There are many bands that consider themselves a family but for Family of the Year, it's not just a name - it's reality! Brothers Joe and Sebastian Keefe practically came out of the womb playing music. They spent the majority of their formative years jamming out in Martha’s Vineyard before forming Family of the Year in 2009 with friends James Buckey (guitar, vocals), and Christina Schroeter (keyboards, vocals). On the heels of major exposure following the success of their single, ‘Hero,’ (featured in Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”) in 2012, Family of the Year is back again with a new album, a new sound, and a new attitude. Last week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Sebastian (drums, vocals) about being in a band with your siblings, growing up, and the future of Family of the Year.
AKG: So, you and your brother started the band… I was hoping to hear about how it all started! Did you always know that you wanted to do this together as a career or was it originally just a hobby as kids?
SK: Shit I don’t even really know where to start. I think that when we were little kids we both had some idea of a dream to be a Rockstar or be in a band. I mean all of our idols were rock and popstars.
AKG: Who were some of those idols?
SB: Tough question! I think for my brother, one of his was Kurt Cobain was someone that he really followed closely. He was a young teenager and I think [Cobain] deeply affected my brother. I was a little bit younger but I was sort of in love with classic rock. So, for me, the origin of my love affair with music was Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and bands like that. I also got into more modern, 90s stuff like British music. Our sister is the oldest – she would listen to a lot of Britpop.
Joe and I were both in bands when we were pre-adolescents/teenagers. We both really enjoyed putting on concerts in our hometown, you know, we were making our own albums. There was definitely some desire to keep on pushing it. Ya know – When you’re out on a tiny little island off the coast of Massachusetts and you’re 12 years old and you’re playing in the basement with your friends in your first band, I don’t think there’s any sort of concept of where it could go. We had no idea what a dream would look like – a dream at that point is like ‘hey let’s put on a concert next summer. It’ll be great we’ll promote it and make flyers and we’ll make tapes and we’ll sell them.’ That’s what your dream is at that point – you don’t think that far ahead. That’s what’s so beautiful about being young is that you can just be in the moment.
When I was 18 or 19, I was home from college from my freshman year (which was the only year I didn’t play music really) and my brother’s band at the time was kind of doing quite well up in Boston. They were pretty big on the scene there. They had this drummer who wasn’t entirely committed and they basically just asked me if I would join the band. And, you know, it was something that I always kind of wanted to have happen. Growing up, I always wanted to be in Joe’s band because I thought he was supremely talented and cool and my bands were always sort of in the shadow of his bands because I was younger. I always looked up to him. It didn’t really take me long, maybe like a day, to decide ‘Yeah, fuck it, I’ll drop out of school and join your band.’ So I did!
AKG: I love it. So, what was the transition like moving from Martha’s Vineyard to LA? Those two places are obviously polar opposites.
SK: We kicked around Boston for a couple years with that band and then around when I was 21, we decided to broaden our horizons and move to LA together.
AKG: That’s awesome – at 21?
SK: Yeah, totally! I had just turned 21 and he was 24 I think and we just kind of packed up the van. I had saved 1,000 bucks that summer mowing lawns and we both had 1,000 bucks (laughs).
AKG: Oh man that’ll get you at least across the country! What happened when you got to LA?
SK: Ohhh yeah big-time money am I right? It was really quite a fun and also terrifying drive. You know like 48 hours of thinking 'Wow this is so exciting!’ to thinking ‘What have we done?'
Well within a few years we had cycled through a few different projects, you know, trying to kind of put a band together that made sense, made headway, and got some traction. We played around the East Side scene – like Echo Park in LA, and made friends with all of the promoters over there. We were just out and about on the scene.
After a few years of that, we had been through a few bands and tried a couple different sort of careers on the side. I messed around with some television stuff which was fun, but not for me. We eventually all ended up in early 2009 sort of between jobs, between relationships, and between houses. When I say we I mean Joe, myself, James, and Christina and a couple of other friends. We had this warehouse out in East LA that we had kind of all collectively rented as our place where some of us were taking refuge and others were just escaping to. It was just 20 minutes away from the city and we would just go out there and really just have a great time. We were playing games, covering songs, singing karaoke – you know the works. We’d even be, like, building things. We built a swing in there, we had cookouts – we were just messing around.
We had no intentions of starting a band but our late-night jams just started turning into playing original music that Joe had written and it just slowly turned into having a repertoire of songs that we could play. Then we booked a show for the fun of it and we just showed up at this club in Chinatown as a real rag-tag bunch of weirdos. Seriously. None of us had been wearing clothes that summer… it was like 100 degrees and it was so fucking hot and crazy so we just showed up to this place and I think I was wearing, honestly, a straw hat, jean shorts, no shirt and no shoes. Joe was wearing no shoes and I think the girls were wearing some bizzaro, modern, weird hippie shit. I don’t know what we were doing – we weren’t doing it on purpose but we probably looked like we had just crawled out of a hole or something.
AKG: But hey at least you sounded good?
