Just in time to precede the first public outing of The Presence LDN tonight at The Garage, Trebuchet catches up with frontman Stephen Parsons to whet the voracious appetite of curiosity.
To get a bit Lovecraftian in the phraseology, it’s a bit daunting trying to penetrate the aura of Stephen Parsons.
It’s no huge secret that you write articles for Trebuchet under the moniker ‘SWP’. Those writings hint at a man with arcane and erudite tastes and talents – the Cthulhu mythos, the intricacies of composing movie scores, the vagaries of performing with Ginger Baker. You’ve got so much backstory that the legend is pretty much self-perpetuating. Does it ever take over?
SWP: Well, funny you should say that, I was just watching a group of old men on the TV pretending to be the Rolling Stones.
so-called art of rap music
has been stated a number
I guess that’s the weird magic of the thing – going nuts in a public place.
Bloated and Arrogant
Let’s not concentrate on your past too much, but you’ve been in and out of the music industry for a long time, probably longer than a lot of the industry players still keeping the gates. How does it all compare? We’re constantly hearing arguments from musicians and fans about what’s best for music: freetards, Music 2.0, artistic freedom, new revenue models, blah, blah, blah. What do you make of it these days?
SWP: It’s so hard because there’s no buying commitment from the audience any more. They think music is free like the air. And the expectations of the music biz are so low. When I quit performing thirty years ago these ‘industry players’ were bloated, arrogant and on top of the world. Now they are just pathetically grateful when they shift a few units.
The Presence LDN is something of a rock/soul unit. On paper that looks like an odd combo, but listening to it, well it just really makes sense. There’s a gut-rumbling groove to the songs that fits with soul, but the dirty raunch of rawk is there too. How’d that come about?
SWP: After I disbanded King Mob I wanted a flexible unit to express the kind of music I was feeling, which turned out to be muscular grooves with melodies and some sonic disturbance. I needed a telepathic rhythm section that could handle my unorthodox ways. I got lucky with Tosh and Gene.
The Esoteric and the Arcane
Fair enough, but what about the words? Your writings for Trebuchet reveal a man who scans darkly the subculture of the esoteric, the arcane, the unsettling under-the-bed stuff that the subconscious feeds on. Will The Presence LDN be scaring us silly with the final revelations of the MuMu, or suchlike?
SWP: Some of my lyrics are what you might call edgy, and some of my Trebuchet pieces hover on the edge of a dark pit, but as everyone who knows me is aware, I’m generally a cheerful fellow. It’s just that I’ve never been afraid of the dark.
to make music ever again
What does scare me is people without any discernible qualities, sensitivity or talent who radiate the most tremendous confidence. There’s a lot of that about.
I never settle on the lyrics until the decisive moment when the song is recorded for posterity. Before that I just improvise and chew phrases around. If we ever release the full length version of ‘Ya Ya Pop’ you will notice that there are several verses where I just sing gibberish. Emotional gibberish – it’s liberating.
‘Ya Ya Pop’, since you brought it up, is just brim-full of satisfying hooks. The kind that seem really simple, but are obviously not (or else everyone would be able to come up with them). Since sampling became so acceptable in music, it seems the art of writing a great pop hook has been devalued – you just grab someone else’s and let the lawyers sort out the royalties. Still, it’s pretty obvious that you enjoy writing them the traditional way.
SWP: I won’t use a computer to make music ever again. Those things lead to a shiny but soulless place in the heart. They make a nice editing tool, after the music is played by an ensemble in real time, but as means of music creation? Not in my world.
Computers don’t sweat.
You were working on some sort of life-bettering, applied-negativity system a couple of years ago. Are you still developing that? How does The Presence LDN fit in with it all?
SWP: My Scorpionics self improvement system ties in with the Presence LDN because it deals with the positive use of wounds and venom.
When I was about 15 I entered a local talent competition where all the musically trained kids performed their polite classical party pieces. I go on in a black leather jacket that I borrowed from an old rocker and play ‘Smokestack Lightning’ by Howling Wolf.
This popular band leader, who was the head judge, stood up in front of all my peers and completely lacerated me: unmusical, sloppy, an insult to good taste, etc. I was totally humiliated. I nurtured and used that feeling to propel myself into a long and satisfying career in music. That’s Scorpionics in action.
So, turning insult into inspiration. Works if there’s a flame of talent in there, waiting to be fanned. Sometimes though, it might be better if people took hostile criticism in the way it was intended. There’s a lot of really shit music out there. Is there any hope for music at the moment?
SWP: Well my loathing for the so called art of rap music has been stated a number of times in this magazine. I think it’s lazy and degrading. However, I recently saw a band whose ethos seemed to have its roots in rap but who have elevated the thing into actual musical pieces with substance. They are called King Krule and they give me some hope for the future of popular music.
The Presence LDN play their inaugral gig at The Garage20-22 Highbury Crescent, London. October 23rd 2013.