Self-described ‘anxious two-piece band from Southampton’ Family Man (Vincent Showbiz and Cliff Blizzard) talk to Dom Smith about their influences, challenges and their new project, ‘The Dark’ (pre-save here: https://awal.ffm.to/thedark).
The first thing that strikes me about you guys is the visuals – the album art, the videos particularly. What is the emphasis on the visuals? What is the creative focus visually?
Vincent: I’ve been really influenced by, I’m going to sound really pretentious here, I’m really into LA, dark wave, gothy, electro stuff. There’s an artist in particular who got me into that, they’re called Boy Harsher, so there’s those guys and that scene.
There’s loads of other artists and producers in that world which I’m absolutely in love with. And I’m really big on a few electronic music labels in Berlin as well. But visually, all the stuff associated with that music, it’s kind of dark and industrial. There’s obvious influence as well from bands like Nine Inch Nails, Deftones, Queens of The Stone Age. I guess what we’ve done is combining all of the elements of our influences, I suppose. Undeniably everything we’ve done is pushing on that really dark, gothy, industrial type, edge stuff. One thing with the visuals, we’ve been really lucky with it. When we first started, our kind of ‘colleague’ in visuals, Martina (@gingerdope on Instagram), she took the whole idea of the band and the music and we just connected on it straight away, and we built this trust with her immediately and it’s this amazing collaborative relationship.
We can go to her and say, this is this song, this is what it’s to do with, these are some cool references which we like that sort of link with this tune, go for it. It’s been so unbelievably lovely working with somebody who is amazing at what they do, we have this connection where I can give her that level of stuff where it’s nothing too specific, this is the vibe that we want to go for, maybe if there’s a particular narrative or colour, whatever it may be, she just runs with it and makes it happen. She’s so resourceful as well. With all of these releases, we want them to link and have the same sort of vibe, so it’s kind of one big project. The last video we did, it looked so fucking cool, but it was just in this like Village Hall in Stroud where we built this plastic cube thing with just some tubing and then just wrapped it in cellophane, and then had some lights outside and then it was super overexposed. Like we’re just in this left fast, white, weird room with kind of like some plastic stuff going on outside. She managed to make that happen out of a few bits of plastic, which is just absolutely amazing. I feel, with our visual stuff, we just had this amazing relationship with her and I’m so excited to do stuff in future where we can develop that and the trust that we have and all that sort of thing so I just can’t speak any more highly of her, as you can probably tell.
Cliff, can I get your thoughts on the visual side of it and the impact that you want the visuals to have?
Cliff: Yeah, I think when we were growing up, the bands that kind of resonated the most with us where were ones that had striking visuals, like Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails, Slipknot – if you go and see them like there’s more than just a banner behind them, you know, they thought about everything, about the makeup, about what they’re wearing, about the colour of the guitars. So coordinated or like meticulously thought out, and that feeds into what we do. The other thing is we work with a guy called Kit Trigg, who does all of our merch and our logos. Again, he gets what we do, we just let him absolutely loose on it, and that’s kind of the family man formula really. Obviously, as Vince said, we do that with Martina, we give her a loose brief and she goes mad on it, Kit does the same thing and we’ve done that with Neil, our producer. We just kind of connect with him.
V: I think we’ve just been so lucky; I just made a massive point there about Martina and just having this amazing working relationship and somehow, we managed to get it where we’ve got this small group of people around us who are amazing in their own right at what they do, and like they complement us so well, they totally get it, and that for me is just part of the joy of being creative, being an artist, and working with other people and collaborating. And when you can produce whatever it is you’re doing, our tunes and it’s so scary showing it to people, but then it’s just such a beautiful thing when you can share it with those guys and they just get it 100%. And then they do their bit on it as well because they totally get it, and because they totally get it, they just make everything better. So, I think Cliff and I feel particularly lucky that we have that kind of small team of people around us who just totally get it.
In terms of you, you know, there are so many elements to what you do sonically. What the challenges of pulling all of that together live?
C: The biggest challenge is that we write really, really difficult songs that are really hard to play. But that’s fun. We like that. We both went to see Jack White long time ago, it’s probably about 10 years ago. I remember, one thing about him is that he likes to position his pedal board on stage so that he can barely reach it because he likes the struggle of performing live and I think we’ve both kind of taken that to the extreme. To the point where every Family Man show, it could fall apart at any minute.
V: Yeah, we like to punish ourselves, it’s some weird form of live performance sadism. How we’re always slightly under rehearsed, slightly just on the edge of actually being able to play the parts – makes for an interesting show.
