NOTHING GENERIC SHOULD ever be written about Akron/Family. This band makes some of the most spirited and devastatingly joyful music I've ever heard. You listen to the stuff and there's no mistaking the sound of four people who love music so much it would hurt if they weren't so happy. Akron/Family can move from harmonious psychedelia to blasting metal to soaring folk and raunchy blues in the space of one song. Somehow it's all held together, maybe because no one sounds like they're trying too hard to keep it from falling apart. Try to imagine that the Beatles grew up playing dulcimers in North Carolina, then went through a wicked metal phase in high school, and finally took a road trip to New York blasting classic rock and classical music all the way. This versatility may be the reason Akron/Family often gets shuffled into meaningless genre tags (use any combination of the words "freak, "weird," "psych," and "folk").
Now, about that "generic writing" thing—while reading previous articles on the band, I noticed an alarming similarity: A majority of the interviews took place at the Gimme! Coffee shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
That may not sound like a bad thing; Gimme! Coffee has employed more than one Family member, and many people (including the band) claim it's the best coffee in NYC. But I was worried. I, too, was set to interview Akron/Family drummer Dana Janssen at Gimme! Coffee. Would I end up churning out the same tired introduction? Fortunately, a bit of good luck in the form of projectile vomiting intervened. I got deathly ill the night before the interview. Instead of speaking with Janssen, I laid in bed, feverishly hallucinating to the Family's latest release, a split LP with ex-Swans leader Michael Gira's Angels of Light (I think I might have actually seen God at one point.) When I finally did catch up with the Family they had just pulled in to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and judging from the enthusiastic tone of Janssen's voice, they enjoy touring the country in cramped vans a hell of a lot more than most bands.
"My god, there are BEAUTIFUL women doing yoga right in front of me," were his first words to me. The guy talks free and easy, and when he's telling you about a song he likes, he sings it right into the telephone receiver.
To pass the obligatory long hours in a van, Janssen says the band resorts to crossword puzzle books and a recently acquired Travel Scrabble, and a little musical inspiration. On a previous tour they listened to one Slayer song approximately 10,000 times, but they have since switched it up: "Let's see, we've been listening to a little Bach, and... actually, scratch that shit! You know what we've been listening to? HIPHOP!!!" Janssen declares proudly. "Jay-Z! The Black Album! That album is the SHIT! And what's that one Nappy Roots song, you know the one... "
And then Janssen starts rapping, loudly and joyously, and I suddenly realize what all those other music writers did right, and what I did so horribly wrong: I should have met this guy for coffee. Dana Janssen and his comrades in Akron/Family might just be the most entertaining people to have coffee with in the world.