Published on BLURT – Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011
For these New York psychedelicists, visits to both Japan and Detroit turned out to be cosmic.
BY ANNAMARYA SCACCIA
“How do you tell the truth about how inspiration feels like? How do you tell the truth about how magical it can feel to meet new people, to be inspired by a culture, and to go to a place to work, like Detroit, which is crazy and crumbling? How do you tell the truth about that stuff, like in some weird nihilistic way, that really does anybody any good?”
On the face of it, these questions are purely rhetorical. But for Miles Seaton, bassist for experimental folk-jam three-piece Akron/ Family and supplicant of these ruminations, they’re more emblematic of the outfit’s bewitched experience shaping ST II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT, their latest effort for Dead Oceans, than they are simple musings.
They are, in a way, also a response to the peculiarity of a note the Portland/New York band sent with an oversized cardboard box to the label, containing equally peculiar items like “a sincere but poorly made diorama of futurist swirling spaces filled with toy astronauts and dinosaurs.” It’s shrouded in obscurity, composed with perplexing fragments and deconstructed retrospectives that can either signal truth or metaphor. Birth of early adulthood ideal tribalist experimentation before belief of the best better ways…, the three – Seaton, Dana Janssen, and Seth Olinsky – wrote, A dream roll of visions and bulldozers organized by Future Librarians unemployed. Intoxicated. Artistic-bent. Roving Aimlessly Free of expectation 100 years later.
“It’s all true and it’s all symbolic,” the 31-year-old explains over the phone from his home in Manhattan. “The reality is that it sounds kind of fantastic because it was. The whole experience of making work and the creative process and traveling and having the feeling of inspiration is not something that really translates to paper. If we really wanted to tell the truth, we should have been even more fantastical than maybe we were.
“It may be somebody’s job to try to be factual and nihilistic, but the reality is that’s just not the world I want to deal with.”
ST II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT is a record ripe with verve and mysticism – a 48-minute exploration of transcendental folk-rock expressions that heave with atoms of sagacity and revelation. But when you think about the places where the record was conceived and formed throughout 2010 – written in a cabin built into the a side of an active volcano in Japan and recorded in an abandoned train station in Detroit – it makes sense that such a supernal yet primal soundscape would result. Sure, they have “direct” influences, like the Boredoms or William Parker, but what they are most reactive to – what they are really after – is the energy (in addition to referencing their 2005 self-titled album, the record’s handle is reflective of that “boundless sense of creativity”).
“When we made the record,” Seaton says, “we were at a place where we really wanted to just get to a really inspired and basic place with ourselves creatively as a group.”
According to the musician, who feels most alive when he begins noticing music everywhere, from radiator spurts to chirping birds, Japan was “one of the most amazing experiences” Akron/Family has had as a band. It was an incomparable place where remarkable artists and kindhearted people were befriended, and the audiences were “so present,” so much so that it felt like “this palpable sense of magic.” And it’s that enchantment, he says, that the band drew on when conceptualizing and visualizing the album, invoking it as their “guidepost and the lighthouse in our journey.”
As for Detroit, their stay at the deserted post was more by design than decision. It’s the home base for their producer/engineer Chris Kotlay (Liars, Women, Deerhunter, Holy Fuck, No Age), an individual who Seaton describes as a “crazy, gregarious character.” Still, the bassist says, the Michigan metropolis was entirely impactful, an almost definitive influence on the record’s sound.
“There’s a feeling of inspiration of Detroit in [where] nature is kind of reclaiming that place because everything catches on fire and burns down and then the grass grows,” says Seaton. “It’s almost like natural is becoming feral through the bones of the architecture there and it’s a really inspiring situation.”
You can say the mystery and fascination of being is much of the reason why Akron/Family is also releasing the new record on cassette. Along with vinyl, it’s a format the trio grew up listening to, and one they harbor a fondness for.
“There’s something about the format of cassettes that’s really special and unique,” says Seaton, excited to hear what their new bestowment will sound like on tape. “I feel like it needs to be acknowledged.”