Byrds of a Feather
The Parson Red Heads are ready to take flight
Three items have been written in every story or review about the Parson Red Heads, so I'm just going to say them now, get them out of the way, and pray that you or I never have to read them again. Here goes:
The Parson Red Heads make jangly, sunny-day guitar pop.
They sound a little like the Byrds.
There are two redheads in the band. They are related.
The thing is, it's practically mathematically impossible to write something about them without mentioning one of those descriptor tags. I've certainly written those words more than once, and I'm not the only one. Hell, the one-sheet for Owl and Timber, their excellent new EP, starts off with a variation on that theme. To say nothing about what happens when you Google “Parson Red Heads”: You'll find a couple of hundred entries written about the band, the wide majority of them describing them in similar terms.
So it goes when you name yourself after one of the most iconic figures in one of the most iconic bands of the '60s, camp out in Silver Lake and make psychedelic rock with shimmering multipart harmonies. That, and a notoriously kinetic live show have gotten the Parsons about as big as a local band can get without a label deal, high-priced PR firm or KROQ play. In the past year alone, they've hosted both the Spaceland and Echo Monday Night residencies, regaled KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic show, received glowing praise on most of the Los Angeles blogs and print outlets, and won one of the city's more devoted fan bases. Not bad for four kids from Medford, Oregon, who moved to Los Angeles less than three years ago with vague dreams of forming a band and joining keyboardist Erin Way, who had already settled in the Southland.
“It was a little hard getting the band off the ground because we really didn't know anybody in the music business,” lead singer Evan Way (brother of Erin and one of the band's two redheads, along with his wife, drummer Brette Marie Gentry) says. “I got a job at MGM, which was lucky because it allowed me a lot of unhindered Internet time. The main reason why we came here was to try to get the band off the ground. I e-mailed everyone I could think of—promoters, other bands, whoever. We made it a goal to play every show we could get, to get in front of as many new people as we could.”
Way estimates that during one three-month stretch, they were averaging three shows a week, practicing thrice more and had five people shoehorned into a one-bedroom apartment. Miraculously, tensions never stretched too thin, thanks to the unit's close-knit status and laid-back demeanor, which comes through in their breezy, bronzed, summertime music. The band's first official LP, King Giraffe, was released in February 2007 on local bedroom indie Yukon Records. While it was certainly pleasant, pretty and eminently listenable, it also struggled to capture the manic energy of the band's renowned live shows, in which up to nine white-clad people cram the stage, dancing, harmonizing, pounding tambourines and generally looking something like Danielson Famile had they met as instructors at a summer sleep-away tennis camp.
The self-released Owl and Timber displays a marked step forward; it's a looser, more fluid record, with the band unleashing their more jammy side without resorting to self-indulgent wankery. While just three out of King Giraffe's 11 tracks exceeded the four-minute mark, all but one on the new EP do. Led by Evan Way and producer/bassist Dave Swenson, the Parson Red Heads sound focused, allowing their tunes to breathe with a Laurel Canyon organicism that their earlier recorded material often lacked.
“It's been a challenge to translate the live energy to the albums,” Way admits. “Some bands are more studio bands than others, but I think a good band should be better live than on wax. I think we got closer this time, but the goal is always finding a way to match the recorded sound with the raw power of a live show.”
Parson Red Heads perform with Cavil at Rest and Willoughby at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0600; www.detroitbar.com. Sat., 9 p.m. $8.