It should be made an official rule: If you have never heard of (or even heard) The Parson Red Heads, you cannot consider yourself a fan of the local Los Angeles music scene. I’d even wager that 75% of the people living in the Silverlake, Los Feliz, and Echo Park know one of the past or present members personally. Of course, considering that at any one time they could have as many as 15 members on stage (though there are 6 core members of the group), that’s not as great of a feat. And with that many members, chances are even if you haven’t seen The Parson Red Heads as a whole, you will definitely have seen a past or present Parson out and about performing at different times with other LA bands like The World Record, The Idaho Falls, The Ghost Kings, Hungry Birds and up in Portland, Houndstooth, Old Light and Denver. They’ve even got a new side project, Dome, kicking into gear soon, which I’m told “will be heavy”…but I digress.
Set up on local label, JAXART Records, The Parson Red Heads were an East LA mainstay until frontman, Evan Way, and his wife, Brette Marie, moved up north to Portland, Oregon a few months ago. The band may now smaller in size, but it’s still going strong. I’ve been in touch with Evan for a couple years now, using songs by The Parson Red Heads in both films I’ve music supervised up to this point, and at long last finally got him to put together a mixtape for TA. He brings us his mixtape, “The 1980’s You Can Feel Okay Telling Your Friends That You Like…” determined to showcase an oft ignored side of the decade responsible for most of the cheesiest pop music we know and love today. Oh, and and some deets on The Parson Red Heads’ next album…
The 1980’s You Can Feel Okay Telling Your Friends That You Like…
dB’s “Black and White”
The Church “Almost With You”
Rain Parade “What’s She Done to Your Mind”
The Feelies “It’s Only Life”
The Blue Nile “Easter Parade”
The Verlaines “Makes No Difference”
R.E.M. “Sitting Still”
The Long Ryders “Lights Of Downtown”
The Dream Syndicate “The Best Years Of My Life”
The Pastels “Nothing To Be Done”
The Bats “Miss These Things”
Galaxie 500 “Snowstorm”
The Blue Nile “Stay”
TA: So, what’s so special about the 1980’s?
EW: I feel like the 80’s were a time of great experimentation, yet experimentation that stayed a bit more concentrated on actual “pop” music. There has been plenty of experimentation in eras, to be sure. But I feel like experimentation in the past 15 – 20 years, for example, has gone to a point where it is far more about the experiment itself than about combining the experiment with a good song. This, in turn, has created some very unlistenable music, in my opinion. In the 80s, artists were dealing with this huge influx of new technology, both in instruments and recording techniques. A lot of artists failed, because they maybe lost sight of what they really wanted to do SONGWISE, instead focusing on the sounds and synths and all that. But I feel like just as many artists flourished – there was so much creative energy. Even the bands who were mining influences from the 60’s / 70’s (and many of the artists on this mix were doing that) were infusing the material with a very new sound, a really new and energized approach. In a nutshell, it was an era of great songwriters. I feel like that gets forgotten because of how many artists were “ruined” by the 80’s. But I would argue that the 80’s had as many good songwriters at their peak than the 60’s did.
TA: How old were you when these songs came out?
EW: I was born at the very end of 1983 … so for the most part, I was essentially between 1 and 6 years old when all of these songs came out. And I can tell you this – none of these songs meant anything to me at that point.
TA: Fair enough! At what point then, did you discover and fall in love with this music?
EW: When I was first introduced to a lot of this music – around 2005 – it was a slow process, but that was definitely the beginning of the love affair. I had to get used to the production and style … when you go so long thinking about 80’s music in this certain box, it takes awhile to work your way out of that box. But the more I explored the music and the bands, the more I realized how great the songs and ideas were, the faster I realized that this era of music really had a lot to say to me. So my discovery started around 2005, but I’d say it wasn’t until around 2007 or so, when I really started to delve deep into a lot of the bands and musical movements that make up most of this playlist here.
TA: Was there one artist on here that was the gateway to the others?
EW: Definitely. I would say that the first 80’s band I REALLY starting digging was The Feelies. I heard their album The Good Earth in LA, and I was immediately hooked. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before, and I couldn’t stop listening to it. That’s what inspired me to really give the 80’s a fair shake. I should give a shout out and thanks to my good friend, and ex-Parsons bass player Dane Garrard (aka Slider Parson), because he is really who showed me the light on a lot of this stuff.
TA: Most people think of over the top synth glam rock/pop when they think of the music of the 80’s. You show is a different side – is there a signature sound that you would say describes the music of the era?