C: Imagine going to see Jimi Hendrix and he wasn’t high, and he was really rehearsed, he knew exactly what he was playing and played everything like meticulously in time – it would just be really boring.
V: Except we’re not high on acid, we’re high on anxiety.
I’m looking forward to seeing it live! This is a real art project, I’m not trying to sound pretentious all but it said you’ve really thought about the visuals, you’ve really thought about the songs and I just wanted to ask you – how does this project push you as artists and as people as well?
C: I don’t know if it’s the project that pushes us, I think it’s kind of a myriad of other things that cause us to push the project as far as it will go. I mean we started it because we were trying to find new music that we liked and just weren’t getting anywhere. There was nothing quite hitting the spot and we thought let’s make something a bit wacky that ties together everything we love.
V: Yeah, I think that has always kind of like underlined it where, exactly what Cliff said, where we just trying to find something which pushes all of our buttons, and to me, in my eyes, you can hear where all the obvious influences are coming from, and it’s like it’s just like a weird amalgamation of that stuff. I think that that in itself is challenging, but I feel just really lucky now that we managed to develop a bit of a sound which is like, it’s like it’s his own thing? Like if you hear a family man song, it’s like, ‘Oh yeah that’s sounds like those guys’. That’s always been one of the aims for us and that’s one of the first challenges that we were trying to do, and trying to find that sort of thing. I think there’s still plenty of work to do, but I think that, for me personally, like in terms of background and influences, it was Van Halen. From age 12 when I first heard about Van Halen and somebody, I think it was my guitar teacher at the time, I think in the first second lesson was like ‘have you heard of Van Halen?’ and I was like no, I’m twelve! And then he played me Eruption, track two on Van Halen one, and then from then on, until I was 18, I was just completely and utterly obsessed. One thing with Eddie Van Halen is that if he was to pick up any guitar it would sound like his fingers, just because of the way he plays. That, for me, was so unbelievably massive, and important and cool but I wanted to do that with my own guitar playing, which is where we do like to just make it difficult for ourselves. Through that idea, and then also being influenced by heavier bands where we’ve got drop tunings and stuff, messing around with weird tunings, and also, we started getting into bands like Sonic Youth which are kind of well-known for doing all that kind of oddball tunings. So, we were just like, let’s do that. And also, let’s go, get darker, drop it down, riffs and all that sort of thing. It’s like, I play my Strat – Fender Stratocaster, and there aren’t any mods to it at all, electronically or anything weird, to make it heavier. I love the idea that, even on a Strat you don’t associate with necessarily like your drop B riffing, but I was just like fuck it, I’m going to put like a fat B string on here, do some other like weird intervals with the strings, and kind of like, force myself to make up these weird, strange voicings, which do make up the sound of the family man lot. Another thing, where every time we go into rehearsal room I’m always challenged because I’m like, why isn’t Russ playing in the same tuning that I am? And he plays in a different tuning to me on the same tunes – so we’re playing an in-unison riff, it looks like we’re playing a different riff, and I’m just like how are you doing that? Whenever I go to Russ I’m like, ‘check out this new riff’, to me it’s really simple and for him you have to jump all over the fret board and stuff.
I mean that’s what my question was around, being pushed in new ways and I guess what you’re saying there is you’ve really challenged yourself and you really pushed yourself, as a musician, out of your comfort zone.
V: Totally. So, the final song which is going to be coming out on this record is called Volt, and it was the first song me and Russ wrote together and we had this riff, loved it, and we didn’t actually ever think that we’d ever be releasing this tune anyway, so like we’d got to this middle 8 section, ‘Russ man, I don’t really know what to do here’ and he was like ‘why don’t you do some tapping or something, something stupid’. I got this double handed, over the neck, tapping thing which works really well, and I made it like really difficult for myself, I couldn’t play it in one sequence, it’s like changing positions but it made sense over the chord changes. I was like ‘wow, this sounds really cool, let’s make it sound almost like a synthy sound rather than being like a Strat’. Then it also made sense to put some of the vocals over the top of it as well. We sent it to Neil Kennedy and he was like ‘this is amazing’ and then we ended up going recording it – then I was like shit, I actually have to play this now. So, every time we play Volt, whenever we play live, when it gets to that bit, I’m just like Oh my God what am I doing? I have to think about something else, my mind has to be in a completely different location, to actually know what I’m doing otherwise I just fuck up – please muscle memory, please, please, please make this work!
