Frighten the Future: Parts and Labor raises some hard, scary questions about where we’re headed.

partsandlabor1For the better part of a decade, Brooklyn trio Parts and Labor have been tearing up and down the U.S., on a perpetual quest to scare us out of the collective slumber of everyday life. Their music combines the anthemic hardcore of Hüsker Dü and the political consciousness of the Minutemen with the squealing electronics of Baltimore’s burgeoning Future Shock movement, for a sound that is both unique and uniquely modern. Bassist B.J. Warshaw recently spoke with Space City Rock on the eve of their 9th (or 10th) national tour.


 

SCR: You guys are getting to be touring veterans at this point- how many have you done now?
B.J. Warshaw: I can’t remember — this is like the 8th U.S. tour, 9th or something. Maybe 10th. [laughs]

Is it getting any easier, or is it still a logistical struggle to get around the country?
It’s definitely getting easier. Starting at the end of last year we had a booking agent for the first time. That’s obviously made a big difference in terms of being able to get on some larger shows and into some larger venues. And also, now we’ve got two full-length records on the same label, Jagjaguwar, and they’re really awesome at dealing with the press and hyping us up. It’s getting better with each tour we do.

partsandlabor-record1Is touring an integral part of what you do in Parts and Labor?
Absolutely. Part of it is just wanting to play shows and make music, but traveling is one of the best things about being in a band. I kind of think that if you don’t like to tour you have no business being in a rock band to begin with. It’s part of the whole process. And it’s also necessary for the kind of music that we make. We’re not a band that’s getting on MTV, we don’t get crazy amounts of Internet hype, so it’s all about taking it on the road and word of mouth.

Why don’t you guys get a lot of Internet hype? I’m not sure that it’s really connected to the kind of music that people make any more. Seeing a band like Deerhunter two years ago, I would not have expected them to be on the level they are now.
It’s weird, man — it’s kind of totally a mystery. You never really figure out why one band blows up over the other.

Looking at y’all’s tour schedule, I see cities like Chicago, Austin, and Toronto that have a reputation for being cool places for rock bands. But then you’re also playing places like Iowa City; Manhattan, Kansas; Oklahoma City, that aren’t known for that. In the later part of the tour, you’re playing in Houston and Shreveport, but not Baton Rouge or New Orleans, and then you’re playing Birmingham and Mount Pleasant, SC, but not Atlanta or Nashville.
Part of it is that we just got off a one-month tour with Adult., and we hit a lot of those cities that you just mentioned that we’re not hitting this time. We played New Orleans, we played Atlanta. This tour is coming pretty close on the heels of that one. It’s just a matter of trying to hit as many places as possible, and also finally getting to hit some new places. We’ve never played Oklahoma City before. We’ve had one show in Lawrence, Kansas, in the history of the band. We try to get to those far-flung smaller towns. And often, that’s where the best shows are for us, or at least the most exciting shows, the shows where we get the best crowd response, because people there are hungry, and not that many bands go through. Shreveport’s actually always been really good to us. We’ve had some crazy shows there- people show up and just go fucking insane.

It’s good to get places that are larger, like Chicago, where there’s more of a guarantee for us at this point. Even some smaller cities — Cleveland has always been a good show for us; we have a pretty good following there. And then it’s kind of exciting to get to do a place like Iowa City, where we’ve only placed once or twice, but has really good people.

How does being out on tour affect the way that you interact with the community back in Brooklyn?
Well, for one thing, we end up meeting a lot of bands on the road, and then we get home, and we’re in touch with those bands, and we’ll try to help them out with shows in New York, because everyone wants to come here. So in a strange way, being on the road keeps us in touch with the bands that are coming to play here, so that we can help keep that network alive of bands helping each other find shows. We can set things up with promoters here in exchange for being helped out when we go out to places like Iowa City.

Are any of y’all from New York originally?
None of us are. I’m originally from Connecticut, Dan [Friel, guitar] is from Western Massachusetts, and Chris [Weingarten, drums] is from Florida. My parents grew up in Queens, and my grandparents lived in Manhattan, so I was always coming into New York City when I was a kid. I kind of made a beeline for it when I graduated from school.

Then you, like a lot of people from Connecticut, almost are from New York.
I think someone from New York would take great offense at that statement. [laughs]

Would you consider Parts and Labor to be primarily a noise band or a rock band?
At this point, we’re definitely a rock band with some noisier tendencies and some experimental tendencies. I’ve been saying for years that we write pop songs and no one believes me. I think maybe they just sound like pop songs to us.

It definitely seems like, on the last couple of records, your music has become less abstract and more oriented toward pop songwriting.
Yeah, but even if you listen to [the first Parts and Labor album] Groundswell, the only thing that’s stopping that from being a straight pop record is, A, there’s keyboards instead of guitars, and B, there’s no vocals. But those melodies were sung the way that we’re singing them right now. This was our intention with the band from the beginning. It could just as easily be a pop/rock record. A lot of the sounds we like to use, I think, keep people from hearing the straightforward pop/rock songs that we play.

partsandlabor2Do you have any thoughts on being in a rock band that’s not centered around guitar?
That was the idea behind the band from the beginning. We started because Dan was doing these solo compositions on his keyboard through guitar pedals, just because he was tired of playing guitar, which was his main instrument. We ended up starting Parts and Labor based around those initial experiments and songs that he was writing. It was kind of a method, or a path to not doing what’s already been done so many times, and trying to come up with a way to make the rock trio sound new and fresh. It’s integral to what we do.

