To consecrate its new music, Virgins Family Band seemed to perform the ultimate trick—that is, to disappear completely. But, as they saw it, breaking up was the only option they had left.
In May, the Carrboro quintet prepared to share a show at Cat's Cradle's with Bevel Summers, an acoustic group that had, like Virgins, taken shape in part at UNC-Chapel Hill. Together, they released Good Days/Bad Days, a short record split between the two bands, and invited a host of pals onstage to perform several songs.
But just days before the show, the band learned that a small group of friends planned to boycott the gig, perhaps even picket it. Drummer Gabriel Anderson fumbles his words as he tries to explain his surprise.
"One of our band members got..." he says, pausing.
Singer Saman Khoujinian picks up the sentence: "He just got into some trouble, basically."
Anderson and Khoujinian both decline to specify what the friends alleged against Dakota Proctor, the keyboardist in question, and the North Carolina Department of Public Safety's database has no records of an arrest. Still, Anderson and Khoujinian sat with the accusers, listened to their grievances and considered the solutions that would satisfy them. The choices were simple: Kick Proctor out of the band. Keep him in the band and not acknowledge the allegations against him. Or simply end the band, which Anderson and Khoujinian had been building for nearly four years.
Proctor says he cannot confirm that any allegations ever existed or that the band was trying to separate itself from him at all. "We were all thrown in a different place," he says, "and they were following a new direction." Nevertheless, he didn't play that show, which became the finale for Virgins Family Band. Citing "internal and external pressures," they released the split and quit.
"We'd been looking forward to getting deeper into a new sound," explains Khoujinian. "So we decided to strip it all away and to start fresh."
In retrospect, it might have been the best decision that Anderson and Khoujinian could have made. Less than two months later, four-fifths of Virgins Family Band entered Mitch Easter's Fidelitorium, recording what were meant to be the latest songs of their old act as the start of a much different project, Dad & Dad.
One of the two finished songs to emerge, "All Sys Gehen," is a pure pop triumph, splitting the difference between Passion Pit's momentum and Animal Collective's abstraction; booming drums and refracted guitars push Khoujinian's vocals sky-high. And throughout its counterpart, "Doldrums," Khoujinian's now-tempered voice lurks between abrasive guitar and gentle keyboards, the hook hanging still just long enough for the melody to catch.
Recorded by local producer Jeff Crawford and mixed and arranged by electronics whiz Phil Torres, the finished products showed Khoujinian and Anderson that they could craft concise, compelling songs. Taken together, those tunes marked one of the Triangle's most recent auspicious arrivals—and a powerful relaunch for four musicians who'd swerved off course even before the Proctor situation emerged.
While Virgins Family Band had started small, with only the old friends Anderson and Khoujinian collaborating, it had swollen in size. By the end, the group seemed to emphasize the last word of their name more than any other aspect.
"Virgins used to be a lot more of everyone having creative input, with everyone giving as much as they could," says Khoujinian. "The biggest issue became what everyone's expectations for the band were: 'Who is writing the songs, and how are we writing the songs together? Are we trying to convey something as a unit, or are we trying to convey something on our own?'"
That process started to weigh the songs down, with jam-rock excess putting undue strain on the foundations. There were two drummers and loads of keyboards, big guitar tangents and cascading vocal harmonies. The promise of their 2013 LP, Honeylion, felt adulterated by extraneous parts and unclear decisions. For Dad & Dad, Anderson and Khoujinian decided to revert to their beginnings by writing songs together and sharing the near-complete results with the rest of the band. Patrick Terrell would still play bass, and Phil Hamilton would handle guitar. But the founding pair wanted to reclaim overall ownership.
"There was so much stuff that happened just before we broke up, and we said, 'What the fuck is any of this?' We had no control over any of it," says Anderson. "But we had control over the decision of what we were going to do next."
Today, Anderson and Khoujinian, both 23, share a small, white, drafty house on the outskirts of Carrboro. Liquor bottles sit on the front porch, with crumpled beer cans scattered near the back door. The legacy of Virgins Family Band is everywhere. A spray-painted plywood sign that reads "Virgins" sits askance on the top of a weathered piano kept outside. Inside, a canvas bag bearing the Virgins logo has been tossed atop a pile of gear. Alongside a few LPs and CDs from The Police, a vinyl copy of Honeylion frames one doorway.
Inside the living room, though, it's easy to see how what Anderson often calls "the spinal cord" of Dad & Dad works: Khoujinian keeps a web of effects pedals, keyboards and beat machines in a tight cluster. Just to its left, Anderson's drum kit serves as the square's centerpiece, its cymbals seeming to hover in the room like flying saucers. To his back, a tower of recording equipment recalls the pair's latest challenge—learning to capture their own songs in their own space, to control what it is they make. As they write in the living room, they record, hoping to get a sense of what they can do by themselves. Studios are expensive and time-consuming. They've just mixed their first song for an NPR contest.
"It sounds OK," says Khoujinian with a shrug and a smile, his tone suggesting that he's far from satisfied. It's the first song they've mixed together since high school. "We'll see what we can do."
Though Dad & Dad is a quartet, the power has reverted to the center, to these two friends who admit that they're most confortable driving the project. It's clear to the other half of the band that they're in place to support a vision, to add limbs to, again, the spinal cords of the songs that Anderson and Khoujinian create. There's no more double-drumming, less instrument-hopping and less outright jamming. Every part works to serve the tune.
"We've learned how to take ownership of writing and take ownership of parts," says Khoujinian, "so that you can balance being a vessel for the creativity and actually being the agent."
And this time, they hope they don't have to let that balance or that ownership go.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Popping out."