Name: Family Band
Progress Report: Kim Krans — one half of Family Band — talks about Grace & Lies.
This week the husband and wife duo known as Family Band will release its second full-length album, Grace & Lies. The record is an appropriately folky follow-up to 2010’s Miller Path, which saw the twosome exploring the same exquisitely moody sonic terrain as early Cowboy Junkies or Red House Painters. On the new record the band pushes that aesthetic even further, giving the music an almost religious, dirge-like intensity. Despite the heaviness of their music, the two folks behind it — vocalist Kim Krans and guitarist Jonny Ollsin — couldn’t be any more upbeat or seemingly, any more busy. In addition to their work in Family Band, the duo also runs a graphic design/illustration company called The Wild Unknown and produces a yearly homespun music festival at their cabin in upstate New York. I had the chance to talk to Kim about how what was initially a side-project has morphed into an almost full-time pursuit.
STEREOGUM: Are you in New York?
KIM KRANS: I’m in Philadelphia right now. My husband and I moved here in January and we are living in this crazy, old renovated church.
KIM KRANS: Yeah, we are trying it out. I haven’t not lived in New York in like 13 years so … we were thinking about moving to LA but we have the cabin upstate, so this was already a big move for us. We found this really sweet place. We made our record here last summer so we spent a lot of time here last fall and summer. Once we found this apartment we were like “Let’s try not living in New York for a year and see how it feels.” So, we are having an art residency, basically.
STEREOGUM: Oh, that sounds cool. That’s good.
KIM KRANS: Yeah. It’s so crazy cheap to live here that we can just fully make music and artwork and not worry about much else.
STEREOGUM: So many people that I know are having that debate with themselves right now. Every once in a while I toy with the idea of going somewhere else but it was such a struggle for me to move to New York in the first place. You become really attached to the idea of being here and it becomes really tough to give that up. I’m not sure why.
KIM KRANS: Well, it’s really fucked up to leave –- it’s healthy though, because often you can’t see anything that is going on in NY because it’s happening so fast. And there is so much going on in NY that you kind of can’t see -– it’s almost like your life direction happens to you or something instead of like, I want my career to go here or I want to focus on this. You just end up doing these things, you know? I’ve never really been into the conversation of like “NY is so expensive it’s too hard!” but in the last year all my friends have either gotten famous or they just talk about how they are sort of an artist but they are never making anything because they are working so hard to pay the rent. It’s a weird spot and I feel like it could go either way –- either we are going to end up supporting our life either through art or just take those freelance jobs that keep happening. We wanted to take the plunge and see if we could regroup for a year. I don’t think we could stay in Philly forever — it doesn’t feel like a long-term place for us and we’ll probably move to LA in a year — but it’s good for now.
STEREOGUM: That’s good. It’s important to create those experiments for yourself and actually do them.
KIM KRANS: Right. Totally. We had been talking about it for a long time and we always thought we would move up to the cabin we have upstate … but if we did that the reality of living a 2,000 person town in February is pretty hard.
STEREOGUM: Yeah, I have those fantasies too about moving back to Oklahoma, which is where I’m from. It is really beautiful there … but usually going back for a couple of weeks or so will generally remind me of why I live in NYC and not on a farm.
KIM KRANS: So many people talk to me like that about our cabin like “Oh man if only we could live here!” and then it’s like, yeah right after three days you realize everyone in town is racist and a bummer and nobody is open-minded. It’s not just for the place; you want that community of people. And in NY it’s insane because the community is so specific it’s like “I don’t like that finish on that leather shoe,” “I’m not into matte, I’m much more of a glossy type shoe person.” You can define your niche of community to such a crazy degree there that once you get out of that you are like “Oh! I found a friend that likes the co-op” and then it’s kind of a bummer because you are like, there is so much more than the co-op.
STEREOGUM: Ha! Yes. You guys said you recorded the bulk of the record in Philly. What drew you down there to work?
