Pubblicato il Maggio 29th, 2022 | by Paolo Formichetti0
Matthew Parmenter: from folk to prog
Mattew Parmenter certainly needs no introduction: singer and multi-instrumentalist, he is the leader of Discipline, for which he is the main author of music and lyrics, and has produced three solo albums of rare emotional intensity. For some time now, the Detroit artist has been lending his skills as a violinist to the trio led by singer Kate Hinote, with whom he recorded a record and is performing regularly in acoustic concerts. We interviewed him to get news about this new project and the more properly Prog part of his artistic activity.
Hi Matthew, first of all I’m very happy to do a new interview with you after some years. Let’s start with some questions about Kate Hinote Trio. The first thing I noticed is that both you and Kate Hinote (and David Johnson) live in the Detroit area, so I suppose it makes everything easier. How did you meet Kate and David and when have you started playing together?
It is great to be able to reconnect with you, Paolo. I appreciate the chance to share my latest adventures with you and your readers. David Johnson is something of a fixture around Detroit and I have known him for several years. He is a local radio DJ, has played guitar in different bands, and he goes to see many local and touring bands live. I used to spot him when he came to see Discipline shows. He was once in a band with our former keyboardist, David Krofchok. His cover band, aptly named Coverboy, plays one big show in Detroit every year at which they feature cover songs by a single artist (Bowie one year, Foreigner another, last time it was Duran Duran). After years of seeing David around town I started receiving online invitations from him to go see his band. They were called Kate Hinote and the Disasters. This was a three piece with two female vocalists and David on acoustic guitar. After neglecting several invitations to see them live, I finally attended a show. I was immediately struck by the lead singer’s voice. Kate Hinote has a bell-like intonation that I had never heard from a local singer. I was glad I finally made it out. I remember feeling somewhat overwhelmed and at the same time suspicious of Kate’s live singing. What I mean is, I suspected she must be using a tuning pedal or digital effect, because she sounded so pleasingly in tune to my ear. I found myself holding my breath, waiting for her to complete her sung phrases, as if I was listening to a classical musician. It was completely unexpected and I was moved by the experience. It seemed incomprehensible to me that a singer so skilled was gigging in some little known band in Detroit, and not snatched up by a mega label. At the same time I thought perhaps I was being duped. Like it was not really her ability, but some trick or effect. Later I was invited by Kate to perform my solo songs at a singer/songwriter Acoustic Showcase she was organizing. I did not know at the time that, behind the scenes, David was egging Kate on to include me. In any case, I did my song and dance routine at her showcase, along with ten or twelve other local acts. This would have been just after my trip to perform in Rome, now that I think of it. Then Dave’s other band, The Blueflowers, invited me to play a warm up set at one of their shows. This band also includes Kate on vocals, but with electric guitars and drums. I did my solo warmup show ahead of their set. A year or more went by and I was taking my son to see The Musical Box perform Genesis songs. Not surprisingly the ubiquitous David Johnson was there at the Musical Box Show, too. I asked him how his acoustic group was going, and he said that the female vocalist who sings backing vocals had recently moved away. He said the two of them, David and Kate, were still performing as a duo. I mentioned to David that if he and Kate were interested in experimenting with me, I would enjoy trying to play violin with them sometime. Kate sings so well and has such a tremendous gift for melody that I wanted to work with her. I also wanted to look behind the curtain, to see if she really sang that way in person without any stage reverb or effects. Months passed and I didn’t think much more of it. Then one day Kate contacted me to ask if I would bring my violin to one of their duo rehearsals. David had apparently passed along my offer to play. At that first rehearsal I improvised violin parts against Kate’s vocals. She and David liked the way it sounded. I remember asking her if she would like for me to improvise or develop more fixed parts. “Parts,” she said. Then we started rehearsing regularly and gigging soon after. I can say confidently that she does sing that way, all the time, and it is not a tuning trick. It is just her way. As a singer I am a little envious. I struggle with pitch when I sing. I wish I understood how she does it.
All the tracks is just the three of you. Have you considered during the recording of the album to have some overdubbing (piano, backing vocals) or that was ruled out to preserve the live feeling of the project?
The trio were recorded live in the studio. There were only three instruments: voice, violin, and guitar. Kate’s vision was to avoid overdubs to allow the listener to experience the Trio as if at a live show. The result can be eerie at times. Not quite folk music, though purely acoustic. I am not sure what genre this music is. Rob Reinhart (a Public Radio DJ out of Detroit who hosts WDET’s “Essential Music” and NPR’s “Acoustic Cafe”) described our Trio’s music on his program as “acoustic rock,” which I suppose is accurate. In our little press releases we call the style “alternative folk.” For the Trio recording, Kate wanted to keep it simple, and keep it authentically live. Though she did decide to double vocals on one track.
I’d love to learn more about “Where You Dream Now” as it’s the track I enjoyed most. Can you tell us something about this song? (the time is 7/8, isn’t it?).
