Christine from ThisIsNotAScene became a big fan of Family and was able to not only review the release “Portrait” but was also able to sit down with band member Steve Gordon and talk about all things Family.
What prompted the name Family? Used by several bands since the 90s from indie pop, rock and disco to hardcore, would this not make it more difficult to market yourselves, though the name is fairly simple and all inclusive?
I’ve wanted to call the band Family since before linking up with any of the guys. But we definitely debated about it for a while. I think the biggest question was whether it was powerful enough for our heavy sound, but my feeling has always been that its strength lies in its diversity — family means so many things, both sunny and dark, to everyone, and it’s instantly relatable.
My favorite band names are single-word ones that are open to interpretation and don’t pigeonhole a group into just one feeling or scene, and I think Family does that perfectly. It definitely doesn’t make things easier marketing-wise, though! When we were first starting out, a couple of friends pointed out that our band name would make it extremely difficult to search for us online. But I still love it, and think it suits us well.
As far as others that have used the name in some form or fashion, the one that comes to mind is the British progressive rock group named Family that broke up almost forty years ago that was always on the periphery of their rising scene, but never quite reached a major level of success or notoriety. In a way, I like to think we’re carrying on the torch for them…
Since the recording of “Portrait”, what do you feel the latest additions to the Family, guitarist Josh Lozano and drummer Jody Smith have added to the group?
Jody joined the band right after we recorded the drums for ”Portrait”, when our original drummer Phil Sangiacomo left to focus on his other band Grandfather. Jody and Phil‘s styles are both so unique that to me we’ve felt like a different band with each of them. Phil has a thick, Danny Carey element to his playing while Jody’s feel is a bit more raw and rootsy. Jody and I also share a common love of New Orleans funk (he’s from there as well) so I’m interested to see how that evolves in the band’s sound.
There’s still the same overall mood throughout, but our new material is definitely different in some ways. And I really appreciate that. I love when bands evolve and forge new sounds from album to album while retaining the same magic. Needless to say, our next record will be distinct from the first one. But we’ve been playing newer tunes that aren’t on “Portrait” at shows for almost a year, so anyone who’s seen us live will recognize a good chunk of them.
Josh is an amazingly omnipresent Brooklyn band dude. He’s played with plenty of projects (including Jarboe, Inswarm, Man’s Gin, and his own noise-rock/metal band Fashion Week), and therefore has a wealth of diverse musical experiences under his belt. He also brought the immediate practical bonuses of having a great practice space and a van, both of which we really needed at the time. But it transcended far beyond that immediately — he’s a unique guy and a solid player, and it’s been a pleasure to get him up to speed and start working on newer songs together. Josh is a lifer in this scene and a welcome addition to Family.
Who designed your album art? It’s a truly ominous and ghostly collage of brushstrokes, carving out chunks of old photographs of family life. What a great way to capture the album title, not to mention the track names on “Portrait”.
Brooklyn artist Eric Diehl did two excellent paintings for the front and back covers of “Portrait.” He and I first discussed one concept capturing our album’s family in a dinner scene, which ultimately evolved into the two different paintings that I think work very well and strangely fit the album.
What I love most about them (the front cover especially) is that they are decidedly un-metal… in many ways it’s an ongoing effort to shirk metal clichés, and I’m happy that the album artwork has done that. It’s nice that the iconography both represents all of the characters from the album’s story and abstractly suggests the conflict between placid family life and dysfunctional inner turmoil.
I hear guitarist John Lamacchia (Candiria, Julie Christmas, Spylacopa, and Crooked Man) makes a guest appearance on a track. Which one is that and how did this collaboration come to light?
John LaMacchia plays on the second track, ‘Daddy Wronglegs’. He is a good friend of the band and one hell of a guitar player. We played a couple shows with Crooked Man last Fall and thankfully the timing worked out well for his contributions to the outro of this song. He sent us a few different passes, and we edited parts of each of them into additional layers. John is such a fluid player and a great guy, and we are already talking about future collaborations.
As far as the concept of the album goes, as surreal as a dysfunctional family that developing supernatural powers may be, is any of this based on personal experiences and some personal way you have used your imagination to escape?
Well, there was that one Summer I figured out how to shoot laser beams out of my eyes but it gave me terrible headaches so I had to cut it out.
If you could have a supernatural power, which one would you choose? Which one do you think you’d get by default since life is unfair and you don’t always get to pick your strengths?
I used to have lots of dreams when I was a kid about flying, so much so that there was a point early on when I really thought I could pull it off! So probably flying. Although invisibility would certainly come in handy.
However, I’ve already been given a superhuman shlong by the universe….life is truly unfair!
Family seems to play local gigs quite frequently, even before “Portrait” was set for release. Was it important for you guys to develop a local fan base before you invested money in recording an album? I’ve been totally captured by you guys since I first saw you live so this may have been a good strategy.
Thank you! We usually try to space out gigs but yes often end up with lots of dates on the calendar. It wasn’t a specific strategy to develop a local fan base but it has definitely been important to play with our friends in as many of the best Brooklyn bands we could, such as Hull and Primitive Weapons. We were quickly embraced, and it’s been a lot of fun. But ”Portrait” has been in the works for over a year, so in the meantime we’ve simply been gigging as any band would.
What are your hopes for international status?
We’d love to play in other countries, on other continents, other planets… It’s definitely important to spread our message beyond the US, and working with Robin Staps‘ (The Ocean) Pelagic label gives us very good reason to hit Europe first, as they are based in Germany. But when the time is right this band will be eager and ready to travel far and wide to play.
Justin Mantooth and Alan Douches have done some exceptional production work on this album. Everything is just impeccably sculpted together and sounds incredible. How were they to work with?
It was a pleasure to work with both of them. Justin is a hell of an engineer and mixer, and we spent ample time getting everything sounding the best it can be. He gets endless credit for how the final product sounds, and our collaboration just clicked. Alan is great too; we spent a day at his mastering studio upstate, and in that short time he really brought the album to a new level of clarity and crispness, which we absolutely needed.
Were they selected based on their history of working with amazing bands such as Cave In, Unsane, Mastodon and Torche; some of whom you sound has been compared to?
Well Cave In and Unsane both recorded at the same studio we did (Translator Audio), but with a different engineer. Mantooth is extremely experienced but hasn’t worked with too many big names in the metal world. Hopefully this album will help get his name out there, because he really is exceptional and deserves more opportunities. He’s actually involved in opening a new analog/digital studio in Brooklyn as well. Hire him, he will make your band sound amazing!
Alan Douches is a veteran who has mastered MANY of our favorite albums. He was recommended to us by our publicist Curran Reynolds (who also plays drums for Today Is the Day), and I’m extremely grateful that it worked out so well.
This could get a little messy but Portrait’s final track ‘Exploding Baby’ prompts me to ask to be inflicted with your worst dead baby joke. Shoot!
Q: What’s grosser than 1000 dead babies stacked on top of each other?
A: One live one on the bottom, eating his way out…