All In The Family:
An EXCLUSIVE Interview with
FAMILY OF THE YEAR’s
By Stephen SPAZ Schnee
While Family Of The Year were officially formed in 2009, the band’s origins began more than a decade before when brothers Joe and Sebastian Keefe formed Unbusted in their hometown of Boston back in 1997. While the band achieved a moderate level of success (including three songs used in the Farrelly Brothers’ 2003 film Stuck On You), the Keefe brothers decided to head out west to Los Angeles in hopes of expanding their horizons. In the course of chasing their dream, Unbusted dissolved and splintered into several different projects.
By 2009, Joe Keefe had already traded in his electric guitar for an acoustic and had mastered the art of intimate songwriting: pure and honest without being pretentious. Armed with a bunch of home recordings, Joe formed a band around the name Family Of The Year, recruiting Sebastian and longtime bandmate James Buckey. While other musicians have come and gone, the Keefe brothers and Buckey have remained the core of the band ever since. Keyboardist/vocalist Christina Schroeter soon joined, adding even more depth to their expanding sound
With public support from artists like Ben Folds and Steven Tyler (who described them as “The Mamas & The Papas on acid”), FOTY have managed to build their career from the ground up, releasing their debut album, Songbook, and EPs on their own label. While they enjoyed keeping everything at a grass roots level, they eventually decided that creating music and running a business did not go hand in hand. Eventually, FOTY inked a deal with Nettwerk and begin recording their second album with producer Wally Gagel.
Due for release on July 10th, Family Of The Year’s sophomore full length, Loma Vista, is one hell of an album. The melodies soar and swoop, surrounded by angelic harmonies, creative arrangements and a sense of excitement that is rarely found on albums these days. No matter whether the song is joyful or introspective, you get a sense that the band is enjoying the experience of sharing their songs with the listener. It’s as if the band is inviting the listener in as opposed to smacking them across the face and demanding their attention. Songs like “Hero”, “The Stairs”, “St. Croix”, and “Diversity” and ‘Everytime” are instant gems, but there are no missteps on Loma Vista. It’s acoustic, electric, eclectic and eccentric. It’s upbeat, sad, warm and embracing. It is a timeless piece of art that will sound just as fresh and exciting years from now.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee caught up with drummer Sebastian Keefe, who was kind enough to discuss the band’s past, present and future…
SPAZ: Your album, Loma Vista, is just about to hit the streets. How are you feeling about the album and everything leading up to this point?
SEBASTIAN KEEFE: We are super excited to get this record out. It’s been a couple years since we released a full length and the band has gone through many different evolutions since we released our first record. We’ve done quite a lot of traveling and experienced a lot. We’ve all been through a lot of personal and musical changes. We really want to get this new record out because it’s more in step with where we are now!
SPAZ: You and your brother, Joe, are originally from Boston. What inspired the move to L.A.?
SEBASTIAN: To pursue a career in music, really. That was it. We were playing with another band then. It had been high school band that had tried to make it. That project had come to an end, more or less, in Boston so we decided to move out to L.A. with that project to pursue it further about five years ago. We quickly morphed into a few different projects. About three years ago, we started Family Of The Year. It was James, he was in that first band that moved from Boston, my brother and myself. We had a couple of other musicians but the three of us have been together a long time now.
SPAZ: You’ve gone the indie route in the past, producing and releasing your recordings yourselves. What made you decide to go with Nettwerk for Loma Vista?
SEBASTIAN: Well, it’s a lot of work! (laughs) It can be very rewarding to be doing it all yourself but I think you end up with too much on your plate and you can start to focus on the wrong thing. If you are acting as your own record label, your own distribution, your own everything… you kind of start thinking like that. We started thinking and feeling that we were really busy with the wrong things. There was a moment for me when I realized that I was spending an overwhelmingly large amount of time talking about music and writing e-mails and all that jazz as opposed to playing music. So, we kind of got sick of it. We still own our imprint and have releases on our label and haven’t signed those over to other labels. But we really wanted other people to help and we really wanted to expand. As much fun as it is to say that you did something entirely on your own, it’s very difficult. We felt that we wanted to have some other people on board to help us and Nettwerk has just been amazing. I don’t think that we’d be as happy if we had signed with a different label. It’s such a good company and they support us. They are very cool.
