Atlanta, Ga., has spawned a Christian band that feels more like Prince with a new wave/industrial twist than Jars Of Clay or Amy Grant. While the Family Force 5
might use the term crunk rock to define its music, there are a several other genres that could easily be tacked on - namely dance, industrial, rapcore, and 80's synth pop.
That eccentric blend is exactly what has hooked a legion of fans to Family Force 5 and continues to lure new listeners, regardless of their religious background. The 6 key figures (5 musicians and 1 dancer/stage wrangler) still firmly acknowledges their Christian faith, but the colorful pack makes it clear that that entertaining is the top priority.
This year has been a busy one for the Georgia natives, who continue to create regular installments of The Really Real Show, a MySpace series featuring an abundance of Spinal Tap-like moments. Back in March, Family Force 5 (vocalist/guitarist Soul Glow
, bassist Phatty
, guitarist Chap Stique
, DJ/guitarist Nadaddy
, drummer Crouton
and dancer Xanadu
) also re-released its 2006 record Business Up Front, Party In The Back
under the title of the Diamond Edition, adding on 3 previously unreleased songs. Recently the band took time to speak with writer Amy Kelly
about the nuggets of awesomeness
they had created over the past few months.
UG: What made you decide to re-release Business Up Front, Party In The Back as a Diamond Edition?
We decided to re-release the album because we felt like it had a lot of life in it left. There are some people that said they couldn't get a hold of the album last year, so we were like, Let's make sure we have the album readily available for everybody.
So EMI put it out this time and it's in store everywhere and it's doubled in sales.
We just recorded these 3 songs and we decided to put extra nuggets of awesomeness to the party record that we already had called Business Up Front, Party In The Back. So we put 3 new songs on there and called it The Diamond Edition. That's exactly what it is. It's blingin'!
So the bonus songs had not been written at the time of the original release?
No. They aren't leftovers.
The newest tracks actually sound quite different, with almost an industrial sound. Has the band been going in a different direction in songwriting?
I think you're totally right. It's where the band has grown. Not that we're going in an industrial direction for our next record at all. It's what we were feeling at the time and it just felt awesome to have some brand new songs ready to play and ready to flesh out in the studio. That's the kind of vibe it took. It's very dance-y to us.
It's like if Michael Jackson met Nine Inch Nails and then put Peter Gabriel in there and put out 3 songs. That's what it would be.
Did the riffs, samples, or drums start everything off when you began writing the new song I Love You To Death?
It was definitely a riff. That song is built all the way around a riff. We just kind of fiddled with that. There's an electronic sounding guitar in there and it goes mono for a second right after the bridge breakdown. It just sounds soI don't know. It's like played on like a toy guitar or something! So it just sounded incredible. We were like, We need to play that riff.
So we did and built it all around that, with a message lyrically. We just wanted to say something that you say to people that you do love. In the phone conversation with someone, it's usually, I love you to death. See ya. Bye.
Do the lyrics ever come first?
I think with Family Force 5, it's a variation of different things. If we come up with a cool riff, we usually go with that. A lot of the stuff that was on the album already, we came up with a beat and we just kind of looped it in the studio. We all just got in there and had a good time until we found lyrics and stuff that we liked and thought were entertaining.
Different songs have both. Like Love Addict first came with a riff. That was definitely a riff-oriented song. Replace Me, we already had the chorus melody in our heads. It took forever for us to find a chord progression just to make it sound right. We had this real major-sounding thing and it's never sounded good.
It wasn't menacing enough.
With as many people as you have in the band, how often do butt heads?
I think we don't look at it as a disadvantage because I think there's more creativity that can come out of it. Each person brings a different element to the music and we all work really well as a team, too. So I think that's what kind of get out of that.
Individually we're all into the same type of music, but all of us have different strong points in other types of music that we bring to the table. Like Chap Stique, he's our metalhead. Crouton, he's more like R&B and Hip-Hop. He's more beat-oriented. Nadaddy brings New Wave to it. Xanadu
Straight-up rock! I bring the Bob Seger to the band.
Xanadu is the Neil Diamond.
Has Xanadu saved the day more than once onstage?
We could tell you how he's hurt a member of the band recently.
A couple of shows ago, I was playing drums and I was kind of on an unsteady riser. Xanadu jumps up there and he's dancing and stuff. My vocal mic starts waving uncontrollably back and forth. It comes and pops me right in the mouth and chips my front tooth!
Man, look at that tooth!
Or don't look at the tooth because it's half not there.
He left a major part out. He called me up to check his monitor, so I came up there. As soon as I jumped up there, it moved and chipped his tooth. But it's always my fault because he won't take the blame. It wasn't either of our faults because they didn't steady the risers. It's the venue's fault.
You guys just brought the rock on the broken tooth front.
