We’ve all heard it said: “Just write about what you know”. If there is one thing I know about, it’s my band of 13 years, The Parson Red Heads - this is about as accurate of a nutshell version of our whirlwind history as you’ll ever see.
We formed in 2004 in Eugene, OR, while we were all attending college for various degrees we never used or even completed. We would rehearse in the living room of my house for hours until my roommates would be driven crazy - writing songs together and playing them over and over again, and generally having about 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.
In 2005 we decided to move the whole band to Los Angeles, in an attempt to take music more seriously and learn how to be a “real” band. We were all really young and all pretty dumb. We caravanned down the I-5 in small cars filled with our junk. Brette’s car broke down before reaching the Grape Vine, and we had to leave it there for awhile in a town called Buttonwillow. All 4 of us moved into a 1 bedroom apartment in West LA directly beneath where the 10 and 405 freeways cross - it sounded like the ocean roaring, constantly. Eventually the population of our 1 bedroom apartment ballooned to 7 - all folks who played in our band at that point, too. Like I said, we were all young, and we were all pretty dumb. But also like I said, we were having about as much fun as a group of people can have.
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 LA. We found ourselves to be part of a special and beautiful music scene just blossoming around Silverlake and Echo Park, and we played our hearts out. 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 Zach and Jason (Jason now records huge orchestras in beautiful studios in fantastic places like London – well done, Jason!). As a band, we didn’t know what we were doing in the studio, but somehow it turned out good in spite of us. Sometimes good songs can transcend a lack of basic-studio-knowledge, and even a lack of basic-instrument-skills.
After 3 more years of playing, writing, touring, recording and releasing an EP, working, and generally surviving, we began writing and recording our sophomore full length entitled Yearling. We were going to call it Salmon Valley Rose, but Brette thought the name sounded smelly so we dropped it (probably a good call). We recorded half of it at Red Rockets Glare studio with the masteful Raymond Richards, who had then joined our band playing pedal steel (and continues to play with us still). The other half was recorded in North Carolina with one of our heroes, Chris Stamey of The dB’s, at Mitch Easter’s studio called Fidelitorium. Partway through mixing that album, we decided to quit our jobs, quit our apartments, go on tour with our best friends who were in a band called Cotton Jones (a great band), and then relocate to Portland. LA had been good to us, some of our dearest friends in the world were (and still are) there, but it was time for something different. We’d felt we had, in a way, reached a ceiling in that city that we were having a hard time cracking, and on top of that - it was just time for a place with a slower pace, as they say.
In Portland we released Yearling, settled down a bit. Brette (our drummer and harmony singer) and I had been married at that point for 4 years or so. After another big round of touring behind the album, we began working on our 3rd record, Orb Weaver. Brette was pregnant with our first son by then – taking regular breaks from tracking drums to run to the bathroom and throw up (good memories). We were recording at a beautiful Portland studio called Type Foundry, working with Scott McCaughey (of The Minus 5, REM, and Young Fresh Fellows, among others) and Adam Selzer (of Norfolk & Western and The Alialujah Choir). It was a wonderful experience, tracking everything live together, trying our best to capture the live dynamic we’d honed over the course of nearly a decade of playing together. Our son George was born, and two months later we released the album and began another season touring – we toured in an old Ford motorhome, bringing along our 8 week old and a nanny. Like I said before, we were all young and all a little dumb. But we were having about as much fun as a group of people could have.
It’s been 3 ½ years since the release of that record. Brette and I have had 2 more kids since then – being in a band has taken a new form, now that we are truly a “family band”. But the Parsons can’t just stop playing, can’t stop making records and singing our songs for people. I don’t think we could stop if we wanted to! It’s too much a part of who we are. We decided to make our newest album, titled Blurred Harmony (a name inspired by a Donald Justice poem), a little differently - if we were going to make it happen and do it well, we were going to have to track it ourselves. Sam, our lead guitarist and oft-songwriter, had built up a home studio at this point, so we went to work. We would set up drums and amps in our den after putting the boys to sleep, furiously tracking before it got too late to continue. Sam and I would hole up in his basement for hours laying down guitar part after guitar part, vocal tracks and harmonies, tambourines and shakers. This 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.
Blurred Harmony is musically diverse – it is a distillation of the sounds and styles that we as a band love. It is the overdriven jangle of Teenage Fanclub and Big Star power-pop, the skewed psychedelics of the Paisley Underground, the bittersweet energy of New Zealand’s “Dunedin Sound” movement, and the muted twang of Cosmic Americana, all crammed into 44 minutes. It is an album that displays what we’ve learned and internalized over the past 13 years as an active band, constantly growing, shifting, and evolving. It is an album that isn’t just about our past, looking back over our lives, relationships, and experiences: it is an album driven and created by all of those relationships, those experiences, and it wouldn’t exist without them.
We are excited and honored to share this album with anyone who cares to listen, and hope that it becomes, as Donald Justice so beautifully put in his poem Nostalgia of the Lakefronts, a “world to run to from the world”. Because that is what the best music is supposed to become – a place sometimes of comfort, sometimes of escape, sometimes a unique world unto its own, or at the very least a soundtrack that transforms the one we’re in for a time.- Evan Way