After cutting their teeth in the Athens, Georgia, music scene, indie folk/rock band Family And Friends are finally releasing their full-length debut, Felix Culpa, out June 8. Written at a formative time for the band, the album stems from the existentialism of post-childhood/pre-adulthood familiar to almost anyone who’s ever navigated through their twenties.
But don’t be fooled – this isn’t another so-called millennial musing on the dream of perpetual adolescence. Family And Friends tackle their subject with a musical maturity far beyond their years, interweaving insightful lyrics with electrifying rhythms, bright motifs, and infectious melodies. Felix Culpa builds upon the band’s folk beginnings, catapulting them onto an entirely new level with an energy that is palpable from the first few notes. It’s a hell of a debut, and one that adds to the genre, which is rare these days. They’re one to watch, for sure.
Recently, The Young Folks spoke to front man Mike MacDonald about the origins of Family And Friends, Felix Culpa, and the band’s plans for the future.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
The Young Folks: Can you tell me a little bit about Family And Friends?
Mike MacDonald: We’re based out of Athens, [Georgia] where we got our start. We’re a six piece band. A few of us met in high school, a few of us met through Athens itself as a musical community, and through restaurants and bars, service industry jobs, stuff like that, but it wasn’t until we were getting out of college and had finally graduated that we decided to really make a run for it and pursue music full time. We haven’t looked back since. That was around 2013. We have two EPs out and we’re about to release our first full-length album on June 8th.
The Young Folks: How did you guys come up with the name Family And Friends?
MacDonald: It started with me and the drummers figuring out what the band was eventually going to become. We knew we wanted two drummers. We were kind of just running through different ideas musically. Similarly, we were experimenting with different names. One of us came across Family And Friends and no one had taken it. It kind of embodied everything that we wanted the music to be, the entire mentality of a collective, something bigger than just necessarily the music itself and us as a band. Something that as a listener, they could get behind and feel included. It’s just very community oriented, which is what we wanted from the get-go.
The Young Folks: I saw some videos of your live shows and that definitely comes across when you guys are performing. Is that kind of your philosophy of how you are as a band?
MacDonald: Definitely! And that’s a cool point that you brought up, our live shows are something that we pride ourselves on. In that same sense of family and friends, we look at it as a special moment for everyone to take part in. It’s not necessarily just us playing music to someone. It’s equally the crowd participation. It’s a two way road; we feed off the crowd as much as they feed off of us. Collectively, we can make something really special happen.
The Young Folks: Yeah, you guys seem to have a lot of fun together. I saw on your website, one of the merchandise you’re selling is baseball cards?
MacDonald: [laughs] Oh, yeah.
The Young Folks: How did that come about?
MacDonald: We thought it would be a fun idea to have some baseball cards. Our friend is an artist – he’s an erotic artist, actually – so we told him, “we’re in the market for baseball cards and maybe tone it down just a little bit.”
The Young Folks: Felix Culpa is your full-length debut. How does that feel?
MacDonald: It feels incredible. It’s a little nerve wracking just to see what will happen, but it’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. With the EPs, it made sense at that time to put out a few songs here and there, kind of test the waters, but after XOXO, our second EP, we knew that the move was to make a full length [album] to be taken seriously by the industry and to take ourselves seriously. It took us a long time to get here, maybe two years of writing and navigating a new writing process, but I think we’re all stoked how it came out. We’re ready for everyone to hear it.
The Young Folks: Speaking of the writing process, I read that you handled most of the writing previously, but this time around you guys did more of a collaborative thing. The sound of this album seems different than your older stuff. Do you think that possibly has something to do with it?
MacDonald: Yeah, for sure. When we first started off, it was much more a process of me bringing a song on the acoustic guitar and writing chords around that. It really worked at the time, especially with how the music scene was so centered on folk music, but evolving, we didn’t want to stay in one place and just spin the wheels. We’re a band that wants to keep pushing our own boundaries and try new things. With this album, we expanded on that, writing collaboratively instead of bringing a song that was already structured. Certain songs grew out of whatever people were doing at the time in the room. Sometimes someone would bring the verse idea or a guitar line and we would collectively write the song around that. I think because of that, the sound evolved into something it wouldn’t have otherwise.
