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Chris Weingarten, drummer on Stay Afraid (2006) and Mapmaker (2007)
After joining the band, there were still two years before the release of Stay Afraid. How were you guys spending that downtime?
When I joined the band, BJ and Dan were in the process of reinventing the entire thing from the ground up. They wanted to stop being the Brooklyn noise band that flirted with pop hooks and be a pop band known for their creative use of noise. They definitely had a plan with Stay Afraid
to make sure every song had vocals on it. They were a little unsure about their voices at first, but they had a sound in their head, and they were going to capture no matter what. We practiced a lot. They constantly listened to tapes of shows to see where their voices were a little pitchy, so they could correct it. I never have seen two people so dedicated to their craft. Just being around them made me think we were doing something special. So we were basically preparing Parts & Labor 2.0. Our very first piece of press was a Pitchfork singles review of our "Great Divide" 7-inch. They drubbed for the crime of trying to combine noise and pop. We were thinking about mailing the reviewer a copy of Sonic Youth's Sister
By the time 2006 rolled around, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah had created what seemed like a blueprint to DIY success with their debut album. Did you ever consider self-releasing Stay Afraid after seeing how well it worked out for them?
Having a label is great. If you want to hand mail all 200 of those bubble mailers, be my guest.
Around this time there was a surge of popularity among a number of Brooklyn bands previously considered abrasive or esoteric: TV on the Radio, Battles, Dirty Projectors, Liars (though no longer in Brooklyn at the time) all had big albums in '06 and '07. Did this ever lend itself to the feeling that Parts & Labor was part of a "movement" happening in Brooklyn at the time?
Parts & Labor was still on the rise during the entire duration of the noise-rock bubble. I wrote the CMJ
noise-rock piece, we got our name mentioned in the Village Voice
noise-rock piece, and got skipped over completely in SPIN
's noise-rock piece. I never felt like part of a movement, I felt like part of a wildly diverse scene of friends. Sometimes bands in that scene would break off and become famous — Grizzly Bear, Genghis Tron, Matt & Kim. Other times, amazing bands would go ignored completely and stay under the radar: I think Zs, Oneida and Pterodactyl all got dealt a bad hand for being such unbelievably killer bands.
Simultaneously there was a much different thing going on with Grizzly Bear, Beirut and the like. Some could argue that eventually this strain of bands won out, in time evolving into an overall softer Brooklyn music scene, at least in terms of what became regarded as popular, i.e. Vampire Weekend, the whole lo-fi revival thing and so on. Even bands who hung their hat on being "noisey"seemed to back off from being so in-your-face about it. Was there a sense that your big could've-been moment was passing by?
I think the differences between the scene circa 2006 and the scene circa 2008 has nothing to do with sound. What changed was the method of distribution. Before, you had a bunch of weirdos sort of playing in the old Glasslands and Tonic and Northsix all kind of feeding off each other. You HAD to help build this commnunity and be a part of it. Now, you can just post stuff to SoundCloud and, of course, the sensitive, tame, lowest common denominator stuff is going to rise to the middle. People talked about Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeahs live shows in reverent tones even before they were signed; but when, like, MGMT were blowing up it felt like, "Uh, those guys are from New York? I never met them." That's why people felt pissy about Vampire Weekend blowing up. Those dudes didn't share our practice spaces and our crappy 9pm showtimes at Tonic. They just HAPPENED thanks to the accelerated hype process of the Internet. The local scene wasn't local anymore, but a bunch of apartments that happened to exist around the same island.
If SoundCloud/Bandcamp/Facebook never came to exist, do you think things would've played out differently for Parts & Labor?
I mean, I do think Parts & Labor would be in a better position if "being a successful band' still was the Black Flag or Jesus Lizard model of success: rolling from town to town, slowly building a bigger audience, never quitting so your legacy only grows with time. Before me, with me, and after me, BJ and Dan toured harder than most New York bands would ever dream. They stuck around longer without compromising their sound. In the Internet era, you really only get one nine month bubble of "hype," when everyone in our tiny insular world is looking at you. Before that you are a "struggling local band," after that you "aren't cool anymore." I think Parts & Labor's hypiest moment came and went around 2005 when we were looking for a record label [editor's note: They eventually signed to Jagjaguwar.]
. After that, you could sit back and watch the hype-narrative change — from indie rock, to indie folk, to shitgaze, to chillwave, to witch-house to whatever the fuck that Grimes horseshit is. Parts & Labor wasn't going to fit into any pockets.
Critics were quick to point out that Mapmaker was much more "mature," even elegant, compared to Stay Afraid in that it allowed the songs to breathe more, incorporated horns, sounded cleaner, and essentially gave listeners moments of release instead of just buildup. Was this shift towards accessible, as slightly as it may have been, intentional?
We definitely wanted to clean it up a little. I certainly like that you can hear my bass drum on Mapmaker
. The real conversation about "accessibility" came after
that album, though. We would tour Mapmaker
, and we were still playing in bookstores and pizza parlors and basements and rec rooms, so an incredibly loud band sounded oppressively, unpleasantly loud in most settings. We were still hunting to find our audience, and we were literally chasing people from the room. We all knew the next album was going to be something a little more indie-centric, a little less machine-gun noise blast. Playing drums for me is a very physical thing, so I don't really like playing quietly. Those were some of the first conversations about how I might not have been the right fit for Parts & Labor anymore.
Did you feel supported by promoters and venues in the area? What were some of the local spaces you routinely played at during this time?
I would just like to say that Todd P is a true hero. His efforts did more for Brooklyn than any one band.
What do you miss most about playing with Parts & Labor?
I miss playing drums! I always say being in a touring band is 23 of the most boring, soul-sucking, frustrating hours imaginable surrounding one totally life-affirming hour of being onstage. Dan and BJ write my favorite melodies. The hardest part about hearing the two P&L records I don't play on is knowing how much I would have loved to play to some of those melodies. I mean, "Satellites?"
Get the fuck out of here, that song is so good. I haven't even tried to play in a band since I left in 2007, mainly because no one's music affected me like Dan and BJ's did in 2004. In 2012, noise dudes are starting chillwave and techno and cold wave bands and shit is mad boring. If there's some songwriter who wants to start a band that sounds like Torche meets Fuck Buttons, holler at me, I guess?