Yeah, I got to spit my tooth out and be like, Yeah! Rock and roll!
Did you keep playing?
Yeah. It happened on the first song, so the whole time I was rubbing my tongue up against my tooth.
That's a very Spinal Tap moment. What inspired you to start up your periodic Internet program, The Really Real Show?
|"We decided to re-release the album because we felt like it had a lot of life in it left."|
It's Spinal Tap like you just said! Not really. Family Force 5, these guys are a bunch of goons. We put up these videos that was just kind of like us being stupid and hanging out in a Cadillac Ranch in Texas and us ice skating on Italian boots. It was really like a fun video from the road. Fans were freaking out about it, dressing up like us, pretending they were us, and making all these inside jokes that we didn't understand. We were like, What the heck, dude? Let's make a show out of this. So basically it's just the coolest part of the week. Every week we get together and come up with a loose idea of what to film. Our video guy Tubbo compiles some stuff together and it's magic. The fans love it and we love it. Regardless of how it's received, it's entertaining to us.
How instrumental has the Internet been in drawing fans to Family Force 5?
We live in a day and age where there's millions of bands. There's millions of movies. There's YouTube. There's MySpace. There's all this content being thrown at the consumer. It's not just about music. This is about a culture. Family Force 5 is making a culture and it's how we live every single day. That's what the Really Real Show was. It was like, Man, some of these situations that we get into are really funny situations. So we decided to film them. But yeah, we've gotten a lot of fans from the Internet. I would say pretty much all of our fans.
It's not so much fans as much as like die-hards. There's a culture of people that start to dress like the band and know every lyric and every line to the show. It's an entertainment company. Everyday there's a new blog or a new audio blog or video or something that they like to connect with. Also, we love our fans. We want to treat them well, hang out with them, have fun with them at IHOP or Waffle House after the shows.
You mentioned that you're creating a culture. How would you describe that culture?
I would say the Family Force 5 culture would definitely be dressing loudly, playing loudly, and just living your life over the top. That's how we approach things. The way our stage show looks, the actual live performance - everything we've built needs to be very, very intense and taken way over the top. If it's not, then to us it's very mundane. Even in our food, we like it very spicy. We don't like it sort of spicy. We like it incredibly hot.
It's a way of doing. It's a way of talking. It's a way of doing dance moves. It's that whole culture and letting the fans know that that's what we do. So they have the same kind of fun that we do when they come out to the concert. If we're not having fun onstage, then these people aren't going to have fun. They pay good money to come and see. They want to have fun. They're escaping from their reality, so they're signing on everyday to the MySpace or looking at our website, and seeing what all is going on in the world of Family Force 5.
Your Christian faith has played a big part in your music in the past. Have you ever encountered fans that think your music has too many religious undertones, or perhaps not enough?
We don't really have a problem with any of that really. If people are like, Are you guys Christians?
I will not deny the fact that I love Jesus Christ with all my heart. But at the same time, we're musicians. People have regular jobs and they're Christians, too. Do you go to the Christian doctor or do you just go to the doctor? You can label it whatever. You can call it Christian music. You can call party music. Whatever. It doesn't matter to me. As long as it's connecting with people, that's what I want to see. That's what we want to see.
In the meantime, if we can tell others about our faith, that's also a very huge part of what this band is. But we never tried to shove it down people's throats or try to attack them with it or Bible beat them. We're just who we are and we're trying to live each day. We try to go by what God's talking to us about. It does show up in lyrics. Love Addict, Replace Me, and in the 3 brand new songs. We're spiritual beings here on earth, so we might as well write about that, too. But we've got other songs about breakups and being treated by a bad boss like in our song Drama Queen.
There was one Really Real Show where you were going to perform on a talk show and they asked you to play to a track. You then proceed to play with miniature amps and drums, lip syncing in a very tongue-in-cheek performance. What's the story behind it?
It was a TV show, Kansas City Live. It was a morning show for the news.
We were driving from a show the night before and we pulled up to the studio at about 6 that morning. I guess we find out about an hour or 2 before we got there. We don't mind playing to a track, I guess. But it's not Family Force 5. So we were a little bit upset and we kind of wanted to take it over the top.
There are no hard feeling between us and KC Live. We loved it. The funny thing was after the show, all of the people that were on staff there were like, This is hilarious! This is awesome. You guys rule. Do you guys actually know how to play instruments?
They thought that's what we did, just lip sync the whole time.
We were playing a show later that night, and I had some mothers actually come up and they were like, We saw you on KC Live!
I was like, Cool.
That kind of shows you what kind of demographic it actually went out to. It went out to soccer moms. So to actually do that and to go out to soccer moms and play with a tiny drum set, it was awesome for us. We got to show soccer moms what we really do, and it's lip sync!