KIM KRANS: Well, the first song that we recorded on the record was made here as part of the Shaking Through series … it’s the one that Daniel Rossen produced. So, we spent a couple days in the Minor Street studio here which is where we eventually came back to make the rest of the record. Everything that Family Band had done before this record and that project with Daniel was very homespun and more DIY style. We recorded the first record in a way that we ultimately had to compensate for things we couldn’t do with mics and amps with mixing and effects. We were growing into the band during that time … and in retrospect it sounds sort of crazy and janky. The new batch of songs felt more together as a product. Once we made the one song in Minor Street were like let’s go back and make the rest of the record there. So we went back and spent a couple of weeks there.
STEREOGUM: How long have you guys been doing Family Band as a project?
KIM KRANS: I never know how to answer that question because the idea has existed since Johnny and I met each other. We’ve been married for six years and we’ve known each other for seven years and we had kind of always talked about it but it wasn’t until his old band, Children, who were on Kemado Record, broke up which was like two years ago and at that point we made it the priority in all the arts projects we do. So it’s been like two years of full-on work.
STEREOGUM: I always find partner collaborations so fascinating. It’s fueled by such a crazy energy. At what point did Family Band start to feel like a real band to you?
KIM KRANS: I think it was tour last year actually. This is my first band ever. Johnny has been in a gazillion real bands –- metally, punk, thrash metal kind of bands. I was just completely focused on my visual arts career up until we started focusing on the band. Going on tour last year was the first time we would play every night and got that consistent feeling of performance. So, we were out for two months -– one month with Warpaint and one month with Phosphorescent and I came back from that trip and I was kind of a changed person -– I was thinking of myself as a lead singer for the first time and the leader of the band, etc. And I was doing all that kind of stuff already but I didn’t quite have the confidence to do it. I knew about how much could be recorded and all the different choices that go into making a record. So, we went in to making this record off the heels of that tour and I knew what I wanted the songs to sound like as opposed to our earlier record where I would write a song and the guys would do something to it and it would end up a certain way. I couldn’t really direct it back then, you know? So now it’s kind of this cool collaboration where I can bring these songs to the guys and they can bring their technical knowledge to it and we can create it together. Making this record was cool because I felt like I was in a blissful music period –- I knew enough about it but I wasn’t tweaking out too hard on the technical side but I could talk about and describe what I wanted the sounds to be. It was a really great moment.
STEREOGUM: Having spent the bulk of your life creating visual art, how do the two processes compare to each other? Is there a different feeling?
KIM KRANS: There is not a different feeling just a different method and technique –- that’s where the frustration comes for me. If I had to do a painting or a drawing the specifics could be nailed down and I could know what tools to use, and what surfaces, etc. But with music you have a much different set of variables … that’s why we are working with the engineer for the first time because we could describe to him what we wanted and it wasn’t Johnny plugging in some stuff to try and approximate what we wanted. But the sounds are very moody so I can think of them in a very visual way like, this one’s at night, and in this one you are cold or … I don’t know, you are outdoors in this one. That type of thing, which comes from a lot of the work I do, is very landscape-y nature based. This time in the studio we kind of went with it. The guys would be like, “Kim draw this song out” and it wouldn’t be a timeline, necessarily. It was just different kind of characters and atmospheres that would interact with each other throughout the song –- so once we all started embracing my weird visual arts tendencies it got much easier because instead of being frustrated by these flakey sounding things people started to be like, “Oh, OK, let’s try and get this thing to sound like it’s about to fall off a cliff.” They’d be like, “Oh OK, let’s make it.”
STEREOGUM: I’ve never heard the process described like that but it makes total sense to me.
KIM KRANS: It was really fun –- I just drew the cover for K Pop Magazine which was the March/April edition -– it was such a stupid thing it was a bunch of bunnies and one is a reverb bunny and one is mono and what one is stereo and one is like, distortion and I just drew it all out and I get emails about that stupid drawing about five times a day being like “I love this drawing where can I get it!” and it’s just trying to connect the sounds in the studio that people use with a visual thing that we all know. You should look at it, it’s pretty funny. I feel like that cover is almost kind of like what we tried to do with this record that helped us build it together. It was cool.
STEREOGUM: How long did the process take? How long were you guys recording?
KIM KRANS: Just a couple of weeks -– we had made some pretty clear demos at the cabin and in Brooklyn and we came to the studio ready to go so it just took two weeks or something.
