Interview: Michael and Natalie of Family Dinner on Long Island, Influences, and "You're So Cool"
Photo by Matty Poulos
At the end of May, I was lucky enough to get to attend Golden Hour Booking's first event, a spring flea market at the Massapequa VFW Hall here on Long Island. There were a ton of fun vendors to buy from, cool bands to talk to and yummy brownies to eat (shoutout Cindy Sherman Baked Goods), but one of the highlights of my day was getting to meet the lovely folks in Family Dinner.
Based out of Long Beach, New York, the band released their fun, energy-filled, rock-influenced EP "You're So Cool" earlier this year. I got to chat with the band's guitarist and vocalist, Michael and Natalie, this week, and we had a great time discussing the EP, how their band came to fruition, and what the future might look like for them.
Can you introduce yourself to the readers?
Natalie: I'm Natalie, I do vocals, and my pronouns are she/her.
Michael: I'm Michael, I play guitar, and my pronouns are he/him.
Where did the band name "Family Dinner" come from?
Natalie: Michael and Nick started jamming in Michael’s basement a few years ago, they didn’t really know if anything would become of it but they wanted me to sing if anything did. They quickly recruited Sam on bass and would keep writing in the basement while I was upstairs in the kitchen cooking dinner for everyone and coming up with melodies to what they were playing.
I’d call them up for dinner, we’d eat, then I’d hit the basement with them and sing over what they’ve been working on. That’s how we wrote the first few Family Dinner songs - they’d write, I’d cook, we'd eat, I'd sing. (laughs)
We were trying to come up with a band name because we decided “okay, this is working, let’s move forward.” We came up with a bunch of terrible names.
Sam texted the group chat before practice one day, “We having family dinner or should I stop somewhere before practice?”, and Michael just said “That’s it!” and everyone agreed. We have our own practice space now, but we always have family dinners still. (laughs)
Your most recent release, the "You're So Cool" EP came out in February of 2021. Congrats on that! How much of that writing/recording process was done during the COVID-19 pandemic? Did the process change at all or were there any obstacles you had to overcome because of it?
Natalie: Thank you! Zero of it was done during the pandemic, actually. We recorded it with Brett Romnes the November and January before COVID-19 happened.
We wanted to release it earlier, but the pandemic happened and we weren’t quite sure what to do. We didn’t want to wait any longer so we mapped out a plan of release and shot the music video for “You’re So Cool” last summer.
COVID-19 took a lot from us, but for everything it took the inverse kind of gave us some cool things to make up for the loss. We’ve been super focused on writing and we’ve written between nine and 11 new songs and have been demoing them out so we can hit the studio again this summer and have a little something for everyone before we focus on a full-length.
What's your favorite song off of "You're So Cool", and why? Has the song or reasoning changed in the year or so since release day?
Natalie: My favorite song is "You're So Cool" and it has been from the beginning. Lyrically, it's inspired by my favorite badass book and movie couples and I put a lot of my heart into it.
Instrumentally, it's just so much fun and I'm really proud of how it all came together. It's a perfect song to have blasting when you're speeding down a highway, pretending you're being chased. I must have listened to it a million times by now and still haven't gotten sick of it!
Nick: it’s very difficult for me to pick a favorite but I’d have to go with "You're So Cool" as well. I feel like that’s the song we want to be. It originally was "Song 4 (Bloom)", when we first got our mixes back, but where "YSC" went from start to finish...yeah.
I’m proud of all four songs beyond belief, though. My four quadruplets. Like a proud father!
Sam: My favorite song is probably "Mahogany." It's a blast to play but it's also based on a short story that's super weird and messed up. The story also has a movie based on it with Bradley Cooper in it...in fact, we still refer to the song as "Bradley."
Michael: “Mahogany” is my personal favorite because I’ve been sitting on that riff since I was 19 so about 10 years. I was just never in the right band to put it to good use and I was psyched to see how we developed it and how Brett helped us formulate it and change some things up. It’s the most different out of all the songs on the EP and I think it stands out.
Cap: "Song 4 (Bloom)." It's the song I lyrically identify with the most and it's the most fun to play. It used to be "You're So Cool" but "Bloom" just hits different now.
You've been described as just about everything genre-wise, from rock to pop to alternative to punk to countless combinations of those labels. What genre do you think Family Dinner falls under? Any musical influences/inspirations worth mentioning?
Natalie: This professor from the UK described us as "gorgeous fuzzy-grunge rockers" and I know that's not a formal genre, but it's been my favorite description of our sound so far. Anytime someone asks what kind of music we play, I kind of freeze up because I really don't know how to describe it.
We incorporate elements from so many different genres and all of our songs individually have different sounds, so it's a challenge for me to really come up with what I believe is an accurate label to describe it all. Personally, my influences are pretty much all woman-fronted 90s alternative bands: Hole, The Cranberries, No Doubt, PJ Harvey, there are so many! I hope I can make even half the impact that they did.