Can you talk at all about Cardboard Records? Who’s involved with that?
That’s my and Dan’s label. We started it about two years ago. We’d been talking about doing a label for a long, long time, and Pterodactyl had finished their 7″, and were looking for a label to put it out. I was hanging out with them drunk on the roof and I promised I’d put it out… We just started doing it. It was just a vehicle to release bands that we’d met on the road and here in New York that didn’t have any label support and were just kind of sitting around. It seemed like an exciting way to give back to the underground community — realeasing albums of great music that wasn’t seeing the light of day.

What are your goals with the label; are you going to turn it into a real business, or…?
We’re taking it step by step. We’re releasing some pretty “out” music. The Gowns CD is really beautiful, but it’s still esoteric and noisy in places, so there’s going to be a limited following for it. I don’t have any interest in signing a band just because it’s going to make us a shitload of money and sell a lot of records. We’re purely putting out music from bands that we love and really strongly believe in. And our schedule’s pretty slow — we’re operating on two or three CDs a year, and it’s funny the amount of work that that takes for a two-man, shoestring-budget operation. But we’re got some awesome music coming up; we’re doing an Ecstatic Sunshine CD, we’re putting out my solo CD, called Shooting Spires, and we’re doing a two-CD compilation featuring 57 bands from across the U.S., Europe, and Australia, with a 58th track that’s a remix by Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk. Gregg has this new remix project called Trey Told ‘Em, and he’s going to be taking all 57 other tracks and condensing it into one three-minute-long supermix.

You just mentioned Ecstatic Sunshine — are you guys connected with the “future shock” thing that’s going on in Baltimore right now?
I love that that term is catching on. We’re good friends with a lot of those guys. We’re friends with Dan Deacon and we went on tour with him earlier this spring. We’ve played in the house that one of the dudes from Ecstatic Sunshine lives in a couple of times…we’ve been touring with bands from Baltimore since we started.

What the hell does “future shock” mean, anyway?
I have no idea, but I think it makes sense somehow. I think they’re playing off the stupid genre names and labels that people come up with for a scene. There’s definitely a core of like-minded musicians and artists in Baltimore, and it’s really vibrant and enthusiastic right now. It sort of fits. I don’t think it’s anything more than what you’d name your treehouse.

You guys are obviously big fans of the Minutemen. You covered “King of the Hill” on Mapmaker, and I think the first time I met Dan we talked about the Minutemen movie. To me, one of the most interesting things about the Minutemen, aside from their music, was the ideology they had that captured all the things about their band, from the way they made records and toured to their lyrics, and which seems connected to the DIY ethic that characterized hardcore punk during that time. Is that something that you guys relate to?
Absolutely. All of those reasons are why we chose to cover the Minutemen. That, and we felt like it was overdue — that band is cited by everybody as being a huge influence in the underground, but nobody ever covers them! [laughs] I’m not sure why that is. But we thought it was time somebody paid them tribute. And we do feel very connected to their approach, and their politics, and the spirit of just doing whatever the fuck they wanted. That was in the early days of hardcore punk, and that was all it meant: just doing what you really fucking wanted to do, and not really caring about what other people think. I think that some of that spirit has been lost over the years. Optimistically, Part and Labor tries to bring a little of that back.

In an interview that you and Dan did a couple of years ago, Dan said: “Being known as a political band doesn’t count for much unless you walk the walk always, and/or write songs that people really care about. As a band I want make great music that is honest and that people care about. The lyrics on Stay Afraid just come from what BJ and I were thinking and talking about in the years since our last record.” [The Deli, 2006. At http://www.thedelimagazine.com/partsandlabor/] That seemed to me to be reminiscent of the “impressionistic” way of being political that was attributed to the Minutemen.
I agree with what you said 100% — right now, we’re still operating under that same philosophy. We do our share of benefit shows, and we go to our share of protests, and we’re politically aware, but none of our lyrics are ever telling anybody what to do, and we are very rarely offering up any solutions, because we don’t have the answers to a lot of the questions that we’re raising. I think our contribution is asking those questions, more than it is answering them. There’s as much fear and trepidation as there is confidence in our lyrics. END

(Photos (top to bottom): Dan Friel, B.J. Warshaw, & Chris Weingarten; Warshaw, Friel, & Weingarten. Photos by Tod Seelie.)

[Parts and Labor plays at The Proletariat (903 Richmond, Houston, TX. 77006) on Wednesday, July 11th, along with Sharks and Sailors, Satin Hooks, & Black Congress.]
SOUNDS:

Interview by . Interview posted Monday, July 9th, 2007. Filed under Interviews.

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