest, they’re closing out  two months of being on the road, playing in the city they call home this Saturday, Dec. 6 at The Independent.

Liam and John, you started the band while you both were still playing in a different project — what made you want something new?
Liam: I think that with anything artistic its really tiring and hard to keep your soul interested in something. And you’re lucky to get a job that you can support yourself on in order to do it. We were in this position where we were really tired and disillusioned with the music we were making. We weren’t really stoked about. We met up in Europe on this trip and I showed him what I was working on and (John) said, ‘Why don’t we do that?’

You call your music Baroque pop. What exactly does that mean?
John: That’s one of the descriptions.

Liam: Indie rock is another one.

Owen: There’s like 10.

Liam: I write this stuff. I’ve always been an eclectic listener and writer. The music has evolved and changed because of what these people bring in [gestures towards the group]. When we did our first record, I was an opera major and I hadn’t listened to a lot of classical music. In the first year of being in the band and developing our sound, it was specifically Owen who was throwing all this classical music at me, and Laura was throwing some jazz influence. The sound comes from a really organic place. Some people can actually pick out what I’m listening to when I write a song.

And what are you listening to?
Laura: When I was learning how to play music, I was only playing classical music. When I heard Sufjan Stevens’ albums, specifically his first album, it opened my eyes to this new world; I got so excited. I always heard other indie bands but thought, ‘My instrument has no place in this music,’ and when I heard that album it was just incredible. I’m also really into Hauschka and I’m obsessed with Alt-J’s new album — that’s my most recent.

Liam: I think as a writer, I didn’t find myself until this band. But there were some little pinnacle moments that inspired me before we started. I love Damien Rice, Kings of Convenience, Glen Hansard...my best friend is Swedish so all this Swedish music he was throwing me [too].

Charlie: I have a funny job in the band, since Liam has so many different influences and the music is so eclectic; it draws from so many genres. I’ve been influenced by so many different drummers and composers — Jimmy Chamberlin from the Smashing Pumpkins, Ringo Starr, John Bonham, Tony Williams, and local guys. Liam is a great example of a composer: he’s got a complete idea about what he wants out of a song, but he’s flexible enough where he can take from musicians inside of his band when we put our own personal touch on it.

Liam: I didn’t start writing orchestral stuff until the first record. The way I have gone about writing for instruments is going directly to the instrumentalists. George has played trombone since he was…
George: Ten, so like 15 years.

Liam: Owen has played since he was a kid too. And also Charlie with the drums, more than anything [drums] are the most important thing on the record, because it’s what people know and can pick out.You just got back from two months on the road. What is it really like touring with so many people? You’re a big group.
Liam: We ended up buying this giant van — it’s almost like an airport shuttle bus. We all hang out together so there’s no real fighting. Everyone has these ideas of what touring is like, in their brain they think it’s really romantic, ‘Oh, you’re looking out of the window at all the landscapes...’ In reality, we’re all just looking down at our iPhones (laughs).

George: We’re driving through stretches of nothing and just complaining that there's no Wi-Fi, and you’re in the middle of Nebraska, like, ‘Where’s my 4G?’ Or you wake up and you miss a state, ‘What? We went through Connecticut?’

What’s the wildest story from this tour?
Liam: We played a show in Detroit, a city that we’d never been to. After the show, our vehicle’s battery died. But we had no idea what it was. We were loading out after the show and it’s freezing in Detroit. We go back in the venue and ask the owner, ‘What do we do?’ He calls up his buddy who comes and fixes the van, then he gets us to a really nice hotel in town, and bought us all a drink.

George: His name was Mike Lawe, which is the most awesome name for a guy that literally comes in and lays down the law, like, ‘I’m gonna fix your problem.’

Laura: I would say the craziest show we had on tour was at CMJ. We played three shows in one day and the middle show was in Brooklyn…

Charlie: I took a taxi to the opposite side of Brooklyn. There was a Google Maps miscommunication...I ended up south of Bushwick, really far away.

Liam: Like 40 minutes away. They literally came in five minutes before we were supposed to play.

On your record, The Village, 80 people were credited; 2014's Beneath the Brine lists over 200. How does that work? 
Liam: The easiest way to explain it is this: Do you play an instrument, or do you sing, have you ever sung in the shower, in your car, or even banged on something? You’ve done something musical. People are shy about it or they don’t know how to do it. So when the band started we really just liked collaborating. I remembered singing with one of my best friends who at the time was kind of tone deaf. He couldn’t hit a note but there was something there, some kind of energy. That’s where the idea came for the band. We ask anyone to join and we find where they’re at, then find a place for them.

On the last record, for example, we met some people in Seattle who were really big fans of the band and the woman said, ‘Well, I’m in a bell choir and I’d love to be on the record." Then I totally forgot about it. About a month before we were supposed to go in for mixing she asks me when we’re doing this. I was like, ‘Oh, crap,’ so we packed our gear up drove to Seattle...if someone messages us and wants to be a part of it we’ll find a way.

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Haley Brucato

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