Always wanted to join a band? The Family Crest want you – literally
Courtesy of The Family Crest
The Family Crest want you to join them.
Like, literally. Wherever you live. Whatever instrument you play. Even if you haven’t touched it since high school.
This isn’t America’s Got Talent, though the philosophy isn’t far off. The Family Crest, a seven-piece orchestrally leaning indie folk band based in San Francisco, believe everyone is inherently musical. And they’re willing to put their money where their mouth is.
And that’s why, over the seven years they’ve been together, touring relentlessly across the country, they’ve shared the stage with more than 500 musicians from coast to coast.
Here’s how it works. If you’re one of the lucky ones to attend a Family Crest show – usually two-plus hours of folk, indie rock, Americana, pop, jazz and everything in between – feel free to approach the band after their gig and say, simply, “I want in.” Or drop them a line on their website or on their Facebook page.
Wherever you live, whatever you play, no matter how good you are (or aren’t), they will arrange a part just for you. That is no exaggeration.
“We ask them what their skill level is, how long they’ve played, and then we’ll do an arrangement for that and then we send it out and [we’ll say], ‘Tell us when you’re ready,’” explains lead singer and guitarist Liam McCormick (above, center). “And then they’ll come up for one to three songs, whatever. The goal is, we don’t want to put any pressure on them and we want them to have a really good time. I think that’s why it works, because it’s about enjoying yourself, giving everyone a soapbox to just play.”
And you’re not just another name, he adds. You become “family.” In fact, The Family Crest have detailed spreadsheets with information on every single musician with whom they’ve collaborated – down to where you played with them, what instrument you played and on what songs. The band refers to all of them – 500-plus and counting – as “Extended Family.” You can find a growing list here.
The band takes particular delight in inspiring musicians who haven’t picked up their instruments in years. And arranging and rearranging their own music is a challenge that is a reward in itself: For every simple viola or French horn part McCormick writes for a guest musician, there’s always the odd participant who comes in wielding, for instance, a rain stick or a set of hand bells.
“It forces me to learn how to write for anything, which is an awesome experience,” says McCormick, whose musical background is mostly classical in nature. “And it allows us to work with anyone who wants to do it.”
Whether that means Extended Family will join them onstage when they perform on the final day of shows at The StubHub Music Experience at South by Southwest remains to be seen. But The Family Crest have staked a reputation as being experimentally inclusive in every conceivable way.
They’ve played an inordinate number of house parties (full disclosure: including ones in this author’s backyard, and in his parents’ living room). They’ve performed seemingly everywhere, from commuter trains to broken-down buses, even in bathroom showers.
They once were the house band in an interactive performance of Romeo and Juliet that featured dancing and audience participation. McCormick himself even delivered the final, gut-wrenching lines from the Shakespeare classic.
They were once asked to play their song “Marry Me” live in a San Francisco park as part of a surprise marriage proposal (watch it here).
Their next project – the follow-up to their second studio album, 2014’s elegant Beneath the Brine – is somewhat hush-hush. But, the band assures, it involves new music and it’s “a big thing,” according to flautist/percussionist/vocalist Laura Bergmann, who is also McCormick’s wife.
That could be anything, knowing the band’s ambitions. McCormick says one of his goals is to eventually score a film using the Extended Family. Another is to sell out a large-scale show in New York City, then to abscond to a tiny Manhattan jazz club in the early morning and play a set entirely rearranged for jazz.
Whatever the case, The Family Crest get the most joy in seeing their musical philosophy – that everyone needs to pick up their axe and just play – go viral.
“The most fun thing is when you hear bands have started out of the Extended Family,” says McCormick. “We have an Extended Family group on Facebook where people look for other musicians or instruments. When I first saw it, I thought, ‘That is exactly what I wanted to happen.’ It became a thing. It became music inspiring music inspiring music.”