Even with professional equipment and racks of instruments at hand, they still ended up using the sound of Scott Hirsch, Family Band's third member, thumping a piano as makeshift kick drum, or coaxing odd harmonics out of a squeaky stool. The sputtering static that prefaces "Night Song," the opening track on Grace & Lies, came from the death throes of Krans' delay pedal, which threw off strange and unpredictable sounds as its batteries gave out.
Family Band is the product of a union of opposites. A lifelong musician with a history in heavy metal and punk bands, Ollsin met Krans around a campfire, impressed, he later told her, by her acoustic rendition of a Pavement song. Although she'd written songs, Krans thought of herself as a visual artist, a vocation she still pursues through her website, the Wild Unknown.
"But when we met," Ollsin says, "we started writing songs together right away."
Spacious but intimate, heavy but not ponderous, Family Band music evokes the hushed intensity of Low and Yo La Tengo, whose songs sometimes sound like overheard conversations between spouses. (There's also the half-finished theory that all of their songs connect with characters from Game of Thrones and its earthy mysticism.) Krans' lyrics, intricate and occasionally cryptic, rarely reveal an obvious antecedent, but references to shared dreams and common sorrows are woven throughout Grace & Lies. Listening to the album is like paging through a coded diary, understanding just enough to sense the secrets hidden within.
How many of the record's songs are about the couple? "I would say almost all of them," Krans says with a laugh, lying back on a couch in the couple's roomy first-floor studio. "If they're not things that happened, they're things that I imagine could happen. Something really bad, or just a situation where you sense a side of yourself that would throw away this amazing relationship, or something you worked for so long, like your band or your art. We all have these instincts to mess up our lives."
Krans admits to being "a worrier," while Ollsin is the picture of the laid-back burnout. When Pitchfork gave Grace & Lies a 7.5 rating, Krans fumed. "I was, like, 'That's a C. Not even a C+.' " Her voice turns breathy as she parodies her own reaction: " 'Do you know what that means? Average! I never got a C.' "
"I got tons of Cs," Ollsin drawls from the other end of the couch. "I was stoked. I was, like, 'I passed? That's great!' "
Last year, as part of Shaking Through, a joint venture between nonprofit Weathervane Music and WXPN-FM, Family Band was given two days in Miner Street with producer Daniel Rossen (Grizzly Bear) to record a new song, "Again," which wound up on Grace & Lies. Ollsin started looking at apartment listings in the neighborhood, and in January, they moved in.
"It's such a change, finding a place like this from living in New York," Ollsin says, "in a tiny railroad apartment where all our friends were, like, 'Wow, you have such a great place.' "
"It makes you depressed about being in a band," Krans adds, "like you're being had, or you're some idiot kid that shares these tiny spaces with seven other bands." Their current rehearsal space in Port Richmond costs them less than $100 a month.
Even with the added living space, Krans and Ollsin are constantly in each others' orbits: They run the mail-order end of Krans' printmaking business out of their apartment, a few feet from where Ollsin composes music for commercial clients. "I think we both romanticize a little bit of separation," Ollsin admits. "It's not just the band. We do everything together. I feel like it's really helped us learn to collaborate."
"That's all it is," Krans adds. "Having a kid is a collaboration. Making a home with somebody is a collaboration. I don't understand how somebody could sit down and decide to raise a kid with somebody if you can't write a three-minute pop song with them - even if it's a sucky song. That's all that living is: project after project after project. I just know that whatever project it is, the first person I want to look at it with me is Jonny. So it's kind of by default, and also by awesomeness, that we're always, like, 'Hey, look at this!' "
8:30 p.m. Tuesday at First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St. Tickets: $10. www.r5productions.com