In The Name of Pride; An interview with Heather Sawyer and Claire Nelson-Lifson of Proud Parents

Starting in Madison, Wisconsin as the musical culmination of a decade of friendship and playing in punk bands, Claire Nelson-Lifson and Tyler Fassnacht (Fire Heads) began writing the first of Proud Parent’s jangly, garage infused pop tunes in Claire’s living room. Shortly thereafter Heather Sawyer of the Hussy joined on drums and vocals, turning the songwriting duo into a trio, and they quickly garnered a devout following both locally and regionally, and gained a reputation throughout the midwest as a live power-pop force to be reckoned with.
Now a full fledged four piece, originally with Alex Seraphin on bass and now with Maggie Denman, the band has established its own unique dynamic with three lead singers whose voices and songwriting stand strong individually, yet blend together with such comfort and ease that it is hard to imagine them apart.
After two live tapes (out on No Coast Records and Rare Plant) and a full length cassette Sharon Is Karen (also out on Rare Plant), Proud Parents released their first self-titled LP on Dirtnap Records in late June. This record marked the first release in eighteen years by a band from the label’s hometown of Madison. The album, recorded and mixed by Bobby Hussy (the Hussy, Cave Curse, Fire Heads, TIT) at his own Hex Empire, is about self-reflection, jumping from saccharine adoration, to heartfelt confession. It touches on themes of isolation, anxiety, loss and moving on, with each singer coming at the songs with their own distinct perspective.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Proud Parents about friendship, melody and Saturday Night Live.
When did you decide that Proud Parents was a project you wanted to pursue?
Heather Sawyer: Right away I knew I wanted to pursue Proud Parents. I was humbled that Claire and Tyler asked me to play in it. I’m also a big, big fan of pop songwriting and poppy melodies. We all were friends before this band existed, and got along really well.
Claire Nelson-Lifson: Tyler and I were friends with Heather from going to see Hussy shows, and we all really liked the band The Babies, so when Heather heard that Tyler and I were writing material inspired by them she wanted in on the action
What is it about the chemistry you have that makes this a fun or worthwhile endeavor?
HS: I feel we all have really good senses of humor and we all genuinely enjoy hanging out with each other. We all are pretty much into the same kind of music as well. I also like that we learn from each other, and try to get the best possible songs out of each other. It’s great! All those things make it fun and worthwhile to me.

Do each of your ‘lead singers’ write your own songs or is there a primary songwriter?
HS: Yup, we each write our own individual songs for the most part. Although I do know that on the song “Hypnotoad,” Tyler wrote the music and lyrics to that. I came up with the melody for the verses for that one. That song was collaborative.
CN: Some songs were written more collaboratively than others, I love that if I bring a riff or a progression to practice Heather will always come up with a cool melody. I call her the Queen of Melody for this reason

When did Dirtnap take notice of the band?

HS: I’m not entirely sure when Ken noticed our band, but at some point he moved to Madison last year and we would see him out at our shows.
Does the LP feature any of the songs on your previous live releases?
HS: The song “Something To Talk About” was on a live tape I think, so yes?
Heather’s Hussy bandmate helped with the recording correct? What was it like working with Bobby and what did he lend to the process?
HS: Yeah, Bobby totally recorded this record for us at his new home studio, Hex Empire. I’ve been working with Bobby for over 10 years in various bands, so recording with him is a total breeze for me. He is super chill and he really tries to get the best take out of you. He is always easy to work with in the studio.
CN: I admittedly haven’t spent much time in the studio as a musician, and the recording process can seem very overwhelming, but I have been very fortunate to have been able to mostly record with my friends. Recording can also be a very vulnerable experience because you have to do a lot of takes just by yourself so you don’t have the rest of the band to support you if you make a mistake. It is always a treat to discover what the actual lyrics are to the songs the other band members have written.
Bobby is very professional and efficient, but also did a good job of making us feel comfortable and validated during the recording process while still having fun. It certainly helps that we have gotten pretty tight over the years, so that combined with Bobby’s expertise made for a fairly efficient recording process.
Is there a particular message or theme you were exploring with the record?
HS: No, not really. I know for me I was just trying to write the best songs I could. I really didn’t have a theme or message behind my songs. I was just trying to make a good song with a great melody.
CN: I think we all have our own themes that we tend to write about, and I tend to write things I would like to say to people if I was better at dealing with confrontation.
What are your loftiest goals for Proud Parents?
HS: Hmmmmm….I would love to be able to tour Europe or go on a tour with bands/musicians that inspire me like Bonny Doon or Kevin Morby.
Claire: I agree with Heather that it would rule to be asked to be direct support on a tour because I love being on the road! I think that is a relatively reasonable goal, so I suppose my loftiest goal would be to be the musical guest on Saturday Night Live which would inevitably lead to me being a Paul Simon or Justin Timberlake wherein I will end up hosting more than once.
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