“I’ve been making giant pixels, all day,” Dan Friel explains, nonchalantly. I could wrack my brain all day and still fail to come up with another band that can toss off that phrase with the same casual indifference of Parts & Labor’s co-frontman. I pose the logical question, and Friel explains that, at the time of our phone call, the band is hard at work, creating scenery for a music video, “The Gold Were Digging,” the four track on the group’s new record, Mapmaker. “We’re doing this very analog version of our website,” he explains, “with all of these colored pieces of poster board on a wall. Were going to put different configurations of them on the wall and shoot in front of them, like a flipbook.”
Parts & Labor, it seems safe to say—much to the chagrin of my ilk—is a band happy to defy easy categorization. The process of creating paper pixels for an upcoming video seems a fairly accurate illustration of the tenuous crossroads between the analog and digital world in which much of the band’s music exists.
Try, for example, to pigeonhole the band into the arena of “political music.” With an upcoming appearance for Solar One‘s (Manhattan’s first, “Green Energy, Arts, and Education Center,”) show tonight (transplanted to Studio B), the tag seems a natural, a matter only reinforced by bushels of progressive song lyrics, including Mapmaker’s “Long Way Down,” a four minute tale of a world having run out of oil.
In a category of music, endlessly dominated by lyrics-driven sing-alongs, where does a band like Part & Labor fit in, exactly? While the trio’s music has been known to, on many occasions broach the political, the band’s heartfelt lyrics are also notorious difficult to understand, oft drowned in the mix amongst the drone and squeals that have come to define their sound. “We write our lyrics because they’re what we think about and talk about the most amongst ourselves, and that makes them a little different than protest songs, I guess,” Friel explains. “We include the lyrics, so people can read them, if they want to, but I think much more importantly, we play benefits for causes we believe in, and try to walk the walk. We don’t really want to be preaching at people.”
That age-old debate about whether protest singers can ever actually change things isn’t one that Parts & Labor seems particularly interested in. “A political band that only has sing-alongs about unions and whatever else is a completely different category than a lot of what we do,” Friel explains. “You end up only singing to people who are already into those causes, and are probably already on your side. I think a lot more can be done with actions, and setting an example by how you run your business.” The answer, as it turns out, is a simple one. Protest singers can change the world, bit by bit—that is, if they actually go out and change it themselves.
Photo courtesy of Jonny Leather.