Portland-based rock ‘n’ rollers Family Worship Center have some rules, found in print booklets at their shows or on the group’s neocities site: “Walk to the beat at all times. Never hurt another Family member. Surrender all your earthly possessions. Everything we do is for the Groove.”
Performing as a faux cult band, the group riffs on one of the Pacific Northwest’s favorite genres: the art of nostalgia. Think grainy public access adverts and the aforementioned xeroxed leaflets. However, they aren’t the People’s Temple Choir or the Source Family band—they rock a whole lot harder. And with their debut full length LP, Kicked Out of the Garden, coming out September 8, on Spokane label Corporat Records, Family Worship Center wants to convert you.
Bandleader and keyboardist Andy Krissberg has committed to the group’s look, from the bottom of his long bushy beard to the top of his aviator glasses. Fake Bibles handed out at Family Worship Center claim to combine found documents with Krissberg’s words, imploring the reader to, “Keep the beat alive and Groove will be with you forever.” Still, in person, Krissberg comes off as thoughtful and laid back.
“It’s not an ego band,” he told the Mercury. “The focus isn’t meant to be on one single person.”
To illustrate this point at shows, Krissberg plays off to the side, showing that he’s just another member of the throng. Still, there’s something about him that attracts a loyal company of collaborators.
“At the end of the day, Andy moves around, and he brings a group of people with him wherever he goes,” the band’s guitarist and resident rhinestone cowboy Andrew Pettersson explained.
“There’s no real coincidences about it. It just happened. I don’t tell ‘em to. They just do it,” Krissberg laughed.
Case and point: The band formed as a three piece in Nashville in 2017, but their roster has since swelled to 10+—you can spot them by their matching stick ‘n’ poke tattoos of the FWC logo. For a while, the whole outfit relocated to a massive ten bedroom house in Bellingham, Washington where they used the living room as a recording studio. It was there that the majority of their debut was written.
Kicked Out of the Garden is music for the weary travelers, the aimless ramblers, the unrepentant sinners, and the true believers. It’s also music for the unabashedly nostalgic, wallowing in musical and lyrical references to an idyllic analog era. Expect many hallmarks of what was once called album rock: maximalist instrumentals, shifting tempos, and lengthy musical breaks.
The band wears its influences on its sleeves, and sometimes quite literally on decorated jumpsuits and gospel choir robes, but it’s the soul, R&B, and airtight musical arrangements that set the music apart. Family Worship Center is more revival than Rush. Barn burner and album closer “Kicked Out of the Garden” could make even the squarest of skeptics backflip down an aisle, like John Belushi in The Blues Brothers.
“Reason to Live”—on the group’s 2020 EP Sunday A.M.—juices up the folk wisdom of the Band with booming brass lines, one singularly noisy breakdown, and a full-throated celebration of the simple pleasures that get us through the day. Meanwhile, Kicked Out of the Garden’s opening track “The South,” recalls Creedence Clearwater Revival, as much for its lackadaisical chug as for Krissberg’s affected twang. With a hearty nod to Irma Thomas, Family Worship Center turns “Time Is On My Side” on its head in the sing-along anthem “Hellfire.”
The aesthetics and sounds of the American heartland are at the core of the band too. Onstage, jumpsuits are bedazzled with blue and silver eagles, stallions, and rhinestone encrusted snakes. Wide brimmed gambler hats top heads. The nods to Americana reflect a true four corners of the country collective, with band members hailing from all across the states.
Krissberg grew up in a small Illinois town where the two major activities for youth were football and show choir—Krissberg chose the latter. As an adult, he bounced from Phoenix—where he and the group’s drummer Chris Lamb put together a similarly showy (if more debauched) group called Hooves.
The two—still putting on shows together more than a decade later—laughed as they recalled an abandoned Hooves-era documentary project. A small crew (two cameramen and “the most incompetent human I have ever met” on sound, according to Lamb) followed them on tour, trying to create a sensational portrait of youth in revolt. The results? Hundreds of hours of less than lewd footage, unedited, languishing somewhere in digital limbo.
In a genre like rock that relies so heavily on claims to authenticity, what does it mean to be a rock ‘n’ roll band that lingers so firmly on bygone imagery? What do we even want from a rock band in 2023?
That’s for you to decide, but what I can say is at a Family Worship Center show, you will find a stage teeming with a chosen family play the hell out of their instruments, grooving to the beat, and taking your ass to church. Amen.