Hi guys, how are you?
Very well, thanks. It’s another sunny day in London and all is well. Just spent the last few days with some friends who were visiting from Canada and managed to construct a strange Frankenstein home-made rack unit with all kinds of effects boxes that we use in our live show. It’s all very exciting. Sadly, I left a trick card set that I recently purchased behind in Manchester.
Would you mind introducing us to your band members?
Piano Rach is mostly just me – Matthew Parker. For live shows, I’m joined on-stage by the great Marina Cristofalo (Lilies on Mars) and Max Zoccheddu who play bass and guitar respectively.
How long has the current band line up been together?
Piano Rach began as a studio project of mine back in 2001. I recorded a few songs in the autumn of 2001 – one of which has made its way onto the new album in its original form, so that makes it almost 10 years old! The rest of the material was recorded over a long period and then finished and polished very recently. Marina and Max joined for the live shows at the beginning of this year and we’ve been playing ever since.
How did you meet each other?
I met Max in my previous band – Sunny Day Sets Fire. We played together in that band until the end of 2009 and have kept in close touch ever since. He introduced me to Marina in the spring of 2010 and I promptly joined her very excellent band – Lilies on Mars.
How did you come up with the band name?
The name came from a kind of goofy fascination I have with terrible AOR (Adult-Oriented Rock). I often enjoy coming up with choruses for the most awful-sounding songs you can imagine and singing them to anyone who will listen. Think Billy Joel meets Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Since I use a lot of Piano in my songs, I thought it would be funny to call the project “Piano Rock” as it makes me think of that terrible, terrible genre and laugh. Eventually, “Rock” transformed into “Rach” in the great and hilarious tradition of bands subverting their own words. Like the umlaut over the “n” in Spinal Tap. Basically…I thought it all sounded funny.
How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t yet heard you?
What music did you listen to while growing up?
My favourite band was (and still is) Sonic Youth. I was introduced to them in 1994 by my friend Craig and listened to the “Screaming Fields of Sonic Love” compilation before going back and getting Daydream Nation, Sister, Evol and wearing them out and then followed them religiously from Washing Machine onwards. I was really into Canadian indie rock when I was a teenager. Eric’s Trip, Thrush Hermit, Sloan, etc. and then eventually got into American indie rock as the 90s progressed. Pavement, Sebadoh, Guided by Voices, Stereolab and Yo La Tengo were great loves of mine. As I got a bit older, I got into a lot of 60s British Invasion and Garage Rock, The Velvet Underground, Dylan, the Kinks and eventually got a better understanding of punk - having shunned it earlier for being too anti-intellectual.
Which artist or track inspired you to want to make music yourself?
When was the ‘I want to do that!’ moment?
I was 12 when “Nevermind” was released. It totally shook me. It was my “Ed Sullivan” moment and I totally wanted to be Dave Grohl from that moment onwards.
What was the last music you put on your ipod or mp3 player?
Panda Bear, Warpaint and PJ Harvey
What have you been up to recently?
We just started playing a series of shows in London that have been going really well. Great crowds and so much fun playing these songs. We’re doing a video for “Husbands & Wives” that will end up being a lot of fun and we’re excited about getting out of London and playing more often up north where the audiences tend to be totally fantastic. We’ve put a lot of work into getting these songs right for the live setting and are always pushing ourselves to get better and better.
What can your fans look forward to in the next 12 months?
The release of Piano Rach’s debit album “The Manor” which is done and ready to go. Some more videos. A couple covers. A lot of UK touring and (hopefully) some outside the UK.
What is your current equipment?
I play Gretsch drums and use a Gibson 335 and a Fender Jazzmaster for the majority of the guitars on the album. The rest gets very nerdy and un-necessary. Fetishising gear eventually becomes a sick exercise in materialism that rarely agrees with the politics of most musicians.
Do you have a favourite piece of musical kit that you couldn’t live without?
I love all my gear. It’s all been very customized and a lot of research went into each little piece. My setup is quite intricate as I play keyboards and samples and use guitar pedals plugged into different effects units whilst playing drums. It required a lot of work to get it right…
If you had an unlimited equipment budget what would be on your shopping list?
I’d get Marina a really excellent bass set-up. Otherwise, we’ve got more than enough.
Do you use the same equipment live as you do when in a studio?
Mostly, though the fact that you’re in a studio means you can use a lot of stuff that doesn’t transport well. Certain acoustic or electro-acoustic instruments are too dangerous to take on the road and you need to have creative alternatives for those ones when touring.
