- "The New Originals" was already taken: The New Familiars
Last year, The New Familiars played some 185 shows, including a blistering set recorded live in front of a raucous hometown crowd at Charlotte, N.C.'s Neighborhood Theater. Not bad for a band that got started less than four years ago as "just a chance thing," says Josh Daniel, "sitting around the living room, pickin' acoustic-style."
Initially an acoustic trio, the Familiars now consist of Daniel, Justin Fedor and Jordan Klemons, picking on a variety of instruments including banjo, mandolin and guitar, along with bassist Pat Maholland (recruited from Philadelphia) and thunderous drummer Daniel Flynn. With the larger lineup, the band really found its groove: rhythmic country and folk-rock with nods to the likes of the Stones, Flying Burrito Brothers and Grateful Dead.
"We drew from the roots here in the Carolinas, in terms of acoustic things -- we all have families that have pickers, as they like to call them," says Daniel. "We've never really had any kind of discussions. This is just what comes out from us. We're just doing the songs like we hear them in our heads."
While the musicians may have traditional roots, they're anything but purists. When it comes to writing their own material, "I think it's just taking a little bit of everything and mixing it together," says Daniel, "just putting some new rock 'n' roll flavor into that, and seeing what comes out." Sometimes what comes out is the Stones-like strut of "In Love With the World," sometimes the raunchy lapsteel blues of "Got This Disease."
In addition, the Familiars seem fond of the provocative, sneak-attack cover song. While playing an old-time tune, a Dead or Johnny Cash song doesn't seem so weird, but they're equally liable to dive into The Temptations, Huey Lewis & The News or Phil Collins. In fact, Collins' "Take Me Home" wraps up their latest live release.
"It's just to say, 'Here's a good song, even if you hate Phil Collins,' and we're going to play it our way," says Daniel. "I like to have the song to where you can't tell what it is until a certain point."
Speaking of live releases, this fall's well-recorded eight-song CD, simply titled Live, is the band's second -- an unusual choice for a new band, but one in line with larger goals. "The show is where we're selling most of the merchandise," says Daniel simply, and if people like the show, the CD allows them to take it home. "That's how we're trying to establish ourselves -- the live shows."
In addition to the copious touring, the Familiars have built up a following in Charlotte; that The Avett Brothers are one of the city's largest recent exports says something about the scene there. The Familiars have received a lot of love from alt-weeklies including Charlotte's Creative Loafing, which awarded them a 2008 critic's pick as best local band of the year. They've also played alongside a wide range of roots and country acts, both indie and more mainstream -- from Langhorne Slim to Hoots & Hellmouth, Dr. Dog to Nancy Griffith.
"It's crazy, it's kinda cool -- we can play a bluegrass fest, or a jam-band fest, or an indie-rock fest -- we just tweak the set list a little," says Daniel.
The Familiars have just finished a studio album, which they're shopping to labels; guests on the recording include members of The Duhks, The Avett Brothers and The Everybodyfields. "It was nice to have our friends come in and help us out," says Daniel.
As 2010 starts, the band's preparing for another year of marathon touring. One of the first is this Thu., Jan. 7, at the Thunderbird Café (a show organized by CP contributor Manny Theiner) -- the band's first Pittsburgh appearance. "It's just weird that we've never played there," Daniel muses.
The New Familiars with The Agway Shoplifters. 9 p.m. Thu., Jan. 7. Thunderbird Café, 4023 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $7 ($8 at the door). 412-682-0177 or www.thunderbirdcafe.net