Friday, April 16, 2010

The Family of the Year and Willy Mason play the Iron Horse on April 28th.

The dynamic of Los Angeles sextet Family of the Year seems ripe for a reality show — the six members, all in their 20s, share a house in the Happy Valley section of L.A. and have just released their debut LP, “Songbook.” The group is anchored by brothers Joseph (vocals/guitar) and Sebastian Keefe (drums/guitar).

Watch the video for "Surprise" (this is before Meredith Sheldon joined. You may recall her from behind the register at the old Dynamite Records in Northampton.)

But their lifestyle, as described by Sebastian in a recent interview with Blast, is less “Jersey Shore” and more typical family — hence the name. Originally called Bogie Ogreton, they decided to change the name at the suggestion of their friends, family and manager.

“(Family of the Year) was nice-sounding, and we kind of evolved into a family, the six of us,” Keefe explained. “We all live together in the same house and we all travel together … so it was kind of fitting.

“It might have some kind of irony in it,” he went on. “Often what seems to be a perfect family on the outside ends up being really bad on the inside. … We’re all very honest. We certainly aren’t ashamed of showing our feelings and … that we have problems.”

Some of the internal conflict stems from sibling bickering courtesy of the Keefes, Sebastian admitted. “We are both very opinionated people, so a lot of good comes out of that but there is a lot of disagreement,” he acknowledged. “(But) we’re brothers, so we can disagree without as much consequences as other people. … We heat up quickly, but we also cool down quickly.”

For “Songbook,” Family of the Year is following the Radiohead “In Rainbows” model, making it available through their website for an optional donation, in addition to traditional outlets like iTunes and Amazon.

“We basically want people to have our music, is the number one priority,” Keefe said. “It doesn’t matter how much money they give us.” Though Keefe cites among their primary influences The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Bob Dylan — all of which have a clear presence throughout “Songbook” — the members’ personal tastes are more varied.

“We listen to everything from Jay-Z to Fleetwood Mac,” he said.

The co-ed vocals courtesy of Joseph Keefe and Vanessa Jeanne Long are evocative of 1970s harmonizers like CSNY and Fleetwood Mac, but the songs incorporate modern indie rock elements and structures as well. Their music has already attracted the attention of Keith Lockhart and Ben Folds, who arranged an opportunity for Family of the Year to play with the Boston Pops last October.

At their house, most nights are spent recording in their basement studio, according to Keefe, a routine that he said has sped up the songwriting process.

“Living together and having this camaraderie … plays a huge role,” he said. “We’ve gotten quite good at just writing songs as a group. … We’ve been doing it so long that we can kind of churn them out.”

Hailing from a musical Martha’s Vineyard family (their father is also a songwriter), Sebastian said it was inevitable that he and Joseph would begin writing music together.

“We’ve been playing music together for forever, basically,” he said. “We grew up learning guitar together and playing in different bands in the same local scene. We kind of just naturally evolved into playing music together in a band.” --- Elizabeth Raftery/ Blast

Willy Mason is the other half of this co-headlining bill.

With a sound that recalls Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash along with the cynicism of grunge and punk, nobody could believe wry singer/songwriter Willy Mason was only 19 when he appeared on the indie scene. Born and raised on Martha's Vineyard, Mason grew up with his parents' love of folk music. He loved it, too, but his teen years brought Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine into his life. Mason found their political and social messages much easier to identify with and soon combined folk's softer and loose delivery with the revolutionary attitude of his new heroes.

Writing came easy now and the teenager had plenty of self-penned material ready when a family friend asked Mason to appear on his local radio show. As luck would have it, Sean Foley -- an associate of Conor Oberst and his band, Bright Eyes -- was driving through Cape Cod as Mason was on the air. Foley was captivated by Mason's song "Oxygen" and left his phone number at the radio station, setting off a chain of events that would have Oberst and Mason hanging out, doing gigs together, and touring America. BBC DJ Zane Lowe was also captivated by "Oxygen" and added it to his playlist when it appeared on Mason's debut, Where the Humans Eat, released in 2004. Tours with Rosanne Cash, My Morning Jacket, Evan Dando, Beth Orton, and labelmates Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins followed. Here’s the song that got everyone excited, "Oxygen."

Family of the Year and Willy Mason play the Iron Horse at 8:30, Wednesday, April 28th. Get tickets here.

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