by Grady Mitchell
As their name suggests, this Los Angeles quartet operates as a family unit, with all the benefits and pitfalls that entails, according to drummer Sebastien Keefe.
“We live together, we travel together, we love each other unconditionally. We have problems like families, we bicker like siblings. Some people act like parents, some people act like children.”
By “some people,” he means that guitarist James Buckey fills the role of bereaved father, while guitarist Joe Keefe, drummer Sebastien (Joe’s actual brother, biologically-speaking), and keyboardist Christina Schroeter are the lovably unruly children.
That sense of blood-coursing youth, energy, and wonder permeates their music, an uncontrived west-coast sound with graceful harmonics and lyrics reveling in golden days, bright nights, fresh heartbreaks and blooming romances. Songs like “St. Croix” give 60’s beach-bum idleness a new-millennial update with the cheesily infectious chorus “You bring the ocean/I’ll bring the motion/Together we’ll make a love potion.” On “The Stairs,” opening track to their latest release, Loma Vista, they toast the simple joys of cigarettes, drinks and friends, and justify their vagabonding ways with a catchy hook: “They made the sunrise for people like us/So we have an excuse as to why we’re still up.”
Family of the Year do not fear tackling tougher material, although they do it with their essential upbeat attitude. “Buried” is an unapologetic and cheerful acceptance of death in which Joe sings, “Nothing ever changes/I’ll be happier than hell in hell,” and proceeds to list the inventory he’d like buried alongside him in his casket. “Hey Ma” is the only truly somber song on Loma Vista, a sober letter home, although seemingly uncertain of ever reaching that destination, containing a message to those still there. And as if they just couldn’t resist, even that song crescendos with powerful guitars and a chanting chorus.
While tracks like these lend the album flexibility and depth, it’s on the simply joyful songs that Family of the Year excels. Not surprisingly, those songs have drawn the strongest attention as well, including flattering comparisons to the touchstone for any band with sand between their toes: The Beach Boys. It’s a compliment Sebastien finds hugely flattering, but one he’s careful to take realistically.
“We all, particularly Joe and I, listened to the Beach Boys growing up, and we still do a lot. Moving to southern California has shaped our music. We’ve never made it to sound a certain way, that’s just how it turned out.”
The band lived together in a rundown LA house while recording Loma Vista, which was released in July.
“That was when we really solidified who we were,” says Sebastien.“We were writing this record and living each moment together. We really just hunkered down and learned how to get along the right way.”
While this isn’t the Family’s first year as a band, it’s looking to be their biggest yet. They just returned from Les Vieilles Charrues, one of the premiere music festivals in France, and they’re set to begin a cross-Canada tour with Hey Ocean in the near future.
What’s next for Sebastien and the rest of the Family? “Touring. Just touring, touring, touring.”