’A Funny Pairing’
I met up with this very unique and original quartet of multi-instrumentalists in 2005 in Budapest performing before Michael Gira’s (ex-Swans) The Angels of Light – which happens to be the same band as Akron/Family completed with the bandleader & main songwriter M. Gira himself. Back then The Akron guys were touring with their self titled debut album, and The Angels were playing mostly off the The Angels of Light Sing ‘Other People’ material. Both shows were uplifting, ethereal and remain one of the most amazing concert experiences ever to me!
endhits: Where does this unusual name come from?
Seth Olinsky (guitarist): The name doesn’t have any meaning, Akron is a name of a town in America, in Ohio, but none of us are from there or grew up there, we were actually calling ourselves that before we’ve gone to the town once – we drove through it. But we just liked the sound of the word, so no specific meaning, only words thrown together.
endhits: When and how did the band start?
Seth: The band started about 3 years ago when the bass player Miles (Seaton) and myself started playing together in my apartment and recording on a 4-track recorder very quietly.
endhits: Were you playing in some other bands too?
Seth: Not anything that was known, we all would play for different amount of times… I knew the drummer, Dana (Janssen), we grew up together, so 3 months after I started with Miles we invited him – he was living in Florida at the time – to move to New York City and so he did. We both knew Ryan (Vanderhoof) as well, the other guitarist, and he moved there too, so after about 6 months all four of us were together, and we were living in a loft out in Brooklyn. It’s been two and a half years since we’re together as a whole group.
endhits: How did you choose the style, what kind of influences did you have?
Seth: We never really chose… When I moved to NYC I wanted to play jazz, but Miles had background in an indie-rock band and he had done different hardcore, experimental-noise bands and stuffs like that. But when we got together, neither of us quite knew what we want to do, and we ended up making these really quiet, pretty kind of songs. We never set up to have one specific sound exactly. When we were all together for the first time at home, we were recording kind of a lo-fi, weird folk and experimental music and then we would go and play live shows where we are more like a rock band. We did lots of different things at first and then weeded down to our own style, focused it. And Michael Gira (ex-Swans, The Angels Of Light) helped with that a lot, too.
endhits: How did you get in touch with him?
Seth: When I moved to NYC I saw Devendra Banhart (one of the main artists at Gira’s Young God Records) who had just moved to city too, and I saw him play…
endhits: But I guess you have known the Swans as well…
Seth: Well I wasn’t familiar with the Swans. Miles was the only person from the band who knew them. I knew a guy from the Young God Records who told me that Michael Gira was putting out young new bands’ music so I sent him our stuff. We sent it to a few different record labels and no one ever gave us the time a day, so he actually personally gave us feedback, which is very cool. We just continued to send him material for a year and kept bugging. Then he finally came out and saw us live, and he decided we would work together.
endhits: How did this relationship grow to the extent of even playing together?
Seth: It was all kind of spur of a moment… We decided to do our first record with him and he wanted to do our record for his label too. And then he got the idea – I think it was right before we went to the studio – that when the CD came out, he would take us on tour and use us as musicians in his band, The Angels Of Light. That was a good way of getting us out to tour for the first time and then also we can support him and cut down on costs and stuff like that. I think he initially thought maybe we would just play a little bit on the album and then he went into studio, did our album, we kind of hit it off, so when he went to do his album we just did the whole Angels Of Light (AOL from now on) album with him. It was never really planned, we never rehearsed anything, we just did it all in the studio, made it up on spot.
endhits: And now I heard that an ‘A/F-AOL’ split album is coming out soon…
Seth: We recorded the split after all that. The first 7 songs are ours and the last 5 are AOL songs – us playing… So it’s kind of confusing, ha-ha!
endhits: So you play on the whole CD actually…
Seth: That’s right. We went on tour in April – May 2005 and we did 6 weeks straight this what people here in Budapest have seen tonight: We would open up every night and there would be AOL performance after that. We got back to NYC from Europe and I think we took a week off, and then we went into the studio and just really fast did 2 day with us doing our songs, 2 days doing AOL songs, because we wanted to get a CD that sounds close to the live show, to document what we’ve been doing… because our A/F CD is quieter and more song oriented and detailed. It is very different from the live performance. But for me playing live and recording music is totally different – there are some things that I like live, like free jazz or some experimental music, it’s very in-the-moment, but when I go home and listen to it, it’s not the same feeling.
endhits: Well, for me your live performance was indeed more like an improvised jazz concert than a rock gig…
Seth: It’s more spontaneous. We’re trying to mix all those influences and ideas and put them into one song…
endhits: Did you succeed in putting this way of playing down on the first A/F CD as well?