It entertained our fans a lot. They were like, Stick it to 'em!
If you're going to sing with track, if you're going to lip sync, make it obvious that you're doing that. That's what we wanted to do.
How easy is it for you to translate the studio album to the live stage show?
Some of the bells and stuff, we play with a turntable and he plays synthesizers and stuff. So we've got some backing tracks that we have behind us. But most of the time, it's just drum loops. It's programming that we have going on. He'll stop immediately in a lot of our songs and just let the beats play a little bit, then kick back in. I think that's a unique thing. It's very Depeche Mode. It's just a new way of presenting music. Hip-Hop and Electronica has been accepted into the culture, so you can let the machines play a little bit of your music now. I guess we'd have to hire 70 Nadaddies to get all the synthesizers that we have.
In addition to Nadaddy playing the synthesizer, you also have other great instruments. He's invented this thing called the hardcore tambourine. It's pretty awesome.
The hardcore tambourine is not your typical I'm going to shake the tambourine next to the microphone a little bit on the beat and stand there.
It's a 2-fisted brace on the tambourine and you really have to flex and shake it with all your might. It's one of those things where you can't really see it right now, but there's scars all over this hand and on this other hand, too. That's all from the tambourine. Typically I'll use some flesh and be bleeding on a normal night from the tambourine. I'd love to meet another tambourine player that can say that at the end of the night.
Try that out, Stevie Nicks!
What equipment do you use that is essential to the sound of Family Force 5?
I use a Pioneer CDJ-1000. I've got a mixer, of course. It's a Novation Bass Station. I use an Akai MPC-1000.
I play an assortment: a Fender Telecaster, Gibson Explorer, and an Ovation Breadwinner. Those are my 3 guitars that I play with. I run it through a triple rectifier with no pedals. Just a tuner, guitar, the amp, and that's it. Keeping it real!
I can't play without my Spaun drums. For me, if I didn't have the drums, I guess I wouldn't have anything to do. Not dissing Xanadu at all, but I think I would just become a dancer and maybe Madonna would pick me up for her next tour. But I don't think I would have anything to do with this band.
It's good to know that we have the good backing from Crouton! I play a Music Man Stingray 2006 special edition. I can't live without that. I also have a '96 Music Man 20th anniversary edition.
Now he's just boasting.
Xanadu, do you ever need equipment?
I've got my God-given 2 feet. I have my Michael Jackson, Jamiroquai videos, a little James Brown. They want me to make a dance instruction video. It might be in the making soon.
What guitars do you play, Chap Stique?
|"I think with Family Force 5, it's a variation of different things."|
I play Paul Reed Smith guitars through a 5150 head and a Randall cabinet. I use a Morley Bad Horsie wah and a Digitech whammy pedal original, Boss tuner, Line 6 DL4, and an MXR Phase 90. Then there's a couple other pedals that a guy made for me. He's working on one for Soul Glow and I.
A top-secret pedal called the Draygon pedal.
We can't tell what goes into it.
It's based upon the tone that Love Addict has.
When it comes to guitars, we're really big on not closing our mind to any option. A name that somebody may scoff at may make an incredible amp or pedal. We use stuff in the studio that nobody would ever dream of touching. The main thing that Family Force 5 does to be different is just exploring different sounds. Soul Glow is really, really good at it. I saw some of the gear that he was using in the studio one day and I was laughing about it. We ended up putting the stuff out and everybody was like, What was that tone? He was playing just a crappy pedal from 1974 that nobody ever used.
There are certain sounds that you always want to get. Like a creamy Marshall, a great Mesa Boogie sound for that solid wall of distortion that kids want to listen to. But at the same time, it's also about getting a particular unique tone and unique sound to where people are like, What is that? or That sounds great! Or reintroducing a sound that you've heard in the past from old funk R&B records or on a Prince record that you don't hear that much in rock. The use of guitar synthesizers and stuff, that's a big deal for Family Force 5. We're a big fan of guitar synth kind of tones.
Do you think you'll be staying in your hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, for the long haul?
Yeah, I think for right now. It's a great city. There are great acts that have come out of Atlanta. We're huge fans of Outkast and they're from there. Sevendust, they're a pretty good band to come out of Atlanta. Butch Walker and The Marvelous Three, great Atlanta band. It's a very musically diverse city.
Are you currently writing music for the follow up to Business Up Front, Party In The Back?
We're writing for the 2nd album right now. We'll probably release some remixes of the Diamond Edition in the fall just for fun. It's very beat-oriented music, so a lot of our friends that are remixers and DJs are like, Let me remix it. So we're going to put that out in the fall.
I think we're going to release some stuff with the Really Real Show around Christmas time, a DVD set. We might have a live show on DVD also. I would probably look for a brand new Family Force 5 album in early 2008.