Known for its musical legacy, Athens, Georgia is home to some of music’s most well-known bands such as R.E.M and the B-52’s. Amongst the history of rock/indie bands in the area are Family and Friends, who consist of Mike MacDonald, Alejandro Rios, Ryan Houchens, JP McKenzie, Tuna Fortuna, and Casey Harper. Brought together at the University of Georgia, the band conveys the essence of Athen’s strong musical identity through their introspective and community-focused sound.
Mike MacDonald, the front man for Family and Friends, believes the opportunities available for upcoming musicians in Athens has greatly impacted their careers.
“The town, as a result of all those amazing bands that have come out over the years, has kind of formed into this place where music is celebrated,” he said. “I don’t think we could’ve gotten our start anywhere else.”
Coming off of their 2015 EP, “XOXO”, the band knew that they had to expand their sound and push themselves out of their comfort zones through their new full-length project, “Felix Culpa”. Moving away from just compiling the best songs together through the EP avenue, it was time to develop even further into their artistry and take the next step into creating songs that had a flowing unit to them.
“It was the first time we wrote with the whole project in scope and from the beginning, trying to make it a cohesive unit. That was completely different for us,” MacDonald said. “It was a much more collaborative writing experience, which also took some navigating.”
Music in today’s world is overflowed with a heavy focus on singles, instead of cohesive albums that have an underlying theme inspiring the whole project. MacDonald describes the title, “Felix Culpa”, as being loosely translated to “happy mistake,” which represents the notion that even if there is no reason for us being here, “there is a happy coincidence that we’re here in this time and place and that’s something worth being celebrated.” Family and Friends are among the rarity of musicians today who believe albums still matter and can say a lot more than just a few great songs.
“Felix Culpa” embodies the spirit of a concept album. The ability to relate to others through a canvas of songs is something that takes a ton of reflection, time and effort to grasp. The uncertainties surrounding adulthood seems to be a common experience for almost everybody, which is why the album comes across as real and honest, as McDonald describes the band going through the same events.
“There was a theme in mind that we were all in our mid-twenties trying to figure out what we were doing with our lives and whether we were doing the right things,” McDonald explains. “A lot of the album came out of that thought process on what meaning of all of this is. Why are we here and what are we supposed to do ultimately?”
Along with this overarching meaning, the music surrounding the world of “Felix Culpa” captures the goal of relatability through its festival sounding feeling. Elements of prog rock as well as a classic psychedelic vibe flow throughout the album with ease. The way the band produces their vocals is something to notice as well. The strength of their layered harmonies and the sound of their beautiful melodies gives off a dreamy and calming listening experience amongst the well thought out lyrical content.
During the writing process, MacDonald remincises on how the band realized that they weren’t going to have all the answers to the questions they had. Songs like “Peaches” and “Houndstooth” portray this uncertainty of finding one’s way through life. With lyrics such as “searching, never knowing” and “you can spend your whole life searching for something you may never find,” Family and Friends showcase vulnerability and pure honesty that portray the act of finding our purpose.
A stand-out song on the album and what MacDonald describes as “a completely new sound for us,” is “PRSM”, a firey and complex track that dives into the emotions of realizing you aren’t the light in someone else’s world, but rather just a piece within it. Despite the intense and introspective lyrics, the musical foundation for this track had actually come about very spontaneously.
“That initial harmonic loop that starts the song was done by our bassist fooling around on a loop pedal and the entire song formed out of that initial loop,” MacDonald says.
Alongside songwriting and deep concepts comes live performing and touring, which is what MacDonald describes as “living the dream.” It is why they do this. Family and Friends is a band that never wants to be the same and they take full advantage of the freedom of a live show. Fans can expect a show with no limits as to what could happen.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on just making it as enjoyable and fun as possible. We never want to be a band that’s just linear and plays to the crowd,” MacDonald says. “We like to think of our shows as more of a conversation and that we’re doing it together. It’s a place where you can forget about what happened that day and forget about what’s going on tomorrow and just enjoy the moment.”
Family and Friends will be performing at the Holland Project on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Tickets are available online.