Seth: Yes, I think the energy. On the CD there is not a lot of improvisation, it’s mostly the songs, although there are some little mistakes left, we didn’t wanted to fix every little detail, this way it has the presence, and it doesn’t just sound like a live record but it’s sound has that force of seeing a live show.
endhits: The other thing that’s interesting is that you are funny guys, there’s a great deal of humor implanted in the performance…
Seth: That’s like this thing with the style, we never had any point that we said we’re going to be funny, it was never a conscious decision, but we are definitely conscious of it… I think what we noticed was that at home we were doing stuff that was more our own, we had a sense of humor about things, and we were all like: “It’s stupid and silly and funny.” And then we would go out live and be very serious. When we were on stage and behaved seriously, everybody was standing there and listening very seriously… We realized that things were more real when we were looser.
endhits: Do you know the band Mr. Bungle?
endhits: Well, for me they came to mind for some moments when you had those unexpected thematic changes and the attitude of not being too serious… But of course I don’t want to compare you to them…
Seth: I mean, yes, but I don’t think we sound like them. But I can see what you mean… The sense of humor is important even for us, for our own sanity as individuals. It’s so easy it seems for people to take themselves so seriously, which I think is not good for anybody: the audience, us or the music.
endhits: Before I’ve seen this AOL concert I always thought it was something way too serious, but now I’m convinced it’s more spontaneous: those conversations between you and Michael, and those jokes about Guns N’ Roses, it was totally unpredictable and came as a very nice surprise!
Seth: I think Michael has a history of obviously making very serious music. Swans is definitely kind of less humane and very intense. If you just look at us and think of us as A/F with Michael Gira of the Swans it is kind of a funny pairing, because we are like four funny hippy kids and he’s the serious, intense one.
endhits: But he’s not, that’s the point! That’s what I liked about the concert the most.
Seth: That’s right. When we were talking about making a record for his label, we went to his house and we hung out with him and his dog, it was very much about if he is a good person, are we compatible as people, do we like each other? Because there’s so much work at this label, it’s not like some big record company, there’s a lot of hard work between people. I think we’ve been influential on him to some extent by giving him space to be relaxed, and he obviously had so much influence on us in so many ways: artistically, recording and playing live!
endhits: What was the audience’s reaction on your first tour?
Seth: I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, because I thought a lot of Michael’s fans might not like us, but he has a really loyal following, they really like him and trust him, so him supporting us was enough for them to listen. They saw that Michael really liked what we did and cared for us, and that was enough for them to listen with open ears. So it was cool. There’s a small percentage of people that didn’t even know who the AOL was, they were just really Swans fans and I don’t think they became big fans of us… but I think most people were open to us and the AOL.
endhits: Where was the biggest success so far?
Seth: In America we do best on the coasts, like NYC and the East Coast, the West coast like San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle, Portland, these are all great. The middle of America is kind of tough; it’s a little bit old-fashioned… And then Europe has been great, too!
endhits: Do you have your own audience as A/F?
Seth: Yes, we’re just trying to… In NYC we definitely do, because that’s where we are from. We just did our first major tour by ourselves in the US, five weeks, and that was good. Sometimes 80 people would come out, sometimes 20, but a lot of times they knew our songs, so we are starting to have our own audience, it’s small now but hopefully it’ll get bigger.
endhits: Which bands are you friends with and played together?
Seth: We’re not really friends with that many bands…
endhits: You have only enemies… Ha-ha!
Seth: There are no enemies either…
endhits: Which music scene do they belong to?
