The five always fashionable, occasionally guylinered white boys of Family Force 5 classify themselves as “rock/punk/crunk” on their MySpace page—the totally awesome thing is that they’re not kidding about the last part. Nobody’s going to confuse their electropunk tantrums with Three 6 Mafia, but the 21st century’s most popular hip-hop subgenre accounts for an enormous chunk of the FF5—not so much in the literal sense (the guys aren’t exactly traipsing around high and drunk), but, in the words of the great Lil Jon, they’re constantly in a “state of heightened excitement.” Their mullet-friendly debut Business Up Front, Party in the Back (Diamond Edition) is truth in advertising, an arsenal of afterparty grenades twitching with synth and turntable volatility. These Atlanta thrashers make the Faint look like the Bee Gees.
“We wanted to create something raw and visceral that you could dance to,” explains frontman Solomon “Soul Glow Activatur” Olds, who formed Family Force 5 with brothers Joshua and Jacob (a.k.a. bassist “Phatty” and drummer “Crouton”). “We had a set of old speakers and a PA that blasted drum machine beats and samples, while Crouton played in time and Phatty and I threw down riffs. One of our best friends, Nathan Currin [a.k.a. “Nadaddy”], joined the band as the ultimate utility player, playing everything from keyboards to keytar. We added an original guitarist who was later replaced by Derek Mount [a.k.a. “Chap Stique”] to fill out the riffs. We crafted our sound in a rat-infested, water-damaged garage that was so disgusting it carried over to the dirty tone in our music.”
Hip-hop, metal, electronica, punk, new wave… that’s quite a few brands of peanut butter getting in quite a few brands of chocolate. It should come as little surprise that FF5’s counterattacking sonic seizures developed from a diverse upbringing. “Dad was a smooth jazz/R&B singer and mom was a vocal teacher and opera major, so there was no escaping music crawling all over us,” reveals Solomon. “I started playing around with drum machines and synthesizers at seven and scratching records on my dad’s expensive record player; we knew we were not supposed to scratch those records, but it made for some great dance jams growing up. One day it would be Prince, Rick James or Michael Jackson; the next it was Talking Heads, Genesis and the Police.”
The Olds brothers grew increasingly ravenous about their jams with age. Solomon gravitated to the guitar heroes of Zeppelin and Nirvana, Joshua to the low-end groove of the Chili Peppers, while Jacob modulated his percussion with the innovative textures of electronica icons like Björk. Upon saving up for hard disk recording equipment and borrowing some of their father’s microphones, FF5 recorded three songs. It wasn’t long before they set up shop at—and eventually took over—Atlanta’s Darkhorse Tavern/10 High. “The energy was so hype,” remembers Joshua. “We would pass out free CDs quicker than we could make them.”
From there, it was only natural to take the party to the road, even if they couldn’t always keep it crunk ’til the break of dawn. “We would drive hours to reach the next gig, then turn around the same night to trek back home for a day job,” says Jacob. “We never slept, but that didn’t matter. We just knew we had to play with as much intensity as possible, no matter how many people we played for.”
That hyperactive live show became the talk of the Atlanta music scene, which led to Family Force 5’s original deal with Maverick and Gotee Records. The resultant Diamond Edition burst at the seams with infectious unpredictability, be it the delirious Ministry-style chug of “Love You to Death” or the cheerleader chirps drowning out the overdriven machismo of “Earthquake”—coupled with the guys’ outgoing personalities, the perfect ingredients for an organic MySpace sensation.
“With MySpace, we’ve been able to see how much momentum and movement the band has everyday,” notes Currin. “To this day, we do almost daily audio blogs and a video blog series called ‘The Really Real Show’ that brings new and current fans into our lives on the road and into all that is Family Force 5.”
“Life on the road defines the band,” adds Solomon. “It also played a vital role in presenting songs to our audience and trying them out before we recorded them for Diamond Edition. We have this very broad and diverse fan base, and seeing them respond to our music—whether it’s scene kids coming to our shows dancing like maniacs or regular high school kids going crazy in the pit while singing and screaming the lyrics to our songs—that’s what keeps us going every night.”