Parts & Labor: Interview
The Preeminent Middle-Aged Funk Band
Bursting forth with a
vivacious energy that could detonate Bar Mitzvah dance floors, Brooklyn trio
Parts & Labor have been on the verge of a powerfully original sound for nearly
six years now. Comprised of equal parts noise-laden electronics, ferocious
pummel, and an unabashed love of pure melody, I honestly wouldn't be surprised
to find Parts & Labor in Nirvana circa 1991's position a few years down the
line. The group's latest and arguably finest release, Rise, Rise, Rise (a
split release with fellow New Yorker and JMZ Records label-mate Tyondai Braxton)
showcased an eclectic mix of songs ranging from infectious noise-rock to
experiments in lo-fi to Fugazi-style rave-ups to head-bobbing breakbeats to
everything in between. Now with new drummer (and fellow rock journalist) Chris
Weingarten in tow, it seems the group's ready to stage a coup d'etat on some
bitches and take back the streets from the trust-fund bands. With a moniker
worthy of a midlife crisis funk troupe, what's not to like?
Could you introduce yourselves to the people? Now tell
us how you all got into this crazy rock and roll music.
BJ Warshaw: I'm BJ Warshaw. I play bass, electronics, Casio SK-1 and sing. I've
always rocked crazily.
Dan Friel: Dan. Guitar, vocals, electronics, keyboard.
Christopher R. Weingarten: Christopher. Drums.
Tell me a bit about how Parts & Labor got together. How did you guys meet
BJ: I met Dan when we worked at the Knitting Factory in 1999; we bonded
early over a love of noisy music and a sense of disappointment with working on
the business side of the music industry. I started playing bass with him and a
drummer to round out some of Dan's solo keyboard songs, and Parts & Labor was
born. Dan and I met Chris after probably the worst Parts & Labor performance in
the band's history—although Chris has a different opinion on the matter.
Chris: The week I moved to New York, after spending a lifetime in the cultural
abyss of Florida, I saw Parts & Labor play in an alley. A month later I
saw the so-called “worst Parts & Labor show ever.” The sound system was maxed
out beyond comprehension, the band was so sloppy they sounded like they were
playing three songs at the same time, and a drunken BJ was pushing people and
staggering all over a terrified audience—it was awesome.
How did you decide on a name?
BJ: Dan suggested the name Parts & Labor after seeing the words on the bill
for a guitar pedal he'd gotten repaired. We went through many terrible band name
ideas, and this one was by the far the least offensive. Someone told us it
sounded like the name for a middle-aged funk band.
How do you deal with the overwhelming sexual tensions in such close quarters?
Dan: Non-stop buttfucking.
How's Chris working out for you? How does he compare to Joel and Jim?
BJ: Chris is working out fantastically. His style is exactly what our new
material calls for: hard-hitting, solid, rocking. He's a very intuitive musician
and he has an incredible sense of space. We're closest to sounding like the band
we've been trying to sound like with Chris. As for a drummer comparison… Jim :
Sedimentary :: Joel : Metamorphic :: Chris : Igneous
Chris: You're very sweet, BJ. All the compliments are going to make it hurt so
much more when I get kicked out.
"Make the world a noisier place. Remind the
noisy places what melodies sound like." -Chris
Chris, how do you like playing with the band? How did you get involved in the
Chris: I approached BJ and Dan as a fan before anything—Parts & Labor
was, no joke, my favorite band in New York. Since we saw each other at the same
Brooklyn loft shows for months on end, we became fast friends. When I heard they
needed a new drummer, I just wanted to try out just for funsies… I swore up and
fucking down that I would never play in a band again. I've been playing in
shitty go-nowhere bands since I was 14 and was sick of rehearsal spaces, power
trips, tour vans that drove into oblivion and the inevitable fact that everyone
who puts you up for the night has a fucking cat. They apparently liked my
drumming, offered me the gig and, like a dipshit, I turned it down.
Twice! I promised to fill-in for a Knitting Factory show, and the show
sounded so goddamn good I couldn't resist joining full-time. And now we're
BJ, how did you get into this weird, fantastic flash/pixilated/computer art?
BJ: I've been interested in computers ever since my
parents brought home an Apple II+ when I was a kid. I used to do very simple
BASIC programming back then, and working with computers has been a hobby since.
I've always loved video games, and have been into manipulating pixels since
early experiments done while zooming in on digital drawings made in Print Shop.
There's so much great computer art being made nowadays, especially with
easy-to-use animation applications like Flash and widespread internet access. I
love sites like paperrad.org, superbad.com, once-upon-a-forest.com, and folks
like Cory Arcangel, Kyle Lapidus and Tali Hinkis.
Has the site or any of your other work caused many seizures?
BJ: As far as I know, our site hasn't caused any
seizures, although lots of people have told me it should come with a warning,
and many more have complained about how hard it is to read. I've got an exhibit
up on tubaexotica.com that's even more dangerous to epileptics; it's all
dissonant red and blue colored, interactive animations.
