The Parlour Steps’ Productive Pop

ParlourSteps--PRESSI met up with Caleb Stull, the lead man for Vancouver’s Parlour Steps, to talk about his band and
their music. For the most part, this is how it went…

DiSCORDER: So first of all, what are the backgrounds of the players?
: Well Rees, Rob, and Julie actually all met in jazz school at Cap College. Before Cap, Rees was a metal guitarist, so he lends a bit of an edge. Rob, the drummer, hadn’t strayed much into any other zone but jazz. Julie, while being trained in jazz, is also in the band El dorado, so she’s got a real roots
thing going on as well. She plays stand-up bass really well and the roots-country angle also influences her singing. I actually come from an indie-rock background, started a couple indie-rock punk bands in Victoria: just kinda adolescent, fuzzed-out stuff. Rees, Rob and Julie’s schooled, refined, studied
backgrounds are a real nice balance to my crass punk sensibilities.

So are they basically toning down your craziness? Do you find yourself trying to get them to be less refined?
No, I think the jazz gives them great ears and allows them to be sensitive to what else is going on. So in terms of collaboration and working on stuff together I couldn’t ask for better musicians. It’s amazing how they pick up on ideas so quick.

One of the things I noticed about the sound is that you’re about as dense as you can be for being pop music.
Did you see us with the violin player? It was even worse, or even better, depending on your point of view. We had two melodic instruments, guitar and violin, plus me playing rhythm. So it was actually nice when we left that behind because we had more space to fill up. We could kinda stretch out a little bit more.

What do you think has been changing from your first album to your most recent album, The Great Perhaps? Do you sense a progression or a direction that you’re moving into?
When you hear the first album the first thing that definitely comes into mind is that deadly moniker, “eclectic.” The songs seem a bit disjointed and the band was not cohesive at the time. It was me writing and then some different musician taking on the songs and working on them in a disjointed way. So there really wasn’t a cohesive voice, it was really fragmented. The second album got a lot better. We concreted our line-up, started to find a voice. There was still some fat to trim and I think we have finally gotten to a place where the voice is refined and a little bit more pure. Those elements that we were playing around with in the first record and the second record are still there, but it seems to be a lot more cohesive.

So where are you going now? Now you’ve trimmed the fat, now you’re more cohesive…can you give any foreshadow to the next project?
Shorter songs, get them in under two minutes. [laughs]

Shorter?! I would have thought you’d get longer! I’m thinking epic concept album. You’re not going to keep your jazz musicians around if you have two minute songs.
I find it interesting to throw jazz musicians into constrictions. Say to them, “We’re going to do the verse once, we’re going to do the chorus once, we’ll have an ending and that’s it, that’s all you get.” You know, it’s a challenge. Either that or lose the constraints entirely…

Do you ever just let it go? Just say, this is my idea let’s run with it?
Yeah absolutely. Before it gets performed or produced for record, we’ll usually try to refine and come up with a plan musically, but there are spots where it’s nebulous and we fill the space with whatever comes out. And that is exciting, that is good stuff. In fact I used to do a lot more of that with a different
group of musicians, we’d just get together and improve for hours and hours and hours. It gets really trance-like and really cool and that definitely informs the more structured pop writing. I wish I could get more time with my current group so we could be exploring more of that.

The reason I ask these things is I’m also curious to know if you’re bandmates, since they come from jazz backgrounds, feel constricted.
That’s a good question, I should ask them that. Well, I think they are realistic about how efficient we need to be with the time that we have together.
There is a part of me that wishes that we didn’t have to intellectualize these songs and didn’t have to talk about verses and choruses and decide
where to go with it, because that stuff could come out of just jamming. But that’s a lot of time—we’re talking a couple days a week, hours of getting drunk together, exploring all those other regions. But we just can’t do that, it’s just not possible for us. In a way the pop structure affords us a roadmap, a beacon to keep us productive. Most musical forms are constructive, especially classical. My mom was a classical musician, so I grew up listening to a lot of classical. [Classical musicians] work their ass off to perfect the form, perfect the delivery and then, THEN they get to express themselves, THEN they get to try to inject that stuff with some sort of expression. Something about that concept always attracted me, even though it was constrictive…finding expression within

Plans for this album?
Going to get a tour going before Christmas, going down the US coast. After Christmas we’ll tour across the country. We’ve been somewhat Vancouver-locked before this, but now with the new membership, it’s opened up, so we’re into getting out there and hitting the road.

Do you think you’re going to survive it?
Julie, the bass player, has been on tour, but for a while there I was the only one in the band that had been on tour…and…and…I didn’t want to do it, man! I didn’t want to go back out there. I’m sure there will be tensions, but I think we all possess the skills to get through it. We communicate pretty well, we like each other, respect each other…that’s a basis for hopefully surviving. If you want to make a go at this, you got to hit the road, you got to get out there and hit some fresh ears.