Uptowner to host L.A. transplants Family Groove Co.
10/4/02, Ben Erwin, Daily Eastern News, Charleston, IL

With a freshly recorded, independently released, debut album "Reachin," Los Angeles transplants Family Groove Company will bring its potent mixture of funk, jazz and rock to The Uptowner for the group's first Midwest show since moving eastward.

Comprised of Chicagoland natives Jordan Wilkow on keyboards and lead vocals and Adam Lewis on guitar, Pennsylvania transplant Janis Wallin on bass and Swedish import Mattias Blanck on drums, Family Groove is the culmination of the band's diverse musical and personal interests.

Melding elements of funk, rock, jazz and straightforward jamming, pinning down Family Groove Company's ultimate stylistic direction is a daunting task at best.

Defying audience expectations and record executives alike, Family Groove Company recently completed months of touring in Los Angeles which the band used not only as a warmup for recording its first album, but to gauge audience reaction in the entertainment mecca as well. While the band members said audience reaction to L.A. shows was always positive, fans were sometimes baffled by the group's hybrid sound.

"Being unique is a mixed blessing," Lewis said. "On a cursory listening some people are confused by the music, 'This is Jazz. This is Rock. This is Funk. So what do I call it and how do I categorize it?' But the ever growing jamband community has afforded us the pleasure of many listeners that are quite open-minded and willing to experiment."

With bands like Phish, The String Cheese Incident and Umphreys McGee all cultivating a genre-bending sound and drawing audiences, Family Groove Company has steadily been building its fan base despite annoying questions of genre and categorization.

"There are so many times when we've got to submit information about the band, and for style we're just given several one word genres to chose from, like 'rock' or 'jazz' or 'R&B' or 'pop,'" Wilkow said.

"I mean…I guess we're a rock band. But the average Joe looking for the average rock band certainly isn't going to get what he's expecting if he comes to see us."

While many fans may expect typical, mundane spectacle, or simply jamming onstage, Family Groove Company's members widely shun the "jam band" tag, choosing to prove themselves through extensive musicality and jamming along with balanced song structure and musical sensibility as well.

"There are just so many bands that are given the jamband label whose material is so tired and, in my opinion, so improvisationally and compositionally weak – I worry sometimes that the term is going to come to be characterized by this mediocrity," Wilkow said.

Labels aside, the band seems content with its ubiquitous blend of styles and ultimately views its quirks as something setting itself apart from more typical one-dimensional acts.

"Our unique combination of styles comes from a very delicate balance of similar and drastically different musical interests and influences," Wallin said. "I think any band whose members listen to the exact same music is going to sound dull or dry; there simply isn't enough variety to bring to the table."

Freshly relocated to Chicago, Family Groove Company is now setting its sights on conquering the Midwest and building on its sizeable fan base. With its first Midwest show at 9 p.m. Saturday at The Uptowner, the group is content to build an audience one gig, and one fan, at a time.

"For us, I think the only way (to build an audience) is strong, grass roots publicity and touring…lots and lots of touring," Wilkow said. "The typical Hollywood route to fame– getting signed to a major label, radio play, MTV, etc.– avails itself to such a narrow window of artistic statement that I think it's nearly impossible to say something original that still fits into what the conformist 'music business machine' considers marketable."

With their sights set on extensive touring, the members of Family Groove Company seem content with life on the road, which ultimately means broadening its audience and giving a platform for their debut "Reachin."

"We are anxious to firmly establish ourselves in the Chicago music community, so we will be performing as much as possible throughout the city," Wilkow said. "We will also be playing as much as possible in the surrounding college towns like Charleston, Champaign, and Madison."

"Reachin," which features the band's soulful, funky jamming is the culmination of the weeks spent holed up in a California studio in the spring of 2002. Although available only through the band's Web site, www.familygrooveco.com, and at performances, the album has been met with nothing but praise from fans thus far.

"People have appreciated the diversity of the songs, the high production value, and the smoothness and energy of the album as a whole," Wallin said. "What most pleases me is that people of all ages and backgrounds seem to find something they like in the album, whether it's the interesting time changes and chord progressions, the vocal arrangements and lyrics, or simply the good grooves. It's nice that our audiences aren't as one-dimensional as those of bands like the Backstreet Boys or Blink 182."

As for what fans can expect from the band's Midwestern coming-out at Uptowner, Blanck commented, "Fans are guaranteed a good time at a FGC show. They can expect to see four musicians having the time of their lives on stage, and this energy is always reciprocated by the audience. Our enjoyment means their enjoyment and vice versa.. Besides having fun, audiences at our shows get a heavy dose of good musicianship, fearless improvisation, thick vocal harmonies and memorable songs."