Discovery: Family of the Year


Family of the Year’s debut album Songbook (2009) attracted the right kind of attention. Hipster favorites Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Antlers, and Mumford & Sons—as well longer-established acts such as Ben Folds—invited the band to support them on tour. Three years later, the band is finally releasing their second album, Loma Vista, albeit with a different line-up (vocalist Vanessa Long left the band). Family of the Year is more of a “friends band” than a true ensemble of relatives—while Joe and Sebastian Keefe are brothers, it is their pals James Buckey and Christina Schroeter who complete the band. Yet, the name fits; there is something of an idealized, early ’60s family feel to their folk-pop vocal harmonies.

Interview recently caught lead singer Joe Keefe in between the band’s gigs in Austin and Atlanta to chat about Steven Tyler, the new album, and how it feels to hear your song play in an Advil commercial.

AGE[S]: 30 (Joe Keefe), 32 (James Buckey) 28 (Christina Schroeter), 27 (Sebastian Keefe)

HOMETOWN[S]: Martha’s Vineyard, MA (Joe and Sebastian); Huntington Beach, CA (Christina); Jacksonville, FL (James)

LOCATION AT TIME OF INTERVIEW: We’re in Texas, next to the freeway.

MUSICAL STYLE: think we’re like a singing group. Backyard, sing-along, loop rock, folk. [laughs] I don’t know, there’s a lot of different areas that go into it.

LINE-UP CHANGES & STYLISTIC CONSISTENCIES: Another one of the singers, our good friend Vanessa, left the band I think a year and a half ago. She just wanted to do her own thing. That was kind of a big change for us, so it was like a before-and-after. There were a lot more female vocals in it, obviously, when she was in the band, [but] I don’t think stylistically it changed much.

IF YOU ONLY LISTEN TO ONE SONG… I think we’d probably play “Living on Love.” Everyone sings on it, which is a distinct part of our sound. And it’s kind of tongue-in-cheek, so it shows that we have a sense of humor, but also it has good guitar picking in it, and it’s also loud.

BROTHERLY LOVE:  We were friends when we were younger. I’m the middle child; we have an older sister and we used to probably kind of tease Seb a bunch, so he’s pretty thick-skinned. I think we always ganged up on my little brother, which is so mean. We just played tricks on him mostly. [laughs] We would just convince him of something ridiculous, because he was so easily convinced since we were the older kids, [or] convince him to give us his candy-that it was in his best interest. But we always got along, we were always friends. Did I tell my brother that Santa Claus wasn’t real? Ooh, I wonder. I don’t think I was that mean. I think I’d have just wanted the dream to live on for him.

MEETING STEVEN TYLER: [My brother and I lived] two apartments down from where Aerosmith used to hang out in Boston. It was awesome. The landlord told us when we moved in or something. I think everyone in the neighborhood knew that.

We met Steven Tyler at [our lawyer’s] office, which was kind of random, but he had heard our music before, so he knew who we were. We didn’t bring up Boston for some reason, he kind of dictated the conversation, you know? He just kind of has that energy. He was talking about these two beads that Mick Fleetwood had just given him or something, so we were just like, “Oh yeah?” And then he talked about stage presence. He really started going off about how everyone has to have their thing, how Mick had his thing, “I got the scarves on the mike stand.” He was trying to give us some advice about having a thing. He just launched right into it, right after telling us that he just came from Mick Fleetwood’s house. And we loved it. It was fun. It was totally an L.A. story.

“NO ONE IS EVER GOING TO TAKE ANYTHING AWAY FROM ME AGAIN:” Is a line from our song “Diversity.” I think it’s a mixture of a few things; like a lot of this record, just came out as I was writing it.  There’s a few rough things that happened to me the year before we recorded [the record], I was involved in some weird home invasion robbery where I was tied up and stolen from and I lost everything-my car, money, and stuff like that. It was terrible. So that had happened, I wasn’t over it entirely, and then, like I had talked about earlier, we had some weird lineup changes-business stuff that was difficult for us to deal with, and trying to get back in the recording studio to make another record. It was kind of an ode to kind of ragging about the bullshit, and wanting to keep going no matter what.

PROVIDING THE SOUNDTRACK FOR AN ADVIL COMMERCIAL: Does it make us feel successful? No. [laughs] To be honest, we didn’t really think it was going to be on the TV necessarily as much as it has been, and I don’t really feel super-cool about it. I don’t think that it’s that cool. Do I cringe every time it comes on? No, I actually like the way it sounds. [laughs] I don’t mind the song, but I don’t think it’s very cool to be on an Advil commercial.

FOLLOWING EVAN DANDO ON TWITTER: [laughs] We saw him play at South By [Southwest] last year. He hasn’t made a record in a little while but he’s still playing. He’s great. We’re huge fans of Lemonhead; we love their stuff.

THE POINT OF OUR MUSIC… That’s a good question, but what’s a good answer to that? What have other people answered? [laughs] I think that we do have a point, and I think that it’s probably—I mean, I don’t know if I could call it the point, but we do like to play and sing and have a good time and make people happy. I think that’s the most accurate answer to give. Would I be upset if our music made someone sad? No, I would not be upset. I would understand; there are definitely sad songs. I love sad music and I love being sad sometimes. I think that there has to be both.