Mar 21, 2017
On Their Debut Full Length, Parlor Walls Wants to Capture the Point of Collapse
When Parlor Walls started as a duo, their appetite for experimentalism was there, but it was their aggression that steered their songs. On their 2014 EP Suspenseful Music tracks barreled ahead with pummeling drums and a crunchy guitar. Approximately one year later they released another EP (Cut) showcasing a new range of textures, and much more restrained composure. The songs unfold in layers, and silence is introduced as a tool to push and pull the songs. New member and saxophonist Kate Mohanty’s versatility shines as she jumps from rhythm to melody to frantic somersaulting. In their debut full length, Opposites, on Northern Spy Records, their original aggression returns, but with an exacting patience. Alyse explains,”We wanted to create opposing sounds, occupying each end of the spectrum, and make them coexist together.”
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What was the genesis of Parlor Walls?
Chris: I was in a band called Shark. I played guitar in that band, and Alyse was in Eula, and that’s how we met. Both of our bands used to play together a lot. We were both in rock bands and we wanted to do something a little different because we both love noisey music and electronic stuff. We wanted to play more aggressive music but also more minimal. We were a duo for the first year.
Alyse: We were playing loud, fast, and getting a lot of aggression out. Then it moulded into about five or six songs and we recorded an EP called Suspenseful Music. [Laughs]. It’s supposed to be funny. Then we met Kate. We saw a solo saxophone set of hers and really dug it a lot. At first she just played on a few of our songs live. A lot of improv. We did the EP Cut in 2015, and she’s on that. And the new one, Opposites, she’s on that, too. Our goal is to have a collaboration with other musicians coming and going. Exploring different sounds and themes.
Chris: There might not always be saxophones. There might be other people. You might be on the next album [Laughs].
Did you change or adapt any of your parts to make room for Kate’s saxophone in the songs?
Chris: “Cover Me” is a good example of a song that was given more space to showcase her personality. I think it’s more noticeable live than on the record.
Alyse: We give each other lots of space during our live shows. We’ll extend parts to allow for more improvisation, or one of us will drop out completely to let another one flourish.
We’ll extend parts to allow
for more improvisation,
or one of us will drop out completely
to let another one flourish.
You talk about wanting to start this band to play more aggressive music. I don’t think of Eula as a soft band at all. What do you think the main differences are?
Alyse: Parlor Walls is a collaboration between Chris and I, we write the music as a unit. EULA’s music came from a singular place.
Chris: I certainly felt pressure when we started to not let people down who were already fans of EULA. So I wanted things to be even heavier and faster, but later realized that’s not really what this is about. It was a good crutch to lean on while we figured out who we were. I think some main differences are that we give songs a little more space. EULA was a relentless punch to the face, which was exhilarating. Now we are trying to convey that same feeling in the quiet space between the chaos.
Your songs have gotten a lot stranger and experimental as the project has gone on. I remember seeing you guys years ago.
Alyse: It’s fun to work out parts, textures, and how a song changes. There’s two songs on the new album that were the first two songs we ever wrote. They’ve changed so much from our first inception, it’s so funny. We knew they weren’t the best they could be. So we wrote them over three years. Sometimes songs take that long to develop. Sometimes songs just come out. Like Opposites came out in a day. That came fully formed. Like having a baby, woosh! And “Birthday” it took three years to get it to where we really liked it.
Sometimes it takes a day to write a song, or even a few hours, in the case of “Play Opposites” (Track 3 on the record). But sometimes it takes a lot longer for a vision to come to fruition. These three songs evolved so much over the course of two years that we wanted to capture their final form.
When you started recording did you have all the songs finished?
Chris: We had five of them written and ready to record. Northern Spy asked us to come and demo our songs at their studio. We really liked how they sounded, so they asked if we wanted to record more, so we wrote the second half of the album after that.
Alyse: Early summer of 2016. Over a summer. We had most of the songs written. “Car Stairs” has improved at the studio. We still haven’t heard it actually. We wanted a surprise for ourselves. We listened to it once during playback.
Chris, you play drums and keyboards at the same time in the band. Isn’t that hard?
Chris: Yeah. [laughs]
Alyse: Some songs it took you a good amount of time for you to lock in. Now it’s just like boom.
