Formed in 2009, Family of the Year has become a buzz band based on their breezy California sound but its members aren’t necessarily from there. Featuring brothers Joseph and Sebastian Keefe who were born in Wales, and first started making their musical mark in Boston, James Buckey from Jacksonville, FL, and the lone native Californian Christina Schroeter from Orange County, CA, when Family of the Year came together, something special seemingly happened. Their commitment to each other and to their music seems unquestionable and their current success is a direct result. As now road warriors, home is where the stage is and the Family of the Year tour touches down in Southern Ontario this week.
“We’re kind of from all over,” says Sebastian Keefe via phone just prior to crossing the Canadian border. “We’re not all native Californians, and we weren’t going to make a California sound but I do think the area rubs off on you, that’s for sure.
It was November 2009 when the band released their first full-length album Songbook, and touring was funded by selling $5 tour postcards (affectionately dubbed "the old-fashioned twitter") via their website, but those days are well behind them with the release of last July’s Loma Vista. FOTY have since developed their profile with songs in Advil commercials or on television shows like MTV’s Underemployed or Weeds or in movie soundtracks — but wherever you hear them, you can’t help but think of sunny California. When people like Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler start called the band “the Mamas and Papas on acid” you know that FOTY have people talking.
“We thought that was kind of funny,” laughs Keefe, “but more like the Mamas and Papas on wine.”
Named after the street where the band all shared a one-bedroom apartment, FOTY made a commitment many years ago to the music, eventually pruning the band from a sextet to a quartet in the process.
“We had to make decisions — you come to a point where you have to commit yourself to this,” offers Keefe. “We all had to move out of our houses and move into one collective home. It actually ended up being a real magical and creative time for us. There were some ups and downs and I think that they’re kind of captured on the album a bit. It ended up being the catalyst for a lot of the songs. I think it was a blessing in disguise. We were a six-piece band and a couple of members decided to leave. It took us a while to find ourselves after that, to figure out who we were and that’s where living together kind of came in and pulled us together.”
With the lead off track, “Hero” offering the winsome harmonies against the stark visuals of an everyman making his mark in the bull riding ring, FOTY have seen their audience widen dramatically, from teens to soccer moms to even Country Music Television.
“We’re just really grateful to have been heard by all of the different radio formats and press outlets — it’s been super to have been heard by such a wide audience,” says Keefe. “We feel we have just as much to share to a fifty year old mother of three to a seventeen year old high school kid. We all grew up with really eclectic musical backgrounds, listening to a lot of our parents so the music we like crossed many generations and many genres. My dad was a big fan of folk and classic country and me and Joe grew up with that so I can definitely understand how anyone who likes country might find that in our music because we certainly did listen to a lot of it. We all love authentic music and I hope that comes out in what we do.
“We didn’t plan on focusing on the bull rider but it’s a good analogy,” adds Keefe on the “Hero” video. “It could be a steelworker or anyone that struggles in the American dream way of life. It’s a universal idea — looking for a little rush from a little bit of risk and especially the idea of someone trying their best.”
The struggle of the everyday man doing what he has to do beyond the confines of the day to day drudge, the song and video for “Hero” encapsulate that piece of life’s motivation and to a certain extent documents that same struggle for the indie rock musician looking for that same excitement on the stage. For Family of the Year, the struggle continues but the glories have been worth it.
“Towards the beginning of this group, we put out a lot of energy reaching out to fans. It was really good time selling the postcards — it did help to fund us to be able to go out and tour more,” notes Keefe. “We still like to have that connection with fans but these days the shows are getting a little bigger. We’ve had the pleasure of opening some shows for Fun, and people from all walks of life seem like what we’re doing.
“It’s definitely different these days, we don’t have that one bedroom apartment anymore — we don’t have ANY apartments,” laughs Keefe about life on the road. “Why pay rent for a place that you’re never at? We kind of feel that we’re out on some kind of frontier – not the frontier but we’re just rolling along and you definitely can feel some inertia going. We’re real fortunate to be playing so many great concerts in so many beautiful cities; a day doesn’t go by where we don’t remember how fortunate we are.” V
Family of the Year play this Thursday July 4 at the Casbah with the Human Orchestra and Of Gentlemen and Cowards.