Parlour Tricks has spent the last couple of years building a loyal fan base and wowing critics with their knockout three-part harmonies, lustrous melodies and chameleonic blend of pop and modern indie-rock. Lead singer and songwriter Lily Cato, bassist and synth player Brian Kesley, drummer Terry Moore and guitarist Angelo Spagnolo met in college and first played together on a whim when Cato decided to try her hand at songwriting. A few months later Cato asked Morgane Hollowell and Darah "DeeDee" Golub (also friends from college) to join when she realized that nearly every song she'd written was begging for three female voices. Though the women had never sung together before and there was no telling whether or not their voices would actually blend, Cato "had a feeling" based solely on her admiration for both singers. The feeling paid off, and the sextet has been inseparable ever since.
As much as the band cares about creating evocative songs, they also want to ensure that each of their performances is a memorable experience for fans in other ways. “The music can speak for itself, but we want to offer something visually exciting in addition,” Cato says. Matching clothing and synchronized dance moves might be as integral to a Parlour Tricks show as the music but at the end of the day, making sure that everyone is having a blast both onstage and off is paramount to all six members. Seeing as how Village Voice named them 2014’s Best Pop Band in New York City, it seems like a mission accomplished.
Influenced as much by the Andrews Sisters as she is by Vampire Weekend, Cato’s first few years of songwriting kept the lyrical spotlight away from herself and instead found inspiration in other people’s stories, newspaper articles, and books. “I’d write a story for a song the same way you might write a story for a novel,” she says. But for almost all the songs on the band’s upcoming album, Cato challenged herself by becoming her own muse. For the first time, on the heels of a particularly infuriating fight with her boyfriend, Cato was inspired to channel deeply personal thoughts and frustrations into her songwriting, with no characters or outlying stories to hide behind. But while her ideas were becoming more intimate lyrically, the band began exploring expansive new terrain together musically.
Inspired by Cato’s simple demos on Omnichord (the instrument on which she often writes), Kesley began incorporating synths into their live setup. Spagnolo began experimenting more boldly with ambient loops and textures on his guitar, and Moore added electronic drums. Although Cato, Hollowell and Golub's rich three-part harmony still remained as the heart and foundation of their sound, the band found themselves in brand new territory which they readily embraced as their playground. Whereas previously they had felt a little restricted by their instrumentation, the possibilities were suddenly endless.
For their Bar/None Records debut BROKEN HEARTS / BONES (6/23), Parlour Tricks traveled down to Nashville frequently to work with producer Emery Dobyns (Antony & The Johnsons, Patti Smith). Dobyns played a key role in harnessing the band’s ever-evolving sound, allowing them to explore and experiment but creating cohesion within the ten tracks that ultimately ended up on the album.
The band calls their music pop, but they're perfectly happy not being able to specify exactly what that means. “Pop was a dirty word for a while,” says Cato. “Not anymore. The idea of pop music has changed. It’s still changing. Now it seems like a hundred different genres at once. It gives us a lot of room to explore.”