Parade Speak To SonicAbuse

When Parade released ‘The Fabric’ in the January of this year we were thrilled to find it to be an intelligent and engaging collection of progressive rock songs and it garnered a host of great reviews not least from  us. Formed by Chris Johnson (who played guitars for Marillion’s former front-man Fish) and featuring Anne-Marie Helder (who played with Chris in Mostly Autumn), Gavin Griffiths, Simon Snaize and Patrick Berry, the band signed to Voiceprint records to release their debut album, the aforementioned ‘The Fabric’.

SonicAbuse were lucky enough to catch up with Chris shortly after the release of the album and he provided us with an engaging interview which you can read below:

           •           Parade isn’t your first band – you’ve worked with Fish as well as writing songs for Mostly Autumn – how easily did Parade come together? 

                       The people are brilliant. Paddy (bass) and Simon (guitar) and I have played together for 14 years, so that history and great understanding of each other made the recording pretty smooth. I’d talked about the project with Anne-Marie whilst recording a Mostly Autumn album a few years back and we quickly developed a sharp affinity for each others playing and writing. When she came in for the sessions she seemed to sense the vibe of the straight away and locked right on to it. I’d been touring with Gavin (drums) for a couple of years – he came in and played all these mad beats and nailed the thing to the wall in 2 days. The hardest part was before all these guys got involved, when it was me on my own going mad wrenching all these songs out from the pit of my soul. That was the tough bit. 

            •           In your press release you mentioned “sonic gadgeteering” it’s a rather vague term – could you elaborate on some of the equipment used in the recording? 

            •           It’s not so much having fancy bits of gear to play with, but more seeing what you can get out of what ever junk’s lying around. Another thing that I do is create sound effects and atmospheres for feature films, so I’ve a lot of experience wringing emotional sounds out of unmusical objects. In film-sound you kind of have to come in under the radar, creating completely original sounds that will make the audience feel something without them really knowing what’s triggered it. I try to do similar things recording music. It’s creating unique sounds to generate mood. A vocal performance gains a different qualilty if you feed through a chain of guitar pedals and twiddle all the knobs as its playing. There are a lot of sounds on The Fabric that started out as one thing and ended up as something completely different. The only rule we had was that each sound had to enhance the emotional message in the song.  eg if you put cars sweeping by in the background you feel a little isolated like you’re alone in flat, but they’re a bit bright so you play them out through an broken old bass amp. Put the bass amp at the bottom of the stairs and the mic at the top and suddenly its new echoey noise but still with the quality that makes you feel isolated. Play it at half the speed and your song’s got a new element of depth to it. Now see what it does to you when you play it backwards and filter off all the top end. There was a lot of filtering, hitting, scraping, reversing, bouncing and rewiring going on on The Fabric! 

            •           Was it an easy album to record? 

            •           See above! My parts were really hard and took ages, arranging and rearanging and playing loads of different versions of the songs in different styles, keys and tempos. I grew a massive beard and didn’t get out much for a while. When that part was done everyone else came along and did their bit quickly and gracefully, charging the record with new energy.

            •           What inspires the songs lyrically? 

            •           There’s an overriding theme of an internal struggle between opposing forces – an argument between 2 sides of the same soul. The album details the journey that takes place to resolve these differences, and explores the dark motivations, fear, loss, mortality and hope that is experienced along the way. Dark and scary but human and beautiful. A bit like Luke going into that cave on Dagobah. Facing up to stuff. Especially the twisted mad bundle of forces that make up every one of us. 

            •           What would you say is the reason behind the current popularity of progressive music considering its somewhat unfashionable status over the last couple of decades? 

                       I think the unfashionable status was attached to ‘prog’ meaning retro and classic – sounding like bands that were labelled progressive 30 years ago. But now people are using the term ‘progressive’ to mean new and innovative. And things that sound genuinely new and innovative and exciting have always been popular – it’s just the term ‘progressive’ that’s being used differently. We get called progressive and I’m not sure if it’s because of the other bands we’ve all played with, or because we sound new and innovative and exciting! 

            •           What bands influenced the music of Parade? Are there any artists you are particularly keen on? 

                       Yes, I get a lot out of listening to The Frames, dEUS, Sigur Ros and Radiohead. I really admire songwriters like John Prine and Neil Finn. Dylan, of course. And The Band. Paddy, Simon and me used to be in a band called Hazzard County that did loads of that Americana stuff. I grew up listening to a lot of Prince and Public Enemy as well. I was always intrigued by their production techniques. Public Enemy were incredibly innovative and I love the way they got all that energy and charge onto their records using sampling, DJing and tape splicing and not many instruments. 

            •           Do you feel that music is encouraged enough in Britain (I’m thinking particularly of Government proposals to cut “non-essential” elements of schooling like music, the seemingly hostile and cynical nature of much of the UK music press and the scepticism that seems to greet new bands? 

                       The schools do alright. I teach songwriting in some and they’ve got pretty good resources – some have their own recording studios and most have a room full of decent computers and another full of instruments. We just had a cupboard with jars full of tcp and recorders sticking out of them! It’s great for kids now to get the opportunity to try out different aspects of music and see if anything suits them. The other thing – the cynical nature of the press thing – really stifles decent bands and musicians from getting anywhere and drives me bananas. Why are the mainstream radio playlists so awful? Why do terrible acts seem enjoy widespread press exposure while we all know acts who are 100 times as good but who can’t break out from playing their local venue once every 6 weeks? I don’t know how it works. It’s probably to do with money and evil men, the dumbing down of our media to the lowest common denominator and cultural lethargy. We all know where the good stuff is – turn off that crap on the telly and get out and see a decent band! 

            •           Where do you stand in the whole download/digital music Vs physical releases debate? Do you feel that certain aspects of music are lost through the download process (art-work for example)? 

                       Artistically the most significant thing to me is the lower quality of most downloadable media. Even really high quality mp3s are complete rubbish if you listen to them side by side with CDs. Also you’re under pressure to write songs that will be immediately appealing when previewed for 30 seconds on a website, and that completely changes the art. Most of my favourite music would have been skipped over in such circumstances. I try to ignore that while writing because otherwise everything would end up overblown, bombastic or sugary, like a Jerry Bruckheimer film, and ultimately have little depth and no longevity, but it niggles away at the back of your head. I find that investing in a CD or record and spending the time listening to it, looking through the liner notes and listening to it again, is a far richer experience than downloading music, which somehow feels more temporary and less weighty. I can’t say why, but I feel less inclined to properly digest material I’ve downloaded. 

            •           Will Parade tour the album? 

                       Yes. We played a few gigs at the end of last year and they were tremendous. Reminded me why I’m this game in the first place. We’re sorting out gigs for this year right now. 

            •           What does the future hold for Parade, or is it too soon to tell? 

                       I’m writing songs for the next full album now but recording is not timetabled in yet. There’s talk of an acoustic release but its not yet clear if this will be an EP or a live recording or a giveaway or what. The Fabric has only just had its retail release and its just picking up press so we’ll see what happens with it, but we’re most keen on gigging at the moment.

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