All You Need Is Joie

Akron/Family Talk Loss, Japan, Detroit and Positive Energy

Akron/Family have had to re-invent and re-organize their sound with the departure of founding member Ryan Vanderhoof.

Maybe they aren’t pounding out tribal rhythms anymore, but Akron/Family’s freak-folk roots are still intact.

The lyrics “Last year was a hard year/For such a long time” summed up the feel of 2009’s Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free, a record created in the wake of losing founding member Ryan Vanderhoof.

While the album lacked the free-form, shaman-rock feel of previous efforts, it served a much more valuable purpose—it allowed the band to move on and transform.

Drummer Dana Janssen had little to say about tracking the record, but he gave the overall impression that it was a turbulent time.

“That was something more confusing to us—to me,” said Janssen about that period, either trailing off or changing the subject when conversation found its way back to the subject of Ryan’s departure.

Nevertheless, Akron/Family has made it through their transition period while managing to stay strong. After having some time to deal with their forced identity crisis, the trio now works closer than ever.

“It was a lot more of a collaborative effort, to be honest,” said Janssen about the new record. “In the past it’s been more of a mindset of somebody bringing a song and it would be digested by the three of us. This time it’s a lot more inspired by our environment.”

“Destination Writing” is what Janssen calls the creative process that conceived Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, released last week.

After spending time touring and experimenting as a three-piece band, Akron/Family travelled through Japan in search of inspiration.

“[Japan] is an incredible place for me,” said Janssen. “It was positive and encouraging, just a different energy than all of us were used to. By the time we got there it just hit us. Something about the land, it was pretty amazing.”

With vibrations of the Pacific held firmly in mind, Akron/Family got to work with Chris Koltay, co-producer of both S/T II and Set ‘Em Wild. Their ideas expanded and evolved in Detroit, where the bulk of the tracking was done.

“Detroit’s just like a blank canvas at the moment. It needs to go through a rebirth,” said Janssen. “It’s a big, empty relic. There used to be Motown, the auto industry, etc., but what’s left is ruins of that really amazing sound. It’s pretty inspiring to have space and room to create, to gain from these silhouettes of great ideas.”

The band let their ideas flourish and fester in this space, creating their tightest record to date. While in the past the group has been known to fit free-improvisation, drum circles and chanting into their music, things have become more premeditated.

“It’s not meant to be a spastic, jarring transition from start to finish,” said Janssen. “This album was much more composed.”

The esoteric side of the band seemed to have left with Vanderhoof, presumably following him to the Buddhist Dharma Centre he now calls home. But the band’s new direction can’t be solely attributed to a lineup change—they’re growing as a unit now and are working more effectively under organized song structure.

Janssen believes the band is now better than ever at articulating what they want to say to the crowd. Akron/Family explore the same highs and lows as before, but now the experience is more like a guided tour than a peyote trance. Even so, the trio will be searching for good vibes on their winter tour with Delicate Steve.

“Every night there’s a different energy in the room,” said Janssen. “We like to tune into what’s going on.”

While the band brought along friends for the first tours without Vanderhoof, they can now firmly stand on their own six feet.

“It was a long process to work things out as a three piece; we’ve logged a lot of hours, and lately it’s been really good,” said Janssen. “It’s been really inspiring to have new ways of working together, new options available [for] us to create.”

The biggest goal of their creation is a sense of joy. Positivity is at the heart of the Family, illustrated by their constructive response to their band’s structural problems. Mass expressions of love for the world fuel the band, whether through lighthearted lyrics or a free jazz vamp. Collective positivity is what Akron/Family seem to want most.

“Joy is the ultimate message,” said Janssen. “We want to express a joy that’s found within everybody and just partaking in that experience can be profound. It’s moving to be part of something that feels that good.”

Akron/Family / Il Motore (179 Jean-Talon St. W.) / Feb. 19 / with Delicate Steve / $15

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 23, published February 15, 2011.