There's a lot of Akron/Family lore floating around out there about how the group wears Rip Van Winkle beards, is involved in a religious cult of their own concoction and holds some type of super-human musical capabilities/strength. The truth, disappointingly, is that the beards are scaled back, there is no cult and they are not super-human (at least, in the Dungeons and Dragons sense).
It's understandable, though, how this stuff would get started. The first time I heard Akron/Family I thought the music, an unusual combination of rock, folk, twisted southern spiritual and found sound put together with an improvised, avant-garde aesthetic, was truly haunting. I spoke with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Vanderhoof over the phone last week as the band traveled through North Carolina during a sunset he seemed to be enjoying. Here, he clears things up.
Can you tell me a little bit about the difference between your albums and live shows? I read something about many of the songs on the albums being compressed into shorter lengths, plus it sounds like you guys improvise a lot during live shows.
We often improvise; we always improvise at least a little, and these days we're improvising a lot more than a little. It just depends on how we're feeling, I guess. Also, we try to put on a very energetic and engaging live performance, something that people feel vitalized from and that we feel vitalized from. So it's kind of loud and crazy and goofy. And the recordings are pretty goofy, crazy too at parts, but incidentally more subdued. The two recordings in themselves are very different, too, because the second recording is with Angels of Light, and it's sort of a documentation of what we're doing at a live show, but you can't really record a live show and put it on a CD; it's not the same thing. But it's more rockin', I guess.
I understand that all four members play numerous instruments.
We all played music growing up; sang in choruses and took piano lessons as kids. Basically, we all just love music and are willing to pick up anything and make sounds on it. I mean, we're not virtuoso musicians; it's not like we can expertly play lots of instruments. Though I have to say, Dana, our drummer, he's probably the best at being able to pick up an instrument he's never played and within a few minutes make a really nice sound out of it.
What's the strangest thing you guys employ in your music? Do you guys have nose flutes or jaw's harps or ...?
We don't have any nose flutes. We have jaw's harps on the first album. There's some creaking door. It's a running joke with some of our friends; they think it's pretty funny that we play the door. We did a percussion jam session on some coffee cups and a glass coffee table on the first album, which is one of my favorite parts.
When you tour do you have to pick what you bring along, do you have to leave some things that you normally use behind?
Yeah, we can't bring everything we want. We have a small conversion van. I mean, we get a lot of stuff in here; it's packed like a tetris game. Dana, again, is the maestro when it comes to packing the van, he's very good at playing tetris. Every square inch has got something in it because we brought two acoustic guitars, three electric guitars, banjo, two basses, all of our amplifiers, an extra little amplifier, CDs to sell, all of our pedals, then we have a bunch of junk that we like to put on stage to give color and life and make sounds with.
I guess it's rumored that you guys practice some cultish religion called “AK,” and the Young God Records website said it was a creed, but is there any truth to that and is it fun to have people think that your band's a cult?
It is funny. There's this thing that we say, “AK-AK” (pronounced ackkac), but it's not a religion by any means. [It's] a phrase that we sometimes use when you hear music in random sounds or whatever, because it's a thing we do with the band; we take any sound and put it into our music. You hear a car alarm going off while there's somebody banging on a door, and you hear a beat in that. That's were that comes from, but it's no religion.
Akron/Family will be performing at The Launchpad Friday, Jan. 27, with Shine Cherries, The Acres and Onward Starfire! Doors open at 9 p.m., and the show is a steal with tickets costing only $6. Get them at the door or at www.virtuous.com.