|Pictured above: Tim Furnish in his beast form Parlour Poodle! Picture by Ben Pegram.|
Tim Furnish is a wizard or at least you’ll think that if you dig into his catalog. Since the mid-80’s, Furnish has been an integral part of the local scene, playing first with Cerebellum before helping to form noise rock legends Crain. Since Crain called it a day in the mid-90’s, Furnish has been the man behind the curtain in instrumental indie giants Parlour, releasing their fourth full length record (spoiler: it’s fucking amazing) this Saturday night. You can hear a track off their new record below and catch them at their release show performing with Ascent of Everest at Zanzabar. We caught up with him to ask about band stress, the new Parlour album, and break dancing!
Never Nervous: How did you get started with music?
Tim Furnish: I was a first born and was initially subjected to my parents taste in music. It consisted of Beatles, Classical beasts such as Mozart and Beethoven, Mamas and the Papas, Harry Chapin and Billy Joel, all of which I was fond of. As a 4th grader at Brown I took band class and took up Trumpet as my dad once played it in Highschool. At some point my parents set me up with private piano lessons, taught by an ex-Nun, named Marvel Thomfort (sp?). Star Wars came out and my world was forever changed. Not only was it the greatest spectacle of a movie ever, but I also LOVED the John Williams soundtrack. My dad was an hifi audio file nerd and we’d listen to all the John Williams soundtracks (notably my favorite: Close Encounters of the Third Kind) with all the lights out and experience music with such focus and intensity. It really taught me to listen.
By 6th grade I was turned on to the world of music as curated by the new MTV station. I really was into the New Wave-ish music acts such as Devo, Eurthymics, The Police, Go Go’s, Men Without Hats and Madness. There was a faction of kids (notably Britt Walford, Brian McMahan, Ned Oldham, and Josh Hines) at school who blared Minor Threat, Rudimentary Peni, Circle Jerks, Misfits, Dead Kennedy’s though their jam boxes. I was immediately drawn to the ferocious music and antics of these wacky kids. I knew they made their own music (Languid and Flaccid and Squirrel Bait), but never really got outside the realm of school to see it til later. I always was a pretty shy kid. So of course I then quit the trumpet and took up the flute til I finished 8th grade. PUNK rock, right?
At some point here I acquired my first synth, a Yamaha DX-100 FM synth, which I tinkered with at home by myself. My younger brother, Simon got into skate boarding and I soon followed. I really loved to skate. Through Simon, I met Jon Cook, known as Wally at the time. He went to Atherton. He was a goofy, enthusiastic and friendly guy with a passion for skating and punk music that really clicked with me. Through him, I met Joey Mudd and Breck Pipes, who were in a skate punk band called SPOT. I was hooked. We all stayed out late skating all night and listening to whatever we could get our hands on. I eventually borrowed my uncle Mark’s Vox guitar and started teaching myself some basics, with the help of Jon. Jon and Will Chatham, also a fellow Brown schooler, had a band called Substance and later, Lead Pennies. Joey and I started a hardcore band called Able To Act, but it was short lived.
NN: How did Cerebellum start?
TF: Cerebellum basically began “out of the ashes” of Spot, Able to Act and Lead Pennies. I think it was 1988. I was a senior at Brown. Drew Daniel joined later added on vocals and industrial percussion.
NN: Was there any particular objective when that project came together, or was it just folks making music together?
TF: We were all going through a pretty heavy obsessive phase of all things Dischord and wanted to do a band that was quite inspired by bands such as Embrace, Rites of Spring, Government Issue, Gray Matter, Marginal Man, Faith etc. At our first show August 8, 1988, we handed out a flyer that described our intentions. There was a lot of punky aggressive bands happening at the time with a strong message and we reacted against that by focusing more on the music and our gut instincts.
NN: What prompted the decision to record that material?
TF: The reunion show in 2010 came together, because Noise Pollution had asked us to re-issue the Cerebellum cassette on vinyl. We were into the idea and decided to go a step further and fill out the LP with 3 tunes that we had written that were not on the original 5 song cassette. Will came over from Ashville and Drew came down from Baltimore and we rehearsed all 8 tunes and recorded the three “new” ones with Trip Barriger at his Treehouse Audio studio.
NN: How did that segue into Crain?
NN: How did that band start?
