Take the subtext of a band like BRAHMS. First bring it out. Then add it up. Repeat it another time. What you end up with is something that seems to point toward the ghost. The ghost of what? That’s the real question. The answer of which is much more inherently implicit than the name suggests.
An exercise in the intertextuality of its members, BRAHMS channels the seemingly-contradictory minimal and lush, playing with pattern and resonance, all the while folding dark melodic soundscapes into something resembling - but not quite adhering to - the postmodern.
More specifically, the New York City-based trio consists of Cale Parks, Eric Lodwick and Drew Robinson, all three serving as impetus to creative authenticity.
Parks plays the role of the unlikely front man well, his initial speech hesitant and peppered with multiple instances of “I mean” and “you know” as way of navigating questions. Yet it isn’t too long before he finds himself comfortable, talking much more freely about issues of musical collaboration and the artistic process.
In some sense, this subtle transformation mirrors his own musical growth process, beginning as an indie rock drummer in Aloha, evolving to a tentative solo artist in the mid-2000s, and finally as the somewhat-more self-assured and well-poised lead singer of BRAHMS.
And while Parks has always stood out as a percussive mastermind, BRAHMS has effectively allowed him to take the reign, showcasing his knack for music while not behind a drum kit.
“You really can’t play drums and sing in an aggressive way,” he said, explaining why he has stepped out from behind the drums and moved to the front of the stage. “If you really want to like croon and control your voice…it’s impossible to physically play the drums in, like, a dance music form.”
BRAHMS allows for Parks to move away from the rhythm aspect of things and explore the more melodic side of music, not only in vocals, but also with synthesizers and varied instruments in general, including a drum machine.
“It’s like a simple repetitive drum machine, but it makes the songs more dance-oriented automatically,” he said. “It’s not like a drummer who’s all over the place.”
But that’s not to say that it has been an easy transition for someone who is admittedly “always doing too much stuff.” Even when he is concentrating on singing, his body tends to belie his aim.
“It’s weird for me,” Parks said. “And I feel more at ease when my left hand is on a keyboard while I’m singing or my right hand is like, tapping a cymbal or something. Like, I just feel sort of all over my body…I just sort of feel the timing like all around. And it’s, I guess, the hardest thing with transitioning has been, like yeah, just like trying to be just singing and focus on singing, when I hear all these other things and I want my every limb of my body to be doing.”
His dedicated resistance to the multi-tasking aspect of drumming has allowed Parks to develop and mature as a singer. Where, five years ago, he was a held-back and oft-faltering vocalist, being the main voice of the band has caused him to step up his game.
“I just, like, changed as a singer,” he said of his natural progression over the years. “[Now] I feel 100 times more confident. I’m still not a great singer, but, you know, it’s changing and you can hear it in any singer’s evolution. So, you know, it’s getting there.”
Parks also has the vocal support of Lodwick and Robinson, both of whom sing and play synthesizers, in addition to playing bass and guitar, respectively. Meanwhile, Parks’ own setup includes an analog machine attached to a microphone stand, cymbals and toms from a drum set, and synthesizers and samplers.
In spite of the array of instruments shared between the three, Parks insisted they still, at the core, strive to be an incredibly minimalistic band. And where the music was once more pop-infused, at the present he describes it as leaning toward a more complex sound.
“Everything is like a little darker now,” he said. “Everything is a little more, you know, nosier. Still very melodic, but yeah, we sort of changed a little bit. It’s good.”
This is because, simply put, BRAHMS is not the band it was just a year ago, when it first began. While the initial demo songs from early last year exist online, Parks insisted they are more representative of what the band used to be, but no longer is.
“Those were very young in our process and our sound. We sort of had not totally come into our own,” he explained. “The new music is less poppy than the initial demos.”
Instead, he described it as dark minimal electronic music combined with traditional pop song structure and topped off with rich melodies.
Late last month, BRAHMS put out a 7” single, which is more representative of the direction the band is taking. And at some point this year, fans can expect a full-length to come out.
The process is, naturally, taking longer; BRAHMS opted for the self-release route, having recorded, produced, designed and released the aforementioned 7”. While the group hasn’t yet decided how to put out the full-length, it won’t be a decision that is made lightly.
“We don’t want to release something that we’re not totally into,” Parks clarified. “We’re [working on] making it our own. We’re experimenting with sounds. I know that’s what every band says, but we are literally, like, messing around with old synthesizers from the 80s and pedals and tones and melodic sort of ideas and just making, you know, the best record we think we can.”
He made certain to point out that all three members are involved in songwriting, noting that their geographical proximity contributes to a stronger overall chemistry. More specifically, unlike with Aloha, where all four members are often in different states, Parks shared how living in the same city as his BRAHMS bandmates is more conducive for getting together to write songs and flush them out.
“We practice a ton,” he said. “This band, you know, practices several times a week down the street from each other, and like, hangs out, and we’re a band. We’re not just, sort of, a project that’s every now and then. It’s a full-time thing right now. “
As for the purpose artistic creation plays in his life, Parks is adamant about the fact that music serves a personal function as opposed to existing just as an aesthetic to be enjoyed.
“I create music for myself,” he said. “If you create music for other people and if you create music thinking ‘I wonder if so-and-so will like this’ or ‘I wonder if this will be cool on the dance floor’ or ‘I wonder if, you know, this label will like this type song’ that starts to interfere with your creative output. I mean, music should always be made for yourself and what you like, whether you’re making something because you like a certain sound or you like a certain style of music or whether you’re writing something or making words that help you understand what you’re gong through. Whether it be positive or negative, you have to write music for yourself. So yeah, I write music for me.”
BRAHMS set out on Feb. 24 for its current tour with Asobi Seksu. Although a family emergency caused a few dates to be canceled, the band is back on track and will make its way down the West Coast and over to Texas for SXSW, before coming full circle at the end of the month.
And while the band visited much of the Midwest, South and East Coast during last summer’s tour with Passion Pit, this is BRAHMS’ first time playing live to audiences in Oregon and California.
“I love those places,” Parks said, referencing Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles in particular.