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Published: 2014/01/12
by Samuel Fanburg

Akron/Family’s Seth Olinsky Rides The Lightning

You have a pretty extensive roster of artists. How did you reach out to them?

It was a lot of different ways. 99 percent of the artists were all artists that I’ve known for a while in one capacity and have met in my travels playing and recording with Akron/Family for the past ten years. It’s weird, if people look at the list the through line might not be apparent. To me, it’s very obvious in a way. But I don’t think there’s a stylistic through line. It’s just these people I’ve met along the way that I really admired something about their spirit, something that they do that I feel is very exciting that I don’t see other people doing.

Even though musically, you may have a more songwriter with Wooden Wand or Sam Amidon interpreting a folk thing and then you have Taliban who are the farthest out insane Brooklyn experimenters. There is a real through line of people that I’ve met who I’ve been really inspired by. I always go back and revisit their work to see what they’re doing. I think that they’re on the forefront of this music from different angles as this meeting place.

Musically it’s all over the map. It wasn’t a genre defining thing. Although the label is inspired by the root spirit of rock and roll. That power and meaning of rock and roll to the world. We’re still trying to find a meeting ground between those two ideas. Like I said, I think the spirit of where the artists are coming from is still potent and moving to me. It’s trying to take that highlight it and show it to people.

A lot of the projects Lightning Records will put out are side projects. From fan’s perspective, sometimes side projects are feared because they’re going to lose their favorite band/song/sound what have you. Do you think the perspective on side projects has changed?

I don’t know the fans’ perspective. I would look at that more from an artist’s perspective. The natural cycle of creativity isn’t necessarily to make an album every two years and then tour and play that show for two years. That’s not the natural cycle of creativity. I think that’s the way things ended up getting structured in the music industry. So many artists I know have a wide pallet of expression, taste and different angels from which they’re creating from.

It’s not that we set out to do side projects, but we have been trying to encourage our artists to take chances, not necessarily things that are more avant-garde, but I was talking to my friend Dave Hartley (The War on Drugs) the other day, his project is called Night Mint. His project isn’t all electronic. He does all these crazy vocal harmonies and it sounds like a vocoder or harmonizer, but it’s him doing hundreds of tracks of him singing over himself on a cool reel-to-reel tape recorder. It ended up sounding more electronic or drum machine. I was talking to him and he was really exciting that I was encouraging him to try something a little different. He was exciting about doing something more rock and roll. It wasn’t necessarily more experimental, it was just getting to show a different side of his background and musicality.

It’s almost about expressing yourself in a different way.

Exactly. That’s something that’s cool about tapes and the way we’re approaching it. In terms of pressing vinyl, it’s pretty expensive. You’re really dealing in a situation where if you are going to make vinyl, you have to invest all this money upfront and you have to sell 1,000 copies upfront unless everyone is going to lose money.

You end up consciously or unconsciously boxing yourself in artistically because you need to make sure you’re selling something. Tapes are a really cool thing to encourage the ability of an artist to experiment which I think is really important. In any culture or any climate where you want new ideas to come out of. You need a climate that’s supportive of people taking chances and failing a little bit. If you can’t fail you’ll never really take chances. That was really cool, having that conversation with Dave. It was less about having a side project, it was just giving him a platform and a context to explore a tangential idea. Or go a little bit further with something that he wouldn’t risk doing in a traditional label setting.

I think that’s really exciting from an artistic point of view. For the audience, I think they are going to get something that’s a bit more risky, but more fun. It’s less of a safe bet. In that sense there’s more fun to be had. Maybe there will be a few things that aren’t successes, but there will be things that will be a wild ride. A lot of people will be given the opportunity to have more of that dynamic experience. I think people can get interested in that if they let themselves get out of the box. And if not, we’ll just shoot them with paintball guns (Laughs). Loosen them up.

What’s the Kickstarter specifically raising money for?

It’s for the production of the cassettes, magazine and few other things. We are going try to build some custom dirt bikes and surfboards. We did sell one dirt bike. The main thing in the Kickstarter is we have this first series lined up with 20 artists and we’re going to make cassette tapes. We are going to make journals. We have contributors lined up. Hopefully we’ll get more as we get into production. The Kickstarter is basically just raising money for funding the manufacturing, design and mastering of all that stuff. It’s the bare minimum to get us through the first year of this.

