Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Interview: Robin Parrent (performing 2/27 - Painted Lady, Hamtramck)

An already-classic 'dialogue-with-music' inspired interview -

Robin Parrent is joined by Ferdy Mayne and Max Daley - 2/27 - Painted Lady

Photos: Elena Gonzales

Robin Parrent on myspace - facebook
"If you don't accept the hurt of the world then you can't feel and be human..." Robin Parrent is discussing the title of his most recent full-length album, "...s'the truth."

Beauty Damaged was released last year by the experimental rocker who blends anything from prog to spooked jazz to baroque pop to gutteral garage to new wave to psychedelia.

"I like how it suggests both beauty as a thing that's imperfect and how beauty hurts you."

Parrent split from the Catholic Church and eschewed music school; he picked up a guitar and started writing while he was at Western Michigan, breaking away from the world he knew as a teenager and turning the volume up on Stooges records to "piss off the other John-Q.-Bro-shits in my dorm."

He knew he wanted to write his own songs - and set to experimenting before it felt right. What it's come to be, lately, on tracks like "Whole from Hole" is a beautiful, shambolic, spilled-out psyche-folk thing; a dizzying detachment of jaggued surf-honked guitars bent with punk's destructiveness, teased and twanged with desert-scorched psychedelia; a rewardingly all-over-the-place-spook-pop.

DC Interview: Robin Parrent -

DC: Could you detail the start of your solo writing/ did you get into music and how'd you start forming the sound (and shifting backing band) that would eventually become...what it is we're hearing...

Robin Parrent: "I was excited and ecstatic when I left for (Western), splitting from everything I'd known up until that point. I still had that unaffected-invincible-teen kind of feeling, ya know? Then it wore-off; my best friend from childhood attempted suicide, failed and was shipped off to rehab in Montana. Made me realize how someone could be gone for the rest of your life and you wouldn't know it until after it was over; no preparation. I became nihilistic and hopeless. I lost sleep, had insane delusions and I constantly thought about death and suicide and hell.

One day during that time i went to FYE in Crossroads mall and bought the Dylan documentary Scorcese did, on a whim, not knowing that much about Dylan or songwriting or folk music. I live for intensity and strong bonds, and Dylan delivered. I had a jet fuel-napalm cocktail for my imagination to burn away the aforementioned unheimliche boo boo nasties. (Dylan) made me feel that I was okay in my skin, that my innocent vulternability, something that made me feel ill-equipped for life, was good.

I wanted to write songs. I didn't know what style. I just kept writing random things unti l I discovered more what felt right, what was me and what wasn't. Eventually I was playing folk-blues and ragtime on my guitar, channeling a more depressive/eccentric sound....despairing, melancholic melodies; departing from the playful party-time thing; more Skip James then, say, Howlin' Wolf. I played shows but most people didn't care. I took to yelling out words until my throat was almost ground beef.

The show with Greg Ashley's Medicine Fuck Dream was great though; that gave me much needed encouragement" (Particularly from Brian Glaze). The Revenants was my first backing band and it formed around Steve Cuff, who's been with me through it all."

The pair practiced with a temporary drummer and battled Parrent's landlord, until Matt Massuch from Crash City Saints helped out by putting a call out on his radio show to anyone interested in joining the Revenants. This lead to Brendan Graham and Matt Maier and the group congregated/rehearsed in a basement "that looked like a hiding space during the Holocaust." Graham's friend Katie van Maanen, with her "seraphic voice" added her vocals to the recording and voila.

: The backing band has always been in rotation - is that something that works for you? What's the story?

RP: "The rotating cast of band members is due to the lack of closeness and availability more than anything else. I gave each backing band (for ex. one short-lived, The Remnants) a different name to clarify different line ups, but then I gave that up because it started causing confusion for anyone trying to follow what I was doing. I think the chaos and inconsistency does a lot for the music that's produced. ...there's something great about surrendering to the process with people you trust.

