Former Faces: Ryan Parmenter’s Sonic Jaunt

The morning after Thanksgiving I found myself with a throbbing headache; I sat on a train and watched a wall of passing trees disappear beyond the steamed-up windows beside...
Former-Faces

The morning after Thanksgiving I found myself with a throbbing headache; I sat on a train and watched a wall of passing trees disappear beyond the steamed-up windows beside me. With the residual taste of shitty whiskey still lurking in my mouth, I hoped to redirect my attention to something more pleasant. I flipped through my Spotify playlists and remembered what Ryan Parmenter of LA-based band, Former Faces, had told me in our conversation the week before: “Ideally for these songs, it’d be that somebody’s on the move, either walking or running or on a bus, but they’re not driving they’re just kind of taking in the scenery around them and this is playing along as a soundtrack of some kind.” This was Parmenter’s response when I asked him about how he would instruct his listeners to enjoy Former Faces’ two released singles. Perfect, I thought, let’s test this out.

. . . . .

Former Faces came to be last year after Parmenter shared some new song ideas with current bassist, Bryan Blake. A natural domino-effect entailed; Blake brought on drummer, Abe Kim, and Kim brought on guitarist, David Lee. All four band members have production, songwriting and engineering experience. Therefore, even though Parmenter is mainly recording and producing the upcoming EP himself, they will all work together to develop a full-length record. So far, there are two tracks out: “The Runaround” and “Back Up a Minute.” What sets Former Faces apart from other contemporary bands in LA is that they connect self-directed videos, done by Parmenter himself, with each of their singles; this may be a potential reason they have decided to pursue a long-term release plan rather than a mass-outpouring of songs: “We’re going to release two or three more singles over the course of the next four or five months…put out an EP in February/March of four or five songs and then I’m really excited to do a lot of recording with the band in February and those tracks will probably lead to a full-length album later next year.” I was mesmerized by the video-component to “Back Up a Minute” – a breathtaking display of waterfalls, bright moons, cityscapes and shimmering waterfront galaxies – so I was eager to ask Parmenter about his creative process.

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“So what does directing and creating these videos entail?”
“I started messing around with video stuff six or seven years ago for other bands I was in… Most of it is found footage or public domain footage. It’s evolved into this process of creating these dreamscapes by combining this found imagery to try to represent dreams I’ve had or experiences I’ve had. It’s kind of taking on a life of its own and taking shape now.” When I asked Parmenter how he goes about finding this footage, he laughed and told me that he tirelessly scours the internet. “There’s a range of footage in there from stuff that was posted online three weeks ago to stuff I dug up that’s 1920’s experimental German films that make up the layered elements.” He then throws the footage into Final Cut Pro or Premier and messes around with layering until he creates these “unique landscapes.” This process takes months. Currently, Parmenter is building an array of scenes that he will later dedicate to any of the fifteen unreleased singles Former Faces has already written.

I believe that a band who is excited and confident about their sound being adaptable and fluid – able to change naturally within whatever space they occupy – is one that will never get stuck in a particular persona. As I interviewed Parmenter about his newest audiovisual project, it was apparent that Former Faces is going to be a band of this kind. Parmenter went about describing their sound as “calming and positive,” with “an inherent sense of longing and searching.” However, Former Faces has yet to take the stage; a special sonic realm that some ambient sounding bands still haven’t utilized fully. “We’re still show virgins,” said Parmenter, “but we’ll be popping that cherry soon…we’re super psyched to play live…we’ve been prepping.” Often times bands that one chooses to relax to don’t give a fulfilling performance, leaving the audience tired and bored. Former Faces could easily fall into this category with their sonic cloud of synths, Parmenter’s meditative vocals and Lee’s serene looping guitar riffs. But Parmenter left me thinking otherwise when I asked him what an audience would be in for during a Former Faces show.

“Ideally we’d want it to be very audiovisual because I feel like the creative process is a dual process. I’m creating the songs and videos simultaneously so they kind of play off each other. So I’d love to bring that element to a live performance. I think it will depend show to show in the beginning based on the venue and what kind of accommodations that venue will have to bring the show to life. The all-immersive experience is what we are going for.” We bonded as music-lovers over specific concerts we’ve been to that incorporated a visual aesthetic. Parmenter was highly influenced by Tame Impala’s use of primary colors and rudimentary shapes in their live visuals, which is obvious when watching any Former Faces video. He admitted that he’s all about “the comeback of color and shape…when you go to a concert, you have these visuals linking up with the music, it kind of takes you to a place you didn’t think you could go. I’d like to try to pull that off.” When discussing what venues could assist Parmenter’s vision, he told me that “it’s not impossible to pull off at a smaller venue, it just feels like – not to get ahead of myself – I want to do something pretty epic in scope…we’ll just see what opportunities present themselves.”