Chris: Yeah once you do it so many times, both parts become one part and it becomes harder to separate them. When we went to the studio we were thinking maybe we would do them separate, but I tried it a little, and I was like this is actually harder.
Alyse: Yeah, I can keep a beat, but I can’t do poly rhythms at all. There’s a little flair you have with that, I can’t do that.
Chris: We like not having a bass player because we have to work harder. It takes more focus to make the songs work. It really pushes us outside our comfort zone.
Alyse: We do love low-end. He’s got his Korg going through a really gnarly Death by Audio pedal to give it that heavy deep bass.
At its core, “Birthday”
is about loving yourself
unconditionally… and how hard
that can be sometimes.
The song “Birthday” really stays with me. Can you give us any background to where that song came from?
Chris: This is one of the first songs we wrote. We repeated that odd beat forever in our practice space as an exercise to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. For me personally it came from a place of frustration. I was stuck in a creative rut where my mind would default to rehashing the same ideas over and over. This 5/4 rhythmic part was a desperate attempt to cut through that. Alyse did a beautiful job of balancing that aggressive noise. The melodic intro is my favorite thing she’s written.
Alyse: At its core, “Birthday” is about loving yourself unconditionally… and how hard that can be sometimes. The idea of “perfection” is so fucked… what does “Perfect” even mean anyways? I say just own that shit. The music supporting this core went through many changes and slowly evolved into how it sounds on Opposites.
The album is called Opposites. What do you think are the highest points of contrast on the album?
Chris: The bridge in “Crime Engine Failure” is a short passage that I think encapsulates the theme perfectly. It has dissonance battling melody, pretty chords getting drowned in claustrophobia.
Alyse: The push/pull of opposition was our inspiration for this album. We wanted to create opposing sounds, occupying each end of the spectrum, and make them coexist together. We love pushing dissonance as far as it can go into the land of harmony… and capturing the point of collapse. My lyrics are about this, too—a lot of fighting, a lot of opposition. It’s reflective of the current climate we live in.
We love pushing dissonance
as far as it can go into
the land of harmony… and capturing
the point of collapse.
Are you working on projects outside of this band?
Alyse: I would say Eula is lying dormant right now. It’s a path I’m not on right now. Eula, we’ll see.
Chris: I play in a band with him called Sodium Beast. I play guitar in that. Kevin and Nick. We are recording tomorrow at silent barn. It’s kind of aggressive, kind of like Shellac a little bit. I try to play abrasive guitar. It’s mainly drums and bass and I’ll try to do one rhythmic idea and do that for the entire song. It always sounds like so many bands are in each other’s way all the time. Haha. I’ve definitely been guilty of that in the past, and I feel like now I’m just understanding. Oh, let everyone have equal space. It’s ok to get really quiet at time and hear all the instruments.
Did you ever have trouble deciding if a song should be for Eula or Parlor Walls?
Alyse: No, the two projects occupy different areas of my brain. EULA is a direct stream of inspiration onto a 4-track, while Parlor Walls theorizes and massages into collaboration. EULA is a warm pink while Parlor Walls is a deep crimson.
What was your first instrument? I’m always curious how people find their way into music.
Alyse: My first instrument was piano was I was really little, 7 or 8. I took lessons for a couple of years but i didn’t like practicing, so. I went on to clarinet, and then saxophone. Then I played guitar at 12. I loved rock music and I really loved PJ Harvey. I saw her on MTV, the music video for rid of me where she is on her undies and she is on the chair. I don’t know what happened in my brain, but Holy Shit! I was like I’m doing this. It just hit me so hard. I saw her and I was like, I can do that. So I got an electric guitar. I didn’t really learn other people’s songs. I was more into working out sounds and noises of my own. I took lessons for a couple of years with an instructor, but since I was left handed he had trouble with the tabs.
Chris: I started playing drums in college also guitar. My friend would show me scales, and be like now you can play this grateful dead song. I never had any real lessons.
If the opportunity arose, would you guys want to do music full time?
Chris: Yeah, making albums is so fun. Even if we do other things in between. It’s exciting to always know, you get to make another album. Regardless if you are on a label or anything.
Alyse: I would love to get on a schedule of write an album, tour a shit load, write songs while you are touring, record, put out an album, tour, tour, tour. I love that. It’s so dreamy to me. I want to do it, and I’m going to do it.
Photos by Walter Wlodarczyk THE BOSS
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