Interview: James Buckey of Family of the Year

By on Tuesday, 14th August 2012 at 11:00 am

I’ve been trying hard to figure out a way to characterize the band Family of the Year. Folk/Americana seems to be their assigned category, but I’m not so sure. There are some great bands in that genre playing now, but I feel like Americana has more banjo, accordion, and glockenspiel. Family of the Year rocks much harder than your standard folk band. Yet, with an acoustic guitar out front, it’s got a bit of the folkish feel. So I sat down with James Buckey, guitar player with the band, before their support slot with Milo Greene last month in Washington, to ask how they came to their particular sound.

Your general sound is kind of like folk/Americana, are your surprised that you have appeared in this huge burgeoning field of folk. There are so many acts right now finding success with this sound and you’re right in there. Does that surprise you, or did you see this three years ago and placed yourselves there?
No, not at all, actually. It does surprise us. When this whole project started it was more just for fun. Me and Joe were in a band before, I’ve known Joe for 10 years, and we’ve had different projects that have been going on for a long time and actually when this one started we were all kind of ‘retired’ for a little bit. It was at the time the economy crashed, the end of ’08. So toward the summer of ’09 we were all just sitting around thinking ‘why don’t we hang out some more?’ Joe had been writing a lot of songs by himself with his girlfriend at the time, Vanessa, and a lot of that was on the first album. So when that was done, we had all these songs, so we just started hanging out and jamming. It wasn’t meant to be this, it was just ‘We’re all friends, let’s just play music.’

I read that the first album was more of an experiment, but it must have been different with ‘Loma Vista’ since this was going to be the second album. How was it different this time?

‘Loma Vista’ was different. Although it’s our second album, it’s the first one that all of us [in this line-up] collaborated on. I think that’s why it has a little more focus. Where the first record has a whole bunch of different styles, because each of us had our own personal musical style and tastes in there. But working with Wally (Gagel [Muse, Sebadoh]), our producer, he kind of took all these ideas and moved pieces around to where it made a nice little pop song.

You spoke about the different interests you have, musically, as individuals. Are they concentrated in the folk/Americana genre? Is it similar or are you into death metal?
Well, I am into metal! I’m not kidding. As you grow older your tastes change. I am sure that the sixteen year old version of me would kick my ass for what I am doing now. But you evolve as a person, you grow and then one day you listen to classical music and think ‘ah this is perfect’. You just learn more about music, further than what you listened to when you were growing up.

[In 2010, Family of the Year had a project where they released a different song every month.] Where are those monthly songs? How did it go?
That was an idea of our manager at the time because when we got together we had this huge catalog of songs. It was something we were just able to do. We had released ‘Songbook’ with 14 or 15 songs on it but there were all these songs leftover so we set this up through email.

Are all those songs represented on the EPs and albums somewhere? Or are they super special. Never to be seen again?

In the past, you’ve pursued less than traditional ways of funding, like Bandcamp and the postcards [note: for $5 they would send a personalized postcard from the road]. Are you doing anything like that these days?
Well, what we do these days is more of a donation basis. Everyone’s having a hard time. In the old days, the tour would support the album, but nowadays the album’s almost a giveaway and the album supports the tour. So it’s like if you guys want it, take it, it’s all about getting it out there.

So what do you think about people who do projects on PledgeMusic and Kickstarter? Do you think that’s the way to go?
In my opinion, Kickstater can be a very valuable tool for certain people’s projects, but we’ve seen people do Kickstarter for some weird things and thought ‘huh’? So it’s a very good tool if it fits your project.

I know it’s a big controversy, but what do you think about Spotify?
That’s kind of a hard one. Me, personally, I’ve signed up for it and I absolutely love it because my musical taste is ridiculous. I listen to Kanye, I listen to Dragon Force, and then I’ll listen to Peter Gabriel. Plus my iPod of six years died eight months ago, so I had 10,000 songs on there and I can’t go back and buy them all. So I was just like ‘Thanks Spotify’.

But do you think it’s a model that’s going to be able to sustain you, as a musician?
Not by itself I don’t think. It’s very new, the free one has all the commercials. Hopefully they can streamline it, figure it out. But then there are certain bands like Def Leppard and Metallica, artists that won’t do that. But I think it’s kind of funny, they’re so big that if they did do it, they would have a revenue stream of some sort.

You are heading to Reading and Leeds – is that exciting?
That’s SO exciting. It’s going to be awesome. We are going to go over and do Reading and Leeds then we are going to do a two week tour around northern Europe – Holland, Belgium, Germany, France. Then we go up to Canada. We hope it will lead to something more that it will snowball.

If you could collaborate with any current band to do a charity track, who would you pick?
I think it would have to be our friends. We are really good friends with Grouplove or Givers. Bands with similar music, happy tunes.

And with that James had to head back for a rather late soundcheck. True to his word, their album ‘Loma Vista’ was being sold at the merch table for donations. I checked the big jar at the end of the night and it was quite full (hopefully not of all singles) so I think they had a lot of converts that night. Look for Family of the Year to play Reading/Leeds later this month, with a show at Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen in London to follow on the 6th of September.

Many thanks to James for his time and Meg for sorting this interview out for us here at TGTF.

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