The Kate Hinote Trio is not a progressive rock group. I would not want readers to get the wrong impression. Having said that, I was inspired to write a few melodies for Kate to sing, and my writing style often leans toward what one might call progressive rock. I am often unaware that I write in odd meters until I am counting out the song idea later. Then I became intrigued to bring a 7 meter groove and melody to the trio, perhaps as a nod to the “proggers” or to those that like odd meters. That groove in 7 and its accompanying melody was to become the song “Where You Dream Now” after Kate added her lyrics. The song has a nice gait and pulse. —I prefer to feel it in quarter notes, like 7/4 rather than 7/8. We enjoy playing the song out live, often as a set closer. Audiences seem to like the energy of the song, even though they might not realize it is not regular old 4/4 time. Although our Trio is not “prog,” I have been pleasantly surprised by the warm reception the Trio has received from some listeners that consider themselves “progressive rock” fans. Quite a few have reached out with kind praise. It was a surprise for me to learn that something in Kate’s voice and this music speaks to these listeners, too.
What led you to the decision of including “Some Fear Growning Old” in the album?
As a singer, Kate has attracted the attention of local Detroit musicians and songwriters, several of whom have allowed her to incorporate their songs into her repertoire. Although a few of the songs on the Trio’s new album were written by Kate, some are songs by artists she has followed on the local Detroit scene. I guess she wanted to acknowledge friends and songwriters she enjoys by including them in this release. As for the song “Some Fear Growing Old,” this was a song I recorded on my first solo album released back in 2004. Kate was attracted not to that version, but to a live version of the song I performed at NEARfest that was recorded and released on a DVD. Kate does a lovely job covering this song. I particularly like that it sounds the compass of her vocal range, from lowest chest alto to flutelike soprano. I am not sure why she chose to record this song on the Trio album, but I am grateful. A magical experience to hear this song I recorded myself eighteen years ago transformed by a singer whose voice I adore. The Trio rarely performs “Some Fear Growing Old” live. Though the track is our album closer, and I think reminiscent of a somber Simon & Garfunkel, frankly the song is a bit of a boat anchor emotionally in a live gig meant to entertain and draw in strangers. The lyrics, about death and loss, and reconciliation, is hardly welcome at a typical gig. The Trio typically gets booked at bars or coffee houses where not everyone in the audience is expected to be listening, and where too quiet a song might be lost behind conversations. We perform this song primarily at shows where we think listeners familiar with my music (or Discipline’s) will attend. For example, the Trio performed the song at a virtual set for the Progstock music festival, warming up for Discipline’s set. And we played it at a private house concert arranged by a longtime Discipline follower who has discovered a love for the Trio. Occasionally we risk performing the song at a regular gig if we sense the audience is “in the zone” or especially tolerant. But mostly we hold back this song. It is just for album listeners. “Where You Dream Now” with its lively beat is a safer choice for a festive bar or civic gig.
It’s a pleasure to listen to so much violin playing from you. You surely improved a lot from the “Push & Profit” days… when have you started playing violin and how it developed through the years?
Unlike the piano, which I played by ear from an early age, the violin was forced upon me by my parents. The piano was my first love, in some ways my only love. I played piano starting at two years old, possibly earlier. I learned to imitate the pieces I heard my mother and older siblings play as they took lessons. I started writing simple tunes at the age of three. This probably negatively affected my social development as I preferred to sit at the piano than to play outside with others. It was my world and I felt safe there. Long before Discipline, Mathew Kennedy and I were childhood playmates. We first met when we were only three years old. To hear him tell the story, on that first meeting day, I dragged him to the music room so I could play the piano. It must have seemed odd. But then we were only three, so who knows. The result of all this playing piano by ear was that I became a mimic of others. My private world started to fall apart when I started taking piano lessons. I studied with my mother’s piano teacher, Clark Eastham, around ten years of age. I was playing Mozart sonatas, Bach minuets and the like, and the Gerschwin preludes. After many lessons, my well meaning instructor handed me sheet music for a new piece to learn, and asked me to play through it. I couldn’t because I could not read the notes. Apparently I was “faking” it because playing by ear was not the right way. He encouraged my parents to get me lessons on a less familiar instrument in the hopes I would be forced to learn to read notes. Violin was the recommended instrument. Thus began a lifelong embarrassment with myself and my struggle to read music. At first I refused violin lessons as a child and my parents threatened to sell the instrument. That’s a story for a therapist. I eventually relented and took the violin lessons because I didn’t want to lose the violin. After a year or so of Suzuki training in the public school, with tape on the violin neck like fret markers, I was taken to James Waring. He played with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He took the tape off my violin neck and started me on formal lessons. I eventually did learn to read music, but never very well. It is painful to wait for me to translate the notes on the page to something I can hear and then play back smoothly. I panic every time I attempt it. At the age of seventeen, I auditioned on the violin to attend Oberlin Music Conservatory, but I badly botched the audition, forgetting one of my memorized pieces mid performance. I was not admitted to the Conservatory. Humiliated after the rejection, I more or less put the violin away for years. I did attend Oberlin, but rather than going to the music conservatory I attended the college where I majored in Creative Writing. And though I went on a few romantic dates with Oberlin Conservatory students, and I did once play violin duets with one of them (ah, youth!), I mostly retreated into my Discipline band, writing my weird music, and neglecting the violin. The violin was not completely put away. I would overdub the instrument onto a recorded track sometimes. I would play violin to write music sometimes. The main theme of Discipline’s “Rogue” song was written on the violin, then transcribed to guitar. But mostly violin playing for me was private and coupled with feelings of awkwardness and shame. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I am finally happy to play this instrument. It feels like a big step to be playing violin again regularly. It is emotional for me. A little like finding another part of oneself.
