Interview: Dana Janssen (Akron/Family)

For those of you who like your music a bit “out there”, check out the eclectic sounds of Akron/Family, who serve up a tasty mix of indie folk, prog rock, spacey jams, and noise freak-outs.

The band’s first album was 2005’s self-titled release on Michael Gira’s Young God label, which also released their next three albums. They switched to the Dead Oceans label for 2009’s Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free and 2011’s Akron/Family II (The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT). Their seventh album Sub Verses will come out on the Dead Oceans label this spring – for a taste, check out their new song “No-Room”.

The following interview with bandmember Dana Jenssen (drums, guitar, vocals) was for a preview article for their performance at Muddy Waters on 1/29/13. It was done by email, with answers received on 1/28/13.

Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at your upcoming concert in Santa Barbara?

Dana Janssen: Well, I guess surprises. We haven’t played a show in a few months and there is always a lot of excitement between us getting to play together so I would count on there being a lot of good energy and surprises.

JM: I saw you give a great performance at SOhO in Santa Barbara in April 2011. Did you get a good vibe from the Santa Barbara crowd?

DJ: Thanks! Yeah, I remember that show. It was a great vibe! I love playing in California. I always seem to have a pretty positive experience when in your fine state. And now that 2/3rds of us are officially Californians I’m hoping it just gets better.

JM: How does the experience of playing live compare with recording in the studio?

DJ: In the studio there is a lot of room to explore so many different avenues of sound without much limitations. Live we obviously have three people playing their instruments and so you have some boundaries in terms of recreating what happened in the studio. However, we’ve always embraced taking new approaches to our songs in the live setting. We come up with many different arrangements of our songs. This keeps it interesting for us too so when you hit Week 7 of tour you can still engage yourself and each other onstage in a proactive way.

JM: How do the band’s songs typically come together, or is there a typical?

DJ: There is no real defined process that we have. We try to take many different approaches to our songwriting. Sometimes they work with great ease, other times an idea gets scrapped. It always varies.

JM: Your last album has an interesting history, being written near a volcano in Japan and partially recorded in an abandoned train station in Detroit. How did these locations influence the music?

DJ: I feel that location will color the experience always. When you look at a mountain you feel different than when you look at a street intersection. So different moods are brought into the same scene in a lot of ways. Japan has been a big influence on us ever since we first went there. I love it there. It’s beautiful. So when the opportunity came up to do some writing there we jumped at the chance to have such an inspiring place be part of what we were creating.

JM: Did you get into any Japanese music while you were in Japan? Maybe another “family” band, Far East Family Band, or other Japrock bands?

DJ: I fell in love with a Japanese duo called Afrirampo. They are amazing players!! Rippers.

JM: Any good tour stories that you’re willing to share?

DJ: I collected every different Kit Kat flavor while in Japan. Blueberry cheesecake really stood out for me. But we’re kinda boring if you were looking for debauchery stories! Haha.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

DJ: Keep at it. Just try everything and anything until you find your voice. But try to find your own voice.

JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?

DJ: I’m working on a film score right now. It’s pretty fun. I’ve also been looking at the Pacific Crest Trail pretty hard…..

JM: Do you want to set the record straight on anything about Akron/Family?

DJ: We all eat meat.

JM: Where are you responding from?

DJ: Literally a Hobbit hole in Portland, Oregon.


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