Hardcore punk ethos there, I think just going out there and doing it and sort of hoping it works, but you obviously put all effort into it as well which is made plus.
V: That’s what you got to do. That’s just the case with anything, you’ve just got to do it.
Cliff, do you have anything to add to Vincent’s thoughts there on how you changed and pushed yourself as a musician through this stuff?
C: When we started, obviously we were really into Nine Inch Nails and Boy Harsher, and that kind of thing, and we don’t have enough band members to be able to have all the synth stuff going on. So, we were kind of exploring ways of making our guitars sound like synths, like Neil’s been really instrumental in that. I don’t know if you know about the Ranch production house in Southampton but they have a cupboard full of guitar pedals and the guys there are just absolute nerds. So we’ve done all sorts of crazy things that I would be surprised if any other band has done exactly what we’ve done before, to try and make the guitars sound as otherworldly as we could, and we’ve just started to experiment with real synths now. We haven’t brought that into the live show just yet, but that is on the cards definitely.
I’m excited to see what happens in future. One of the things I want to ask you guys, which is a question I try and get from different people, is about success. I work with young people quite a lot during my day job and they’re wannabe musicians, they want to be artists, and they want to maybe look at you guys, Family Man, doing all this stuff and put out these videos, and that’s what success means to them. So, I wanted to ask you guys, given lots of people are really receptive to your work, your videos, what is your relationship, both of you, individually if you can, with success? How do you understand it?
C: I think our idea of what success is has changed over the years. Obviously when you’re young, and you’re naïve your idea of success is headlining the biggest festival you can imagine, and that is still obviously something that we are going to do. But I think as we grew older, our idea of success probably gravitated more to the idea of creating something really genuine and really authentic, that is truly from our influences, and we’re not doing it for any other means, other than to be expressive. I think it’s well known that people make music to make money and that’s their only reason for doing it sometimes. That’s not what we’re doing. I mean we haven’t made very much money.
V: I was telling the story yesterday where we, with one of our old bands, we made played a gig at the O2 Islington Academy where we got paid £25, but the parking costs £24.50. But we were like 50p! Sick! We’re actually being paid to play!
C: If I was if I was giving some advice to a young person, I would say create music that you love, that is genuine to you. Who cares what other people think if you love playing it? Then other people will love it. You just got to find those other people.
Just find your people, find your community. Vince, anything to add? How do you define success, is it about making 50p?
V: That was one of our very few successes! I think what Cliff said summarised it pretty much, but at the end of the day one of the reasons why we love this music, rock music, is from seeing our favourite bands playing on these monster stages with just mad production playing riffs and you know, having crowds like sing along to their stuff and you know how is man, like you’re in music, you are speaking to us about music, you’ve been there at gigs where it’s like ‘this is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!’ When I have seen Rammstein playing, like in 2019 like it was me and one of my mates, and the whole time you’ve just laughing because it was just amazing. It was so good. We saw Radiohead at the Roundhouse on the Moon Shaped Pool tour – just unbelievable. For us to be in any position in our careers, to be able to go up on a stage, and be able to make other people feel like that, or even just do a riff face, that’s another little success.
For people that haven’t found family man yet and they haven’t discovered you, if you could come up with a Frankenstein’s monster for the Family Man sound – say the bollocks of Trent Reznor, the left elbow of Boy Harsher, and the neck fat of Gary Numan, what would be there? What would be the Frankenstein’s monster for the Family Man sound?
V: The goatee of Fred Durst.
C: It’s so funny you said that, because I was going to say his new silver fox wig.
V: Fred Dust dad vibes wig.
C: I mean you could just have the head of Fred Durst, the body of Wes Borland!
V: Yeah, and then the bollocks of Trent Reznor, yeah. And the stilettos of Jehnny Beth. That is another one of my favourite shows that Cliff and I’ve been to, and we saw Savages at Reading and we both stood there with our jaws to the floor, just being like she is the coolest person that I have I’ve ever witnessed, or been within 100 metre radius.
C: We need some good arms, some good drumming arms. Maybe Danny Carey from Tool.
Nice. From your own mouth, what have you got coming up and what is your message to fans are going to encounter Family Man out on the road, on record, on the radio. What is your message people have yet to discover family man and what would you like to plug?
C: We have a mini album coming out on November 5th, and that’s just full of big tunes.
Thank you for your time today guys and I look forward to seeing it up North and on the road!
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Interview: Dom Smith / Transcription: Maia Barker