Over the past three or four years or so, I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of ink covering the Portland, OR-based JOVM mainstays The Parson Red Heads. The act — currently Evan Way (guitar, vocals), Brette Marie Way (drums, vocals), Robbie Augspurger (bass), Raymond Richards (multi-instrumentalist, production), the band’s newest member Jake Smith (guitar) and a rotating cast of friends, collaborators and associates — can trace their origins back to when its founding members met while attending college in Eugene OR back in 2004, studying for degrees that as the band’s Evan Way once joked “never used or even completed.”
Now, as you may recall, 2017’s Blurred Harmony found the JOVM mainstays actively intending to do things much differential than their previously released work — with the band recording and tracking themselves. They would set up drums and amps and furiously record Blurred Harmony‘s material after everyone put their kids to sleep, finishing that day’s session before it got too late. And as a result, Way says “the record is more a true part of us than any record we have made before — we put ourselves into it, made ourselves fully responsible for it. Even the themes of the songs are more personal than ever — it’s an album dealing with everything that has come before. It’s an album about nostalgia, about time, change, about the hilarious, wonderful, bittersweet, sometimes sad, always incredible experience of living. Sometimes it is about regret or the possibility of regret. These are big topics, and to us, it is a big album, yet somehow still intimate and honest.”
After the release of Blurred Harmony, the band’s founding member Sam Fowles left the band, and the members of the band were forced to ask themselves tough questions about both the future of the band and its creative direction. The remaining founding members recruited touring guitarist Jake Smith to join the band full-time, and then they decided to approach any new material with a completely new lens. The end result turned out to be the band’s fifth album, Lifetime of Comedy.
Slated for a November 13, 2020 release through their longtime label homes Fluff and Gravy Records across North America and You Are The Cosmos across Europe, The Parson Red Heads’ fifth album reportedly finds the band excavating the bedrock of their well-honed sound and allowing it to be remolded. While remaining a quintessentially Parson Red Heads album, the material as Way contends in press notes are the most collaborative they’ve written and recorded to date.
Initially starting the recording of Lifetime of Comedy earlier this year, The Parson Red Heads, like countless acts across the globe, quickly found themselves and their plans in limbo as a result of pandemic-related lockdowns and quarantines. And once studios could reopen, sessions continued at a snail’s place for small, very intimate sessions. With the material being recorded in a delicate, touch and go period, the album’s material seems to be deeply informed by a sense of perseverance and hope. Two things, which we need so much more of in our bleak and uncertain age.
So far I’ve written about two of the album’s previously released singles:
- “All I Wanted,” a classic Parson Red Heads song that superficially sounded as though it could have been part of the Blurred Harmony sessions but with a subtly free-flowing, jammier vibe that evoked the sensation of longtime friends creating something new with a revitalized sense of togetherness centered around incredibly earnest lyricism, born from lived-in experience.
- “Turn Around” is a heartfelt deflation of devotion seemingly influenced by 80s and early 90s jangle pop that’s simple yet absolutely necessary. After all, sometimes all that ever needs to be said to our loved ones is “I’ll be always there.”
“Coming Along,” Lifetime of Comedy‘s third and latest single continues an incredible run of anthemic material centered around the sort of introspective songwriting that can only come from living a full and messy life. And as a result, there’s an accumulation of weariness and regret mixed with resiliency, wisdom and hope that feels intimately familiar and necessary. Personally, much of their material has felt as though it speaks to me about my life, and the things I know and have felt with the exact words I would have said if I could put it all on paper. But at its core, the song has a road trip playlist friendliness paired with a lush yet unfussy arrangement and production.
“’Coming Along’ resulted from countless rehearsals, just spending lots of time playing it through, finding the arrangement that felt right, where each little piece fit,” The Parson Red Heads’ Evan Way explains inn press notes. “It’s a really fun song, because over the course of its 5 minutes, it manages to feature each member of the band in really great ways: the engine of the song, Brette and Robbie holding down the driving underpinning that bookends the song; Jake’s beautiful and melodic electric guitar skipping over the top of the driving groove; Raymond’s counterpoint pedal steel swells and Farfisa instrumental breakdown; my gritty guitar solo that comes in towards the end before handing things back off to the power of the full band; and the signature lush vocal harmonies filling out the verses.”