Seth: That’s the thing magazines like to mix and make scenes and stuff like that, make it seem that they hang out together, but… I don’t know, we’re just not friends with that many bands yet. We’ve toured with a Canadian band called Great Lake Swimmers but we didn’t know them before the tour was set up. It just worked out.
endhits: By the way, do you know the band Godspeed! You Black Emperor from Canada?
Seth: Yes, I know of the band and I like the music very much. One of the guys owns two venues in Montreal; we’ve played there with Michael at the bigger venue, it was great, Montreal’s great, the scene’s great, lot of musicians come to the show, they are really supportive. One of the guys from the band Fly Pan Am came, and we’ve become friends with the guys from Do Make Say Think. In Toronto we’ve played with one of their side-projects and then woke up early in the morning and went to their house and did some vocals for the new DMST album…
endhits: See, you said you don’t have musician friends… Anyway, how do you write and put music together?
Miles Seaton: Well, as Seth told you our influences range from classic rock – like I listen to the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan – to noise and experimentation… I like things in contexts but I am personally into drones, like when you go into the bathroom in a hotel and turn on the fan and it makes that noise, drone. I’m interested in pure sounds, like sitting on a train and listen to the screeching on the tracks and all these kind of sounds. What I think about is trying to create a space for the song to live in. There’s a song that’s very clear and simple for one person on the guitar, but around that you create an environment that they’re in. Think of like: this person is playing and so where am I – as a listener – imagining them sitting and playing music. So for me as a musician, am I able to create a space that someone can work off or imagine. Music has a structure, something clear amidst something that’s more experimental or abstract. It’s a balance of abstraction, experimentation, non-music mixed with traditional music.
endhits: Is there a concept such as to make a distance from popular music as much as possible? I mean, I guess you’re not really interested in Britney Spears and MTV music…
Miles: No. Not really. I was in punk-rock bands for years and there was a specific plan to not make mainstream music. And with this band, I don’t care if it’s mainstream or not, it’s just not important. For me, as far as the music I make, it’s just to make it. If someone thinks it sounds like Britney Spears, okay, but I’m not worried about it anymore, like I used to be. Obviously I think that there’s some intention to try to avoid that by having tradition of the forefront of the music and having abstract, pure noise sounds occurring outside of this frame. I think there’s a possibility that a listener will be able to hear the music of the everyday life. Like me when I’m walking in the street and hear the sound of the car horns – there is something there. So maybe somebody who doesn’t play music can listen to enough of the sounds and maybe the world can come alive from a new way for him. John Cage, the famous composer was really good at this. I just want to have fun and make people happy, that’s all.
endhits: Is this your first time touring in Europe?
Miles: We did four shows before: London, Paris, Brussels and Netherlands. So this is our first Eastern and Central European tour, and we’re doing France, Italy, and UK after that.
endhits: What kind of experience is this for you?
Miles: It’s incredible! I mean I grew up in the states, watching TV, seeing, hearing big things about Europe and Eastern Europe, I had friends who traveled to Europe in the summer and I never got to go and I always wanted to. And here I am now. I was sitting on the train and riding through the countryside of Hungary – we were coming by train from Ljubljana, Slovenia – and I was like: “How did I get here?” I love it and I’m filled with joy. Traveling is wonderful and getting to see these things is absolutely fantastic, but getting to do it because I play music is really amazing.
endhits: These impressions you gather on this tour may end up on the next album…
Miles: Well, only the fact that we’re playing for different audiences and picking up different energies from people, and we’re also playing every single night for months on and so we get better is amazing, but for me hearing new sounds or learning how to communicate with people, seeing more of the world definitely informs whatever I’m going to put out. We’ve been fortunate, it was really nice tonight playing after some really interesting new music.
endhits: Were you watching Palya Bea’s (Hungarian folk singer) performance?
Miles: Yes, she was incredible! I traded one of our CDs to the owner of the store (Fonó Records), he gave me some CDs of Hungarian folk music, and I’ll listen to it as soon as I get home. That’s incredible thing, it is more profound and more interesting than most rock music today!