TF: Basically with Jon, Will, Drew and I saying fuck them (not really but kinda, yeah <3)…we want to move in this direction. We played a show at The Cafe Dog in defiance without them as Crain. It was kinda tense for a bit, but we all moved pass that.
NN: How did it evolve over time?
TF: Crain existed from 1989-1996 in several notable line-ups thought brought out different flavors, depending who was with us.
- Pre-Speed: 1989-1990 – Jon Cook, Tim Furnish, Will Chatham
- Speed: 1990-1992 – Jon Cook, Tim Furnish, Will Chatham, Joey Mudd
- Pre-Heater: 1993 – Jon Cook, Tim Furnish, Jason Hayden, John Causey
- Heater: 1994 – Jon Cook, Tim Furnish, Jason Hayden
- Heater: 1994 – Jon Cook, Tim Furnish, Jason Hayden, Tony Bailey
- Teenage Total Telepathic Takeover: 1994-1996 – Jon Cook, Tim Furnish, Todd Cook, Tony Bailey
NN: How did Crain end?
TF: Crain ended in 1995 while we were tracking our follow-up album to Heater. Jon Cook had been becoming increasingly more and more difficult to deal with, being fucked up, drunk, drugged and showing symptoms of his later diagnosed bipolar disorder. He was getting lit while we were trying to record and became an obnoxious jerk to Todd Cook and pushed him too far that Todd had enough. In alliance, we all had enough. It was so disappointing.
NN: Was it amicable or something else?
TF: No. We were f%@&@ing pissed off. So much work down the drain. He had become impossible to deal with.
NN: How have you dealt with band break ups/stress in the past, and what advice would you give on the matter?
TF: I’ve had my good share of band breakups and stress. Unfortunately, most difficult of them stem from my relationship with Jon. He was my best friend and favorite person to create music with, so it was particularly difficult to put up with his decline. I persisted where many could not follow. I had crazy patience with him, where he’d drive everyone else up a wall. Yeah. His over-zealousness and bullshittery had me rolling my eyes a lot, but I loved and put up with the guy.
While we we touring the Speed LP out west in 1992, Jon pushed Will and Joey to the limit in two separate instances where it was like “fuck you!” “We’re going home now”. While I was sympathetic to their problem with Jon, I did not want this to go down like that. Hoped it would be resolved. We made it back and played a couple more shows, but Will and Joey had enough and quit.
In 1994, Crain departed on a tour in support of the Heater LP. We had been playing as a 4 piece with Jason Hayden on Bass, Jon on Guitar, Me on guitar and Tony Bailey on drums. It was incredibly heavy. I loved that grouping. Unfortunately Tony was still in high school and I could not with good conscious push him to drop out to go with us, so Jon moved to drums and we headed out as a three piece. While we still pulled it off reasonably well as a three piece I lamented how we were hitting the road not as our optimum selves. It weighed heavily on me. We did some killer shows with The Laughing Hyenas and Supersuckers on our way out west and did a good amount of “partying.” I started to stress out about how crazy and reckless Jon was getting and it eventually pushed me to the limit. An uncomfortable situation occurred where I felt I had to get away from it all and hopped on a Greyhound bus in Olympia, Washington and rode home. We later met back up with Tony on drums for a few shows in the Midwest.
As far as Parlour went, we too had a number of line-up changes over the years, but none other than the Simulacrenfield line-up seemed to stress me out that bad. They just evolved as people needed to move on with no hard feelings. Most of my stress always has been the internal battle of satisfying my own high standards for the way I want things to be.
As for my advice on how to deal with stress and breakups, I can say try to identify toxic relationships and avoid them at all costs. Had I done so early on, by breaking up with Jon, I would not have been the person I am today, and would have missed out on some fun jamming with the dude, but in retrospect it brought so much misery, frustration and sadness to me, I don’t know that it was worth it. I miss him though.
Fast forward to the new ….
NN: Is there any hope that any of that unreleased Crain material will ever see the light of day?
|Pictured above: Look closely.|
TF: I have hope. Just listened to some of it today. I wish we got the vocal takes done, but nope. I have doubts that I have it in me to write and record new vox for it. Considering instrumental release or invite guest vocalists to interpret what little lyrics we have available for it. I’d have to ask bassist, Todd Cook, what he thinks.
NN: Tell us a little about how Parlour functions. Do you handle the composing, or is it collaborative?