Could you tell me how you came up with the cover for Rise, Rise, Rise?
BJ: The Rise cover used some digital distortion
that I learned how to create somewhat accidentally. You can open jpeg files as
text files in some editors such as BBEdit, and by changing the ASCII slightly,
or replacing blocks of repeated letters, you can fuck up the image. I started
playing with removing, adding and replacing bits of text in photo files, and got
some really great, glitchy source material. I then further messed them up in
Photoshop, mostly changing and adding bright, dissonant colors. The photo half
of the cover is one I took while traveling in Vietnam; it's a reservoir near
what used to be the DMZ.
Dan, how did you get into circuit bending? How did you develop your setup? I
understand you just put a solo record out.
Dan: For the record, I don't do any circuit bending. For real next-level
nerds who can build or modify electronics to make good music, see Amps For
Christ, Voltage and Diagram A. I started using electronics in high school by
attaching remote control car joysticks and walkie-talkies to guitars. I did that
after hearing the way the Boredoms and Man Is The Bastard were using harsh
electronics in a hardcore/punk context. My current set up came from using mostly
electronic toys from childhood. A lot of my sounds are generated from a toy
keyboard that I got when I was eight—you can buy them for $10 to $25 on eBay. I
run it through a couple of cheapo effects pedals and that's it. I just released
my second EP, Sunburn, on Velocirecords.
How did you hook up with JMZ and Narnack?
BJ: Dan's known Mike Burke, the owner of JMZ Records,
for years. We basically forced ourselves onto the label, helping with the costs
of producing our first 7" and first full length, Groundswell. It's really
just a small effort among friends. The dudes at Narnack asked us to do the split
with Tyondai, and we said "yes." We'd known them for a while just by hanging out
at shows in NYC together.
"The scene in Brooklyn's been alternately awe-inspiring,
frustrating, incestuous, tedious, exciting and convenient. The trendiness of the
neighborhood can definitely get on one's nerves." -BJ
There seemed to be a really distinct progression from Groundswell to
Rise, Rise, Rise. I feel like the songs on Rise were a lot more
varied and cohesive and had a much greater sense of purpose. Do you guys plan to
keep evolving with each release or are you trying to reach a point where you can
say, “this is what we sound like”?
BJ: With Rise we were definitely trying out a
lot of new ideas all at once. I think the songs individually sound more
thought-out, but as a collection I find that they're a bit too varied. We were
definitely attempting to push ourselves sonically. Right now, with the newest
songs, we're closer than ever to a point of sounding how we want to sound. We're
doing a lot more vocals, Dan's playing more guitar, I'm playing electronics, and
we've got just a more definable sound. That said, I don't think we'll reach a
point where we'll stop trying new things.
Dan: The goal is to develop a recognizable sound or approach, but to always keep
evolving. All of the bands I'm influenced by have been able to do that.
Chris: Part of the reason that I joined the band is because I was so energized
by the direction they were going. They're really harnessing their noise and
making some really beautiful music with some really ugly sounds.
Q: I hear a lot of Scotch-Irish (mostly in the galloping major chords and
triumphant melodies) and classical Indian influences (in the constant droning
and mantra-esque quality of some of the vocals in Parts & Labor's music. Are any
of you particular fans of Scotch-Irish or classical Indian music?
Dan: I've listened to a lot of Irish music and some classical Indian, but I
think those influences came second generation, meaning we're influenced by rock
or punk bands that are influenced by those folk traditions. Some examples would
be the Ex, Amps For Christ, the Boredoms, and Neutral Milk Hotel. My parents
played a lot of Irish music around the house, so it probably comes from there as
BJ: I think we're more directly influenced by movie soundtracks and video game
Chris: The most non-European thing that gets played in the tour van as of late
is lots of mbira music from Zimbabwe. So maybe the next record will be Husker Du
meets Thomas Mapfumo. Let's pray.
How do you feel about the political climates in these respective regions?
BJ: The tech outsourcing phenomena in India is pretty
intriguing and mirrors the same progression as the movement of U.S. factory jobs
to foreign countries to take advantage of cheap, Third World labor. At the same
time that programmers there have more and more opportunities at their
fingertips, they're generally being taken advantage of by multinational
corporations rushing to increase their profit margin. I've freelanced on some
web projects where code I work on during the day is worked on while I'm sleeping
by people I never speak to in India.
Chris: We live in America and, from what I understand, we don't have to
think about any other countries at all.
A lot of the melodies seem to have an almost nursery rhyme-like quality to them.
If you removed all the cacophonous elements you could sing them to young
children. So, my question is how will Parts & Labor plan to exploit and
eventually capitalize on this burgeoning and largely untapped (at least by the
underground rock community) market?
BJ: You found us out.
Chris: I've actually heard about a half-dozen children's records made by
indie-rockers. With the exception of the They Might Be Giants record, they all
are pretty much dogshit.
