AKRON/FAMILY with FINAL FANTASY and the GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS as part of the Over The Top 2006 festival launch at the Great Hall (1087 Queen West), Wednesday (January 11). $12. 416-537-0803. Rating: NNNNN
As the enigmatic Akron/Family grows more popular, several misconceptions have arisen about the members and their origins. Contrary to what some might believe, there are actually no familial connections within the group, nor have any of them lived in Akron, Ohio. They've never even played a gig in the famous rubber capital of the world, home to more than 400 polymer-related companies.
"A lot of people think we must be from Akron," says guitarist Ryan Vanderhoof from his family home in upstate New York. "But Seth and Miles (multi-instrumentalists Seth Olinsky and Miles Seaton) formed the band in New York City when they were working at the same coffee shop. They needed a drummer, which is where Dana (percussionist Dana Janssen) came in, and I joined forces with them after we met at a show in Ithaca, where I was studying classical guitar.
"Akron just seemed like a catchy name, and when we began corresponding with Michael Gira at Young God Records, he assumed we were called Akron/Family based on our e-mail address. When he saw us play and found out we were actually called Akron, he said he thought Akron/Family made for a much better band name. After much argument er, discussion, we went with it."
Former Swans mainman Gira was impressed enough with the group's musical skill and broad scope - which can find them picking out a pastoral country-folk passage one minute and suddenly bursting into skronkadelic improv mode the next - that he solicited the Akron/Family's services for his own Angels of Light album. Gira also had a hand in the Akron/Family's most recent release, Akron/Family & Angels Of Light (Young God), on which the group back their label boss on five of his own compositions.
The overtly prog-ish turns on songs such as the strangely Yes-like epic Moment should help dispel assumptions that the Akron/Family somehow belong to the beard-folk clique of labelmate Devendra Banhart. Admittedly, the Akron/Family members have nothing against facial growth and have developed an odd habit of performing seated in chairs. But their shows can be a bit too loud and confrontational to fit neatly with the rest of the softly strumming sad sacks in the hair club for kids, especially when they get into the unison yelping that has quickly become an Akron/Family signature.
"That whole unison singing thing just came up spontaneously. We were trying to do harmonies - something we're still working on - but our goal was never to achieve a perfect vocal blend according to some strict notion of harmony. We wanted to create some energy that might propel the music forward, and found our style of unison singing could be very powerful.
"During the recording session, we were talking about how to approach the vocals, and somehow Funkadelic's Maggot Brain came up as an example. We tried it and it seemed to work."
Lately, Akron/Family performances have become considerably less sedate affairs. Witnesses of their recent tour report the members getting out of their chairs to play one another's instruments. Who knows what unhinged revelry might transpire during the Over The Top launch party?
"For most bands, the idea of standing up while playing isn't such a big deal," allows Vanderhook, "but for us in our little Akron/Family world, it's huge. I'm not sure what happened, but one night, somebody in the group got up to play a percussion instrument, then somebody else got up. Pretty soon we were all standing and playing and realized, 'Hey, this is really good!'
"And I wasn't going to mention this, because it's not something I'm particularly proud of, but we just had our first stage-diving incident. Things got kind of crazy at this art college. There was actually a mosh pit, and I was jumping on a bass amp and Seth had taken off his shirt when Miles jumped off the stage and started crowd-surfing. There's no telling what might happen in Toronto."