American Classic; An interview with Brett Parnell and Geremy Schulick of Threefifty

Threefifty walks a thin line between post rock and minimalist folk rock, blending and amalgam of sounds are arrangements conjured up by founders Brett Parnell and Geremy Schulick. Born of early infatuations with guitar-heroes ranging from Chet Atkins to Randy Rhoads to Mark Knopfler to Julian Bream, Parnell and Schulick’s their pursuits led them to the Yale School of Music’s classical guitar program, countless hours in the recording studio, and on tours throughout the U.S., U.K., Austria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Now having cut four albums and landed gigs at BAM’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Festival and BAMcafé Live, WNYC’s Soundcheck, TEDx Carnegie Mellon University, The New York Guitar Festival, and The Englert Theatre, Threefifty has spent years learning honing their craft. Their forthcoming record, Gently Among the Coals, finds them blazing down them with an energy and earnestness that is immediately genuine. Having hinted at an 8-piece configuration on Collapses, Gently Among the Coals showcases the expansive yet tightly-knit band that Threefifty has transmogrified into.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Parnell and Schulick to discuss the album, which they will self-release tomorrow.
When did you first begin writing the material for Gently Among the Coals ?
Brett Parnell: We actually started writing some of these songs even before the full eight piece band had come together. Geremy and I were experimenting a lot with electronics and loops to fill out our sound and had worked versions of “Fields” and “You Are Going the Right Way” into our duo set. That must’ve been back in 2014. Though I think the idea of this album and band was first planted when we did a performance video for our song “You Make Me Not Want To Leave,” off of our third album, which featured several of the people we ended up adding to the band. We had so much fun during that session and I think we knew then that we wanted to keep working with a more expansive sound.

This is your second release after dropping the “duo” from your name. Do you feel like this is an extension of Threefifty Duo? Or was that a completely different band to you? Clearly, the duo was more grounded in classical music.
Geremy Schulick: If you take Gently Among the Coals and compare it to our first album, then yes it does feel like a totally different aesthetic and you probably wouldn’t think it’s the same band. However, if you were to listen to all four of our albums chronologically, you’d see that it was more of an evolution — the first record is more traditional classical material (Bach, Handel, Brahms, etc) that we’d learned whilst in school for classical guitar, the second still sticks to two acoustic guitars throughout but is all original compositions and incorporates steel-string guitar with some strummy textures more reminiscent of rock music, the third starts adding electric guitar/effects/electronics/other instruments more sporadically, and this fourth one is us fully embracing the broadened dynamics possible with this larger band. With this record we’ve still “composed” most of the parts though, writing scores out in sheet music just like we’ve always done, and much of the guitar work utilizes classical techniques so this album is absolutely still informed by our classical training.
Do you feel a sense of community in the New York music scene? Any New York artists in particular that you think have influenced your music?
BP: Absolutely. I think that this band is a byproduct of the amazing musical community that we have been lucky enough to be a part of. The members are all musicians that we have respected immensely far before we ever got a chance to make music with them. I believe that there is a respect and camaraderie amongst a lot of musicians in New York because everyone realizes how much everyone else is having to hustle. There are a ton of New York musicians that have influenced us — some that come to mind are Sufjan Stevens, Redhooker, Ratatat, The National, Clogs, The Books, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Sarah Kirkland Snider, and Benjamin Verdery, our former guitar teacher.
How did the Daedelus collaboration come to be?
GS: My wife, Jen Stock, who plays keys in the band. first met Alfred Darlington, the human behind Daedelus, when she was curating concerts in NYC and featured him as part of her Sound Art concert at Washington Square Park in 2006. They’ve stayed in loose touch since then, and he actually played at our wedding! I started listening to a lot of electronic music a few years ago, and found myself wanting to try my hand at it, so I toiled for several months and eventually came up with an electronic drum part I felt pretty ok about for our song “More.” When I played it for Jen, who is also an electronic musician, she didn’t pull any punches and said it just wasn’t cutting it. When we started thinking of people we’d love to make the part instead, Alfred was at the top of our list. We really couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.
“Allegiance” is a beautiful track. Was the plan always to include one song with vocals? Is the vocalist one of the instrumentalists in the band?
BP: Thank you so much! It is definitely one of my favorite things that Geremy has ever written. We’ve actually got vocals on most of the tracks but they are in a more supportive, wordless role a great deal of the time. We loved the idea of using the voice as another instrument to add a different color.
“Allegiance” is one of the songs where the voice is more featured and actually uses lyrics as well. We have always written instrumental music so words aren’t exactly our strong suit! Luckily we were able to use the beautifully stark poetry of Vicki Kennelly Stock, Geremy’s late mother-in-law, for three songs on the album. It felt like a perfect match to us and G set the poem so well.
Any plans for a 2017 tour?
Nothing firmed up just yet but we’re planning on a New England tour in the summer/fall, and hopefully heading westward shortly thereafter. Keep an eye out for our album release show in NYC later on this spring!
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