The folk-rock group Family and Friends is exactly what their name suggests: a collection of would-be brothers (and a sister) making music that is decidedly relational both in style and subject matter. Taking the traditional folk roots of family, love, and relationships, the band launches its music into the stratosphere, fueled by a relentless vitality and a fierce loyalty.

It’s hard to overemphasize how much energy this band has. Each song is written with the eventual goal of playing it live, giving their music an endless passion. Family and Friends showcases the type of unadulterated joy that only happens when you throw six talented musicians in a room and see what happens.

If listening to Family and Friends doesn’t get your spirits up and your blood pumping, it’s likely that nothing will.

Big Ears Music Festival

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Ethan Weitz: How did you guys come together and start writing and performing together?

Mike MacDonald: We’re from Athens, Georgia. And the town itself is so vibrant as far as the music scene and the networking that goes on here. And it’s small enough that everyone knows everyone else to begin with. So it kind of just fell in place. I started playing music with the drummers early on; we knew the pieces of the band that we wanted to make happen and the kind of people that we’d love to play with. And from there, the universe kind of answered our prayers.

Emily Cardé: How would you describe your musical style?

Mike: We have a folk foundation, but the thing that I think really sets us apart is the dual drummers. They stand and face each other while they play and they bring a certain rhythmic element that you don’t find in a lot of folk music.

Another thing that we tend to bring to the table that we really enjoy is the experience of live music itself. We go into live performances with the mindset of “whatever happens, happens,” and whoever is in the room with us, we can all share in that experience together and make something special—more than just musicians performing to a crowd.

Ethan: Speaking of shows, you guys are probably one of the most energetic bands I’ve ever seen. Where does that energy come from?

Mike: Everything that we work on as far as the music and the structure is with the goal of playing it live with each other. And I think that’s where a lot of the energy comes from. We all love each other. And being able to just get up there on stage, not knowing what’s going to happen, and feed off each other’s energy—that’s what it’s all about for us.

Ethan: So for you personally, what was the moment that you knew you just had to be a musician—you just had to do music?

Mike: I don’t know that there’s one particular moment. I studied film production in college, but I knew that that wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to pursue full-time after I graduated. So after graduating, I decided to take a year off and try to make music happen. And Family & Friends actually played our very first show at the end of that year. So then I decided to take another year after that.

That first show that we played was kind of this warehouse show with all of our friends that we set up ourselves. We’d been practicing for months, and finally decided we needed to play something. And I think a lot of personal connections, friends that had seen us going off to practice, didn’t think much of it—it was the first time that we played any of our music for anyone. But there was such a positive response and positive feedback that if I had to pinpoint one moment, it would have to be that—just knowing that maybe this could affect other people and they could share these same sentiments.

And from there I think it’s been just small moments of encouragement along the way that have reminded us how fortunate we’ve been.

Emily: What would you say is the most rewarding part of the songwriting process?

Mike: Oh man, there are so many great things. I think the most rewarding part is, like we were talking about, playing live—it’s always just so much fun, and getting to experience that with the band and enjoy the spontaneity of playing music together is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.

And then second most rewarding thing, I think, is hearing positive feedback—whether it’s after shows or online or wherever it may be—from people who can relate to the songs or whom the songs affected in some way. At the heart of it, our music is about being able to connect with other people. It’s not some self-indulgent project; we want to be able to travel and reach out and connect with other people on an emotional level.

Ethan: Are there any specific memories that really stick out to you from your time with Family & Friends?

Mike: I think as far as shows go, I go back to the very first time we ever played on the road. It was in Chicago in a place called Thalia Hall, and we were added as the opener for this show at the very last second. It was our very first time on the road, and we’d booked the entire tour ourselves. So we were playing at a lot of beer festivals, basements, and really any place that we could find even a handful of people. But we got the opportunity to open this show miles away from home—and it was sold out, with like a thousand people, and just incredible musicians. It was one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences. It’s another one of those examples that still continues to encourage us to play music and pursue it.

Ethan: So probably my favorite song of yours is “My Life, My Love.” What was the inspiration for writing that song?

Mike: That was one of the first ones that we actually put together. I think that goes along with just trying to figure out life. I wrote that pretty soon after I graduated, maybe the summer or fall after. And a lot of it is just about not knowing what the next step is and feeling lost in that sense. And that’s the song that came out of that.

Ethan: Another thing of yours that really stuck out to us is the music video for “Amadeus.” It’s super creative and it reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes. Was that intentional?

Mike: Yeah, totally. We had talked about doing a music video for a long time. Even though I didn’t necessarily want to enter the film industry, I still love to create films and work with film projects. We had talked to a few people, but at the end of the day, I kind of got greedy and I wanted to make it ourselves, I guess. I was sitting around with my brother—who also graduated in film from Florida State University—we were just throwing around ideas on his front porch one night, and he came up with the idea and we fleshed it out. And we filmed everything ourselves, directed it, edited it, and that’s what came out of it.

Ethan: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Mike: The biggest thing going on with us right now is that we’re working on our first full-length album—we have two EPs out. The plan is to record early next year and have a full album to release sometime within the next year or so. I think we’re all itching to get stuff recorded and get back out there.

Ethan: Do you have a particular musical direction or theme that you’re going with the album?

Mike: This one’s been really interesting. We’ve changed up the writing process a little bit. We’ve been evolving a lot since we first started playing together. Originally, I would bring a song pretty fleshed out on the acoustic guitar, and we’d then start to take it apart from a band perspective. But this album has been a much more collaborative experience. So the sound of the band as a whole has been somewhat changing in that way, but it’s been super exciting for all of us to see the direction that we’re collectively taking things.

To learn more about Family and Friends, visit their website or Facebook page.

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All photos courtesy of Mike MacDonald.

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