STEREOGUM: For a lot of bands that would be nothing but two weeks, if you are prepared, that seems like a healthy amount of time. I’ve been listening to the record and it noticing how unfussy it sounds –- the songs have space in them, it doesn’t sound belabored.
KIM KRANS: Right. Yeah, and some of them are just live. We went for a live tracking. Some we fussed over but others we just tried to have good guitar sound, good mics and tried to just go with it.
STEREOGUM: What will the next year or so be like for you guys? Will you try and tour as much as possible or?
KIM KRANS: I don’t know. We are trying to figure that out right now because we aren’t the typical touring band -– I love the band but I also have my drawing and illustration career, which is as much as I can even handle right now. And Johnny has been making commercial music so it’s hard to get in the van when it’s like wait a second the universe is supporting this other thing — even completely financially — so it’s like, what do we do? Do we just get in the van because we just have this record coming out? What do we do? We don’t know. Right now we are planning this summer party at our cabin, which we did last year and had lots of really good bands play and then trying to figure out what else to do. There are all these tours on hold but we are very confused.
STEREOGUM: Well, that’s fair enough. I kind of love that. So many bands need to have a plan and so much of it is about needing to make money, which is just the reality. It’s kind of nice when you have the option to think about what is the best area to put your energies into and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a standard touring cycle.
KIM KRANS: Right, and the band is part of what we do. It’s not an all or nothing project for us. It’s not like if this band isn’t going to make it then we aren’t going to be involved in the arts. Do you know about my illustration business?
STEREOGUM: Yeah, yeah.
KIM KRANS: Um, well the Wild Unknown is so busy that it’s hard to just … we just kind of want to see what this record does and … not to sound flaky but go with what’s supported and see what people are into. And it’s weird to be like “Let’s try and make this band work!” when you have this other arts business. And it’s like, why am I freaking out about this? And to be honest we’d rather do that thing upstate and get awesome bands and throw a time that’s super special instead of going on a 10-day tour of the East Coast that doesn’t even really matter in a way? You know, so we are trying to pick our poison in a way and not worry if it’s unconventional. I would rather be playing in galleries or weird other places than having a show at Union Pool you know?
STEREOGUM: Yes, I know! So, as far as the party upstate do you know when it will be?
KIM KRANS: It’s supposed to be the first weekend in August but nothing is confirmed yet. It’s usually further along than a usual show in confirming when people will be there but if it all works out how we think it will work out it’s going to be awesome.
STEREOGUM: How does it work out? How did it work out last year? How many people show up?
KIM KRANS: Last year was the first year –- the test year. We expected maybe 50 people would be there and everybody camped on our land and they bring food to grill, etc. It worked out really well last year because there were 150 people there and we have a shitty one-lane road, and with our neighbors and with people getting wasted it turned out really awesome. It was such an amazing time, so going back into it a second time is really hard because we are like “OK, how do we control this?” If all those people bring one friend that is 300 people so what do we do? I think we are going to do tickets this year and port-o-potties and that sort of thing. So, more logistics and less word of mouth, although tickets will probably still be sold that way. So, it’s having a little bit of a growing pain, because I’m like, “Oh, I don’t want to do this if it’s too crazy.” Once you have tickets it has a different feeling. We also can’t have 400 people up there or …
STEREOGUM: Shit would be too crazy.
KIM KRANS: Yeah. It’s that thing where I can hear the people being like “I did this last year and they didn’t have port-o-potties last year” or like “Last year we could grill our own food and this year there is a guy managing the grill” and it’s like well, “Last year a girl grilled pineapples for an hour and a half and nobody else could eat!” (laughs) So you know…
KIM KRANS: I’m excited though –- maybe I’m just not invited to these kind of things but I kind of think it’s one of the few special ways you can see music being performed where there is no venue or time frame and you are just in the woods and it’s so awesome to sit in the woods and listen to music. It doesn’t have that sort of Big Sur stigma attached to it as much … I’m sure those shows are awesome too, but it’s really nice how homespun it is and everybody cares about it and works. It’s cool!
STEREOGUM: Well, the record is so beautiful it would be really nice to hear you guys play somewhere soon.
KIM KRANS: We will definitely play that show upstate and hopefully we will figure out some plans to play some other shows soon. It’ll happen.
Grace & Lies is out 7/24 on No Quarter.