When I first heard the name Parts and Labor, I immediately
shelved it alongside so many other phrases plucked from the language of commerce
and repurposed for Bandom in conjunction with an industrial set press photo.
I can’t lament the impulse too much; more often than not these suspicions of
mediocrity are correct, but it’s a grossly errant estimation in the case of
this Brooklyn trio.
Rural imagery might seem inappropriate to describe a noise-loving
rock band that blasts electronic tremors through the concrete walls of remote
Bushwick warehouses, but something about this band’s self-sustaining method
- their cooperative circuitry - conjures elemental landscapes and punk forefather
fundamentals. Maybe it’s because American small business mythology seems to
be manifest in Parts and Labor; it’s in their maniacal work ethic, their communal
involvement, and their restless artistic exploration. As a three-piece band
with the instrumentation of a five piece, they lug around a lot of parts. Throughout
our conversation, it becomes equally clear that they’re willing to put in a
nearly infinite amount of labor.
I meet Parts and Labor in the back room of a quiet Polish Restaurant
in Williamsburg. Drummer Chris Weingarten arrives first- he’s modestly bearded
but it’s nothing next to the mature growth seen throughout the nine self-booked
tours documented on the band’s website. BJ arrives next. He is a lean, bespectacled,
dark-maned gentleman with a relaxed seriousness and quietly humming intensity.
Dan comes last, just as BJ texts him for his whereabouts. He is bright and fair
both in personality and appearance, often gazing meditatively off in distance,
perhaps working on the next installment of the "Consciousness is
for Suckers" series found on the band’s website. Dan and BJ started Parts
and Labor as a convergence of solo projects back in 2002 and they continue to
devote their spare time to individual sonic experiments. Though they maintain
separate interests, the pair clearly shares a special bond. In addition to Parts
and Labor, they’ve worked together at the Knitting Factory and partnered to
launch Cardboard Records, a Brooklyn label that has released material by Aa,
Big Bear, and Pterodactyl.
As a songwriting team, BJ and Dan have maintained a fierce
focus and a prolific output, but the addition of Weingarten for 2006’s "Stay
Afraid" anchored the band into a more fulfilled and distinctive sound.
If BJ and Dan collaborate in a charged proton/electron bond, Chris is the gentle
neutron, balancing out the sparking keyboard chaos with a thunderous gravity
from the center. Chris actually moved to New York to leave the band life behind
and focus on his career, but he compromised all that by attending his first
Parts and Labor show, which happened to be one of former drummer Joel Saladino’s
last. Instantly impressed, Chris brushed up his rusty chops and found himself
on the throne after a brief audition on a borrowed kit.
Recorded almost immediately after band formation in 2002,
the band’s debut instrumental LP, "Groundswell," documents early demos
and solo project holdovers. The band always intended to have words, and began
to collaborate with Tyondai Braxton, singer and Dan’s former college roommate,
to add vocals on the experimental sophomore effort, 2003’s "Rise, Rise,
Rise." After a period of intense practice, BJ and Dan stepped up to the
mic on "Stay Afraid," giving voice to politically inspired lyrics
at a time when more popular New York bands were finding their muse in tales
of cocaine and dancing.
The just-released "Mapmaker" is the second album
for this three-piece and the fourth installment of the Parts and Labor legacy.
Confident, thoughtfully treated vocals merge into three part harmonies that
hover over tightly organized electro-rackets and acoustically penned power-choruses.
Dan and BJ orchestrate oblique political commentary with beauty and noise, while
Weingarten pummels away at his kit with hurricane strength and robotic precision
like some eco-friendly wind-powered machine of the future. Though it may be
almost impossible to replicate live, the band’s impressive juggling act comes
close as Dan and BJ toggle between guitar, bass, keys, and their depression
era soup line of effects pedals. I sat down with the band over coffee and pirogues
a day before they left to tour in support of "Mapmaker." With a little
prodding, they opened up about their ideals, their relationship to technology,
their broad influences, and their ideas for the future.