The Young Folks: Being the main writer for the other albums, was it difficult at first to have to share that role, or was it pretty organic the way everything came together?
MacDonald: It was really challenging, to be honest. I had never written like that. I had only ever written music solo as far as completing a finished song. Sometimes the lyrics were coming after the music for this album, which was new to me. Sharing that role was a challenge at first, but it made it more rewarding in the end when it all came together. Once we figured out how to make the machine run it kind of kicked into gear. I think it’s something that we’ll definitely continue to do. It’s made it more fun knowing now how to navigate that process, but I think figuring that out was part of what took so long to get to this point.
The Young Folks: I’m sure in a lot of ways it made the songs a lot more dynamic. As frustrating as it can be sometimes to have multiple people’s input, it probably added a lot to the final product.
MacDonald: Without a doubt. These songs would not be what they are without everyone collaborating and collectively adding their own vision. I’m excited about it.
The Young Folks: Were there any songs that you felt weren’t working and you really had to advocate for to get the rest of the band on board?
MacDonald: “Winding Roads” is a good example of that. It almost didn’t happen. When I initially brought the chord structure to the band, they weren’t vibing on it. It took a little bit of pouting on my part to push forward and make it happen, but I’m glad that we did. I think eventually everyone came around and saw what we were trying to make happen. I’m glad that we pushed through on that one.
The Young Folks: Well, and “Winding Roads” became one of the singles you guys released.
MacDonald: Yeah, it did. We had been kind of testing a few of [the songs] live, and “Winding Roads” was one. It had a lot of great feedback, the audience seemed to really get into it, and so it seemed like a natural choice to put it out as one of the singles.
The Young Folks: What’s been the most memorable part of creating this album?
MacDonald: Probably the actual recording process. We flew out to LA for a month and stayed in an Airbnb and we recorded with an amazing producer, Brad Wood. He’s done some really cool stuff in the past. Just being out there for a month, being able to be in a different city together, hanging out in the studio and bouncing ideas off of each other, that was a great time.
The Young Folks: What was it like working with Brad Wood? He’s worked on a lot of Liz Phair and he’s… [laughs] I was surprised; he worked on Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which I didn’t know.
MacDonald: [laughs] Yeah!
The Young Folks: I was wondering what it was like working with him and also why you chose him over whoever else you might have been looking at.
MacDonald: It’s funny, Tuna, our bassist, he was explaining who Brad Wood was to [his sister] and she didn’t really care about any of the bands, but once she found out about Hedwig she was really stoked for us. We had to talk to a few different producers and interview a few different ones for the job. Every time we got off the phone with Brad, he seemed excited about [the album] and he got us excited and motivated about it. He seemed to have a real vision on what he saw the album becoming. Eventually it was just obvious that he was the guy for the job. But one of the things we fell in love with with him was just the overall production quality and how big some of his albums sound, which is something we were definitely looking for. Once we got out there it was just obvious that we’d made the right choice for this particular album. He was great as far as guiding us and helping us figure out how to achieve what we were hearing in our heads. I definitely don’t think we would’ve had the same album if we had gone a different route.
The Young Folks: Speaking of the vision for the album, the name, Felix Culpa, means “happy mistake” or “happy accident.” What was the story behind choosing that as the name? Is it the theme of the album?
MacDonald: When we first decided we were going to write an album, I had kind of these visions of grandeur of writing a concept album – which is not in my forte, it turns out. At the time, we were all going through the same phase of life of post-college and in-transit “adulthood.” I found myself questioning everything. I think you grow up and you have these beliefs and doctrines that are ingrained in you, that people tell you are seemingly objective truths, and you grow up and you learn that maybe that’s not the case. You begin to question things. I think all of us found ourselves going through that and the name Felix Culpa kind of came about because of that. At a certain point in the writing process, I was hoping to figure out what the meaning of everything was. Eventually, it became pretty obvious that that wasn’t going to happen, at least by the time of writing this album. We decided that whatever the meaning of all of this might be, it’s at least worth celebrating that we get to experience it at all. That’s kind of the idea there: maybe it’s all just a happy mistake that we’re here, but that’s worthy of celebration at the very least.