TF: Parlour has long functioned with myself as the main writer. There’s a lot one person can achieve with a multi-voiced synthesizer workstation or DAW. A virtual band in a box. I could do all the parts, melodies, bass, beats, textures. I would let myself get lost in the writing process and come up so many ideas, with nobody, but myself to hold me back.
I’d end up with all these tunes that I want to breathe new or more life into and form a band made up of human friends who would honor my parts as best as possible to their ability. I do my best to invite players to expand upon what I had written, but will always be upfront and communicate what works and does not work for me. I am forever grateful for the folks who’ve played in Parlour and trusted my direction and vision for it.
Somewhere along the line, I made a conscious decision to not writ,e so much as I felt like I was taking away from the fun of being in a collaborative unit with me. For instance, say I had a guitar part or a synth part. I’d present it to the band and hope it inspires someone to compliment it somehow. Hopefully that would happen fast, because if it doesn’t I’ll either come up with something else fast or get discouraged. This process is so much slower though. We move at a pretty glacial pace. I want to get back into a workflow where I’m putting more time into working by myself on things. Sadly, I barely do that any more. We have full band practices averaging twice a week, for up to 2-3 hours each.
It took many starts and stops and member reconfigurations to get there but we ended up with a stable line up consisting of Breck Pipes, Brian Sweeney, Clayton Ray and Evan Bailey. Resist Ants, is the freshest song on the new album and our most collaborative to date. We have also begun working on a new tune of Brian Sweeney’s and Clayton Ray has a handful of tunes that we hope to work out. These guys have been very forthcoming with good ideas and telling me when stuff doesn’t work and I appreciate that. I’m curious how these turn out.
NN: How have you evolved as a song writer since you started?
TF: Adopting the sequencer tools pushed me into a creative smorgasborg of ideas and sounds. I refined my knowledge of these tools and created some of the richest arrangements I’ve ever made. When I put the brakes on writing on my own so much, the process really slowed down a lot and the songs since then have had the help of my bands to tighten up the arrangements.
NN: How have your earlier efforts influenced your later work?
TF: My intentions to write compelling music have remained the same since the Crain days. I just have more tools and experience behind me to express them. I feel that I still write similarly as I did from back then.
NN: Relative to that, how do you break out of a rut? How do you keep things fresh?
TF: I’m currently in the rut of not making myself work on music on my own. My day job leaves me too tired at the end of the day to work on music. :/ This has led to vegging out on the web and watching TV shows or movies. I just need to make a better effort to go upstairs and play. I find that cleaning up and organizing a workspace does wonders for motivation and clears the head for creativity. I also like to get ideas churning by playing with loopers.
NN: How do you craft a narrative arc with instrumental music?
TF: As we don’t utilize vocals, I strive to arrange all the parts to feel as if they are carrying a narrative. Melodies are my language. Not really sure how I do it, other than being cognizant of when to use contrast versus when to use similarity/unison. This example mapping of parts shows an approach not all, but a lot of my tunes follow: AABABCABABCDEF. Notice how it bounces around 2 riffs at the beginning, then introduces a 3rd riff, then returns to initial riffage, then with more contrast it moves linearly out with up to 2-3 riffs ending in a place nowhere like it started. Now that I exposed that, I challenge myself to break out of that form. 😉ZAYABOWAQBERTAAAAAAAAA#$$$
NN: How have line-up changes influenced the flow and dynamic of Parlour? How would you chart the band’s evolution?
TF: Sequencer use brings a richer, more complex and consistent sonic pallet at the cost of dynamism in performance.
The live band (rock band instrumentation) is limited to narrower range of sounds and human timing, but benefits from the human synergy in performance. You also have to count on other people which sometimes goes south. We’ve experimented with both as well as a mix of the two.
NN: What makes the self-titled record different? How would you describe it to anyone that might not have a frame of reference?
TF: I think this new album is more quickly digestible than the last. It’s got less complicated song structures and is heavier. I feel it channels Crain on some tunes.
NN: From your perspective, how has the music scene evolved since you became a part of it?
TF: It’s gotten way bigger. More bands than ever. More venues than ever. The internet is here and has opened the entire planet up to everything out there, which has divided people’s attention spans. With so much going on, the wider scene is more fractured than ever. There’s often 3-5 shows of possible interest happening on weekend nights and that results in smaller crowds with the hipper ones drawing the most.
