In the Clubs: Mirk and the New Familiars blend genres into accessible style of music

Mirk and the New Familiars are adamant followers of the K.I.S.S. principle — keep it simple, stupid.
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Mirk and the New Familiars are adamant followers of the K.I.S.S. principle — keep it simple, stupid.

“The bottom line is, as musicians, you kind of forget what it’s like to be a consumer,” said vocalist Mirk during a recent band interview at the group’s small practice space in an upstairs apartment in Albany.

“Somebody who doesn’t play an instrument is just a listener, and listeners don’t necessarily want to hear somebody who’s — they don’t care if you’re ridiculous on your instrument. They just want to hear something that makes them dance or bop their head.”

Simplicity can be hard to maintain, however, in a seven-piece band. It gets even harder when each of those seven members is a college-educated musician. And when that band is combining everything from pop to hip-hop to old school R&B to surf rock, one might think the sound would be complex.

While The New Familiars’ influences may be disparate, they all come together on “Love,” the group’s debut album released this February, in a mix of catchy melodies and groove-oriented beats. And while each track boasts dense, layered production, the songs themselves rarely become more complicated than three or four chords.

Gaining prominence

This accessibility may be why The New Familiars — Mirk, guitarist Mike Thornton, keyboardist Andy O’Brien, bassist Dan Gerken, drummer Carl Blackwood, saxophonist Chris Russell and trumpeter Kate Sgroi — have rapidly risen to prominence on the Capital Region scene. But it did take some work — the group’s debut performance and album release at Red Square on Feb. 13 sold out due to heavy promotion, including a video for the infectious “Forbidden” single.

Mirk and the New Familiars, with Timbre Coup

When: 10 p.m. Saturday

Where: Tess’ Lark Tavern, 453 Madison Ave., Albany

How Much: $5

More Info: 463-9779, www.larktavern.com

“We really flooded the whole entire scene with our name, so that name recognition — we put the video out; we’re really using Facebook and YouTube to our fullest advantage,” Mirk said. “I mean, there are like 40 forums where you can put your stuff out there, and if people dig it, it goes, and it’s been going.”

Since then, the group has been performing regularly throughout the region. They’ll be at Tess’ Lark Tavern on Saturday night with Gerken’s other band, Timbre Coup, opening.

The New Familiars may be a full band experience now, but its roots lie in Mirk’s home recordings. The “Love” album and an online EP, “Broke,” released this month, are composed of songs Mirk wrote, with help from Thornton, after moving back to Albany from New York City in early 2007. Mirk, a former member of Yonkers rap group FCM who also holds a master’s degree in studio composition, was looking to branch out from straight hip-hop into more adventurous territory.

“He came and he kept playing me stuff; some of it I really liked, and some of it at the time I didn’t really pay much attention to, but still I liked it,” said Thornton, who has collaborated with Mirk since age 13 and attended SUNY Purchase with him. “So then my band broke up and I just wanted to make some fun music, so we hung out and we made ‘Breakfast’ together — literally, we made breakfast together, the song, and then the meal the next day.”

“I’d done ‘Love and Music’ before that, which is still more the hip-hop vein,” Mirk added. “And then ‘Breakfast’ was the second record, and it was way more soulful and R&B-ish, and I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know I could sing like that; that’s crazy.’ I was like, ‘Does it sound good, does it sound good?’ and everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, it sounds good. I didn’t know you could do that.’ ”

Through a connection at Jive Records, Anthony Rich, Mirk shopped the songs to other artists at first, including Katy Perry.

“I met with [an A&R representative] trying to sell him some songs for Katy Perry’s album before it was out, and he was like, ‘Dude, who is that singing on those songs?’ ” he said. “ ‘Oh, it was me.’ ‘Really? You should be an artist, man; why you trying to sell these songs? You should be an artist.’ ”

Through ads on craigslist.org, Mirk and Thornton gradually put together the group. For a time, the band played acoustically without a drummer, which allowed them to tighten up vocal harmonies.

New recording

With the “Broke” EP (the band refers to it as The New Familiar Stimulus Package), and coming gigs lined up at the Roller Derby at Glens Falls Civic Center, summer shows in Saratoga Springs and dates in New York City, the band is moving full speed ahead. Plans are under way for a second LP, a version of “Love” performed live.

“People get into the album and they love the album, and then they come see the live show and they’re like, ‘Whoa, this is crazy,’ ” Mirk said. “It’s a totally different experience, so we’re gonna put out the live version. As a result, since we’re gonna put out the live version, it gives us a little bit of time to work on new material; there’s not really any pressure.”

“We put out two records in two and a half months, so that’s pretty good,” O’Brien added.

Categories: Life and Arts

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