12 December 2008

10 Questions WIth...Matthew Parmenter

Matthew Parmenter is perhaps best known for his two albums with Michigan-based prog band discipline. I admit, I bought a copy of their classic Unfolded Like Staircase because the band's name reminded me of King Crimson. While I certainly didn't get a band that sounded like King Crimson, I did discover a band that hit me on a deep emotional level. Parmenter's poetic lyrics, combined with a dark and edgy symphonic musical backing, help to create a band that grows as much from bands like Van der Graaf Generator and Anekdoten as it does from Yes and so on.

discipline. went silent around 2000, with sparse solo performanced by Parmenter. in 2004, his debut solo release, astray, came out, showing that the passing of years did nothing to dull his incisive writing and arranging skills. For me, it was one of 2004's albums of the year. 2005 saw him re-release a DVD of discipline. live in concert, originally released almost a decade earlier, followed by his second solo album, Horror Express, released this year.

But for many people, the Parmenter highlight this year was the reunion of the band to play a few select shows, including a showcase at NEARfest. For me, this show was one of my Holy Grail moments in music...I never thought I'd see the band play live, and there they were before me playing a selection of material from Push and Profit, Unfolded like Staircase, and...gasp...a new song.

There's a new discipline. album in the works, and now seems like a perfect time to talk with Matthew about everything happening in his musical life.

1) Were you surprised by the reaction discipline. got at NEARfest?

We all felt a little rusty during the set. There were no train wrecks, but none of us expected the positive reaction. I guess the songs were emotionally present even if they had spots technically.

It was strange to see a line of people to greet us afterwards. That just isn't our world. On the other hand, Nearfest is not your typical rock audience either. We were fortunate to be invited.

2) How would you compare the material you've put on your two solo releases to that for discipline.?

One never stops learning. It is impossible to stand still. Even the Discipline releases evolved.

A part of me rejects each release by the time it is finished. I experience a mixture of relief and fatigue. This might be why the albums sound different from one another. The differences probably have more to do with recording production than with the songs on them.

Every release feels like a reaction to the previous. You have to finish the process when you're recording; you have to wrap it up. But I always look ahead to what what could be done better on the next project.

At the same time, your taste and personal judgment change, often by way of the recording process. This leads to new expectations in future writing or recordings. And oftentimes old preoccupations lose significance and just fall away. It is like aging.

The improvisational music on Astray was in part a reaction to the rigid compositional style on Unfolded Like Staircase. I remember getting frustrated listening to Unfolded in that it very nearly never settles down. It is constantly changing and constantly demanding. It takes stamina to play and to listen. Astray purposefully defied this approach in favor of home bases and open spaces for improvised spontaneity.

The dynamics and fluid tempos on Horror Express were in contrast to Astray. On Astray I used a click track during the recording. I thought a reliable metronome would help with the guitar and drum overdubs. But the metronome locked the songs into a safety where they breathed less and became, in fact, harder to play along with.

Horror Express abandoned metronomes, except for the techno sounding songs. The songs flow more naturally, and it became easier to follow along and multi-track drums and other instruments.

If Discipline music is more immediate and forceful, perhaps the solo albums have more delicacy. They may require more investment from the listener because they are less precise. Some listeners might reject them for this reason.

I am sounding like a music critic, so I'd better stop.

3) Do you write a piece and feel "This is more suited for discipline., this one is more suited for a solo album?"

Sometimes. Most often I am just writing to get the song out. A lot of the older songs were written with the band in mind. When the band stopped working in 2000, it took me some time to stop writing for that lineup. Since 1984 when I first met Jon Bouda in high school, I'd imagined the guitar solos as his parts to play. It was not easy to move on and find another space for myself.

4) Horror Express seems a more diverse album than Astray was. Was this intentional, or just a natural evolution?

It is hard for me to see the albums as more or less diverse. The approaches in style and production on each feel cohesive to my ears. Horror Express has some instrumental tracks. This gives it some variety.

5) Were there specific influences you tried to draw from for the material on Horror Express?

I consciously channeled Akira Ifukube when writing the tracks O Cesare and Kaiju. Kaiju was written while I was fiddling around on the violin (no pun). It uses simple parallel chords to get to a somber, mournful place. O Cesare uses a descending chromatic bass line against a dissonant, strident melody. Both these approaches I heard in numerous Toho monster movies as a kid. Later I learned that these movie scores were written by Ifukube. The music of these films influenced me musically and I wanted to recognize this somehow on Horror Express.

It may sound silly. Youthfulness, or a refusal to deny the child, is a part of Horror Express. It is central also to me as a writer. I accept this and keep on writing.

6) discipline. and echolyn have shared the stage many times in the past. What was it like playing with them again at NEARfest?

It is always great playing with Echolyn. They were fantastic at Nearfest, too. We hung out in the wings during their set which was really fun.

7) What musicians or bands have influenced you the most over your career in music?

Surely the music of the Beatles is up there. At an early age I heard art rock through my oldest brother; my first rock album was Free Hand by Gentle Giant. I got to see Genesis in concert as a kid. At home I heard mostly classical music from my parents. Growing up in the 1970s, I was influenced by many mainstream recordings of the day (Manilow, Elton John). As an older listener I spent many hours with recordings by Bartok and Stravinsky. I like Randy Newman's music from the 1970s. Peter Hammill is great and I am glad I was introduced to his recordings.

Basically I am a pop songwriter, but it always goes a little wrong or gets a little broken. I gather that my songs make people uncomfortable. To me it's all just melody, silence, and groove.

8) What can fans of your solo work and your work with discipline expect
in the future?

More recordings and few if any shows.

9) Are there any future live dates coming up for you or the band?

I may be in Montreal in May as a solo guy.

10) Do you have any final words for our readers?

Thank you for listening over the years.

Links of Note:

Strung Out Records.
Matthew Parmenter MySpace
discipline MySpace
MP/discipline discussion group Into The Dream

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