The term “hardest working musician” is a misnomer—pretty much all musicians are hard working. It’s a profession where you have to be if you want to gain any recognition, let alone a paycheck. But then there are those who turn that devotion into a bevy of projects; instead of focusing all of their efforts into one basket, some are capable of disengaging their personality into different musical forms. Enter Alyse Lamb, most notably known in Brooklyn as the driving force behind EULA, Lamb is also a founder of the multi-media art collective Famous Swords, and now a member Parlor Walls, a three-piece featuring Kate Mohanty on saxophone and Chris Mulligan on drums and keys, joining Lamb on guitar. Unlike EULA (who also released a record earlier this year), whom Lamb admits is a creation of her own psyche, Parlor Walls is a total collaborative effort, which is evident on their latest single, “Birthday”.
While they refer to themselves as dissonant no-wave or (a personal favorite of mine) trash jazz, “Birthday” begins in total conflict to those descriptors. Beautifully lifted from the floor, a slow drum beat and keys bring immediate recognizability to their avant art. Maybe it’s Lamb’s university training in composition, but no use of off-time snare hits and saxophone skronk could sway “Birthday” from the beauty in its craft. Like Mr. Bungle-era John Zorn, or maybe a better (though lesser known) example, DD/MM/YYYY, Parlor Walls is able to create a unique sound based in the modern rock world we feel comfortable in—though not devoid of contemporaries, surely in its own genre. We’re even given sing-a-long chant of “Don’t you know I’m perfect?” before sliding into a crescendo of a chorus that will leave little doubt that, while no descriptor will be apt, these walls are to be embraced.
“Birthday” is from Parlor Walls Cut EP, which will be released November 13 via Famous Swords. We caught up with Alyse to ask her a few questions about this newest musical venture and what’s to come in the future. You can stream “Birthday” below, and scroll on for our conversation.
Why another band? How do you separate time and writing between PW and EULA?
It is rare to meet someone that not only shares your musical tastes, but also pushes you to extremes and challenges your playing. I feel these things from both Chris and Kate. It was an energy I could not ignore so we began playing with each other immediately. EULA is a creation out my own psyche, it is from a singular perspective. Parlor Walls is three equal minds shaping sounds and songs… it is 100% collaboration.
You’ve been a strong presence in Brooklyn DIY through various projects, usually when that happens it seems people gravitate towards making more-accessible music, you seem to be going the opposite way with Parlor Walls, why is that?
We aren’t consciously trying to be less accessible, we just want to approach things from an angle new to us. Playing in extremes inspires us… we like to explore the line between chaos and restraint. Formulas are out the window, so I guess there goes accessibility.
Normally I don’t ask the “how do you write your songs” question, but with two traditional “lead” instruments it seems like a more interesting approach. Is your songwriting more freeform than what you’ve experienced in the past or do you still write in a structured way? Do either of you ever “play” the bass or rhythm section with your instruments?
The writing is very free-form. A song can generate from any of us. We shaped “Me Me My” (song on the forthcoming Cut EP) from an oddly-timed keyboard loop. Kate interpreted the loop on her saxophone, and it became the backbone of the song. We actually love using a looper to layer rhythmic ideas when songs are in early stages. Rhythm is very important to us. Sometimes guitar will lock it in, other times sax… we love to use our instruments in non-conventional ways. I got an octave pedal to make deeper/bass-ier sounds and the first thing I played through it sounded so gnarly we arranged a song around it. A song like “Birthday” was built with the drums as the foundation. The chords and structure must have changed 10 times, but it always sat on the same beat. The pretty part came last.
What’s the next project you’re going to surprise us with?
Live sound cinema. Parlor Walls has done a bunch already, but I want to dive deeper into the live soundtracking of films.