Throughout the past year, I’ve written a couple of posts featuring the Portland, OR-based indie folk/psych rock/indie rock act The Parson Red Heads, and as you may recall the band, currently comprised of husband and wife duo Evan Way and Brette Marie Way, along with Sam Fowles, Robbie Auspurger and a rotating cast of collaborators and friends can trace their origins to when its 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.” “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,” Way recalls. “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.”
The following year, the band’s founding members relocated to Los Angeles, where they hoped that they would take music much more seriously and become a real band, with the members of the band eventually moving into and sharing a 1 bedroom apartment in West Lost Angeles. “Eventually the population of our 1 bedroom ballooned to 7 — all folks who played in our band at that point, too,” Way says. And while in Los Angeles, the members of the band quickly became stalwarts of a growing 60s-inspired folk and psych folk scene based primarily in the artsy Silverlake and Echo Park sections of town. “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,” Way reminisces.
After the release of King Giraffe
, the band spent the next three years writing, and touring, and during that three year period they released an EP and their sophomore effort Yearling
, which was partially recorded at Red Rockets Glare
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. Once they had finished the album, the members of the band decided to quit their day jobs and their apartments and go on a lengthy tour with their friends in Cotton Jones before relocating to Portland. Interestingly around the same time, The Parson Red Heads had developed a reputation for an uninhibited live show, as they could easily morph from earnest rock to ass-kicking rock mode, which shouldn’t be terribly surprising as the band cites The Byrds
, Teenage Fanclub
, Big Star
, Crosby, Nash, Stills and Young
and Jackson Browne
as major influences on their sound. Unsurprisingly, with their third full-length album Orb Weaver
, the band actively wanted to capture the energy and sound. “We’re 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 Parson Red Heads’ fourth album was released earlier this year through renowned Portland-based label Fluff and Gravy,
and as Way explained, the band intended to do things differently than they did before — with the band recording and tracking themselves, frequently setting up drums and amps, and furiously recording after everyone had put their kids to sleep, and trying to finish that day’s sessions 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.”
December 8, 2017 will mark the release of the Expanded Edition of Blurred Harmony
and it’ll feature two bonus tracks, which were originally recorded during the initial recording sessions and didn’t make the final cut, and as you know from a previous post, one of those cut singles was “TV Surprise
,” a single that the band’s Way explains has been around for about a decade or so, and didn’t make the cut because lyrically, the band felt it was too abstract; however, the song manages to capture a band exploring a theme from a slightly different angle and managing to get a similar yet distinctly different result.
Interestingly, Blurred Harmony‘s second bonus single “It’s Hard For Me To Say” was originally recorded in December 2015 for inclusion on You Are The Cosmos‘ 12 string guitar compilation, Twelve String Harmony and as the story goes, the band had the finished track sitting in the can for a while, when they began working on their latest album. And as they began work on the album, they felt that they could re-record the song in a way that would fit better with the overall feel of the album. As Way recalls “It ended up not making the final cut — who knows, maybe it’s because we were already too familiar with it, maybe the extra months of the song’s recorded existence made it feel less fresh to our ears. But we really love this version — the rhythm section is tighter and more driving, the tambourine and Conrad 12-string electric channels the Byrds through a warped sense, and the three years of acoustic guitar shimmering just right. Plus, Raymond added some gorgeous pedal steel, and our friend Michael Blake added a wall of mellotron and Wurlitzer.” Much like the previous bonus single, sonically speaking the song feels as though it was the best suited of the two to actually seamlessly fit on to the original album. And naturally, its inclusion as a bonus track on the expanded edition should be a reminder that song selection and as song sequencing for an album is frequently an inexact and uncertain art while revealing the various editorial decisions a band has to make upon completion of an album.
Much like the previously released singles I’ve written about, “It’s Hard For Me To Say” manages to balance earnest and personal lyrics with a deliberate attention to craftsmanship in a way that contemporary indie rock — or hell, contemporary music general doesn’t seem to have these days, and as a result, the song seems charmingly anachronistic.