Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Ripple Conversation with Robert Parker of Salem's Bend

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

My biggest musical epiphany was back in high school when I first heard the Iron Maiden song 'Phantom of the Opera'.  That song just blew me away- a long epic track, loaded with great riff after great riff, tempo changes all over the place, raw vocals and some of my favorite solos and leads.  I had really never heard anything like it before.  I grew up listening to whatever was on the rock radio stations, and didn't really have a favorite band or genre.  But when I stumbled upon 'Phantom of the Opera', it changed my whole musical paradigm.  I had never listened to classic metal, and only a bit of classic rock, so Maiden opened the doors to what became my favorite bands, like Sabbath, Priest, Zeppelin, etc, and Maiden obviously.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

The song writing process for me differs for each song- I try to view each one from a little differently, to get a new perspective, but there are definitely some common processes I follow.  A lot of the time, I start out with a riff- something I hear in my head or stumble upon while playing guitar- and then I explore that riff for a while and see what other riffs or parts of a song it inspires.  Sometimes I just have a musical idea, inspired by a book or story or another song I've heard, and I sit down and try to capture whatever idea it is and wrangle it into a song.  I record all my riffs and ideas that happen spur of the moment with my phone, so I look back through them and listen to see what riffs could go together to flesh out an idea.  Sometimes I like to start with a drum beat, and see what riffs that the beat inspires; the song 'Sun and Mist' from out self-titled album started out that way.  I rarely start with lyrics; sometimes they come last, or concurrent with the melodies I write for a riff.  Once I have a bunch of ideas for a song, I usually let them stew in my brain for a while and try to visualize the complete song structure.  I then try to figure out what I want to say with a particular track, and I work on fleshing out whatever lyrical ideas I have into a (more or less) coherent story.

Who has influenced you the most?

I'm inspired by hundreds of bands and individual musicians from all different genres, but I always come back to Black Sabbath in the end.  Tony Iommi is my favorite guitarist, he's the undisputed King of the Riff, and I'm always inspired by his songwriting, solos, and tone.  Bill Ward is my favorite drummer- I often find myself asking, 'What would Bill play for this or that part?'  He's so unique and groovy.  Geezer is one of my favorite bassists and is a great lyricist too.  And of course Ozzy is amazing.  There are a ton of other musicians I could name that inspire me- Steve Harris, Vic Vergeat from Toad, etc.- but when you put the four Sabbath guys together, you get pure gold.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

For new inspiration and new ideas, I usually turn to books, short stories, movies, and new bands.  I love sc-fi, fantasy and horror books and movies, and I'm constantly on the lookout for more.  I especially love the stuff from the '70s and '80s, I just love the atmosphere created by movies and books from that time.  There are some great sci-fi/fantasy writers from the '20s and '30s too, for example I'm just getting into a writer named Clark Ashton Smith- excellent dark stories from that era.  And I'm always inspired by finding a great new band; I especially love finding an old band that I'd never heard of before- some hidden or lost gem.  

We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music?

We are from Los Angeles, which is obviously a huge city with lots of music going on.  Being a band in LA has its pros and cons, but mainly it's a great place to experience all different types of music. You can go see live music every day of the week if you want, with all types of genres from latin jazz to gypsy folk to thrash metal.  It is a big, impersonal city sometimes though, and it can be very frustrating (don't get me started on the traffic!) but with lots of different people and cultures all living next together, its great for music because you can find inspiration in unlikely places.  Rather than just watching rock shows, I can be inspired by watching a Persian dance performance or pick up some rhythm ideas from Latin cumbias or Indian ragas, for example.

Where'd the band name come from?

The band name was a long journey actually!  I'd been trying to come up with a good band name for several years, and let me tell you- the vast majority of cool names you are thinking of in your head are already taken!  Its crazy how many names I thought of and Googled and were already a band.  I settled on a name with three syllables because all the great bands have names with three syllables- Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead, etc.  So I figured that was the key to success!  'Salem's Lot' is my favorite Steven King book, and I like the sound of the name, but there was already a band with that, and I wanted something that was unique, so that people could more easily find us in the vast ocean of the internet.  I happened upon the Bend and the two words came together and had the vibe I was going for!

You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?

I would love to write the soundtrack for a John Carpenter movie, I love his movies and his scores too.  If I had to choose I'd say The Thing, because it is such a cool story and has great imagery, it would be a ton of fun to come up with the soundtrack for that one.  

You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?).  You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why?

If I were going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song, I'd probably choose 'War Pigs' by Sabbath.  Listening to that song is like my church- if it comes on the radio in my car, any conversation stops until the song is over.  It's such a masterpiece that I could spend 1,000 words or more just analyzing half of it.  I've heard the song thousands of times and I still hear something new every time I listen to it, there are so many great little details.  And the riffs, the guitar tone, the bass lines, the drum fills, the vocals and lyrics, they are all so perfect.  And within each one of those there are these little intricacies that work together so magically, I'm sure I'll listen to it a thousand more times and continue hearing new things. 

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?

Haha I don't have too many great Spinal Tap rock moments, but there was one time with my old band Leonine that we played a show in our underwear.  We had a history of removing our shirts during shows, since it gets hot rocking up on stage.  And at this particular show, somehow the bassist ended up with no pants on, so someone in the crowd shouted for us to all take our pants off, so the rest of us dropped trou and kept rocking. 

Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans? 

Playing live is the most fun for sure.  It's great to jam out and make music with other cool musicians, and when you put it on stage, when the crowd is into it, it makes it even better.  We try to put on the best show we can, playing our hearts out, take our shirts or pants off- whatever the fans want!  This is rock n roll, and you've got to put on a show with your music.  You don't necessarily need pyrotechnics and theatrics, which can be awesome, but you at least need to be moving around with this kind of music and getting into it so that the crowd can feel it as well.  

What makes a great song?

A great song is simply one that makes me feel something- joy, sadness, anger, nostalgia, validation, any emotion really.  The amazing thing about a great song is that it tells something different to each listener- and each person can have a completely different experience with it.  It's often hard to pin down what makes that song great- could be a killer riff, or great drum beat or vocal line. But you generally know a great song when you hear it, it just has a special magical quality that makes you feel something, that makes it stand out of all the songs you hear every day.  Sometimes you feel it right away, but sometimes it takes several listens to really hear the greatness.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

Wow, the first song I ever wrote- well I can remember the first song I ever fully wrote, when I was first learning how to play guitar.  I would come up with song ideas even before I knew anything about music and couldn't play any instruments. And then my good friend Marc Maynon and I wrote a song about Rumplestiltskin using the backing track to Danzig's 'Am I Demon', because neither of us could play guitar at the time- it was hilarious.  But when I first took a beginning guitar lesson, we learned a few easy open chords, and I remember stringing three major chords together and coming up with a melody and actually tabbing out the song in tab software GuitarPro.  It really wasn't very interesting, which I knew at the time, but it was cool to think that it was actually possible for me to create my own music.  I found it was more fun than learning other people's songs, but I did that too to try to figure out what people were doing and why their songs sounded better than mine!  And the day I learned that you could have both major and minor chords in the same song- oh boy I never looked back!  There are a few acoustic songs I wrote when I was just learning how to play that I still think are ok actually, but most were just a good learning experience.  

What piece of your music are particularly proud of?

Mammoth Caravan is one of the songs I am more proud of, mainly because it took a lot of work to come together and the writing spanned many years.  Its genesis was a riff I had written in 2008, a weird riff that I liked and kept coming back to, to flesh out into a full song.  That particular riff didn't actually make it into the final version of the song that's on the album, but every 3-6 months I would revisit this riff, and a new idea would come up and I'd tab it out or record it so I wouldn't forget, until it finally all came together in 2015.  It was one of the hardest to write lyrics for, because I was already married to the melody and cadence I had come up with years before, but I eventually found the words I wanted and finished it.  It's no masterpiece but it's one that has a long legacy!  

Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?

Uncle Acid writes amazing songs these days- K.R. Starrs crafts some incredibly interesting and unique music, and he writes them all with a backstory in mind, so that each album is based around a concept and is almost like a little movie or book, but in an abstract way.  I don't know how he comes up with the riffs and melodies that he does, but it is definitely some of the most interesting songwriting I've heard out there in a while.  And a group that just kicks major ass is Kadavar.  Super solid riffs, great drumming, groovy basslines, these three guys have written some amazing songs and their live show is damn good!  They have so much energy, they give it all at every show, and I think they really stand out when they play live.  They somehow capture a feeling similar to the videos I've seen of Sabbath in 1970 or some of the Cream footage- heavy as hell without smashing you with a wall of distortion.  The heaviness comes from their hands rather than their amps, if that makes sense.  

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

I'd probably pick CD as my favorite format, since that's what I grew up with and started my music collection with.  CD sort of has the best of both worlds.  It has the tangibility of a physical product like vinyl, real artwork and I love reading a good CD booklet.  And you can also put it on your computer and keep it in a digital format to put on your iPod or whatever.  I mean I do like the instant gratification of a digital download, but I like having a physical product.  And I love vinyl for that fact that it often makes me slow down and sit and listen to an album, to take time and listen carefully to the album as a whole, rather than just my favorite songs.

Whiskey or beer?  And defend your choice

I am a beer man for sure- and these days there are so many great beers to try with the explosion of craft beer breweries, there's a never-ending list of tasty beers to drink.  I do like good whiskeys, but there's a time and a place for them.  

We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?

Los Angeles has a lot of great records stores, the biggest being Amoeba.  Huge selection, every genre imaginable, and they have concerts in there sometimes.  I spend hours in there.  There's another great one close by called The Record Parlour; its smaller but they have a good selection and generally good prices.  I've found a ton of awesome records in their dollar bin!  And then there is a bookstore called The Last Bookstore in downtown LA- phenomenal place and they have a vinyl section that is pretty top notch, great prices too.  

What's next for the band? 

Next step for the band is to take this show on the road!  Once our album is released on vinyl, we plan to do a Westcoast tour, hit up a lot of places in California, the major cities and places where we know people.  And then probably start on a second album to be released some time next year, I have a ton of riffs floating around in my brain that I want to get out!

Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?

Final thoughts for the readers- keep supporting underground rock music!  Small groups like us only survive because of supporters like you out there, so we sincerely thank you and I'm sure all the other underground groups out there thank you as well!  So many awesome lesser-know bands making music today, it's a wonderful time to be alive.  Never stop rockin!  

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