SPAZ: How did it go working with a producer (Wally Gagel) this time around? Was that different?
SEBASTIAN: It was different. We had a bunch of songs that we had spent 18 months writing and we did a lot of pre-production with him. We were actually in a real studio and had to block studio time, as opposed to throwing together recordings and then mastering them. It was a much more condensed process. I must say that Wally is a good friend of ours who we worked with in the past on a different project of ours (The Billionaires) and he had mixed and did some production on that. We knew him from that and he wanted to get involved with FOTY. He was a big part of this record coming out the way it did. If it wasn’t for him, it probably would have been another bedroom recordings album, which is fine, but not as good, basically.
SPAZ: The songs on Loma Vista, much like your previous releases, are very earthy and warm yet anthemic and joyful. How does the songwriting process work in the band?
SEBASTIAN: Its kind of like you describe it to be honest. We might be feeling very earthy or very grounded or something. Or maybe we’ll be feeling retrospective, nostalgic or maybe down and out. Or even joyful and gleeful. We are very honest with our feelings when we’re writing the songs. We’ll write together and come up with an idea. The majority of the song will be done in one night. Typically, Joe will lead the charge on melodies and chord changes. What was exciting about this record is that we all contributed lyrically quite a bit. The last album was mainly Joe, but the biggest difference on this album was that we all contributed to the songs either fully written or as a group, sitting around in a circle, literally, at our rehearsal space and writing and being excited about it.
SPAZ: The arrangements of vocals and instrumentation are creative and uniquely FOTY. Where does the inspiration for those dynamics come from? Or is it all organic?
SEBASTIAN: We just experimented. But it all comes from Joe, especially. Wally was doing a lot of it, too, but Joe is quite an arranger if you ask me. He would just ‘hear’ something and we would just try it. We’re really happy to say that it is actually our voices: it’s not auto-tuned. We try our best to sing our very best. There was a moment for us when we were recording when we were like, you know we are going to have to try to do this live, right? (laughs) You can get carried away having all these possibilities in front of you.
SPAZ: While definitely a modern band, there are so many elements to your sound. What were the band’s earliest influences when you first came together in 2009?
SEBASTIAN: There was a swing towards ‘70s songwriter stuff like Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, and Carole King… more of that kind of songwriter route. That was where our musical tastes were heading, as far as our musical aspirations. It’s what we were listening to. After practice at four in the morning, we’d be listening to “Mexico” by James Taylor. People have constantly compared us to Fleetwood Mac, and we’ve always been flattered but never understood it. We’ve never done much to emulate them. We haven’t really listened to them as a group together, even though everyone loves them.
SPAZ: Has it been difficult building your own sound and avoiding all the trends that have come and gone in the few short years you’ve been together? Or do you just not pay attention and just get on with it?
SEBASTIAN: We just get on with what we are doing. I feel that everything moves so fast, yet you have to remain stoic in what you do.
SPAZ: Did you have an excess of material left over from the album sessions?
SEBASTIAN: There are probably two tracks from the actual sessions that actually haven’t been released yet. And then there are tracks that just never made the cut to be recorded: I think we picked from 25 songs.
SPAZ: While the press and fellow musicians have been singing your praises over the last few years, how do you feel about Loma Vista raising your profile even more?
SEBASTIAN: I can’t wait for that, to be honest. We’ve had certain measures of success in certain areas, but we can’t wait for our profile to be raised. We’ve done a lot of behind the scenes work, we’ve put in a lot of time working on this and good opportunities are coming our way. We definitely feel ready for it.
SPAZ: What’s next for FOTY?
SEBASTIAN: We’re going to be touring quite a bit. The East Coast, the Midwest… we’ll be going to Europe again in the Fall. Can’t wait for that. Then more U.S. touring…
SPAZ: What do you currently have spinning on your CD, DVD and record players?
SEBASTIAN: (CD) Cat Stevens’ Catch Bull At Four. (DVD) The Unforgiven. It’s amazing.
Thanks To Sebastian Keefe