The Family Crest - Photo by Christopher M. Howard.

As much as the lives of the seven musicians in San Francisco’s The Family Crest have changed since signing with Portland label Tender Loving Empire a year ago, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the pressure to succeed, now that the success of others rest on their own.

“There has always been pressure to succeed,” said singer-guitarist Liam McCormick in a recent interview alongside flutist Laura Bergmann, a few weeks prior to the band’s March 21 show at the Brick & Mortar Music Hall. “We know a lot of (fans) on a very personal level. The pressure comes from not wanting to disappoint anyone.”

The Family Crest's core members — who also include bassist-guitarist John Seeterlin, cellist Charly Akert, violinist Owen Sutter, drummer Charlie Giesige and trombonist George Mousa Samaan — still have day jobs. But they’ve come a long way since playing house and apartment shows as a necessity. A sold-out release show for sophomore album Beneath the Brine at the Great American Music Hall, a trek through South by Southwest, and an upcoming national tour point toward loftier goals.

“It’s very hard, when you are on your own, to get record stores to pick up your product,” Bergmann said. “We have albums in 20 states, now.” The grandiose orchestral pop band has also become a darling of NPR and has recently been featured in TV and online ads for Carnival cruises and GoPro cameras.

McCormick and Seeterlin started the band in 2008 as a project to record musicians and quickly realized that some of the musicians wanted to continue the band on a permanent basis.

It has been more than a year since the band, which records and performs with an “extended family” of singers and musicians that counts well into the hundreds, completed its second album. At the request of the label, they’d been sitting on it, awaiting its February 25 release. The album was recorded in public spaces such as churches, cafes and street corners -  as far away from professional recording studios as possible. McCormick refers to studios as “sterile environments.”

Despite the classical training, the band incorporates jazz, folk, cabaret and rock with the symphonic element. A lot of that has to do with the extended family, whose members bring their own influences to the table.

“I’ve always written music that had a non-genre-specific sound,” McCormick said. Whenever a new instrument gets brought into the fold, he researches how to use it in music writing.

“As I do the research and write the part of the song for it, the genre will change,” he said. “'The Water Is Fine' (off the new album) started out as a lot more Bollywood-esque song. The original bassline was supposed to be played on a grand piano. When we swapped that for bass, it suddenly became a jazz song.”

This, in turn, led to the addition of a saxophone, and McCormick changed his vocal delivery to fit the new version. But no matter what genre the songs end up, they retain the band’s signature layered harmonies, string flourishes and dramatic elements.

Beneath the Brine begins with the sound of a foghorn — actually the sound of a conch shell that was pitched down and distorted to sound like a foghorn. It is a call back to home for the band, grounding the members.

“The album was written when I was running along the coastline,” McCormick said. “A lot of times when I’d be running I’d hear a foghorn. It’s also something that, every night, living in the Outer Richmond, I fall asleep to....It seemed appropriate.”

He and Bergmann describe the album as about being in one’s late 20s and feeling stuck in a rut, even though “nothing is inherently wrong in your life.” Other songs touch on friendships, such as “The World,” which Bergmann said is a love song for a friend who went through a difficult break-up.

While Beneath the Brine was on the shelf, The Family Crest recorded and released an EP. But now that the album is out, the band can already feel the difference of label support.

“Our biggest concern with signing was that we wanted to maintain creative control,” Bergmann said. “We have several hundred (extended family members) on our record, so they have been very supportive.”

Follow writer Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter and RomiTheWriter.Tumblr.com.

The Family Crest, Milagres
Brick & Mortar Music Hall
March 21, 2014
9:00pm, $12/advance, $14/door

Tags: