When Dana Janssen and his Brooklyn bandmates in Akron/Family mailed an early demo to Michael Gira, they didn't think much of it. In fact, Janssen admits that only one member, guitarist Miles Seaton, had ever listened to Gira's seminal noise-and-volume magnate Swans, and that he only had passing familiarity with two bands on Gira's Young God Records, Devendra Banhart and Calla.
Fast forward two years, though, and there Janssen is, packed into a touring van with Akron/Family and Gira, crisscrossing North America on their first tour with their eponymous entree--co-produced by Gira and the band in Brooklyn--just out on Gira's label. But Akron/Family would not only be opening for Gira, they would be supporting him, serving as the live backing band for his latest project, Angels of Light.
"Oh, it was awesome, and it totally whipped us into shape because it was our first run out across country and we had to make an impact with a big audience every night,² Janssen says, back on the road with the band, leaving a farm house outside of Rochester, N.Y., after the its second American show on its first headlining tour. ³And he has all of these tips about being on the road, doing soundchecks, recording."
They certainly made their impact. Janssen describes two recent shows in Toronto and Montreal as an "unbelievable response," as many people came after seeing the band with Gira earlier this year. Most bands would smirk at the shadow of a more-famous mentor, but Akron/Family has embraced the laurels of Gira, who describes Akron/Family as the best he's ever worked with.
"He was just finishing up being with Devendra, and he had a minute to listen to the music we mailed him, and he was really honest, you know, 'I like this, but I don't like this part as much. Keep sending me your stuff,'" Janssen remembers.
They did, and Gira eventually asked if he could put out their debut. In the studio, Gira recognized the lyrical wealth of principal songwriters Ryan Vanderhoof and Seth Olinsky and decided that--despite the band's live energy and penchant for noisy/pastoral dynamics--the words needed to be at the heart of their first record. The result is the year's best neo-folk dream, full of melodies cloaked in gentle tones and marked every track or so with a fleeting night terror.
"Michael was very adamant about there being a lot of clarity here, not like all those '90s records with all those jumbled words," says Janssen. "He wanted the lyrics to be clear and visible. I mean, I agree: These words these guys write are fucking great, so why shouldn't they be fucking visible and clear to the listener?"
Akron/Family plays with The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers and Kapow! Music at Local 506 in Chapel Hill on Thursday, Sept. 8. Tickets are $8 and the show starts at 10 p.m. Akron/Family's split with Angels of Light is set for an Oct. 31 release on Young God.