The Young Folks: Do you have a favorite song on the album?
MacDonald: It’s been interesting; I’ve had to listen to it so many times through the mixing and recording process that my favorite song has changed over time, depending on when you actually ask me. Right now, my favorite is probably “PRSM” or “Shivers.”
The Young Folks: “PRSM” is very different from almost all the other songs on the album. How did you create that song?
MacDonald: That song came about entirely out of that first harmonic loop that Tuna plays. He was just playing around on his pedal and started playing that, and we kind of stopped what we were doing in the practice and started jamming on it. It was pretty quickly evident that it was worth turning into something. I agree it’s completely different than anything we’ve done in the past. That’s one that I’m so excited [about] the way it turned out, just to know that we have that in us. Hopefully we can make more songs like that in the future.
The Young Folks: Do you guys have plans for another album?
MacDonald: At this point, we’re just so excited to actually get the music out there. It’s been such a long process, but it’s kind of funny how that all works out. We flew out to LA in April of last year, but then we continued recording all the way up until July and August. The album itself was done in October, so it’s been a long process to get it out. At this point, I think it’s just natural; we’re ready to get it out there and start the next project. We’re itching to start writing again, so that’ll probably happen within the next few weeks, to be honest.
The Young Folks: Yeah, you guys have been with these songs a lot longer than the rest of us.
The Young Folks: So you’re touring now a little bit, right?
MacDonald: Yeah, we’re doing a lot of weekend dates here and there throughout the spring and then the plan is to go out full time in the fall.
The Young Folks: Are you going to be touring just in the south or all across the country?
MacDonald: The goal is to do a full nationwide tour. Hopefully we’ll make that happen. We’ve been trying to hit the west coast since we started. We had one LA show when we were out there, but we still have to get out west. We’re definitely going to do everything we can to make that happen.
The Young Folks: Going back to the theme of your live shows and the whole naming of Family And Friends, do you feel like your fans are a tight knit community?
MacDonald: Yeah, I think so. It’s really evident, especially at the shows – the hometown shows specifically, you know, the places we’ve been able to kind of grow. It does feel like a community, whether it’s at the actual show or on the socials. It’s great seeing the same faces come back and being able to hang in different cities with this community we’ve been growing and will hopefully continue to grow. It definitely feels like something special.
The Young Folks: I know you mentioned you have two percussionists. When you guys formed the band, was that a conscious decision? It’s not very common.
MacDonald: I knew from the get-go that I wanted two drummers, standing drummers specifically. In my mind I thought they would be facing the crowd, but when we started actually practicing we practiced in this tiny little space and the only way we could make it happen was to have the drummers face each other. They’ve been facing each other ever since. It’s been great. They play off of each other and once we’re out on the road, they kind of become the same person. It definitely adds a different element to the show. They have a good time up there.
The Young Folks: It’s especially impressive when two drummers are able to be in sync with one another. And not easy.
MacDonald: For sure.
The Young Folks: You have an album release party coming up, right?
MacDonald: Yeah, it’s in Atlanta. It’s really cool; it’s a big venue, the Tabernacle in Atlanta. They used to do these shows in an underground area and they haven’t done them for years. That’s where we’re going to be releasing it. It’s called the Cotton Club. We’ve released a certain amount of tickets, but it’s also kind of exclusive. We’re reserving certain tickets to give away. We’re going to be playing the album all the way through and that’ll be the first time we’ve done that, so it’ll be a fun night. Our friends Neighbor Lady, who are kind of pseudo blowing up right now, will be joining us. It’ll be fun.
The Young Folks: What are you hoping your fans take away from this album when they listen to it?
MacDonald: I think the whole reason that our band plays music is to be able to connect with others and to know that it affects someone, hopefully in a positive way, in some capacity. I think at the end of the day that’s what we’re hoping for with this, that someone gets something out of it. That’s ultimately why we’re doing it in the whole scheme of things, to connect with others. That’s the most rewarding and fulfilling part of it.