Bundled together in a micro-bus, like a rough and tumbled modern Partridge Family, indie pop band Family of the Year spent this summer living like traveling troubadours as they traveled throughout Canada and the US, reminding people just what music is supposed to sound like. Made up of Joe and Sebastian Keefe, James Buckley and Christina Schroeter, Family of the Year is actually used to living together in close quarters. Based out of California, the group at one time all lived together in a shared home in Los Angeles. But this year has proved to be one of their busiest, and most successful, ever. Promoting their latest release, Loma Vista, the quartet has had a break out hit with Hero, which has become an internet success and became one of the songs of the summer of 2013. A favorite at music festivals throughout North America, Family of the Year has been getting rave reviews from MTV, USA Today and Entertainment Weekly, has made appearances on Leno, Conana and Kimmel, and have been described by rock super star, and former American Idol judge, Steven Tyler as sounding like “The Mamas and the Papas on acid.” After years of looking for the perfect mixture of lyrics and harmonies, Family of the Year have arrived.
Formerly from Boston Massachusetts, brothers Sebastian and Joseph Keefe discovered their musical roots in local bands Unbusted and The Billionaires. Relocating to Los Angeles with guitarist James Buckley, Family of the Year seemed to grow organically via different musical projects. With the addition of Christina Schrodter on keyboards and providing harmonies for the male vocalists, Family of the Year has found a unique sound and a growing fan base amongst music fans that are tired of the slicked up music scene that is filled with more style than substance. With strong, playful lyrics and joyful melodies, the voices in Family of the Year come together to create a beautiful harmony so desperately needed in today’s music market.
My talk with Family of the Year was about as unique of experience as one would expect from talking to a band on the road. Stopped at a diner just outside of Ottawa, Ontario, I spoke with Sebastian Keefe from his road managers cell phone via a bad connection. However, despite difficulty with static and the sounds of cars hissing by, Sebastian was able to not only explain just what life on the road is like, but also express the sense of optimism that has made Family of the Year one of the best bands of 2013.
Sam Tweedle: I was looking at your tour dates and you guys have been on the road a lot.
Sebastian Keefe: Yeah. It’s a really busy tour. A really busy summer. A lot of energy.
Sam: And you’re all over the place.
Sebastian: We’ve got a couple of weeks in Canada, across to the Midwest and then we go back to the US.
Sam: I know you are travelling in a van right now. Are you doing the whole tour cross country in the van?
Sebastian: Yeah. We’re in a van. It’s surreal. You get into a certain mindset. The energy gets kind of kinetic. It can get a little crazy at times but it’s a really cool experience. Now we’ve seen all of the US and Canada in all of its seasons. So we’ve finally seen Canada in the summer. It’s really great to be able to just witness it all.
Sam: Family of the Year is used to being in close quarters. At one point you all lived together. Do you still live together?
Sebastian: Well we’re constantly touring and we live in the van. We technically live together.
Sam: You’re like modern day gypsies.
Sebastian: Yeah. (Laughs) Pretty much.
Sam: Now bring me back to the origins of the group. I know you and your brother Joe originally started playing music in Boston. What brought you to California?
Sebastian: Well Joe and James Buckley and myself all came to LA from Boston. We all wanted to broaden our horizons a little bit and find a fresh start. We were in a couple of different groups for a couple of years and then we took a little bit of time off. Joe started a new project and shortly after that we had this really cool warehouse. It was kind of a studio creative space, and we all started assembling their one summer late at night, and we’d be hanging out and messing around and we started playing summer songs, and then some of Joe’s songs. We never really intended being a band. But eventually one of our friends was checking in on us and said that we sounded good and that we should book a show. We hadn’t done anything in a while so we decided to give it a go again.
Sam: I love the new album. What I like about is that it sounds like music is supposed to sound to me. The combination of melodies and lyrics and no autotune. Where do you guys get your inspiration for your music and what are you drawing from?
Sebastian: Mainly each other. That’s our biggest inspiration. We’re just trying to be honest to our life experiences. Sort of what we do, or anything we’ve done in our life, is very special. So we draw from each other. Musically we basically draw from all over the map. We draw from new pop, lots of old classic pop, from folk, rock. All over the place.
Sam: I love the quote by Steven Tyler who said that you guys sounded like “The Mamas and the Papas on acid.”
Sebastian: Yeah. We have a mutual acquaintance that brought our music to Steve’s attention initially and I guess he really liked it. He contacted Joe a couple of times to talk about music, and then we eventually met him in person. He’s a pretty awesome guy.
Sam: Hero has been getting a lot of attention. How has the success of this track changed things for you?
Sebastian: The biggest change is that people are coming to the shows. (Laughs) That’s a big change after spending years and years and years touring around and always hoping to build your fan base. Then, when you get help by having a song on the radio or all over the internet it really helps. That’s what we really wanted.
Sam: When I listen to Loma Vista, one of the reasons I like the album is that it is a very happy album.
Sebastian: You’re not the first person to say this, and I’d have to agree. I’d say it’s a very optimistic album.
Sam: Where does the title come from?
Sebastian: Loma Vista was the name of the street we lived on. That was the little house that we all shared. It was a little one bedroom house. It was an amazing and challenging time for us as a band, trying to find our identity. So all the music that was on [the album] was written in the time period where we lived in that little place. Went through all these changes. We’d go through these relationships changes and band changes. So have the time we [make music like this] because we are generally happy people. But I think it’s a happy album. I do agree.
Sam: Where did the name, Family of the Year, come from?
Sebastian: Basically it came into our lives because Joe had this old demo for this band which we’ve never performed or never released that was called Family of the Year. It kind of talked about how all these perfect families always seem to have dark things in their closets just like everyone else. Kind of that whole idea. It’s really a beautiful song. Maybe it’ll come out in a deluxe package someday. That’s how it came into our lives.
Sam: So obviously you are doing a lot of touring right now, and I assume you’ve been writing on the road.
Sebastian: Yeah, we are writing. We look forward to recording a new album. We’re not really sure when we’ll start recording, but the writing has started for sure, and we feel really good about it.
The musical landscape needs a group like Family of the Year. Unlike many of the top acts today, Family of the Year returns to the roots of song writing by finding value in strong lyrics, melodies and harmony. These are elements that are missing in today’s music industry. For people who truly love music, Family of the Year is a breath of fresh air, and a band to travel with. I’m excited to see where the road brings them next. For more on Family of the Year visit http://familyoftheyear.net/.