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There’s no doubt that Former Faces will conduct an alluring visual performance, but how will their sound translate to a live audience? Parmenter gave me a glimpse of his band’s possible fluidity: “It’s interesting because the songs translate live a little bit differently…we have a bit more of a rock sound live. There’s a lot more energy to it than what comes up on the recordings.” This is Parmenter’s first shot at being a vocalist. “The last two bands I was in I played bass and keyboards so this is the first time putting my voice out there. I think being a rookie as a vocalist kind of lets me explore a little more as we learn these songs live because there’s stuff I find myself trying in rehearsal that I’d never think to sing in a studio…you don’t feel that energy as much in a studio. It’s been really helpful to get in a room with these guys and play some of these songs a bit differently while trying to replicate some things I’ve learned in the studio.” Thinking back to all of the mediocre, motionless indie shows I’ve been to over the years I was almost giddy to hear this response. Picturing that cloud of synths transforming into a dance-centered orchestra of sound, and Parmenter’s vocal range expanding without fear – maybe with an abrupt yell – is exciting. Lee’s guitar riffs may become more piercing and raw and Kim’s drums may build up a head-banging drop leaving hipster kids everywhere shaking in their Doc Martens, more alive than ever before.

When I became aware of Former Faces, “Back Up a Minute” had just come out. All of the press for the single circulated around Parmenter’s grandfather’s death, for that was the inspiration for the song; the lyrics are influenced by a conversation Parmenter wished he could have had with his grandfather. Sadly, his grandfather suffered from dementia so the conversation never took place. The sense of longing and searching Parmenter described existing within his sound can definitely be attributed to this real event. I listened to “The Runaround” afterward and sensed a similar emotional moment. Referring to “Back Up a Minute,” I asked, “Are all of your songs centered around life events like this one?”

“Well I think the first two singles I’ve put out are…I’m actually trying to write that way a little bit more…I think this one and “Runaround” are more focused on a specific event that triggered me to write a song.” When I asked him about the story behind their debut single, “The Runaround,” he described a beautiful scene during one of he and his wife’s last days living in Santa Monica. Parmenter reflected on the moment, after getting home from playing with their dog on the beach: “I just wrote this groovy tale…about staying positive because we were sad to leave paradise.” As simple as this songwriting process sounds, there can be more clarity and precision in expressing a fleeting instant in our lives opposed to something more abstract. Parmenter believes that “extrapolating on a single moment can make a song more honest and meaningful. When I used to write I would try to get the whole story of my life or how I was feeling…inevitably they became these songs that were emotional rollercoasters instead of focusing on one or two specific emotions within that spectrum.” Ryan is currently utilizing two crucial elements in songwriting: space and simplicity. In working to preserve a specific moment, even one that is developed through hindsight or a dream, Parmenter is leaving enough room for the listener to connect and develop their own meaning from the music.

. . . . .

As I continued to sit on the train, I slowly separated myself from my hangover. “Back Up a Minute” and “The Runaround” played on repeat, giving me some peace of mind. Instead of thinking from inside my body, my attention went elsewhere as the music allowed the outside atmosphere to enter into the dingy train-car; the clouds enveloped the falling leaves, rundown power plants went by and I felt my body morph into the worn seat with fraying edges feeling like just another passenger in an otherwise overwhelming world. Before our conversation, Ryan Parmenter hadn’t envisioned his audience. When I asked him that question – How would you instruct your listeners to enjoy your music? – he paused for a considerably long time before answering. Sometimes, the inability to answer a question, especially in an interview, is seen as a negative thing. But when Parmenter paused, my heart started pounding. This is a true artist, I thought, so dedicated to his sound and the natural fusion of his band that he doesn’t have room to imagine anything else yet. I further pondered the excitement of interviewing someone in the midst of creating their musical identity as my train rolled past a group of skyscrapers, signaling that I was back home. I gathered my stuff and walked onto the platform feeling the mist on my face, humming along to a tune that became that exact moment. This is the power of music.

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