It’s not often you come across a band that has, yes, six members. On top of that two are dating, two are brothers, and it still all manages to work out wonderfully. Sound impossible? Not for California’s Family of the Year who are one such band. The self-professed indie-rock-folk-Americana songsters have just released their debut album, Songbook, and seem to be charming their way onto everyone’s iPod. If you haven’t heard them yet, SPIN Magazine recommends that you do – and so does The Rock and Roll Report.
The band consists of: Vanessa Jeanne Long (vocals), Joe Beaulieu Keefe (Vocals & Guitar), Sebastian Keefe (Drums & Guitar), James Buckey (Keys), Christina Schroeter (Keys) and Brent Freaney (Bass). Vanessa recently phoned in for a chat about Rock Band’s (yes, the videogame) pivotal role in their formation, impossible to remember band names and actually living and feeling like a family.
Q: The six of you come from all over the country so how did the band come together?
A: I met Joe outside of a bar one night, like Los Angeles people do, and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t met him [before] and he’d been playing for two years. [So] we met, and he was in between bands at the time, and I had never played in anything ever, but I played the game Rock Band, and was playing on his brother Sebastian’s drum set, and he thought I knew what I was doing.
We started writing music and recording it at night [with] me and Joe playing instruments, whatever I could learn to play, and then Freaney joined next and then his brother afterwards. We taught him all the drum parts six months ago and then everybody else came into place. They had been in bands before. They’ve become good friends that I like to have around in general.
Q: Where did the name come from and what happened to the original name: Bogie Ogreton?
A: [Laughs] Originally, because it was just me and Joe, we were just joking about this whole thing. We put a couple songs on MySpace and immediately we had people take notice and wanted to put our stuff out and we needed a name. I came up with Bogie Ogreton and The Yogurt Tops. It rolled off my tongue, but later on we played a show under the name Bogie Ogreton.
The rest of the band thought, “How are we supposed to remember that?” So I guess we should change the name to something easier to remember, and we have another song [not on the album] that starts out, “For our Family Of The Year Award…” and Sebby kind of said Family Of The Year, yeah, that’s it. It fit because Joe and Sebby are related and me and Joe are together and we all live in the same house together. We’re on the road and we travel together – just like a family.
Q: Who are your top three musical heroes and how do they influence you?
A: For me, I would say Bob Dylan because I love the writing aspect of everything and he was one of the first I listened to where I was like, “Oh my God, he’s actually telling stories through his folk music, but with a twist, you know?” Fleetwood Mac, my choices are so predicable. I love that it’s not just pop music […] I loved how everything they did made sense melodically. It wasn’t formulaic, it just was cool. Third would be Etta James. When I was young I listened to a lot of blues music and she was the first musician who’s voice I fell in love with. Her voice is insane, so that’s my choices.
As far as the band goes, Fleetwood Mac is definitely one of the top choices. Beach Boys is another ‘cause it’s this California music.
Q: Those harmonies are just fabulous…
A: Yeah, they’re amazing. I came from a musical theatre [background] and harmonizing and stuff and the Beach Boys was the first tape I bought. It was the first tape all of us bought. We also like the Lemonheads, Smashing Pumpkins – all the music we listened to when we were sixteen. All that kind of music, we get very nostalgic. It reminds me of getting my license and driving around, hearing it on independent radio for a time. Joe likes Doo-Wop, he’s all over the place – a lot like me.
Q: Where did “Charley’s Song” come from? It’s pretty intense, is it about someone in particular?
A: I was sitting in my bed and we recorded it all ourselves, in very different places. We started it in the rehearsal phase and then we lost our rehearsal space […] then we moved into his apartment and then he lost his apartment, so we moved into our apartment. Joe was in the dining room section and I could hear him screaming about “The boyz in the hood” and I said “What are you doing? This sounds insane to me.” So, I walked in and I recorded over that, but it shows when you have an interesting melody, it doesn’t matter what you say. He was reading Helter Skelter at the time. We were also watching YouTube videos about gangstas and Kurt Cobain, so he was all over the place for that song mentally.
Q: So what was it like getting picked by Ben Folds to play with him in Boston?
A: It was definitely surreal. When we got the phone call we were like “What? There’s no way!” Then the next thing we knew we’re driving to Boston in a rented RV and then we met up with friends and played a warm-up show at Martha’s Vineyard. The Ben Folds show was only the fourth show we have ever played. It was weird because we weren’t sure how it was done. It was in the beautiful symphony hall and we didn’t know if we dress up formal and be proper, or what. It kind of flew by as we were doing it on stage.
The Boston Pops with Keith Lockhart and Ben Folds were insanely great. Afterwards, while we were watching them play, I was thinking, “I can’t believe these guys actually picked us!” The awesome thing for me was realizing that these two amazing talents had picked us […] being up there felt normal. I like being on stage a lot so I was excited about that.
Q: Any other good stories from the road?
A: CMJ was cool for four nights because we actually went around the city and stuff like that. From the first to the last show you had new people coming in who were like “I’m seeing Family Of The Year!” and had no idea who we were. The cool kids were finding out about us for themselves by the fourth show. Then a little Top 45 Artists to Look Out For article from SPIN Magazine helped us a lot. And we ran around meeting people and just got home a few months ago. It was so much fun!
Q: What’s next for Family of the Year?
A: We’re going to be with Neil Young in L.A. and then a few more dates on the West Coast and Martha’s Vineyard during Christmas. Then we return for an East Coast tour in January.