From the onset, Liam McCormick, the mastermind behind The Family Crest, knew that Beneath the Brine was an audacious project. But so is The Family Crest itself. The brainchild of McCormick, The Family Crest was started as a recording project in 2009 with co-founder John Seeterlin (bass). “We were in another band and had become disillusioned about what that band had become about,” explains McCormick. “Everyone wanted to be rock stars at the expense of the music. John and I were actually planning on leaving music at that point because we wanted something that in ten years we could be proud of.”
Instead of leaving music, they set out to reinvent how it could be created, starting The Family Crest. “We always liked making music with people — getting a bunch of people together and singing. So we put ads everywhere,” says McCormick. “We posted on Craigslist and emailed old friends from school.” The outcome was greater than the original duo imagined, with 80 people credited on the first recording the band produced. From that a band emerged, at the urging of the guest musicians, who wanted to hear the songs performed live. “We’ve worked with a lot of conservatory students as well as people who just sing in the shower,” McCormick adds. “It became a lot about giving these people a chance to express themselves without being locked into a commitment.”
Now a seven-piece core band, boasting over 400 “Extended Family” members, The Family Crest released Beneath the Brine in February 2014 on Tender Loving Empire. Just with its previous recordings, the San Francisco band set out to capture a plethora of instruments — including bassoon, vibraphone and French horn — in unique places, such as living rooms, churches and cafes across the West Coast.
Following on the heels of last summer’s The Headwinds EP (which earned fans in WXPN and Paste), Beneath the Brine shows that McCormick’s ambition was well placed. The expansive breadth of arrangements – from dark, classical romanticism (“Beneath the Brine”) to horn-laden sounds akin to the Roaring 20s (“Howl”) — are complemented by the incredible range of McCormick’s voice. Beneath the Brine also showcases The Family Crest’s ability to infuse pop into complex arrangements, with songs like “Love Don’t Go” and “The World.” The album is a sweeping soundscape befitting the oceanic theme of the title and what SPIN notes as “ambition wide enough to swallow you whole.”
It has also proven The Family Crest’s belief that anyone can be musical when given the opportunity. “We live in a very disconnected age,” notes Laura Bergmann (flute/keys), “so it’s a really special experience to have a recording session in a cafe that’s open to the public and to sing next to people you’ve never met before, doing something together that’s tangible and very meaningful.”
“When I listen to the record,” adds McCormick, “it’s like listening to the last two years of my life. All of my best friends that I’ve met are in one place, together.”