EW: You’re totally right – the synths and the production totally cloud peoples memories of 80’s music. But there was a whole lot more happening! There was a whole wave of great indie / college rock. The 80’s was really the birthplace of the whole concept of college rock. I think part of the signature sound, at least of what I have included on this mix, is a lot of jangle – people were still hearkening back to the folk rock of the late 60’s, and just updating it for the new era. There are a few exceptions on this mix (mainly “Easter Parade” and “Stay”, both by The Blue Nile), but for the most part you will notice that it is a totally new era of folk-rock music, often bordering on psychedelic (although the lyrics more often stay grounded in very simple emotions, rather than a lot of the more tripped-out / psychedelic lyrical content of the late 60’s and early 70’s).
TA: Is there a specific story being told here, or did you start with a handful of bands you wanted to feature first?
EW: Not much of a story, really just a collection of signature songs from a bunch of 80’s artists that I feel aren’t very widely known, for the most part. These are bands that I think anyone can like, if they have an open mind and are willing to look past the 80’s as being “The 80’s,” and really just listen to the songs for what they are. I think it’s funny that a lot of people have no problem looking past horrible sounding lo-fi recordings, especially in the past couple years, and their excuse is “once you get past the recording quality, you realize that there are just great songs buried there”. My argument is exactly the same for 80’s rock music, but a lot of folks don’t necessarily feel that way.
TA: The selection of songs in the middle that for me felt bitter/melancholy – is that just me? Or was their grouping intentional for this reason?
EW: I wouldn’t say that it is necessarily intentional in the grouping … I would say more that that is also a signature sound of this brand of 80’s music. There is a lot of melancholy / bitterness, but I think it mixed with a lot of hopeful melodies – dark lyrics were frequently combined with more up-sounding melodies (The Smiths would be a good example of that).
TA: If you could choose three words to describe this mix, what would they be?
EW: Haha. Hmmmm, good question. Absolutely Necessary Listening?
TA: I noticed that the last song on the mix is called “Stay,” was that deliberate? Do you miss that time period, or something in particular about it?
EW: I wouldn’t say I miss that time period, since I wasn’t really old enough when I was in it to appreciate it, or know what to miss about it. But I do feel nostalgic about it in a lot of ways. Sometimes I think it would have been really great to be older in the 80’s – it would have been a fun time period to make music in. But I think that about a lot of eras in music, to be honest – not that there isn’t anything to like about this era of music. But there are other time periods where music was really exciting, and there was a LOT happening that was getting people into music – and I feel like that isn’t happening nearly as much anymore. I think we’re suffering from a case of over-exposure, perhaps?
TA: Did the style of music featured in this mix and/or the era as a whole inform your writing today? If so, in what way?
EW: I think the music has influenced my songwriting a little – mainly in the guitar playing aspect of it. I really discovered a new approach to writing guitar parts, especially lead lines, from listening to 80’s music. It’s a totally different style than the guitar playing in the 60’s, even though it references it in a way, and I love that.
TA: How would you describe your songwriting style then? Is there a track you’ve written where you think to yourself, “this is the kind of sound I want to be known for?”
EW: I would describe my songwriting style as simple – pretty straight-forward pop music, really. We write folk songs and rock songs, but in the end I still consider us to make pop music. The songs I write are all based around a strong melodic idea – if I don’t have what I consider to be a strong original melody for a verse and a chorus, I don’t consider myself to really have a song worth playing. I can’t say that I’ve written a song that I’ve thought about wanting to be known for, or even writing a song and thinking “this is the kind of song I want people to associate with me and my music”. I write so many different kinds of songs, and I’m always trying out and getting excited by new ideas, that I don’t really know if that will ever happen. I want people to enjoy my music, and be able to identify with what I sing about, but I don’t know if I could pick one song and decide that is the style I’d want to be known for – I’d be too afraid to commit.
TA: Is there a particular Parson Red Heads track that you think would fit in this mix?
EW: Probably some of our newest tunes would fit best in this mix … but no one knows what those songs sound like, other than us, so I guess there isn’t a point in saying at this time. Check back in a year.
TA: Which brings me to my last question: what can we expect from the new Oregon-based Parson Red Heads? Has the change of scenery affected the size and style of the band?
EW: I wouldn’t say the change of scenery has changed our style at all – we are still making music just like we always did. It HAS affected the size of the band – just because we had to leave a lot of our honorary Parsons behind when we moved. But we are working on adding new rotating cast members to the fold, so it probably won’t be long until we’re running at full size again! I guess what you can expect is a new record in August – one we’ve been working on for the past year and a half, in fact! We’re really excited about it. I wouldn’t suggest expecting any glaring 80’s references from the record – it’s pretty folky / harmony heavy. But I do think it’s our best work to date. Really can’t wait for people to hear it!
Enjoy a FREE DOWNLOAD of “You Can Leave It” off The Parson Red Heads’ latest album, Orangufang:
And stream the BRAND NEW TRACK, “Burning Up The Sky,” from their forthcoming album, Yearling, coming out this August on Arena Rock.
Purchase the 7″ + Digital Download Card of The Parson Red Heads’ Orangufang, at the JAXART Records store.