It will be easy to spot Volunteers frontman Tyler Jack Anderson and his fellow family members at his band's CD release party: They'll all be dressed as Coneheads.
The cylindrical bald wigs will be appropriate for the costume-themed celebration, but the reason behind them is far more serious.
Anderson's mother, Nicole Lyn Anderson, is in the final stages of a losing battle with lung cancer.
"My mom wanted to have all the family members be Coneheads because of the loss-of-hair factor. So we ordered a bunch. We've got a dozen or so on the way," Tyler Anderson says.
Nicole Anderson's connection to her son's band goes much deeper than attire. It was she who shepherded the recording of Volunteers' self-titled debut.
"The band had been working on doing our own home recording," he says. "But my mom got sick. She said one of her only wishes was to have us make this album, so she funded the project."
The Lawrence group holed up for 12 days at Chapman Recording Studios in Kansas City, Mo., with producer Robert Rebeck (Ad Astra Per Aspera) overseeing the sessions.
"She was hanging out in the studio through all this," Anderson recalls. "She was going through chemo at the time. It was just really inspiring all of us. With her presence there, all of us felt a pressure to put everything we had into it."
Faced with an accelerated timetable, the band members found they weren't merely working on an album, they were helping a slew of people cope with the grieving process.
"Given the difficulty of the situation, playing music and recording the album has really been helpful and cathartic for his whole family," says Volunteers keyboardist Andrew Kissel, who joins bassist Rustine Leonard and drummer Austin Sinkler in the quartet.
"It was a very powerful and intense environment. It pushed us all. He and his whole family felt there was a sense of urgency to the album," he said. "She wanted to see it completed. It was definitely her vision."
Personally, Kissel found a stronger connection to the material because of the emotional setting.
"A lot of the lyrics evolved from (Tyler Anderson's) feelings toward his family. I sing harmonies, and I think it compelled me to get into the songs, knowing where they came from," says Kissel, who like Anderson is a student at Kansas University. (Kissel is majoring in English, and Anderson is studying film.)
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Volunteers have technically only been together for about a year. It all started as a solo project for Anderson, who assembled a few friends to back him when he was selected to perform at KJHK's Farmer's Ball competition in 2005. At first Anderson's tunes were accompanied only by his guitar, a bass and organ. But as the compositions began to take shape, the unit added a drummer and became Volunteers.
Anderson, a native of the East Coast, took inspiration for the act's name after driving through Tennessee and seeing a man with a bright orange "Vols" hat.
"I had no idea what Vols meant," he confesses.
He describes the group's material as "folk-rock with our own twist. But it's got that indie vibe."
Despite the grim circumstances surrounding the recording, the band members view their debut as an upbeat project.
Anderson says, "It's a very positive album. When I listen to it there are a couple tracks that I'm skipping over. There's a track called 'Heaven' that I wrote during my grandparents' passing (the previous year)."
Currently, Anderson and his family are gathered at his mother's house in Shawnee Mission. She is being cared for by hospice.
"Mom has been lying there and hasn't been moving or talking. We've been playing the CD next to her bed with a boom box that we've been looping. She kind of moans if we turn it off," he says.
Anderson thinks the timing of the ordeal is particularly odd. He lost his grandparents last year - both his mom's parents. Now his mother, who was a healthy, lifelong nonsmoker, is undergoing the same struggle with lung cancer. And the friends and family who had planned for months to attend Volunteers' release party on Saturday are already congregated because of her illness.
"We're thinking that she's going to pass in the next few days," Anderson admits. "Maybe she'll make it to Saturday, which would be very cool. But either way it's going to be a celebration for her. Either way she'd want us to play the show."