Do you try to capture your ‘live’ sound on recordings or do you think that the ‘live’ sound and recorded sound should be different experiences for your fans?
It’s a bit chicken/egg. At the moment, all the songs began as studio recordings, so the live show is adapted from them. As we continue playing, a lot of new ideas will get developed on the fly, with little improvs and interplays emerging spontaneously on stage. I don’t think it should ever be one or the other. Songs have a life of their own, so they grow and change either way…
How much involvement do you have with the arranging and production of the songs when recording?
Quite a bit, I guess. I arranged and produced the album.
Is the production side of things something you’d like to get involved more in the future, maybe working with other artists?
Absolutely. I often find myself listening to new bands and thinking about how I would have interpreted a song of theirs differently. Producing is the ultimate instrument for a musician as you end up playing an entire band and using their own sound qualities to achieve your idea. It’s a strange, conflicting thing to get involved in, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t tempt me.
Do you find the process of recording enjoyable and does it get easier the more you do?
Recording is great fun as long as you’ve got the right attitude. It depends a lot on the expectations you have and the chemistry of the people in the room. I find the more experience you have, the better you are at getting the necessary perspective. If you can’t find the right spring reverb sound for your sleigh bells as the song climaxes, it’s really not the end of the world to just get something down and move on.
Do you have any new recordings planned?
Nope. I’ve spent 10 years making this album and I’m pretty focused on getting the live show moving from town to town with great energy and enthusiasm before I hit the studio again. That said, I might do the odd cover here and there just for fun.
Who are your favourite songwriters?
Far too many to count. Stephin Merritt and Neil Young were the first names to pop into my head just now (aside from those previously mentioned).
Who are the main songwriters for the band?
Myself. Max wrote the magical guitar line at the end of “Red Burns” after I left him a voicemail humming the bassline.
Do you have a set routine when writing and recording or does it depend on each track and the inspiration?
99% of the time, it all happens upstairs in my head. I can usually hear the finished product immediately and then have to set myself the painstaking task of learning it. It would make extremely embarrassing footage…
Do you have a method for writing songs?
The music always comes first and is almost always matched with certain vocal sounds. I know how many syllables the chorus will have and what vowel sounds will sound good. Brief lyrical phrases are then formed out of necessity and then the rest of the lyrics are built around it.
Do you find song writing easy or difficult?
I find it extremely easy to write a song, though quite difficult to write a good song.
Is there anyone who you would like to collaborate with on writing songs or performing?
My girlfriend, Ella. And Prince.
Would you sign with a major record company?
It depends on the people, the context, a lot of things. Indie labels can be just as corrupt and are sometimes run by unbearable people. Like recording, record deals tend to go wrong when the expectations are misaligned or when the band is too naïve to understand that the people who just advanced them $100K would like their money back.
Which countries have you gigged in?
Most of Europe, Canada and the States.
Which countries would be at the top of your list to tour?
Who would you like to tour with?
All my friends! Oh…you mean other bands?
How do you promote your music and get your music out to new fans?
That’s a dirty business and totally at odds with the fun of being a musician. Some things are best left unsaid…
Which music promotion websites do you use and do you have a favourite?
Music promotion websites?
Do you think such sites and the internet are good tools for independent and unsigned artists?
I don’t know what a music promotion website is. Is that like soundcloud? If so, I think they’re fine. I don’t know if they do much on their own though. You need to be playing gigs and phoning and pushing and posting packages to get people interested in your band…
With such a variety of similar websites that exist now for independent artist to promote music, is there something missing from them that you would like to see?
They likely cover every possible thing, I suppose. They’re a means to an end.
What is your opinion on ‘battle of the bands’ competitions?
Art and sports should never be combined.
What's your best/worst experience at a gig?
Best was playing a festival in Spain under a full moon overlooking the sea and everything just going so, so right. The worst was our US debut at the Roxy in Hollywood playing to next to nobody and feeling kind of crap about it.
Do you get nervous before a gig? How do you calm down?
Usually not. I get really excited. I tend to want the band that’s on before us to hurry up and get off ‘cause I’m excited to set up and get going. Apologies in advance to any other bands that we play with who happen to read this. I mean no disrespect…
Has your music been used on any film soundtracks?
Yes. Got a trip to Hollywood out of it. Terribly fun.
Is composing for film or tv something you’d like to get involved in if the opportunity came along?
Yep. It’s a totally different medium. Rock records are made to be enjoyed on their own in a very specific way. Soundtracks use music as an ingredient…not the full meal, so you have to treat it differently.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.