I can't imagine a better album cover for Brooklyn quartet Parts & Labor. Their sound gurgles and gushes with a raw carnality, but blasting out from all corners with clanging metallic melody. It huffs and it pumps with an organic, earthy vibe but also sparks into scraping, lumbering cacophony. Thus, something rings so true about this strange beastly machinery imbued into this similarly paradoxical landscape of glowing beauty and scorched dystopia.
Of course, I'm reading it far too deeply…more simply, this Frankenstein-ian scorpion/rhino mirrors the smorgasbord schematics of the band's latest release, Receivers, which involved taking fan's submissions of varying audio samples: It could be your favorite sound, a scary sound, your parents, a wandering rant, every day life, just press record and send it in… - From there, the band spliced in all of the found sounds and noises into the various nooks and crannies of this "more-straight-forward-rock" record – which, even though they're embracing a verse-chorus-verse pop-sensibility for lyrics and whittling their past album's more spindly freak outs into driving chord progressions and head-bobbin-hooks – means that they've still retained their characteristic sideways approach and penchant for offbeat calamity. (They now have a number for fans to call to "leave a message" for more noises and yells and whatevers, to be incorporated into live shows.)
Receivers still brings the thick-fuzz-and-surge-rhythms of their bent-and-tumbling kitchen sink destructo-rock, but hones it into more palatable, balanced launches that meter out the tinny synth bleats and bring up the guitars and vocals.
The band was formed in 2002 by keyboardist Dan Friel and bassist B.J. Warshaw (who met while working at the Knitting Factory in 99.) They added drummer Jim Sykes and released a quintessential "experimental-noise-rock" record, Groundswell, in 2003. (Punchy and erratic and often, as instrumental music is unfairly judged, a bit alienating compared to the accessible anthemic pop lyricism of Receivers…but as the anecdote goes, they only went instrumental because the recording was rushed.) Sykes left, to be replaced by Joel Saladino for a split release with Battles' Tyondai Braxton, but Saladino left to be replaced by the vital and vigorous Chris Weingarten. In 06 they released Stay Afraid on Jajaguwar/Brah, with Mapmaker following in 07. Weingarten left to pursue music writing and was replaced by Joe Wong, with guitarist Sarah Lipstate making it a quartet.
Parts & Labor make a special visit to the Lager House on Thurs., Nov. 20 (The once-revered enclave has rejuvenated with exceptionally hot and heavy line-ups as of late). Locals Silverghost and the Sugarcoats open up…
The Deep Cutz Interview: Parts & Labor('s B.J. Warshaw)
Milo/DC: How's the tour going so far? (was it difficult playing on election night?)
BJ: Election night was weird; we played in Orange County (a Republican stronghold) at UC Irvine. Watched election coverage come in with 20-30 kids (probably the only Democrats on campus). We were all elated, and we played a nice little show, which was also our last night on tour with Gowns. So not difficult, but I personally wish I'd been partying in Chicago!
Milo: what was the formation of the album like for you--can you qualify the level of meticulousness with which you pieced together all these submissions? how hard was it? what were some of your favorite, or the weirdest?
BJ: We collected hundreds of other sounds, listened to them all, and as we were sequencing the album found homes for our favorites. We also play all of the sounds at the same time during those roaring satellite noises during "Satellites" and once again at the very end of the album. It wasn't difficult (it was actually really fun), but it was meticulous and time consuming. My favorite part was assembling the ambient collage between "The Ceasing Now" and "Wedding In A Wasteland", which is almost entirely made of fan submissions.
Milo: How are the phone message submissions going?
BJ: We're getting a great response! Probably up to close to 100 phone calls. We got a great recording of a film projector. Somebody playing violin. Screaming/celebrating people on election night. Oh, and this one random wrong number from a woman named Connie who just rambles about missing some job interview thing -- it's really weird, and we've been using it a lot.
Milo: I'd like to try to unpack your personal philosophy (and relationship to) "noise"
by starting out asking...that 99% of parts and labor write-ups will copy and paste "noise rock" and i'm wondering if you have a better way of, not just defining the sound of parts and labor, but explaining how you feel about your approach to music
BJ: I tend to think of it as a "try anything" approach, and we keep what simply sounds good to our ears. We're influenced by many of the "noise" artists of the past, from Sonic Youth to Boredoms; but we also crave structure and melody -- so the challenge for P&L is combining those disparate influences and making, hopefully, something cohesive and unique.
Milo: ...and the attraction to, what the scribes all just quickly label "noise...being that the Cardboard (P&L's label www.cardboardrecords.com/) crew includes Pterodactyl, Ecstatic Sunshine, Oneida...and collaborations with Tyondai Braxton
and Indian Jewelry, these similarly "boisterous" "calamatous" "raw" "noise" bands...do you ever go home and just put on Cat Stevens?
BJ: We listen to a ton of pop/folk/not noise music. I put Cat Stevens on in the van on this very tour. We're all voracious musical listeners, and there's really no genre we won't touch.
Milo: What do you think causes bands to start forging these close-knit gang/communities...be it cardboard or wham city? what is it that drew most of you together?
BJ: A shared love of weird/challenging/fun music, is all. All the Cardboard bands are people we were friends with and/or played shows with before we ever talked about putting out their records.
Milo: Can you define the philosophy behind Receivers?
BJ: The philosophy was experimentation, seeing what happens. We were directly influenced by Roger Waters' interviews during the making of "Dark Side Of The Moon", the audio he culled was used throughout that album (all those spooky laughs and spoken word). Also by Claire Lin's project: re-collection.org, and she submitted all the cell phone calls she received during her project.
Milo: are there other factors besides the experiment with people's noise contributions that particularly distinguish it from past experiences of recording the other albums?
BJ: I think Dan and I both were interested in slowing things down, working harder on the vocals and vocal melodies, challenging ourselves with more complex arrangements, hitting more of a psych stride over blasting through things the way we did on "Stay Afraid" and, to a lesser extent, "Mapmaker". We wrote the songs as we always have, bringing mostly finished pieces into the rehearsal space and hashing out our individual parts. We spent more time arranging on the fly in the studio, and I think that adds to the more nuanced approach on this album.
The experiment with the samples affected track order and served primarily to bridge all the tracks together; the album flows from one song to the next. We also left spaces in places for the sounds we were receiving. In the past we'd have filled every cranny with our own sounds. So I think while the samples didn't necessarily directly influence the song writing process, they did hugely influence our arranging choices.
Milo: How different has the band become, in any regard... and you can address it to over the 5+ year history...or just over the last year having to replace 33% of the band and thenadding another person, what that was like...did it require any somber reflections and hard-future-thinking of 'what do we do now?' or did a plan develop fast...what went through your heads as Chris departed...
BJ: I don't think it's that uncommon for a band to change its sound, even drastically, over time. I mean, listen to Sonic Youth's "Bad Moon Rising" versus "NYC Ghosts And Flowers", you know? There's elements that bridge the two but there's more differences than there are sames, I think. Otherwise, I think you're correct in your assumptions. It's a combination of lineup changes but also wanting to challenge ourselves. And Dan and I have always been the primary song writers for P&L, so it's as much a reflection of our tastes changing over time as anything. We couldn't keep doing the same thing over and over if we tried.
Milo: What's up next? band-related or not - be it new projects or just the next load of laundry?
BJ: We're lining up a European tour for Jan/Feb, possibly more touring in the spring/summer, and already talking about new songs for the next record. Hopefully the next installment of our Escapers series of EPs. And maybe, just maybe, some sleep.
11 / 20 – Lager House – Detroit
(photos: Francesca Tallone)