There’s not as many people my age participating in it as they’ve “grown up and out.” The Peter Pan in me wants to stay involved, but it feels weird to go out and not know anyone any more. I do try to keep up with what is being made in this town via word of mouth or internet and sampling what it offers. I’m glad that there’s still being music made that excites me, but there’s just so much of it, and I have to draw the line somewhere. There’s only so much time in the day. I’m fortunate to still have some very dedicated friends making stuff happen and will do my best to support them.
NN: What advice would you give a younger audience about performing live or building a long lasting project?
TF: Just do it. Do what you like. Try and fail. Learn from that. Change it up. Try again. Take time off. Get back into it. Don’t give up. Or…give up?
NN: What constitutes a good show and why?
TF: A good Parlour show is achieved when I (we) have fun playing it and feel mostly confident that our intentions were conveyed. Good sound and tighter the better, but as long as we keep up momentum and not fuck up too much, it can still qualify as good. Of course it also helps that there are some folks, friends, fans and new ears in attendance whom are entertained by our sounds. Sincere compliments after a set from a good friend or newly made fan is encouraging, therefore good.
NN: What is the best show you’ve ever played?
TF: Too many to list, but I’ll mention a Parlour one.
After the release of Simulacrenfield album, we did a small string of shows in the east coast/midwest US. Unfortunately, drummer, Jon Cook went into full bipolar manic jackass mode at the same time. It was hell on earth. The most stressful trip I’ve ever made. Every night was up in the air on how he’d behave. We thought we’d just have to cancel everything, and got very close to doing so several times. The last couple shows were with a band we dug, Maserati, and I knew we’d have the best crowds at those shows. After many fights and arguments and by threat of canceling everything I demanded Jon to focus on getting through these last days by shutting the fuck up and playing the best he can at the right time. Well. The last two shows, in Chicago and Louisville. Jon brought it, and carried us with him. I disbanded that group after that. Very disappointed it had to end, but at least we played two great shows to cap that period off.
NN: What about the worst?
TF: I’ve played a lot of shows that I would consider bad, but I am especially hard on myself. Fortunately, I’ve not felt this in quite a while and attribute some of it to having a more happy go lucky attitude about it.
About 2 years ago, Parlour, drove to play a one-off show in Chicago and the two local bands cancelled. No one showed up other than a couple friends. We played well and the sound system was super wicked, but it was just a bummer that all that time and energy was put into such a bust. Did not even get paid. Wow. Either people don’t give a shit about us here or the promoter/venue failed miserably. Sadly, we went home thinking both. Pretty soul crushing. :/ We will try again.
TF: Yup. :/ I will miss that loyal friend.
NN: Have you ever break danced?
TF: I always appreciated break dancing, but never felt compelled to actually do it, beyond seeing how long I can do a back spin. I recently attempted Zoomba in my living room via youtube videos. Shit was hard and hilarious. I made a video that I will not share. I much prefer to just rock out and flap around naturally without premeditated learned steps.
If yes, tell us about your experience. If no, would you do so to save the community center from greedy developers? If this were the case, I’d do my darndest to increase my repertoire and have a passable routine.
NN: You can launch three people into the sun. Who are those people and why?
- Donald Trump for President of USA. See Donald Trump.
- Senator Mitch McConnell. Because he’s a powerful Lich who supports much of what is wrong with our democracy and he just won’t go away.
- Wayne LaPierre – President of NRA. Agent of evil who pulls the strings of other evil congress people that obstruct the ability to obtain sensible gun control.
NN: What non-musical things have you riled up? Have you eaten, drank, watched, or read anything worth mentioning lately?
TF: I like ice cream, but it makes me heavy. Face Swapping has no end to the fun to be had. I liked director of Dog Tooth, Yorgos Lanthimos’ new film The Lobster. Of the too many TV shows I watch, I’m currently digging: GOT, Horace and Pete, Maron, Inside Amy Schumer, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Rick and Morty. At work I pass my days by with various listenables such as Moth Radio Hour, RBMA Fireside Chats, WTF?, and a steady diet of Meshuggah.
NN: Last but never least, what are your top three desert island albums and why?
TF: This probably changes every time I’m challenged to this question, but here I chose these 3 because they’re peaceful, beautiful and I never seem to tire of em.
- London Saxophonic and Moondog – Sax Pax for a Sax
- Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works II
- Talk Talk – Laughing Stock