It’s fitting that The Family Crest was born in San Francisco, a city known for its rich history of experimentation, innovation and progressive thinking. It’s the kind of place that would welcome The Family Crest’s audacious vision for how music could be created.
In 2009, two young musicians – Liam McCormick (lead vocals, guitar) and his friend, John Seeterlin (bass) – settled in San Francisco to record a cycle of songs that Liam had written. For Liam, a self-taught composer and trained vocalist, there was explicit intent for this recording project: to include as many people as possible in the music-making, based on the belief that everyone is inherently musical when given the opportunity.
Throughout the course of a year, Liam and John reached out into the city and proceeded to record people of all ages and musical backgrounds performing Liam’s songs. The project took the duo from churches to living rooms to cafes, even up the coast to Oregon and Washington, all in its mission to build community through music.
The resulting album, The Village, inspired the band to develop into a proper performing entity, adding four classically trained instrumentals around the nucleus that Liam and John defined. Its musical diversity is reflected in the range of bands that The Family Crest has opened for, including The Head and the Heart and OKGO!
This growth also inspired a continued mission of musical inclusiveness. At live shows and in the studio, The Family Crest set out to play with as many musicians as possible. Whether a fan took the stage to be part of a group chorus, or contributed an instrumental part to a recording, they were considered a part of “the extended family,” which now boasts over 300 members. “While vying to collect more musicians onstage than the Decemberists or Arcade Fire,” remarked The San Francisco Chronicle, “The Family Crest harbors an affection for Burt Bacharach-style swingin’ romanticism that is sure to impress lovers of classical pop.”
Once the band saw its vision taking hold, even beyond its hometown, it looked back to the city that supported the family for new musical inspiration. Over the course of a week, The Family Crest, in its usual fashion, recorded a plethora of instruments in various homes and churches, as well as John Vanderslice’s Tiny Telephone recording studio, to create The Headwinds EP (out July 30, 2013 on Tender Loving Empire). With a pop-infused take on complex arrangements, songs like “Love Don’t Go” and “Marry Me” cover the spectrum of love, from the lost to everlasting.
The Headwinds EP introduces music fans to the grand sounds they can expect in the band’s new full-length album, Beneath the Brine, a sweeping soundscape befitting the oceanic theme of the title. Featuring brass, string and wind players, as well as guest vocalists to support the impressive range of Liam’s voice, Beneath the Brine (out January 2014 on Tender Loving Empire Records) showcases an expansive breadth of arrangements – from dark, classical romanticism to brass-laden sounds akin to the Roaring 20s.
“When I began composing the music for Beneath the Brine,” explains Liam, “my orchestrations included instruments I never would have dreamed of including before, like bassoon, vibraphone, French horn. I really tried to learn as much as possible about the instruments I was writing for, and to do that, I went back to members of the extended family to learn about their specific crafts. That’s where we saw our vision for collaborative music really come to life.”
The result is nothing short of epic, as The Family Crest has wielded classical chamber sounds and pop music elements seamlessly in songs like “The World Will Heal Another One” and “As We Move Forward.” It’s the sonic representation of what Liam, and many pioneers before him, saw from the edge of the West Coast: the enormity of the sea, with its depths, dangers and possibilities. Beneath the Brine will resonate with listeners who have ever dreamed of pushing onward to find solace and community in something new.
THE ART OF LETTING GO
The Lonely Wild recently emerged from Tiny Telephone Studios in San Francisco with a new record and a new lease on life. “We walked into the studio with an album about death,” says songwriter, Andrew Carroll, “and John [Vanderslice] taught us to let go.”
Known for his signature “sloppy hi-fi” approach to recording, Vanderslice worked with the band to create an album unlike anything they had done before. “In the past, we’ve always labored over every detail of our recordings, picking apart each performance.” Carroll continues, “But with John, you can’t do that. He’s kind of like Willy Wonka in the studio—he’s always on the move, whipping up this infectious, magical energy. The first thing we did was throw out all of our demos and approach each song like it was the first time we ever played it. This freed us to take risks, make new discoveries, and perform with fresh inspiration. It’s something we’d always strived for, but never quite had the confidence to capture on past records.”
The first glimpse listeners get of Chasing White Light, The Lonely Wild’s self-proclaimed “death album,” is a sweeping tour-de-force called “Running.” The song unfolds in short movements alternating between orchestral strings and voice, with lyrics that call into question the nature of existence. Perception and reality are contrasted when Carroll and Williams ask one another, “Did I catch you dreaming, even believing you were alive?” Williams then searches for answers in fate. She sings, “Did you write the story? Are we the actors on the stage?” Things then reach the atomic level, as they sing together, “Pull back the curtain. See how the smallest things collide just to make us, in a dream for white light.” Perhaps God is a human dream, but death remains the great mystery. As “Running” accelerates to its climax, they cry, “Did you keep your promise? Or was your promise what you gave to see the great unveiling, where there’s nothing left to save?” By the end, Carroll and Williams shout, “Don’t stop running!” They plead with desperation—their lives depend on this.