Michael: Rock is cool with me! (laughs) People come up with their own labels, which is fine, but I don’t think things need to be so specific sometimes.
The Stooges were big for me, I’ve been copying Ron Asheton’s guitar style since I was 12. It may not come through that much on Family Dinner sonically but I still use all the little tricks he did with moving your fingers around or removing a finger to formulate new chords or keys when I’m writing.
This one is for Natalie: As a fellow woman in alternative music, I love the representation that a band fronted by a non-man brings to the table! I pretty much only had Paramore growing up, so it warms my heart to know that young girls will see themselves in you and in this band. What has your experience been like as a woman in a band in this genre? Any advice or messages you'd like to share?
Natalie: Being a woman in a band in general is definitely a trip! There's this big pressure on us to have to prove ourselves all the time that I don't think men have on them.
I can't tell you the number of times I've been brushed off by random dudes as just someone's nice girlfriend when I'm helping the guys load gear into our shows...I've actually started playing into it for fun though and letting them think that until I get on the stage and into their faces. The looks I've gotten have been priceless!
I'm hoping that it's teaching them a lesson about making assumptions. I will say though, that the music scene is definitely getting better and badass women are getting the spotlight they deserve. We can't let that slow down!
My best advice to young girls pursuing music (or really any other male-dominated field) would be to stand your ground, and if nobody will make space for you, make your own. As women, we have this constant pressure to step aside and shrink ourselves down. FUCK THAT!
You belong on that stage and once you truly believe that, you can't let anyone dull your sparkle. We belong, we are important, and we are just as worthy as anyone else in this scene.
As a band that released music during 2020-2021 throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I'm sure it's been difficult to create without the live music component. What are you looking forward to most about getting to play shows again?
Natalie: I’m just excited to play these songs for people! The EP has been out for a few months now and I’m excited to play these songs for everyone and have everyone singing along.
I especially can’t wait to go back to Amityville Music Hall. We’re playing their re-opening party on July 8th and I couldn’t be more excited.
(Editor's Note: Amityville Music Hall is my favorite venue in the world and you don't want to miss this show, I just got my tickets! You can get yours at the link here.)
Michael: I’m hyped to play again and rock out with my buds, see familiar faces, and jump off every stage I come across.
Living on Long Island myself, I know how influential our local scene specifically is, let alone the scene on the east coast and in the northeast. Are all of you from here? Or how long have you all lived here? What kind of role do you feel your geographic location has played in your band and your music?
Natalie: We’re all Long Island people. Sam and I grew up in Long Beach, Nick has been living here for the past 13 years, and Michael grew up in the next town over but had family in LB so he was always over here. Cap is the only one that has no connection to Long Beach (he grew up in Valley Stream) but we’ve indoctrinated him into our weird cult. (laughs)
Long Island and the local music scene has definitely had an immense influence on us. Besides LI I think Long Beach more specifically has had a bigger impact, it’s just one of those kind of places where you wouldn’t understand how much it means to a person unless you grew up or lived here. We made a name for ourselves playing house parties and local bars here in Long Beach and our name happened to move over the bridge and all over.
Michael: Nick and I have known each other since high school and we were always going to shows growing up. Seeing bands like Crime In Stereo, Agent, and Capital made me feel proud of where I came from. Everyone hates their hometown at least a little bit growing up, but getting to see all these incredible bands and make friends because of their music is incredible and just proves how undeniably excellent Long Island is.
With 2021 halfway over and things starting to look up as COVID-19 numbers drop and vaccination numbers rise, what are you most looking forward to for yourself or for the band for the rest of this year?
Natalie: Hopefully hitting the road! We were supposed to start touring right before COVID-19 happened and we’re just itching to get out there and play for everyone.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this with me! Is there anything else you'd like to add before we finish up?
Go listen to “You’re So Cool” right now! Tell your friends, parents, loved ones, etc. You can find it anywhere music is streamed.
Tell Spotify to pay artists while you’re at it! We’re hitting the studio this summer to give you a little preview of what the full-length we’ll be working on in the winter is like.
A huge thanks once again to Michael and Natalie from Family Dinner for answering some of my questions this week! As mentioned earlier, you can catch them at Amityville Music Hall's re-opening party and first show back on July 8th, along with innerlove., Victory Garden, and Vinnie Caruana of The Movielife and I Am The Avalanche; the ticket link can be found earlier in this article.
You can keep up with Family Dinner by following them on social media @FamilyDinnerUSA on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Their EP "You're So Cool", along with the rest of their discography, is available to stream wherever you listen to music.
If you liked this interview and want to see me chat with your favorite band next, let me know by tweeting me @JENSESSlON! To make sure you'll be the first to know when new interviews come out, you can follow the blog @StrawberrySkiesBlog on Instagram, @StrawberrySkiesBlog on Facebook, and @StrawbSkiesBlog on Twitter.