Interview: Family’s Steven Gordon
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Brooklyn-based rock outfit Family play the type of music that lures you in with hooks then bashes you with leaden heaviness. Comparisons have been made to Tool and Soundgarden jamming with Mastodon and old-school Baroness--it’s complex yet accessible.
The band, consisting of primary songwriter/guitarist Steven Gordon, guitarist Josh Lozano, drummer Jody Smith, and bassist/vocalist Kurtis Lee Applegate, is set to release its debut LP, Portrait, on Robin Staps' (of The Ocean) Pelagic Records on October 30th. It’s an exhilarating first salvo. In the midst of a swirl of activity, Steven took the time to answer some questions for us.
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How did the band form?
Well, I started writing music in this vein ages ago, but it took quite a while to refine the sound and get it right. My first song attempts were way too long and not nearly heavy enough. Not to mention that finding the right people to play with is an extremely difficult task. You'd think that with so many folks in New York City it would be easy to find players who fit, but it can be really hard to locate those who are serious as well as those who bring music to life.
Momentum (or lack thereof) can also be an issue--if you have a great collaboration going with someone but it's difficult and frustrating to find other guys to join, many folks will lose steam and give up after a while. Natural selection, perhaps? I tried to make the band work with various players, but it took several attempts and disappointments to get to the initial lineup.
When I first heard Kurt scream, I knew the band needed that thunder. His vocals automatically make the music heavy--plus, he's got excellent bass skills--so to contrast that fury with syncopated, often major-key, classic rock-style riffs seemed to create something new. In a lot of ways, the merging of those two elements has ultimately helped to inform the sound.
Phil, Owen, Jody, and Josh have all brought their own styles into it as well. And I think there are certainly both heavier and funkier places for us to go. Jody and I share a common love of New Orleans groove legends The Meters, and I'd like to explore that kind of behind-the-beat syncopation even further, just in a much more brutal context.
Where do you guys fit into the current New York City metal scene?
The NYC metal scene, Brooklyn in particular, feels very (for lack of a better word) familial right now. Most of us who are in active New York bands, despite subgenre, know each other and have played shows together. And for the most part it's a great, supportive breeding ground. But for those of us who have the ambition to succeed there's also a sense of restless hunger--an itch to evolve past "local band" status and therefore play less in New York City in order to starve the market. I suppose it's a necessary route to expansion, though--but for now we just want to be out there playing as many great shows as we can.
Amid the diverse New York spectrum of doom, black metal, tech-y prog, spazzy abrasive chaos, and everything else, frankly, I'm not really sure how we fit. There is obviously screaming in our music, so it falls under the category of "metal," but we can certainly fit into less heavy bills as well, and that suits us fine--we enjoy playing shows on diverse, unexpected lineups, and don't want to be pigeonholed.
Your debut album Portrait is a concept album about a family in disarray. Where did the concept come from?
I spent several years working in the film industry, and have always been taken by characters and storytelling. But it wasn't really a conscious effort in this case--the whole concept came about very organically.
When Kurt and I sat down to write the lyrics, many of the thematic instincts he had lent themselves to tell a story. It started with "Bopsky," which was initially just a working title because I thought the verse riff felt "boppy!" When Kurt came up with what ended up as the anchor of the chorus--"My father...revived me"--I ran with that idea to come up with a story of a young man named Bopsky who attempted to drown himself in a bathtub, only to be yanked out at the last minute by his father (who later became the character in the song "Daddy Wronglegs," which on the album features our bud John LaMacchia of Candiria/Julie Christmas/Crooked Man fame), for which the son forever resented him. So right away we had characters and conflict, and as the work continued and evolved, more elements of the dysfunctional family came into play. Our hope and plan is to extend this theme into the next album, which is meant to be about an apocalyptic war.
All of the music was written before the lyrics, so in essence we were able to sculpt the words and cadence to fit within the various time signatures and changes. It has been a blast collaborating on the lyrics, and I can't wait to do it more.
Inspiration comes from many places. Actually, during one of those lyric-writing sessions, we were working on the beginning of "Bridge & Tunnel" when a delivery guy who had stopped by to help us get, ahem, "inspired," came in spouting some whimsical jabber about there being no time--"only the moment"--and shortly after he left I turned to Kurt and said, "That's it! 'There is no time--only the moment'." And the opening line of our album was born.
The band's music incorporates a wide range of influences. How did you arrive at this sound? Was it a happy accident, meticulous planning, or a little of both?
The sound we have is definitely a conscious effort, but doesn't feel like it was ever that meticulously planned--aside from intricate heavy music, my musical style has been influenced tremendously by funk, classic rock, and progressive rock, and I think those facets are all in there to some extent. Most of the songs on the album feel like a nice blend of my style and Kurt's unbridled heaviness. But the music was also written with melodic singing in mind too--we were auditioning clean singers early on, in order to combine singing and screaming. So I guess the originality of the stark nature of screaming with our lush riffage could be called a happy accident.
Major props must be given to Phil Sangiacomo (from the band Grandfather) and Owen Burley (from the band Demilitia), who were there for the beginning and played on the album as well. We spent ages in our old basement rehearsal room at The Shop (RIP) getting those tunes tight and jamming out many more great ideas that I hope will resurface someday.
How did you hook up with Pelagic Records?
I first met Robin years ago during an interview for MetalSucks outside the old Knitting Factory, but we didn't talk much further. The last time The Ocean came to the States their tour plans got majorly rearranged at the last minute, so with purchased plane tickets and visas already acquired they were left to book their own mini-tour for part of the time. It ended up being very serendipitous for us--I helped figure out a Brooklyn show for them, with Family playing on the bill as well, and Robin mentioned his label to me that very night. We are huge fans of The Ocean, so it's been a pleasure and honor to work with Pelagic.
How do you guys balance life in the band with your lives in other music projects, as well as commitments to other non-musical endeavors, such as work and family life?
It can be tough. New York City certainly isn't cheap, so it's important to keep working between rocking in order to keep our lifestyles afloat. It'll be interesting to see how this evolves as the band progresses and life continues to unfold. There was a point when all of us were playing in other bands as well, but it's a bit more contained now. Josh is currently the most musically active of us; he's got his own awesome noise-rock/metal project called Fashion Week.
What are the plans for the band once Portrait is released? Are you going to tour?
We have a handful of new songs with our current drummer Jody Smith and guitarist Joshua Lozano, and more on the way, so it'd be nice to record that material soon.
We definitely want to get out there and spread the love as well. It'd be great to team up with a bigger band or two that could take us under their wings, but we also like the idea of touring with other Brooklyn bands, so we'll see what happens.
We are planning to return to South by Southwest next year. West Coast would be nice too. Since Pelagic is based in Germany, there has been talk of a European tour at some point. We are open to possibilities!
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Thomas Pizzola is a writer from Connecticut. He is a frequent contributor to Verbicide Magazine and CT Indie.
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