Akron/Family bassist Miles Seaton is settling into life in Williamsport, Penn. He's not there for front-row seats to the Little League World Series but because two of his bandmates, guitarist Seth Olinsky and drummer Dana Janssen, have returned here, as the financial realities of living in the Big Apple meant less time to spend working on Akron/Family.
"There's a certain element of luck and intention," says Seaton of artistic survival in Manhattan. "New York, in general, is set up to be a meat grinder. We got what New York could offer and we were tied to it as a place, but as we've been on tour, it's become another stop. We've never ‘conquered' New York. We've all given up things to do this. If you don't give it a real chance, it's not going to happen."
Musically, A/F abide by the laws of improvisation, with an approach that is fluid and permeable, able to be molded into a new shape without losing its singular core. "We try to keep the sound open," says Seaton. "So the end product can be similar but we don't have ties to how it's supposed to sound, like, say, the Beatles, where if John walks, you're screwed."
Their new album, Love Is Simple, recorded with Ween producer Andrew Weiss at his New Jersey studio, is already in the rearview for Seaton. He's looking forward, working out in his mind how the lessons learned can be applied to the band's next recording.
"Being produced is like having someone massage a kink out of your neck," Seaton laughs. "You end up getting burnt up in a lot of ways. We didn't hash out the songs on the road. Next time, we'll wait until we've played stuff on tour a lot before recording it."
What began with home recordings and a bevy of guests overdubbing their contributions until a rich, layered finished project emerged has now become an endlessly touring quartet of young men. They live for the dream of recording albums in that classic rock sense of the "album," but they also revel in the fine art of the unexpected. They are serious young men with a sense of the absurd — or maybe they're absurd kids who can put on a serious face. Either way, their music is enigmatic.
Former Swans leader and Young God Records label head Michael Gira used them on his own recordings and the band has taken his hard-won lessons to heart. "Michael Gira gave advice to us: You have to build it yourself and keep it, so it's your own. So you don't owe anybody anything. We've built a fan base through hard work and not letting people hype us."
Yet hype found them anyhow, under the umbrella of the "freak-folk" scene that's gotten so much ink these past few years. And they take the attention with a grateful nod. But just because their music conjures up the image of burly, bearded guys sitting in a circle grooving to complex rhythms and simple drones, it doesn't mean they're looking to sign up as the next Incredible String Band simulation.
"To be lumped in with Devendra Banhart, it makes people listen to us," admits Seaton. "I just want to sell enough records for us to make some money from them. The way music and information is processed is so different now. It's a positive thing that all this stuff is getting traded; it acts as an advertisement for the live thing. It returns music to its folk role in a social situation. It ends up serving the community. Commerce seems really incidental. People will pay to see you. But recordings don't serve that purpose. Now you're going to tell a story and they're going to be there watching you and participating. It gives the music back to people."
Yet before you think these young men take themselves too seriously, A/F's decision to record with Weiss had much to do with the balance of solid musicianship and artful goofiness that Ween achieved. "We had talked about Ween and how they have an upfront sense of humor. We all like absurd things and being silly but we also take ourselves really seriously in a way that really bothers us," Seaton laughs. "We're like, ‘God, this sucks. Maybe this guy can help us express our humorous side.'
"Humor is really hard because people have this thing about art and how it has to be emotionally intense, and Ween is just irreverent and liberating for people who listen to their music. That's what we hope to achieve."firstname.lastname@example.org