So y’all are getting ready to go on tour. Are you still
booking yourselves, or do you have a booking agent now?
BJ: We have a booking agent now, which is a new thing. I guess
technically we started talking last summer, but the first tour he booked for
us was last November/December.
So the first 6 or 7 you did on your own?
BJ: Yea, lots of time in front of the computer, lots of telephone
calls. I feel kind of lucky - I booked the first couple of tours when the Underground,
especially in New York State, was really starting to take off. A strong network
was being formed. It was right after Fort Thunder closed, but they had inspired
spaces all across the country to open up. We became friends with this band from
Oakland, Breaker Breaker, and we did our first
West Coast tour with them and made a lot of contacts that way. After that we
ended up with enough contacts- through that and also through the internet- that
it kind of became fairly easy to book our own tours
I saw on your webpage some Minutemen shirts, Husker
Du shirts – a lot of Our Band Could Be Your Life, SST kind of things.
Chris: Yea, we’re all huge into SST. It’s just
kind of a work ethic, the way they approached making music. I always like to
say that I could imagine that Parts and Labor could have been around back then.
How many of your sounds are from the internal keyboard patches and
how much come from the pedal chain?
BJ: About half and half. I’ve got a couple of things
on my board where it’s just feedback loops. I have a little mixer- just
making distortion pedals feed back against each other and I’m turning
up the gain until they start making noises.
Were you guys stringed instrument players first or keyboardists?
Dan: I’ve been playing guitar as my main instrument since high
school, so I guess stringed instruments first. I sort of started messing around
with keyboards because I got bored with guitar for awhile.
So was that the impetus for switching to keys?
D: I was really just doing the ‘How do I do something new with
rock music dance" around my room. I had all these guitar effects and I
just plugged in my toy keyboard that I still had kicking around, and it was
like, ‘This sounds like rock music because its got all these effects, and its
got all the distortion, but I can do all these different things with it now.’
What were the discussions like when you started working
BJ: Well, we had just finished "Stay Afraid," which
was basically an attempt to streamline those vocal songs that we had started
with on "Rise, Rise, Rise," and make this big anthemic, wall-of-sound,
in-your-face rock record. A short burst of songs. It was going to be really
harsh and noisy and also have all the melodic anthems. We wanted to make the
electronics a little bit more of a focus again, and keep the vocals up front,
and maybe even make them a little more clear than they had been on the previous
records – more intelligible, less distorted. And also some more psych moments,
and less straight ahead punk bashing; we wanted to bring in the influence of
bands like Noid and late-era Boredoms.
So Chris, everyone seems to agree. You hit hard as fuck.
C: Ha, I do hit hard, yes. I’ve thought a lot about this because
it seems weird to me that everyone notices that because I grew up on the same
Nirvana records that everyone grew up with. It’s not like I listened to some
obscure band. It was the biggest rock band in the world and their drummer played
like an animal. It seems to me that the question should be, ‘why doesn’t everyone
play like that?’
How did you guys record "Mapmaker"?
D: We recorded it at Brothers studio in Greenpoint. Awesome,
awesome, guys. They’re really talented engineers and also really patient people
for having dealt with us. We also did a lot of stuff at BJ’s place where we
just went into his bedroom and did all the electronics and vocals and stuff
where we really wanted to obsess about the songs.
So it was all digital?
D: Yep, nothing to tape on this one, and to be honest, after
that experience I’ll probably never waste money recording to tape again. They
can make your record sound however you want digitally at this point. I’d be
shocked if you could play it for someone - even Steve Albini you could put to
the test. With some good outboard compressors and an engineer who knows what
the fuck they’re doing…you can record it to tape all you want but if you have
an engineer that doesn’t know how to really run it in the red and saturate it
and take advantage of the tape it’s going to sound like dog shit anyway. Not
to mention that 90% of the people that listen to our album are going to listen
to it on an ipod, which is compressed mp3 format. Also, I really like recording
in Pro Tools – being able to mix and match and move parts around. I like editing
and mixing that way. It’s kind of become part of our process.