Not Your Sunday Sermon, with Family Band

Most enter churches as a weekly ritual, to maintain their connection with some higher entity.  They are spaces made for congregation and peace. Last week I went to church for the first time in ages. But not for your typical Sunday sermon – It was to see Family Band play the first of two record release shows at The First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia.  

This was not the first show I had ever seen in that particular venue, but it felt most appropriate to hear Family Band's wall of sound reverberating inside such an environment.  Something about the still, intimate, shadowy, and antiquated ambiance of the space fit perfectly with their music. Family Band manages to have a dusty weightlessness while still feeling extremely deep and heavy. Instead of being a ton of bricks, Family Band are a ton of feathers - just as heavy as the bricks, but there's so much more space, volume, scale and presence - and their tunes aren't subject to the effects of gravity.  

I met with Family Band's central married couple, Kim Krans and Jonny Ollsin, before their show to talk about their recent move to Philadelphia, their other creative projects and most importantly their latest release Grace & Lies. - Photos and Interview by Keba Robinson

KEBA: So you guys just moved to Philly?
KIM KRANS: Yeah, we just moved here in January.
KEBA: Do you like it here?
KIM: Well, there are things we love about it, but also we’re not quite sure if it’s the place that we want to get older and really hang out and have a family. So it’s hard to know. Right now it’s serving the purpose of making lots of art and music.
JONNY OLLSIN: It’s beautiful in Philadelphia, I mean, it’s a beautiful city. In parts like this, or Olde City. The architecture is pretty nice in Fishtown, it’s very old and lots of brick. I feel like a lot of New York has just been taken over just because of real estate.  There isn’t a lot of old feeling stuff left.
KEBA: Brooklyn isn’t that bad.
JONNY: Yeah, in some parts. But the buildings here seem more beautiful. I guess like, maybe Carroll Gardens because of all those old brownstones.

KEBA: So you guys have lived in New York before?
JONNY: Kim lived there for thirteen years. She went straight from high school to college in New York.
KIM: Yeah so it was kind of just a big step to get out of New York and see how it felt and figure out if it was okay to not live there, which it is. It’s just very different.

KEBA: Do you guys know a lot of artists or musicians around here?
KIM: We have a little crew and it’s growing.
JONNY: Yeah, we knew some, but we didn’t have a bunch of old friends when we moved here or anything.
KIM: It’s nothing comparable to our friends in New York or in LA. But there are a couple of bands here.
JONNY: Like Strand of Oaks, he was a good friend of ours before we moved down here.

KEBA: So how did you guys start as a band?
KIM: Well it kind of came out of meeting each other and he was in bands at that time and I was singing backup in some bands, not taking it very seriously and focusing more on visual arts.
JONNY: And my band was kind of in flux and we ended up breaking up and simultaneously we had started writing some songs together but it still wasn’t the full focus for both of us. So then once my band really broke up we sort of started to make Family Band the main musical focus.

KEBA: So this is your second album right, Grace and Lies?
JONNY: Yeah there was a little EP that we snuck in there too called Cold Songs.
KIM: Yeah those were both self-releases though so it’s been different for us to work with a label and have a PR person and a little team instead of me and Jonny trying to do everything
JONNY: Which we still do a lot of.

KEBA: How would you say this album is different from your first or second EP?
JONNY: I think the first one sort of “happened to us” a little bit more. Kim wrote the songs and we started playing them with a drummer and we just went into our friend’s studio and played live for like one day. Then we took those up to our cabin and different places and sort of stacked on top of them. This one we went into it with a better idea of what we wanted to accomplish.
KIM: Yeah, it just feels like a smoother collaboration between Jonny’s sensibility and mine.  It feels like we made a more holistic atmosphere. It feels more – I guess every new record feels more cohesive than the last,  especially for me since it’s my first band .  But the growth that I had between my first record and second was pretty big.

