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2012-04-11 / Front Page

A ‘virtual’ country music star

Chesterfield musician collaborates in cyberspace
By Donna C. Gregory
CONTRIBUTING WRITER


Chesterfield musician Brian Rock collaborates online with far-flung fellow members of country band Family Reunion. 
Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Chesterfield musician Brian Rock collaborates online with far-flung fellow members of country band Family Reunion. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Brian Rock’s “Family Album” is a lot different than most. Instead of cheesy pictures of old birthday parties and cookouts, it’s a compilation of songs written and recorded by his “cousins” from across the country.

Rock, also known as Cousin JD, is a member of Family Reunion, a group of six cousins and friends of cousins who form what’s believed to be the first ever “virtual” country band. They’ve never played together as a band in the same room, and usually only see each other once a year at their family reunion (hence, the band’s name).

Family Reunion is a true countrywide band, with Cousin JD living in Chesterfield County, and the other members as far flung as California.

And in another unusual twist, all of the members go by aliases to protect their identities (and their day jobs). Family Reunion’s members include Cousin JD and Cousin Carrie on vocals, Cousin Barbie on guitar, Cousin Hollywood on bass, Cousin Tex on fiddle and keyboards, and Cousin Slim on drums.

“It’s an amazing world we live in now where JD can send me some ideas or tracks or lyrics, and I can record parts in my home studio and send them back, and we can build up a record that way,” said Cousin Hollywood. “We don’t even have to be in the same room anymore.”

Family Reunion formed in the summer of 2010 when Cousin JD, Cousin Tex and Cousin Barbie attended their family reunion in Texas and discovered they shared a common interest in country music.

“We decided to send [music] files back and forth and collaborate,” Cousin JD said.

Last January, the band released its debut album, “Family Album.” Traditionally, band members meet in a recording studio and work together to lay down individual parts of songs. Because Family Reunion’s members live across the country, the band used email and file sharing to build the tracks for “Family Album.” The songs were then mastered in a Nashville studio.

“When you love playing and creating music with your band, but your band members have different schedules [and time zones], the Internet offers the perfect solution,” said Cousin JD. “With file sharing and music editing software, we can do things now that would not have been possible even five years ago.”

(Cousin Slim, described as the “life of the party” on the band’s website, www.familyreunioncountry.com, jokingly shares the real reason band members work online: “I really am the best-looking one of the group, and I think they are just upset about it.”)

“Family Album” has already attracted the attention of those in the country music industry. It’s been nominated for three Independent Country Music Association (ICMA) awards: Song of the Year for “Yes,” Album of the Year and Best Country Group.

“It’s an honor to be nominated because industry officials are validating you,” said Cousin JD. “If we’re able to win, hopefully it will open some doors for us in Nashville with a record contract or another artist doing one of our songs that would expose us to a wider audience.”

Cousin JD describes “Family Album” as “musical gumbo. There are elements of Spanish salsa, there’s some pop country, there’s some blues influence, there’s some rock influence. We try to mix it up a little even from track to track.”

That mixture of styles is part of the reason band members like to remain anonymous – all except Cousin JD are members of other musical groups.

“I don’t want anyone to know that [I’m playing pop country],” Cousin Hollywood explained.

Cousin Hollywood lives in Los Angeles and plays bass professionally, doing session work and touring.

“I stick to Texas and West Coast-type country,” Cousin Hollywood explained. “I might get a few jabs, some jokes pointed my way [if people knew I was doing pop country]. There’s a bit of a rivalry and a turf war. In the rock world, it’s similar, too. There’s a big difference between what Britney Spears does and the Rolling Stones. You don’t want your friends in Alice in Chains to know you’re [playing] Christina Aguilera.”

As a member of a rock band, staying anonymous allows Cousin Slim to cross over into other musical styles without alienating his fan base.

“It allows you to adopt a couple of different personas,” Cousin Slim explained. “This allows me to have a fan base in both genres.”

To protect their identities, the band uses cartoon characters in all of its promotional materials, although members disagree on how much they look like their avatars.

“They’re a rough approximation [of what we look like],” Cousin JD explained. “My character is probably better looking than the real thing.”

“I think I’m better looking than my avatar,” Cousin Hollywood said.

The ICMA is inviting the public to vote for their favorite nominees through April 30 by visiting www.icmanet.com/voting/fanvoting.php. To listen to full tracks from “Family Album,” visit www.myspace.com/familyreunion-48518289/music.

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