New Audio: The Cosmic and Jangling Psych Folk of Portland’s The Parson Red Heads

Currently comprised of Evan Way, Brette Marie Way, Sam Fowles and Robbie Auspurger along with a rotating cast of collaborators and friends, the Portland, OR-based indie folk/psych rock/indie rock act The Parson Red Heads can trace their origins to when its founding core members met in Eugene OR in 2004, where they all were attending college and studying for degrees that as the band’s frontman Evan Way jokes in the band’s official bio “never used or even completed.” As Way recalls “we would rehearse in the living room of my house for hours and hours until my roommates would be driven crazy — writing songs and playing them over and over again, and generally having as much fun as a group of people can have. We weren’t sure if we were very good, but we were sure that there was a special bond growing between us, a chemistry that you didn’t find often.”
So in 2005, the founding members of the band relocated to Los Angeles, where they hoped that they would take music much more seriously and become a real band, eventually moving into a 1 bedroom apartment in West Los Angeles. “Eventually the population of our 1 bedroom ballooned to 7 — all folks who played in our band at that point, too,” Way explains. But while in Los Angeles, the members of The Parson Red Heads became stalwarts of a growing 60s-inspired folk and psych folk scene based primarily in the Silverlake and Echo Park sections. “We played every show we could lay our collective hands on, which turned out to be a lot of shows. We must have played 300+ shows in our first two years in L.A.  . . . . We practiced non-stop and wrote a ton of songs, and eventually recorded our debut album King Giraffe at a nice little studio in Sunland, with the help of our friends Zack and Jason.
After 3 more years of writing, recording and touring, which resulted in an EP and their sophomore full-length Yearling, which was partially recorded at Red Rockets Glare Studio with Raymond Richards, who had then joined the band to play pedal steel and in North Carolina at Fidelitorium with The dB’s Chris Stamey, the members of the band decided to quit their jobs and their apartments and go on a lengthy tour with their friends in Cotton Jones before relocating to Portland.  But whether they were in Los Angeles or Portland, the band had developed a reputation for an uninhibited live act, with a folk sound that can easily go into rock mode — and in some way, it shouldn’t be surprising that the band’s influences include The Byrds, Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, Crosby, Nash, Stills and Young, Jackson Browne and others. In fact, with the band’s third full-length album Orb Weaver, the band wanted to capture their live, rock-leaning sound on wax. “We’ve always made records that were more thought-out,” says Way. “When we play live, we play more like a rock band. We wanted to show that more aggressive side of us, the more rock-oriented side.”
The psych folk/indie folk/indie rock act’s fourth full-length effort Blurred Harmony derives its name from a Donald Justice poem, and is slated for release next week through Portland-based label Fluff and Gravy Records here in the States, the home of JOVM mainstay Drunken Prayer, acclaimed singer/songwriter Fernando and Richmond Fontaine. And as Way explains, the band intended to do things differently — with the band recording and tracking themselves, setting up drums and amps and furiously recording after everyone had put their kids to sleep and trying to finish before it got too late. He goes on to say that “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.” And as you’ll hear on Blurred Harmonys latest, jangling and anthemic single “Coming Down,” the wisdom of someone, who’s lived a full, messy life and recognizing that experiencing everything life has to offer is part of the purpose and forms who you are and who you’ll be, but with a sense of awe, joy and gratitude. “I’m alive, I’m okay and those who I cherish and love are alive and okay, and that’s really all that maters,” the song seems to say. But thanks to its jaunty and infectiously upbeat feel, the song also evokes the experiences of being on the road, of seeing things you’d never seen before, of meeting people you’d never met before, of strange languages you can barely pronounce, of an aching loneliness — and it all further cementing yourself and your place in the scheme of things.