While working on their third album, Orb Weaver, The Parson Red Heads weren’t interested in taking their time. In fact, they were dead set against it. Having released a painstakingly hand-crafted LP in 2011’s Yearling, the band had established a mode of meticulousness. On Orb Weaver, the focus on recreating the improvisational bombast of their live show was stage center, resulting in flashes of sun-stroked auditory maelstroms and expansive blotter-pop americana previously missing from the band’s recordings.
Over a nine-year career that’s seen the band form in Oregon, then move to Los Angeles for nearly six years—where they were influential in a burgeoning music Silver Lake scene still seduced by the specters of Love and Buffalo Springfield—the now Portland-based Parsons have established a well-deserved reputation as an uninhibited live group.
As vocalist/guitarist Evan Way explains, Orb Weaver was all about bottling that energy into one explosively off-the-cuff record.
“We’ve always made records that were more thought-out,” says Way. “When we play live, we play more like a rock band. We wanted to show that more aggressive side of us, the more rock-oriented side.”
Producer Scott McCaughey (The Minus 5) was all-too-happy to steer the ship when it came to capturing the album’s spontaneity.
“The band had a vision for the record before we started,” says McCaughey. “A few songs took some exciting and possibly unplanned turns, but it all fit into the whole that we’d imagined.”
“[Scott] was great about being very vocal and honest, saying, ‘Don’t ditch that, it has character and that makes it way cooler,'” adds Way.
The song “Lost Again” was originally a demo Way had discarded for contention to make the album. McCaughey, struck by the tune, suggested a different angle and encouraged the group to record it right away with a new and still very foreign arrangement. With Brette Marie Way—Evan’s wife and The Parsons’ vocalist/drummer—providing typically dynamic harmonies, the result speaks volumes of the immediacy of Orb Weaver. It’s a gorgeously sprawling composition, replete with reverbed guitar squalls and a saccharine-sweet melody that’s belied only by its sly psych fringes.
“Borrow Your Car,” a breakneck power-pop scorcher penned and sung by guitarist Sam Fowles, ushers in the kind of fiery tune expected from The Parsons’ live show, Fowles and bassist Charlie Hester forming interlocking melodic runs that strike out toward Nick Lowe terrain. Interestingly, McCaughey and The Parsons’ only other collaboration before Orb Weaver was recording Lowe’s “Don’t Lose your Grip on Love” for Lowe Country, a compilation of country-tinged Lowe covers released on Fiesta Red Records.
“Times” begins with all the minimalist groove of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” opening up only after Way croons, “I try to turn my back on you/but I forget to tell my heart,” then moves into their oft-cited harmonic telepathy with The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Despite the modest homage to their influences, The Parson Red Heads are a band forging their own musical identity with each new album.
“More and more of the personality of the band itself has come together because we’re comfortable,” explains Way. “Everybody is settling into their roles; it’s a natural result of playing a ton together.”