KEBA: How do you guys write songs usually?
JONNY: I feel like there’s two processes, either Kim writes a whole song and brings it to us. Or, on this record, there’s been more of, I’ll just have a really beautiful guitar part or something and I’ll give it to Kim and she writes lyrics over it. But then in the end we both sort of come to the arrangement together and we both sort of talk through it and even with Scott [Hirsch] too.
KIM: But I think if you look at a song like Moon Beams, it’s one that I just wrote on my own at home by myself and then a song like Night Song or Lace is a guitar riff that Jonny came up with. So they kind of have two different styles almost but we try to make both of those different realms work on the record. They always turn out feeling sort of different to me. They have a different spirit, I feel.   I think they work on the record and meet each other in a way to kind of pick up the pace or something.
JONNY: I think for this record we were willing to wear whatever role was necessary for the song.  Instead of being like , oh I’m a guitar player and I just play guitar on all of these songs,  there were moments where it was like, I don’t need to play any guitar on this song, it’s feeling like it needs some strings  or a synthesizer.  So I think everyone relaxed a little bit more and just really did what would work well for the song.

KEBA: I know you do visual art, do you do any other creative things?
KIM: Oh God, I hope not! I can’t take any more projects! But we’ve been working on the music videos for this record and I made the costumes for a new video that’s going to come out in a couple weeks. So we’re always doing things that have the band in mind but they’re also, ya know, you’re sitting there painting masks -  it’s not what musicians usually do, like building a mask out of plaster or something. So the band kind of allows us to do a lot of different projects and in our cabin upstate, we’re having a show up there this weekend so we curated the lineup and are prepping the land. So the band allows us to do a lot of different types of art work.
JONNY: Yeah it’s definitely a good vehicle for different projects. The cool thing about a band is that there is artwork and videos and so many things you can do besides just the music.
KIM: Yeah everything from fliers to album artwork.
JONNY: The band is definitely one facet of our life. It’s one slice in the pie chart of all the things we do. We have a website,, which is where people can go to kind of see everything that we do. Get a synopsis.

KEBA: Have you guys always wanted to do music, or creative things like that?
JONNY: I think both of us always wanted to do a creative thing for our life, since we were young.
KIM: But I was really clear in the visual arts path and showing at galleries and I didn’t even consider playing in a band until I met Jonny.  I just didn’t trust that it was a good way to spend my time or resources. I think once I met him, I was like  oh  this seems kind of unknown and potentially an awesome way to open up my artistic life in a way that I don’t know what will happen. It’s not like a gallery show where you hang up the work and it comes down in a month and you review it. This just seemed like it had so many facets to it that were really intriguing to me so I just kind of trusted him and went with it.
JONNY: Yeah, I mean, I’ve basically always played in bands so I think meeting Kim just opened up being a part of other artistic practices for me as well.

KEBA: And you used to play in a metal band, right?
JONNY: Well I grew up playing punk rock and heavy metal, that was just what I did but I always try to listen to every kind of music and try to keep an open mind.

KEBA: So is Family Band the first time you’re playing softer things?
JONNY: It is definitely the only time that I’ve played softer as the only thing that I was doing. And it’s been an amazing experience and I feel like it’s rounded me out as a musician.  I’ve had to think about things in such a different way, it was a really big learning experience actually, to deal with space instead of deal with just raw power.

KEBA: So what’s next after this show? What are your plans?
KIM: We don’t know, it’s kind of unknown right now. We have a music video coming out in a couple weeks that we’re really psyched about and then we have a couple of tour situations that are not  confirmed yet so we’re trying to hold off and see what happens.

KEBA: Do you guys have any pre show rituals that I’m interrupting right now?
KIM: I always do a vocal warm up and drink some tea. It’s nerdy but it’s just awesome and actually has turned out to be a really special part of playing live to me is like finding a really good bathroom with good reverb and locking myself in there and singing for a while. I have good memories from being on tour. Just being in a stairwell by myself at some show.