Garage Gospel

Written by Jason P. Woodbury Category: Arts Issue: July 2016
Group Free

In his 2015 book Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, author Peter Bebergal writes, “Punk was the energy of the shout and gospel,” connecting a thread between the righteous fervor of gospel music and the rawness of punk. On its debut self-titled EP, Phoenix’s Christian Family, comprising drummer/vocalist Ann Seletos and guitarist/vocalist Daniel Shircliff, employs a similar alchemy, offering up a kind of salvation rooted in distortion and a positively cheery outlook regarding the apocalypse.

“Oh my, don’t cry, it’ll be alright tomorrow,” the two sing in “Oh My, Don’t Cry,” a track from the EP, set for release this summer via Phoenix-based punk label Slope Records. It’s raw and direct, but there’s an almost childlike quality to the song, the mood on loan from a weird Sunday school class. The songs are far from Christian rock, but they aren’t quite secular either. “Some of the most rocking music is gospel music,” Seletos says.

Gospel is part of the group’s spirit –  essential at its core – but the influence is filtered through ‘90s garage punk like The Gories and Oblivians, the mutant rockabilly of The Cramps, and girl groups of the 1960s like The Ronettes and The Crystals. It was a sound that’d been percolating in Shircliff’s head for a while, and he realized Seletos was the perfect partner to create it with when he heard her dream-pop outfit Cherie Cherie, with whom his garage band The Freaks of Nature shared stages across the Valley. 

Together, the two took inspiration from Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” studio approach, not so much mining its theatrical bombast as much as its minimal force. “[Spector] would have five of the best guitarists in town playing the most simple thing, all together, exactly the same,” Shircliff says. “He’d have the most amazing guitarists come in and he’d keep telling them, ‘Dumber, dumber, less, dumber.’ They would all play the exact same three notes. In the same way, we have two drums, two singers, two amplifiers, and we’re doing it dumber and dumber and dumber. That’s where the magic is.”