Interview by Leonard Pierce
Greetings from Asbury Park, New Jersey: in 2011, those four words may no longer remind you of a certain venerable working-class rock superstar. Instead, they may bring to mind the Parlor Mob, the blazing five-piece from Red Bank. Having established themselves as one of the rock world’s bands to watch with their 2008 debut album And You Were a Crow, they’ve returned from a hard and fast-paced touring season with their second full-length, Dogs. Singer Mark Melicia took some time recently to talk about their legendary live sets, how they’ve progressed as a band, and the emotional ups and downs of finishing the new album, which is in stores today.
What did you do differently when you were working on Dogs?
I think the main difference between this and And You Were a Crow is that the first album was written over a number of years, when we were just starting out as a band, and we felt like we had plenty of time. Dogs was written over a very short period of time – about a year, when we were off the road. And as a result of that, I think there’s a cohesion and a precision to them that sets it apart. It was done in a more focused way, and that makes it a lot more cohesive.
We also worked on it more as an entire band, I think. And the rest of the guys, the things that they think sound good and make for a complete song, their sense of that has improved and matured and evolved over time. Everyone pretty much contributed the same amount to the songwriting itself, but I think it was maybe more of a group effort this time than it was the first go-round. Initially we would write songs by all getting together and jamming, whereas this time we had situations where one person would come in with the basic framework of a song and we would work on it together from there. It’s just a natural progression as we’ve matured as a band.
You’ve mentioned that this was an emotionally difficult record to do. Why is that?
There were just a lot of issues when we were working on this record about whether or not we’d be able to make a living if we were to continue as a band. With the responsibilities that begin to mount up as you get older and mature as a human being, that can get in the way of the dreams that you have of making it as a band and making that your career. You start looking at the costs, and the effort that you’ve put into the last six, eight years of your life, and you have to look yourself in the eye and ask yourself “Do I want to do this for another few years? Am I worth the gamble?” You put so much into the process of investing in your art – and I think that’s a common thing for any band at our level, in this day and age, with the music industry the way it is. But when you come right down to it, we’re a band of great friends who love to spend time with one another. We’re pretty much family at this point, and we’re fortunate enough to be able to create music that we believe in together, that we all can be proud of. So we just had to reaffirm that this was more important than anything else we could be doing at this time in our lives – that we believe that, and that we have to keep going.
The Parlor Mob has a reputation as a great live act. What do you try to bring to your live show that sets you apart?
What we think is important is to keep ourselves excited with the music. We’re always trying to build up our own interest in playing things live, to figure out cool and interesting ways to perform a song that we haven’t tried before, whether it’s starting songs differently or putting jams in the middle or anything else. I try to sing songs differently all the time, trying out different melodies or slight variations, just to keep myself in the moment and maintain our excitement about the songs. That’s what works for us. I know there are bands with a particular sound, and they play the same set list pretty much every night, and every time you see them, that’s more or less what you’re going to get – and that’s fine if it works for them. But for us, it’s always been about bringing a new spark, a fire to our live sets every time we go out there, and it’s not just important for our fans, but for ourselves that we keep that fire lit. It keeps us involved, and in turn, it works out better for the audience.
Do you find that you have to put a lot of effort into making your studio recordings as exciting and lively as your performances?
We have definitely found that throughout our career, it’s been a struggle to translate our live energy into our recordings. But somewhere along the line, I think we decided that it’s going to be hard, if not impossible, to ever make a recorded song as energetic and exciting as a live performance is, so instead we just try to make the recording as interesting as we can on its own merits. That means coming up with different arrangements, different instrumentation, mixing things down differently, and basically thinking of it as its own thing and not just a representation of a live performance. When we lay the basic tracks down, of course, it’s very much a live thing – we use the basic roots of the sound to get the basis of the song – but after that, we try and figure out what could give the song its own atmosphere, something that could create an experience the listener might not be able to get from hearing us live, whether that’s the recording quality, or different layers of sound, or what have you. Now, we’d love to do a live record – we’ve always talked about how cool it would be to do something like that – but when it comes to studio recording, we try to get the best we can from the live framework of the song and then fill it in around that. We were able to do that better this time than we were last time, and hopefully we can do it better next time than this time. It’s all about progressing and evolving.