Family of the Year (FOTY) is a band with Martha’s Vineyard roots that has a growing national and international fan base. They performed two songs on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on Tuesday, Feb. 12, “Hero,” a heartwarming folk-rock ballad, as well as “St. Croix,” both songs are on their latest CD, Loma Vista, on Nettwerk Records, which was released in July 2012.
They will be playing on the Conan O’Brien show this Thursday, Feb. 21, which airs at 11 pm on the TBS network.
These performances are merely a prelude to a concert tour, which looks like it will be a year long, according to the band’s drummer, Sebastian “Seb” Keefe, who took time out of his busy life in Los Angeles to talk to The Times.
Seb and his older brother, Joe Keefe, the group’s lead singer who also plays guitar and writes most of the music, were born on the Island. They spent 10 years of their early years in Wales, the home of their father. They attended the West Tisbury School and graduated from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Their mother, Julie Keefe, lives in West Tisbury and works for the town’s zoning board.
During his teenage years on the Island, Joe formed the rock group Unbusted with his best friend Jackson Sandland from Edgartown and Ben Smith of West Tisbury, who now works as FOTY’s sound engineer when they are on tour. Seb called Unbusted a hard rock, grunge style band.
Seb started playing music when he was 10 with his best friend, singer/songwriter Willy Mason. He said that they would trade off playing different instruments, but that he eventually migrated toward the drums.
Unbusted moved to Boston where Seb joined them after a year in college in British Columbia. They had some success in Boston, good reviews, and three of their songs were used in the Farrelly brothers movie “Stuck on You.” But then they hit a wall.
An Island friend, Tim Laursen, joined with Joe to form a short-lived band called The Billionaires, a band with a sound that billboard.com praised as “pure pop” and “marked by a rare intelligence.” Joe said they wanted to do something that wasn’t trying to be so loud and aggressive; they wanted to write music they would want their friends to listen to.
Unbusted decided to move to Los Angeles to try to revive their previous success. They had played in L.A. and liked the area. Seb said that Unbusted broke up when he and Joe decided they wanted to move away from a hard rock focus toward a sound more like The Billionaires.
To date, their arc toward success as been pretty steady. They have put together four previous CDs and have traveled extensively. In October 2009, FOTY was chosen out of more than 700 bands to open for Ben Folds and the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall in Boston.
Their latest CD has brought them more radio exposure around the country and their popularity has been growing rapidly ever since, according to Seb.
The FOTY tour begins the end of February with concerts in Sacramento, Portland, and San Francisco, followed by venues in the southwest and on the East Coast. The band plays the Brighton Music Hall in Boston on April 4. They plan to play in Europe later in the tour.
When asked about the origin of FOTY’s name, Seb said the band spent a summer living in a large warehouse in an industrial suburb east of Los Angeles. “We were so disconnected from the rest of the city, eating, playing, sleeping like a perfectly functional/dysfunctional family.” Their name came from the title of a song they had written during that time. “We liked to speculate that even ‘perfect’ families have skeletons in their closets. It just clicked,” he said.
Success has led to changes in how and how often FOTY travels. The band spends most of its time away from its Los Angeles base. In 2012 they were on the road for 10 months, traveling in a van with a trailer for their equipment.
After years opening for other groups, they are now transitioning to being a headline group. Now they are taking along their own opening act. “After many years of staying five people to a room in Motel 6, we are able to stay in nicer places, and spread out a bit, which is good,” Seb said.
“The best thing about being on the road is connecting with people, seeing our friends and fans and having fun,” he said. “You get to a point where you can’t imagine doing anything else. We will be doing this for the foreseeable future. As long as it feels productive and fun and as long as we are connecting with people like we are now.”
Seb said they usually get back to the Vineyard for a week or two in the summer and for some holidays. “Not as much as we would like because we are so busy,” he said. “We get there whenever we can. We always look forward to coming home.”
The CD “Loma Vista” has an upbeat, folk-rock indie sound, but like many contemporary bands the group’s music is not limited to any one style. Their music has been described as eclectic, but their songs are all connected by an overall sense of excitement and playfulness, according to Seb. “There’s a lot of music out there that’s so very serious and negative right now,” he said. “That’s not to say it’s not something serious, and we do take it very seriously, but, I guess we take being happy very seriously.”
FOTY’s concert schedule can be found on their website, familyoftheyear.net.