Based in Athens, Georgia, the quintet Family And Friends will releases its first full-length, Felix Culpa, on June 8. The record takes its name from the Latin phrase for “fortunate fall” or “happy fault”, the seemingly unfortunate thing that leads to something better in the future. Some Christians point to the temptation of Adam and Eve, the expulsion from the Garden of Eden as an example of a fall that resulted in good fortune. Without this, the reasoning goes, Christians would not know redemption in their faith or ultimate salvation. As we enter the realm of adulthood, we leave behind the comforts of childhood and take on the responsibilities of the world. Though there is a burden in this, there is also great reward.
These themes emerge on the album, a 12-song, hour-long journey that explores personal and spiritual growth. The band itself grew in the process of writing the LP with all members contributing to the writing process as opposed to the material that appeared from the 2015 EP XOXO, on which rhythm guitarist and vocalist Mike MacDonald was the primary contributor.
MacDonald points out several times during a brief telephone conversation that the collaborative direction of the new songs has created a new confluence of sounds with guitarist JP Mackenzie, bassist David “Tuna” Fortuna and the twin drums and percussion team of Alejandro Rios and Ryan Houchens all adding musical ideas to the material. Another critical player for the record was producer Brad Wood (Liz Phair, Sunny Day Real Estate), who helped the members coax Felix Culpa’s 12 pieces into their final shape.
The new single from the record, “Winding Roads”, exemplifies the diverse stream of influences. It is at once anthemic, in the style of U2 circa The Joshua Tree while a folk-ish simplicity that allows one to easily imagine that tune performed in a stripped-down, acoustic environment. At the corners, there are hints or country colors, chiming guitars and haunting, empty highway vocals that inspire visions of travel and the freedom that the open road brings. It seems destined to be one of many songs in the Family and Friends oeuvre that will leave an indelible mark on the listener.
Mike MacDonald spoke with us about the making of the album and “Winding Roads” below.
Did you start working on this album right after the EP or did it take some time to get to that point?
I think we had the intention of writing our first full-length as soon as the EP was done. It seemed like the next logical process. We were trying to figure out what kind of sound we wanted to have for the album and that probably took a year. We’re not the kind of band that wants to stay with the same thing all the time. We want to expand and grow as a unit. That took some sorting out. We wrote more collaboratively this time.
So, collaboration played a major role in this?
It helped define the sound a lot. When we first started, I’d write on an acoustic guitar and bring songs to the band. That resulted in more of a folk-centric sound. This time, someone would bring in a riff or an idea for a verse and we’d take it from there. Having everyone’s musical experience and tastes present really helped shape the songs and, I think, made them a lot fuller.
Was it ever uncomfortable having people bring things in after having been the main writer?
It wasn’t stressful but it was different. There were times where I wrote lyrics after the music, that was different for me.
Do you think you’ll continue down the path of collaboration in the future? I know some guys who’ve said, “Yeah, we tried the collaboration thing and it was nice but I lost a lot of hair on that.”
[Laughs.] I think we lost a lot of hair but we have a lot of hair to lose, so it works out. I do think we’ll continue that way. These songs turned out so well and that approach was a huge part of it. I think it’s who we are now.
Many of the songs deal with growth. Was it intended to be seen as a concept piece or is it more of a collection that has thematic links?
When we first started, I had this grandiose idea of having some major theme and have it developed through the album. I think it’s woven in there but I think what came out was a lot about navigating the post-college life and entering into real adulthood and what that means. I think that’s more what the album ended up being about.
That’s where the title, Felix Culpa came from. Originally, I had this idea that I was going to try to figure out what the meaning of all of it was. You grow up and go through a lot of hardships. At a certain point, I realized I wasn’t going to come to any conclusion. But just that we get to experience any of this at all is a celebration in our eyes.
You wound up with a lot of material. What role did Brad Wood have in sorting through that?
We had probably another eight or 10 ideas that didn’t make the cut. When we went to Brad, we had all the songs figured out with the exception one thing that came into its own in the studio. Brad really did help shape them. They were kind of loose constructs at the time. Some were more finished than others. He really helped to make them the songs that they are now.
Was he someone that you sought out became of his track record or was it more that he just happened to be the person for the job?
A little bit of both. Some of the guys are really into MewithoutYou, who he worked with, so that was a big selling point for them. For me, he mixed an As Cities Burn album that sounded huge. That alone made me think that he might be the guy for this project. We had talked to multiple producers for the project and every time we got off the phone with Brad we felt good about it. He was just stoked about it. He had a real vision for the album. With each conversation, we knew that, deep down, he was the guy for the job. I think he did amazing work.
When did “Winding Roads” appear in the writing process? Was it something that came early, late?
I think it was maybe the second song that we worked on. We wanted to write a song about winding roads because it’s never been done before. [Laughs.] It actually almost didn’t happen. I brought the chord structure to the band and no one was really into it. It took a little pouting on my part to make it happen.
Lyrically, there’s the line, “I don’t care where I’m going as long as I’m going there with you.” I was trying to figure out what the song was going to be about and I remembered being on a long road trip with a friend and I remembered how content I was in that moment. Before that was ever a lyric or before the song was even imagined I remembered that feeling of contentment and the feeling that the destination really wasn’t that important. Eventually, it took remembering that moment to make the song what it was.
I think it’s important to have at least one traveling song.
[Laughs.] We needed that in the repertoire for sure!