Part of Jun 2011 by

Interview with Evan Way of The Parson Red Heads

AdobeAirstream caught up with The Parsons’ singer-songwriter Evan Way as the band made their way across the U.S. The Parson Red Heads—an essentially four-person band from Portland, Oregon—stopped off in Austin to play Stubbs Jr last Saturday, June 25th, with Alela Diane & the Wild Divine. Photo: Angela Joy Dietz

(photo credit, above: Angela Joy Dietz)

For the recording of their upcoming album Yearling (due out on Arena Rock Recording Company on August 16th), The Parsons teamed up with producer extraordinaire Mitch Easter and Chris Stamey (founding member of the The dBs). Stamey was originally brought on board to mix Yearling, but as Way tells it, “then he heard a few other demos we had been working on, and offered to have us out to North Carolina to record them. So we ended up going out there and recording five songs in three days! [Stamey] worked really really hard on this album, and put a ton of hours into mixing. I think one of the most important things he contributed was in the songwriting, for sure. He really helped us take the songs to the next level, just by suggesting some very minor arrangement tweaks and offering other various ideas. He really helped us shape the feel of this record in a big way.” Easter — Stamey’s friend since childhood — was hanging around the studio during the recording sessions and started helping out. As Way explains, “[Easter] ended up pitching in and playing guitar and 12-string bass on a few tunes, which was really exciting! [Stamey and Easter] are such great contributions to the album as a whole.”

Music critics are really quick to turn to comparisons to bands from the 1960s and 1970s when describing The Parsons’ sound. Way thinks that the Parsons “totally have that vibe, although I don’t think we are nearly that ‘throwback’. I really think it is more of a songwriting style, approach, and a vibe thing, more than it is the actual sound of the band, that gets us those comparisons. We often get compared to The Byrds and they are definitely one of my favorite bands. I don’t necessarily hear a similarity in the songs, but I hear a similarity in the approach — the harmonies, the jangly guitars, etc. We’re influenced by so many different things, ranging from The Byrds to Fleetwood Mac to Fairport Convention. We never take something directly from a band, like, steal a guitar line or anything like that; but we’ve definitely taken cues and influences from the bands we love, and have hopefully been able to form them into something uniquely Parsons.”

With their deliberate nods to rock music history, the conversation then turned to in which decade The Parsons would fit best. Way says, “each decade has its advantages — even the 1980s! The 1980s was a great decade for real pop songwriting, and I would have loved to be around that. And of course, the 1960s and 1970s were amazing times for music, as well, and I think we would have thrived in that environment. But that being said, I don’t know if I can confidently say that we choose X or Y for a decade of music history to exist in. I’m pretty excited to be playing in the current decade, being surrounded by the bands that we are, and being able to play music and share the stage with so many amazing artists. I think there are really great things happening in music right now, and people are really opening their eyes to alternatives to what is on top 40 radio. Its nice to see that change, to see bands like Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, Blitzen Trapper, Dawes, and so many others, all have great success — it’s pretty exciting!”

The Parsons have a history of performing collaboratively with large pools of musicians on stage, but Way says that the current tour features “a more scaled down [show] than the big band we sometimes have when we play local shows — when we play shows at home, we often have as many as 8 or 9 members on stage (keyboard players, pedal steel players, harmony singers, and the list goes on…). But we have paired down the touring version of the band to just four: two guitars, bass, and drums. This is essentially the “core” group of the band: Charlie Hester, Sam Fowles, Brette Marie, and me. We are the ones who do all the song arranging and writing, all the rehearsals, all the recording. The extra members who join us for shows at home are just a sort of rotating cast of friends, who play when they are available.”

Way reports that the Parsons are “playing quite a few songs from [Yearling] this tour, averaging 5 – 6 songs a night from the album. We’ve been working on the record for a long time, so it is really exciting to finally be able to get out on the road and perform these songs for people. The response has been really great, seems like the audiences are really digging everything. On this tour we’re getting to play to a lot of people who haven’t really heard us before, so I feel like we’re really able to show them all sides of us at once — the stuff from the older records, the newer stuff, and everything in between.”

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  1. Please credit the first photograph to “Angela Joy Dietz”. Thanks.