We have a lot of ideas of different things we want to do. But we wanted to just first jump into this first project and year from now see where we’re at. Kickstarter is really cool. It’s been a humbling and awesome experience. As much as Akron/Family is a pretty DIY band and we’ve had a lot of direct experience with our fans, we were still selling our records through stores and labels and in between. This Kickstarter has been really humbling, overwhelming and so directly communal. Directly reaching out to people for support and having them come up and say, “I saw you play one time and it really moved me” or “I used to listen to this record when I was falling asleep,” it’s been a real intimate economic experience. It’s been really cool.

A lot of people have been signing up based on the trust of feeling that I’ve know you over the years and like what you do artistically. They like the idea and want to see where it’s going to go.

On the Kickstarter page you mention that artists are asked to contribute “a unique side project or edgy creative statement.” What does that mean exactly?

I’ve been leaving it open for the artists. With cassette tape you can do anywhere from 20-90 minutes. For the $5 to $6, that a cassette costs, from the listener’s side, for me it’s less about the minutes making the purchase valuable. It’s an exciting forum for a mood, statement or something specific being explored by the artists.

If someone wants to do a long drone that’s 90 minutes, I’m down to support it. If someone wants to do ten punk songs that are one minute long, we can that also. We can put the same ten minutes on the A side and B side. It’s definitely less restrictive to EP, LP and more about the artists using the forum to get at some new idea.

There are so more traditional projects as well. Wooden Wand just sent me his record. It’s pretty straightforward. It’s songs that he’s written, about ten songs, thirty minutes long. It’s a great record, great songs and him singing. It’s not all experimental by any means. The songs are excellently written, amazing songs.

How involved are you in the actual production of the music?

The way we have it set up now, the artists will record and mix it. We’ll help master it. As I said earlier I was talking to David the other day and I said I wanted to play guitar on some tracks. He said he would be in LA at the end of the month, so we might end up meeting in my studio and collaborating. It’s pretty open ended. Some people will do it all on their own, even master it.

It’s pretty natural these days for musicians are capable to do real good recordings themselves at home with their own gear.

When are you looking to have the first cassettes out?

The series is a quarterly series. We’re going to do five cassettes/albums every three months and a journal. The first series will go out in March. And then June.

Besides Lightning Records, anything going on with Cy Dune? Do you plan on releasing anything with Akron/Family or go on tour?

Akron/Family is actually going to take a break. We’ve been hitting hard making ten records in the past ten years and toured insanely. We just got back from Japan, which was our third trip. It was amazing. Touring Japan is hard to describe, it’s so fun. But we’re actually going to take next year off. We’ve taken little periods off in last ten years between recording and touring, but some side project comes up or some show comes up. So we decided to take a year off to explore side projects.

Miles is finishing a record now, Dana has the Dana Bouy project and he’s working on another record. I’ve been doing this project Cy Dune. I just finished a record. I have one thing I’m working on for the subscription series for Cy Dune that will be a tape. I also have a full length that will probably come out this year on Lightning. I’ll do some touring on that.

I have also been doing more composing. Last year, I wrote this piece for multiple bands to play simultaneously. I did the debut performance at Hopscotch Festival in September. We shut down the street and set up eight bands going down the street. We rehearsed it in the morning and then I conducted it. It was a minimalist piece bringing together some of my experience with Rhys Chatham’s guitar orchestra and some of the stuff The Boredoms do with the Boadrum Project, but it’s written for any band.

I’m going to try to perform that at a few more festivals this year with 10-20 bands. It’s cool because you can adapt it to different spaces. That time we did it in the street and set everyone up in a long line. But I’m talking to a festival in Boise, ID for March called Treefort. They have access to a big skate park so we’ll probably set up bands more scattered around the skate park. It’s all composed and you can explore the different tambours. You can hear all the different qualities of the bands, but they’re all playing together. It’s really cool.

I’ve heard Hopscotch is really fun. The Triangle music scene is great.

I totally recommend going to the festival. It’s so cool and the curated is really good. It’s all the clubs downtown and you run into people you know. It’s like a very small version of SXSW but with really awesome bands and all your friends. It’s not overwhelming at all. You see all these bands you love and also get exposed to all this cool stuff.

I don’t think people realize how vibrant that whole Triangle scene is.

We toured with Megafaun in 2007, they played in our band and that was really our introduction into that scene. We know some really amazing people and musicians who live down there. They are always doing really cool stuff down there. It’s really mind-blowing.

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