A testament to the multifaceted nature of Portland’s music scene, the Family Worship Center is a band that could have easily emerged from the backwoods of Tennessee or the swamps of Louisiana. Not unlike the way that the mostly Canadian members of The Band (with the exception of Arkansas native Levon Helm) channeled images of the American South into their rock and roll, the Family Worship Center does this from the Northwest. And they do it—for lack of a better word—authentically.
Case in point is the aptly named tune “The South” on the band’s upcoming album, Kicked Out of the Garden, out Sept. 8 on Corporat Records. Beyond its lyrics, the song encapsulates a sound that evokes Leon Russell, brassy New Orleans R&B, and Memphis soul and gospel (alongside present-day rock-and-rollers like Low Cut Connie and Howlin Rain).
Much of the Family Worship Center’s sound and identity is the work of frontman and visionary Andy Krissberg, who has cultivated the band’s cultish, tent-revivalist image. The wild-eyed Krissberg started the band in Nashville in 2017, during a time when he was roaming the South (much like ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax).
“I really got into recording, mainly field recordings,” Krissberg tells WW. “I had a record lathe like in the 1920s. I would travel the South and record people straight to disc. Essentially I would just record folks wherever—like the kind of thing where Grandpa has a guitar under his bed, brings it out, that sort of thing, so you could have a physical memory.”
Krissberg also liked to stop by thrift stores in his travels, and it was at one such place that he made the discovery that ultimately inspired both the name and mentality of the Family Worship Center.
“I found this tattered and worn little bible called Family Worship from the 1970s,” he says. “It was really interesting, and there were a lot of things in the book that spoke to me and made me feel better.”
It wasn’t so much the hokey religious intonations of the book that lit a spark, but rather an idea that essentially boiled down to “just be kind and care about each other.” In pursuit of what eventually morphed into a philosophy of a righteous groove (with his own literature to spread the gospel), Krissberg took his experience traveling the South and moved to Seattle.
Soon he connected with “electric guitar and chief scientist and librarian” Dr. Andrew Friendly. The two bonded over their love of The Band as well as a mutual fascination with biblical literature, though Family Worship Center is not a religious band in the traditional sense.
“When I first met Andy, I went on a Facebook group for Seattle musicians. Some guy that I had never met before posted, ‘Hey, do you like The Band and do you want to come make a new band with me?’” says Friendly, whose guitar playing often channels the Southern rock swagger of Little Feat’s Lowell George.
With their musical chemistry flowing, Krissberg decided to make the move to Portland, and eventually Friendly joined him. Other “followers” flocked from far-flung places like Arizona and Southern California to join the “family.” Several members live together, and that communal spirit flows through Family Worship’s boisterous, party-inducing performances, which often feature at least 10 people onstage, including a horn section and background singers.
Portland audiences hardly cut loose like they do in places like New Orleans, but the Family Worship Center gets people to drop their inhibitions and just have fun. “It’s like this fun group party thing where you’re kind of an outsider but you’re also drawn to it and you want to understand the experience,” Krissberg says.
The band managed to channel the energy of their live performances into Kicked Out of the Garden with the help of Portland producer Cameron Spies (Spoon Benders, Shivas). The result is an album that stands out in the Portland scene, with its shameless devotion to a 1970s rock-and-roll sound and hippie cult vibe. You can throw a rock and hit any number of bands playing psych rock, dream pop and even country in this town, but there is only one Family Worship Center.
SEE IT: Family Worship Center plays at Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., 503-231-9663, dougfirlounge.com. 9 pm Sunday, Sept. 10. $15. 21+.