DC: Can you detail the recording experience for Beauty Damaged...

RP: The album's cover art was done by Autumn Luciano. The recording was all DIY. I would've done it lo-fi but I couldn't afford it; it was much easier to borrow equipment and use a computer to record. Brendan recorded it and Jack Vertimiglia mixed it, both of whom put in long hours for no pay. They believed in what I was doing, and I'm inexpressibly grateful. Now, Steve's a non-muscian type; I used to give him guitar lessons, but we stopped that and I taught him how to play the drums so he could play in like a Jesus and Mary Chain/Peg/Meg/Dollrods style. When we recorded the album he was having a rough time recording his tracks and he would freak out after making a mistake; you could hear him cursing outside the house. I don’t know if I can write out all of his obscenities in this thing, but one of these days I’ll go back and look on Brendan’s hard drive for all of his tracks where he made mistakes, and make a Steve Cuff blooper reel.

Oh, and there was a lot of great wit concentrated in the room. Steve and Brendan are absolutely hilarious. I don’t remember specifically what was said during the recording process (and I don’t want to butcher it), but I do remember after one of our shows Brendan told Steve to make sure the minivan with all of our equipment was unloaded, and that he took all the proper precautions. Without pausing for a second, Steve responded, “Damn, because I was going to park the minivan on my front lawn with all the gear inside, open all the doors and windows, turn on the parking lights, and write on the hood with bar soap ‘free shit!’” When I had Fiona Dickinson record her cello parts, there was an interesting moment when I was encouraging her to make some free-cello noise: it had a playful innocent vibe, like, giving permission to do that sort of a thing. Like: “Oh, heh, I guess it is okay to do that.” It’s difficult to describe. Some people I’ve met through my time playing music would refuse to do that sort of a thing, feeling it was the equivalent of betraying priestly vows, or making a hardcore un-PC statement on national television, or something.

As for my take on (Beauty Damaged), a few things could’ve been done better in retrospect, but the title covers that angle. I think “the Ballad of Joseph Merrick” could’ve had some more variation, but I stand by the album. The lyrics are something that makes me proud. There’s nothing that feels better than surprising yourself in a positive way; forget the other petty things."

Influences for Parrent started with his dad's input of Eastern music, from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Nikhil Pandit Banerjee, and the sonorous santitiy of the church organ.

Eventually, "music was the only way out of what was unbearable. It was what I was good at."

He went the rock route in his early teens, from Rage to AC/DC, to Hendrix, Who and Alice in Chains. "I have this vivid memory of listening to 'Baba O' Riley' on the way to school in the spring. The violinist was really tearing the horsehair on his instrument, I felt like this mystical union with God or something; abstract pulsing aquamarines were rising in my mind and then the song ended as soon as I opened the door..."

Current influences include: Blind Willie Johnson, eyehategod, Scott Walker, The Gories, Love, Rev. Gary Davis, Big L, William Bolcom, the Smiths, John Fahey, Zola Jesus, Serge Gainbourg, Gary Wilson, and David Bixby, muscially, anyway. There's also Werner Herzog, David Foster Wallace, Henry Miller, Rimbaud, Anna Karina, William S. Burroughs and more, swimming around his young heart and mind.

"I like unique people with fortitude and vulnerability co-existing. I'm a firm believer in the life of a person being just as important as their work. The most formative experience on my music is something I find and lose all the time: Opening the heart, really connecting with myself. It's terrifying to have a direct connect to the tender side of yourself. Your heart becomes as sensitive as baby coral treambling near the water's surface....whenever I have that (feeling), I know what I'm doing is good."

The bad news for us is that this songwriter is strongly considering leaving Detroit. "I just know that after hearing about the death of Jay Reatard, I can't waste anymore time. I can't afford to slide back into the introspection tar pit. Hmm...I'd like to fall in love, continue making music, write a book, and have some more exciting experiences. That's all I know for sure right now."

No comments: