Megaband Formed On Craigslist Becomes The Family Crest

There are big bands and then there are really big bands, like The Family Crest, which features around 300 players. NPR's Rachel Martin speaks with lead vocalist Liam McCormick about the band.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's fitting that the first sound heard on the new album from a San Francisco Bay area band conjures up images of a foghorn.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOGHORN BLOWING)

MARTIN: Then a cello begins to play, followed by flute and drums...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: ...and strings...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: ...and more...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BENEATH THE BRINE")

MARTIN: "Beneath the Brine," the title cut from The Family Crest's latest release, builds and builds some more. Listed in the credits are four guitar players, 19 strings, 10 woodwinds, 11 horns, 12 percussionists and nearly 200 choir members and vocalists. The mastermind of this megaband is guitarist and lead singer Liam McCormick.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BENEATH THE BRINE")

THE FAMILY CREST: (Singing) Oh, young love of mine, she sleeps beneath the vine. And all the sounds, the tick, the way you click up her heart against my spine...

MARTIN: Liam McCormick joins us from the studios of KQED in San Francisco. Liam, welcome to the program.

LIAM MCCORMICK: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: Before all this, I understand, you were in other bands. You've been around. How did this particular project come to be?

MCCORMICK: Yeah. I was in a few other bands before this. And I had been in a band for about, Lord, four years, and my bass player, which at the time he was the guitar player of the band, we kind of became disillusioned with the project that we were working on mainly because it seemed like over the years the idea of being a rock star, fame seemed to be the primary goal. And it really was starting to come at the expense of the music, just try to get, like, the hit. For me, the best times musically that I've ever had have been collaborating with others. And when I say that, I don't necessarily even mean on stage. The thing that comes to mind is one of my best friends, Zack, and I used to drive around in my hometown in the middle of the country listening to our favorite bands, like Smashing Pumpkins, and singing at the top of our lungs. And Zack at the time was a little tone deaf. And it didn't really matter though because, you know, we're having this moment and enjoying it. And when we decided to do this project, we were like let's try to bring that in and show people that everyone can have a good time and be inherently musical on a record. So, we kind of put out Craigslist ads and asked various friends and really did not expect to get more than four people. Probably in my mind, I was like, well, I'll get Zack and that's about it.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCORMICK: And we ended up getting this outpouring of about 100 people, I think, maybe a little over 100, and it was really humbling to work with so many amazing people.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: It's huge now. There are over 400 of these so-called extended family members that make up The Family Crest, right?

MCCORMICK: Yeah. We have an open door policy, so pretty much anyone that plays anything or doesn't play anything, if they want to learn to bang on a drum or if they sing in the shower at home, those are the people that I actually want reaching out to us so they could have these experiences.

MARTIN: So, you're telling me that really you don't turn anyone away.

MCCORMICK: No, not at all.

MARTIN: Wow. You have to be honest with me. Really, even people who potentially could make your sound sound bad because they perhaps cannot carry a tune to save their life?

MCCORMICK: There's a very interesting thing that happens when you put a group of people together to sing. Generally, speaking, a lot of the vocalists you see on the record are put into giant choirs. And when we're training these people, it's not like we, OK, we play a song and here you go, sing it. You know, we go over it probably 10 to 20 times with a group of people.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CREST: (Singing) Singing out whoa, whoa, oh, oh...

MCCORMICK: And when you repeat this over and over, it's essentially almost like mantra-ing something.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CREST: (Singing) Oh, oh...

MCCORMICK: The body kind of synchs up with everyone around you. The voice is just another body part. It's just another muscle. And it seems to sink in. So, it's very, very rare that we don't get one take that is flawless.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: When you go to record this group on something, does the recording happen in one studio and everyone comes together in one place, or are you recording different parts, different people all over the country and mixing it all together later?

MCCORMICK: When we started, we realized that the ambition of what we were trying to do would - it would cost a fortune. So, for us, we built a portable rig. And, again, it started out being a cost thing but as it went on, we realized that - for example, studios, even radio studios, are fairly sterile. And so when you put a musician in a studio, some people excel and some people, like me, feel a little nervous about it because you're in this space. So, we realize that by taking, you know, a string player and putting them in a room that sounded good but that didn't feel threatening, like a living room that had good sound, and not being pushy and just kind of, you know, at the expense of maybe getting three songs, you get two songs but you create a relationship and they're going to feel a lot less nervous, you're going to get a better performance. We try as hard as we can to give the people we work with the confidence and not really make them feel like we're worried about them screwing up, you know, 'cause in the long run, they won't.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CREST: (Singing) All across the (unintelligible)...

MARTIN: Liam McCormick from the Family Crest. Their new album is called "Beneath the Brine." He joined us from the studios of KQED in San Francisco. Liam, thank you so much for talking with us.

MCCORMICK: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CREST: (Singing) Hope is a echo now, that lies until the ending sounds of (unintelligible) until we give all our (unintelligible) out, and close our eyes...

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

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