A New Kind of “Family Album”: Winning Combination by The Safes

A New Kind of “Family Album”: Winning Combination by The Safes

World-Touring Rock and Roll Band of Brothers Returns to Chicago 11/27/19 at Beat Kitchen

paying homage to a broad range of musical influences and the gifts of family

“If it weren’t for Patrick I wouldn’t be alive today. [He’s the] best guy I know, he’s my best friend,” says Frankie O’Malley of The Safes, about his brother and collaborator Patrick O’Malley. A strong bond is what holds the core of this world-touring rock-n-roll band together, and on their new release Winning Combination, the strength of family—this time in numbers—shines through.

The Safes are performing in Chicago on 11/27 in an album release show at The Beat Kitchen.

This local show is among appearances overseas – quite a feat for a band of brothers who love rock and roll, touring the U.S. nonstop for 16 years. Frankie shares how the band’s touring led to opportunities with this example: As part of their touring grind, The Safes performed in Baltimore, meeting a bassist who is also owner of Hidden Volume Records, each subsequent visit strengthened the connection which led to the label releasing The Safe’s album Tasty Waves; Hidden Volume then helped coordinate shows in Japan, which led to shows in Spain, followed by more European shows on the schedule.  

“If you don’t leave the comfort zone of your home town nothing’s gonna happen,” says Frankie.

Frankie and Patrick (aka Brothers O’Malley) recently performed sold-out shows in Tokyo, showing how the band’s music is catching eyes and ears worldwide.

It didn’t start under the bright lights: it started in a dark basement with some music equipment, as Frankie explored the overflow of his musician father’s collection. With a background as a traditional Irish and country musician, he gave astute pointers to his rock-n-roll sons along the way.

“When he saw we wanted to play guitar he would say, then listen to Jimmy Bryant, Les Paul, when he saw we wanted to write songs, he would say listen to Hank Williams, Willie Dixon, Duke Ellington, Chuck Berry.” The brothers had access to vinyl records from him as well as their cousins, who were in an active band and who turned them on to “music beyond the top 40: Cramps, REM, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, XTC as well as more sophisticated stuff like Michal Feinstein playing Gershwin. [Plus, music by] Tom Waits, The Pogues, Joe Jackson, and more artistic albums, some Nick Drake, not just punk – we are fans of all different styles” says Frankie.

It’s the music inspired by this “more sophisticated stuff” that is featured on the album Winning Combination. These are songs that are more experimental or simply vary creatively from the horse blinders that straight rock can insist on. The band’s previous releases have centered on the rock style. This is one of many styles close to their hearts, but it was pushed to the forefront when they noticed it’s what audiences wanted.

“Early on [we’d play] ballads and slower songs and people would walk away and go to the bar and get a drink—people want fast and loud we geared ourselves to that,” says Frankie. We would add violin, string, bass, piano, or acoustic guitar and organ, just to mix it in, but [most people] wanted an album full of just rockers, so we tried to keep it consistent. Although there’s traces of surf rock, punk rock, garage rock and rockabilly, The Safes created their own sound.

However, there was more to the picture. Some songs were written but didn’t fit the mold. These more off-kilter, fun, creative songs written between touring and working on other albums on Winning Combination more accurately show the myriad of influences that the brothers soaked up while listening to the artists of the past and present in the family record collection. Frankie wrote 7 of the songs and brother Patrick wrote 3.  While Frankie tends to write more songs than his brother he notes that every song Patrick introduces always ends up on an album, and the brothers always collaborate on the final touches.  

“Frankie’s talent and relentlessness is unlike any other songwriter and composer I know.  Time and time again, when he channels the inspiration on some new music or lyrics he won’t stop until all the ideas flood out of him. He’ll pretty much write the whole song in one sitting:  music and arrangement, the lyrics, drums, bass, guitars, keys…really anything that suits the music. New song after new song that are pretty much fully fleshed out but in a rough demo state and that’s where I come in to give feedback,” says Patrick. 

It turns out those music recommendations from family members had a major effect on the brothers who formed a band of their own (the pair makes the core of the band which has rotating bassists and drummers). Adding more than bass and drums this time, the personnel on the album includes cousins, nieces and nephews, from near and far. When family members were in town, the brothers invited them over to their home studio (dubbed Studio O’Malley) and tracked instruments ranging from violin and viola to piano and more. Some songs are sans drums and electric guitar. Over a dozen additional family members help to create a 10-song album with quirky, energetic songs that bring it all back home.

The cover image is a vintage black and white photo of a couple that happens to be the parents of the two brothers; their 4 sons and 12 grandchildren make all the music on the record. They are the “winning combination.” (The letters on the cover, by the way, are made to look like a combination on a safe).

It’s hard to not be touched by the family effort of the O’Malleys et. al., and to be curious about how all of those extra influences will blend together on this new release as the brothers flex their wings – and family power – showing that they are not “just” a rock band.

The show on Wednesday 11/27/19 at the Beat Kitchen is the only Chicago appearance for the rest of the year: The SAFES are then heading to Europe. 

One more word on touring: “At first, people thought we were crazy…but we’ve seen the world through our music,” says Frankie.

Record release show details:

November 27, 2019 at 8:00pm
Beat Kitchen (2100 W. Belmont) / $10 

The Marcatos (8:00pm)
The Sonnets (doing a reunion featuring the 2000 line up!)  (8:50pm)
The Differents (9:40pm)
The Safes  (10:30pm)

Get the The Safes’s new music now:

Winning Combination LP / CD is on Action Weekend Records and Bickerton Records.

Action Weekend Records

Bickerton Records

The first single from Winning Combination:

The Safes – “It’s True” music video directed by Baby Pony Food

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