Dan: I think we're going to stick with targeting the manchild market. It's been
good to us so far.
I know all of you have pretty interesting day jobs—care to tell readers what it
is you do when you're not serving up the noise platter to bespectacled college
kids and unsuspecting toddlers? Any interesting stories from the office?
BJ: I currently am a freelance web developer at an agency in NYC. Strictly
front-end coding. Fairly boring, but it pays the bills. I've managed to save up
enough cash to purchase the next Parts & Labor tour van. The office I work at is
just a few blocks from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, which,
despite the cleanup efforts of the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations,
retains a healthy population of misfits, homeless folk, druggies, outcasts and
weirdos. My desk sits next to an emergency exit, which opens directly to the
sidewalk. All day I'm privy to all manner of bizarre conversations, fights,
outbursts and the occasional soliloquizing crazy person.
Dan: I answer the phones at The Onion. Funny, talented, wonderful people
call me all day long looking for jobs and I break their hearts.
Chris: I'm an editor and writer at CMJ New Music Monthly. People call me
all day long looking for reviews and I break their hearts—almost none of them
are funny, talented, or wonderful. Usually I'm on the other end of interviews
like these, holding the tape recorder and pretending to be interested to the
meandering anecdotes of bands who aren't famous enough to wash Trans Am's
"I think we're going to stick with targeting the manchild
market. It's been good to us so far." -Dan
How do you guys feel about the scene in Brooklyn? Why should people care more
about the scene in Brooklyn as opposed to the scenes in Taipei or Halifax, Nova
BJ: The scene in Brooklyn's been alternately
awe-inspiring, frustrating, incestuous, tedious, exciting and convenient. The
trendiness of the neighborhood can definitely get on one's nerves. But there're
still a good number of loft spaces and warehouses where you can see great
shows—just less than there were. We've got a ton of great friends and bands that
we play with and there's no shortage of cool things to do. Shout out to the Big
Dan: The Brooklyn scene has been very good to us. It has produced some really
great bands, and hundreds that just suck farts. There is a thriving D.I.Y.,
all-ages loft scene here that we love dearly, but it has suffered recently from
police crackdowns. Like any scene there's a downside, like promoting cocaine as
a fashion accessory. Scenes tend to promote homogeneity, and media attention to
a scene means that some bands get more attention than they deserve. I'm sure
there's some totally mind-blowing band in Taipei looking at Stellastarr* and
thinking, “What the fuck?”
BJ: People should care most about their own scenes, their own neighborhoods, and
work as much as they can to support their local artists, put on their own shows
and form their own bands. I'd hope that if people like Parts & Labor it has
little, if anything, to do with the fact that we hail from Brooklyn. I'd love to
check out the Taipei and Halifax scenes someday.
Chris: Buck 65 is from Halifax, so I'm totally down with whatever the fuck
they're producing there. I'm from Florida, Dan is from Massachusetts and BJ is
from somewhere else. The fact that we convened in Brooklyn is totally
You guys seem to have a knack for getting into a lot of interesting debacles
(the situation with the tow truck drivers in Oklahoma, the bathroom diva belting
out “God Only Knows,” etc.). What kind of awkward situations are you all most
looking forward to getting into as members of this band? Oh, and feel free to
tell the readers about the situations in parentheses.
BJ: I'm personally looking forward to touring again as
soon as possible, and with touring I'm sure will come more debacles. That's a
great word. Debacle.
Dan: I look forward to touring more, and continuing to play shows with bands
that I worship so I can meet them and be uncomfortable around them. The whole
Oklahoma tow-truck story is on our website. The short version is that our van
died in rural Oklahoma, and we were forced to pay racist, illiterate locals to
drive us and our gear to Oklahoma City. If you guys are out there, FUCK YOU! Oh
yeah, they can't read.
Are Parts & Labor a political band or a band whose members happen to be
BJ: I'd say we're more of a band with politically
conscious members. We don't always intentionally try to write overtly political
lyrics, but since we write about our biggest concerns, they tend to tilt that
way. I try to be as active as possible, but always feel like I should be doing
more. With a second Bush Administration, there's plenty to do.
Could you discuss the political or social significance of the “The Endless
BJ: "The Endless Airshow" is a direct response to the Bush Administration's
media blitz to sell the Iraq invasion, though the lyrics also deal more
generally with the average American's understanding of war being gleaned from
what's on the television. Interesting that under a year later, Bush participated
in a literal air show as he landed a jet on that aircraft carrier.
What's next on the agenda? Is there an agenda?
BJ: Write and recording the next record. Tour like
motherfuckers. Spread love.
Dan: Learn to sing better.
Chris: Make the world a noisier place. Remind the noisy places what melodies
Q: Any last words for the people? Any advice for the little steppers?
Chris: Buying records from Best Buy kills independent
music. Fuck U2.
BJ: Quit your day job, at least once a year.
Dan: Run for president.