A few months ago there was the anniversary of your solo concert in Rome and Discipline concert in Veruno. Would you like to share with your fans your memories of those events?
A magical memory that. It almost seems like a dream to me now. How kind it was of you and Paolo Carnelli to invite me to play in Rome. I recall it was almost two hours long, the performance, which is a lot to ask an audience to endure. And I remember it was hot. The air conditioner had broke down. My mime face melted. The audience used hand fans to cool themselves. But they applauded enthusiastically, so I think it was well received. I remember feeling grateful that people recognized many of the songs, you know, applauding when they recognized what song it was. Just like a real performer. I remember your generous hospitality, dining and drinking. And the crazy snaking Roman streets with their scales of stone.
Could you please give me some details about Terry Brown’s new mix of “Unfolded Like Staircase”? What can we expect and how much improvement can we find compared to the original?
Here I am, so far behind that by the time I send you these interview responses, the new reissue of “Unfolded Like Staircase” has already come out. …So perhaps you can better describe it than I can. The new mix is stellar, of course. Terry just understands intuitively what sounds to bring forward in the mix. He surprises one with the sounds he decides to tuck in the back. There is infinitely more depth and clarity in the music now. The mix is wide, deep, and tall, as they say. Everything it never was before. One can hear Mathew Kennedy’s bass guitar distinctly, but it never sounds boomy as our original mix did. And the drums: present, clean, professional. No mud! I appreciate that some listeners got accustomed to the old muddy mix, but I knew it was weak, the result of our DIY approach. I am grateful Terry was willing to help us clean things up with the new reissue. Regarding the reissue of ULS, people might not realize how important Chris Herin was to the effort. When our guitarist Jon Preston Bouda left around 2009, Chris (of Tiles band) offered to help us out with guitar. Without Chris, we could not have played out live. We could not have released “Captives of the Wine Dark Sea.” We could not have appeared in the UK, Italy, Spain, Mexico, or any other recent festivals or tours. What is more, although we all talked about someday releasing “Unfolded Like Staircase” on vinyl, it was Chris Herin who helped connect the dots to make this happen. Chris approached ProgRock’s Mark and Rayna Monforti and suggested they ask me about rereleasing the album. …Although Chris did not play on the Unfolded album, his enthusiasm, his contacts, and his longtime friendship with Terry Brown, made this reissue a reality. If you like the new mix, no small thanks goes to Chris Herin. And I might add that Chris has been championing the new songs we are working on for the next release. I am terribly grateful for his friendship and support.
Are there any plans to reprint/remix “Push & Profit”?
There are no plans for a “Push & Profit” reissue I am afraid. That album, for all its flaws, was tolerably mixed compared to “Unfolded Like Staircase.” Moreover, “Push & Profit” is not as well known. I do not see a label taking an interest to reissue this album. It might be nice to see it released on vinyl, but this is not something our label would invest in today.
What plans are there in the future for Discipline and for your solo works?
Discipline are working on a new recording. The songs are written and we are rehearsing them to go into the studio. I cannot commit to timing. No more to say at present. The same can be said for my solo material. I have songs written, but I must record them. Discipline is my first priority. My son is an excellent drummer, and I hope to record something with him. He was on a hidden track on my Horror Express album, playing drums when he was five years old. Now he has grown into one of the best drummers I know. He has an excellent feel for progressive rock drums and a sensitivity that I think is lacking in many rock drummers. Lately he has been formally studying jazz drums. I hope to do some recording with him before he gets too busy for his old Dad.
Do you plan other musical collaborations in the near future? Maybe in the Chris Herin solo album?
Chris Herin is putting the finishing touches on his first solo album. The working title is “Dark Days in Papier Mache.” This is a tremendous effort and it includes some fairly powerful poetry, as it explores Chris’s experience watching his father succumb to Alzheimer’s disease. The songs range from introspective pieces to full on rock songs. I am a guest musician on the album, doing some vocals and some keyboards. Chris even allowed me to co-write a couple of the tracks. There are numerous other guest musicians, many of whom have a personal connection to the project, having lost their own loved ones to the disease. Chris will be donating to the Alzheimer’s Association out of the album sales. It has been a way for him to process his loss, I think, and a way to transform the negative experience into something positive.
Finally, do you have a message for your italian fans?
I very much appreciate the interest in my music from listeners in Italy. Every act of songwriting is an act of faith, in a way. Some songs work out better than others, and as a writer, one experiences a kind of joy in the creative process. But I never know whether my work will be heard, or whether it will resonate with those that do hear it. I have been fortunate to have found an audience in Italy. I am grateful to the people who have given my work some of their conscious time. It feels tremendously rewarding to me. To those in Italy who would identify as a fan, my message is thank you.