SK: Oh yeah yeah! So, we played that show and I do think we sounded pretty good and we started sending our demos around to a couple of our friends that were in the industry and we started putting some things together. It was fun.
AKG: That’s sick. Ok so Seb, you know I have to bring up your breakout hit ‘Hero’ because that song was so instrumental to your career and the movie, Boyhood. I know you’re probably tired of talking about it but I just wanted to know if you guys wrote that song for the movie or if the opportunity just fell into your lap?
SK: Wow – no one has actually ever asked us if we wrote that song for the movie! Good one. But no – we didn’t write it for the movie. ‘Hero’ was actually put out—you know it’s on Loma Vista which came out in 2012—but we actually released a demo version of it much earlier than that on the pervious EP. I think it was Through the Trees or something and I don’t really know the exact date of that, but one version of [the song] had already been out for years before Boyhood came along. That opportunity sort of just came to us.
You know, lots of things sort of come your way as potential opportunities, so when you first hear about a project, collaboration, or opportunity, you consider it and you typically will say yes or no. If you’re interested in it, a lot of times you’ll forget about it for a while until it goes through whatever stages of approval and whatnot. So initially it was a pretty simple decision. Like duh, Richard Linklater, he's amazing, the soundtrack is kickass. So, we got like a two sentence synopsis of what the project was about and we were like ‘Fuck yeah, that’d be great.’ Then we didn’t really hear much more for probably several months and then it was like ‘Here’s a cut of a trailer!’ and we were like ‘Woah, this is great! This movie looks really good,’ and that was the extent to where these things are in the beginning. Then the film took on the life of its own that it had.
AKG: Did you know your song would be the quintessential theme song of the film?
SK: Yeah, it’s crazy! We had been working 'Hero' for a year or two at that point and we already had some success with it in America in alternative radio. We felt quite happy with the coverage we’d got. Then we were, at the time, promoting our album in Europe and ‘Hero’ was doing quite well over there independently of Boyhood. So, when Boyhood came around, it felt very fun and natural for us to be having that attention on it from the film. Yeah it was exciting, it was good – it was like an insanely fun time.
AKG: Sweet. Well, you guys have your new album out, Goodbye Sunshine, Hello Nighttime. I’ve listened to it and it’s awesome – congratulations! You’ve talked about the evolution of the band and how you were aiming to go in a new direction with this new album. I wanted to ask you about that and what the writing process was like?
SK: Oh great, thanks! Well you know we’ve been a band for 10 years, and you know whenever you have a group of individuals that are bound together in human bondage for that long, there are forces that push and pull and those individuals are going to just naturally change while there’s still this common ambition. I think that what happened with this cycle is that basically, we collectively needed to change but a lot of that change had to come from us on an individual level first.
We had been on tour for many years in a row and then we sort of rushed into our previous album. We just felt like we needed to put something new out because we had been recording ‘Hero’ and Loma Vista for so long and we felt pressured to put our new album out. In hindsight, we sort of feel like maybe it was rushed. I also feel like the album maybe didn’t get the opportunities it should’ve gotten but we also will admit it wasn’t our strongest effort that we possibly could’ve taken. Who knows, maybe with more time it would’ve been different. All that being said — when the time came a couple of years ago to make a new album, this album, we were just in need of a shift in energy. When we first started getting together to write this album, we were still very much operating on individual and collective level like we had been always. I think we needed to have some things change in order for us to move on creatively, spiritually, and emotionally.
AKG: So how did you all approach that change?
SK: There were definitely some catalysts for that change – one of them being this writing retreat that we went on up in the Bear Valley Springs where we had the intention of spending most of the spring and summer on and off in this house on the mountain. Within a short amount of time we were more or less not communicating well and partying a lot which is always an easy pitfall to fall into. We were just not communicating well and we weren’t producing very good work. There was a barrier we needed to break through and we were maybe avoiding it.
That actually got very frustrating for me and I ended up leaving and pondering my future. It ended up being a really good experience though you know? It was a good, hard lesson learned about ‘what do I want to put in and what do I want to get out?’ and I think all of us ended up having that sort of moment as an individual. So, over the next several months after that we began to realize how much this meant to us. I don’t know how close we were to not existing as a band, but it definitely was the diciest ground we had ever been on.
AKG: Kind of a wake up call of sorts?
SK: Yeah yeah a wake up call. And you know I think it was ultimately really good for us because when we came back together, we were focused and much more open and honest and committed to each other as people, as friends, as band mates. It really ushered in a new phase and a new commitment. It’s been a journey. I don’t really think that it’s that unique of a story, especially not in music, but that’s awesome.
AKG: Now that you're back together and moving forward, what's next for the band?
SK: We’re going on tour with Houndmouth, as you know, in September and beyond. We don’t have any secret plans to disclose yet – nothing that’s too much of a surprise. We’re going to continue to be hitting the road and doing some more promotional stuff and we’re going to be making some videos. Basically in a few weeks we’re going to shift to getting ready to go on tour.
Make sure to catch Family of the Year on their tour with Houndmouth, starting in September. Stay tuned for their own headline tour later this year! We see lots of great things in store for these guys.