Birmingham’s Matt Sanderlin is nothing short of prolific. Whether writing and playing as a solo artist or in groups like Verdure, he follows the muse wherever it leads.
A few years ago, however, he began trading his acoustic troubadour roots for something more. Recruiting some old and new musical allies, he began to shape the songs of his latest project, Parishop, which will release its debut full-length, Newland, at Syndicate Lounge on Friday, August 12.
Recently, Sanderlin spoke about his change in direction, embracing your influences, how playing every day for your job inspires greater creative endeavors and the tough situation of finding a band name.
Weld: You’re known mainly as a singer/songwriter under your own name. Where did the Parishop come from?
Matt Sanderlin: It came from listening to a lot of my favorite bands. I used to have a fear of letting my influences into my music. I just wanted to be so different from Ryan Adams or the Shins that no one could figure out the influences. So when I was listening to the Ryan Adams self-titled album, it was weird because I noticed that a lot of his influences were making their way into his music. If I do it tactfully, I thought I could invite my own influences in. I listened to a lot of dream pop like Beach House, even the Smiths with that great dreamy guitar sound, and I wanted to see if I could do that.
Weld: How’d the band come together?
Sanderlin: It started out with just me, and I wrote two songs that we still play today. I wrote them one after another during this random practice session. I decided to see what they’d sound like with a drummer, so I brought in Alex McCall. Then I brought in my friend Ben Wright on bass. Over time, we’ve perfected the lineup. It’s pretty much stayed the same six people, save for one member, since the beginning. Some days, I feel like we could use 10 people on stage because of all the instrumentation that we use, but six is probably enough.
Weld: What were the two songs that started the whole process?
Sanderlin: The two songs were “Odyssey” and “Curie,” which are the first two songs on the album. When I started writing those two, I imagined it as not just how they would sound together on the album, but the way they’d be performed live. We start almost every single set with “Odyssey.”
After “Odyssey,” I wondered what would come next. “Curie” was the next natural thing, and then everything else came together in pieces. We wrote the track order so you would feel like you were at a show while listening to the album. We’ve actually played the album in order during our sets even before we had the record ready. For the release show, though, we’re going to try and switch it up a lot. We also are going to throw in a particular cover as well as debut a new song.
Weld: What’s the approximate timespan of the songs and this album?
Sanderlin: It’s been a long time coming. I wrote “Odyssey” two years ago. Over the course of the past year and a half, the others started coming. I started developing tools that could inspire me on a regular basis.
I used those tools whenever I had free time to do some writing. I would find a beat or bass line that I liked, and then would send it out to the band to have them learn it. It took almost two years total for everything to come to fruition. This new song came out about three weeks ago though the band is still learning some of it.
Weld: Surely by this point, you’ve learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to playing and arranging songs.
Sanderlin: I think the thing that I’m most proud of about this project is that I arranged almost all the parts when I wrote the songs. Back when I did more solo stuff, I’d write just the song itself. I’d have chords, melody, lyrics and maybe a vague idea as to how an electric guitar part would sound.
But for the most part, I would just rely on my other members to come up with their parts. With the Parishop songs, I used those tools to plot out what the drums would sound like. I wrote the bass lines for seven out of the eight songs on the album, which I’d never done before, but I’d read an article that said if you stripped everything else away, you should be able to distinguish the songs by the drums and the bass.
Weld: That’s interesting, because some songwriters say the opposite: that you should be able to strip the songs back to just the acoustic guitar and piano. It’s both sides of the same envelope, but you’re pushing from the opposite way.
Sanderlin: I think that’s what has made it so different from the solo stuff I’ve done before. I’m not saying these songs are not about the framework of the song, but in order to spark the creativity and flesh out the rest of it, I needed to start with the drums and bass, getting that situated before adding in the other elements.
Weld: Where were the songs recorded?
Sanderlin: We did one track in the Mason Music studio with Brad Lyons in Cahaba Heights. It turned out well, but it was before the full band. The only members we had at that time were Alex, Ben and me, so it was very different from how we ended up playing the song live because we’ve added violin by Meg Ford, second guitar by Andrew Bullard and harmonies by Katie Lott.
So I felt like we needed to do it justice and I really wanted to perfect the vocals. I think one of my biggest goals for this album was to get really strong vocal tracks and push myself as a vocalist. We did a lot of that at home, we tracked drums at Alex’s house in the comfort of his bedroom and we pretty much tracked everything else at my house. We’ve had the recording done for about six or seven months, but I’ve been slowly chipping away at mixing, perfecting it in every way I could without over-perfecting. The home environment worked out well for the warm, lo-fi sound we were going for.
Weld: What formats will the album be in?
Sanderlin: We’ll have CDs. The ultimate format you must have it in these days is a digital release, but we’re going to hold out on that for a while. It’s a very easy process that takes less than 24 hours. I put a lot of work into the production side of the album, and we all spent a ton of time doing 12 takes of the same bit to get a really great sounding recording. I want to get people to hear it in its CD-quality glory before I give out the digital option.
Weld: Who designed the packaging?
Sanderlin: The cover art was painted by one of my bosses, Sarah Mason. She has a lot of her own art that abstract and very pretty and colorful. Just very striking and evocative. We initially thought a picture was the right way to go because of the single art from before that portrayed mountains and all these adventurous photos. When we listened to the album in full, it just didn’t feel like a photograph; it felt more like a painting. The cool thing about Sarah’s painting for this record is that it works in both ways. It looks like something a forest and something wilder than that. At the same time, it’s done with this very subtle watercolor.
In general, cover art seems to be a way that we distinguish a lot of different types of music. For instance, the Beatles’ music is so classic, but each one of their album covers is an incredible, striking and memorable work of art. Revolver is a great album, but when I say that word, I literally picture the album cover. Same with Sgt. Pepper’s. You can’t avoid it.
Weld: Where did the name come from?
Sanderlin: In this day and age, there are so many different bands. I had three or four names that remind me of dream pop, but every one of those were taken by another band. I could try and roll with it, but I decided I wanted to choose something else that still fit the sound. Parishop is a made-up word that doesn’t particularly mean anything. It’s strange because it’s just familiar enough and the sounds and consonants together remind you of something, but you can’t exactly place it. It’s just something ambiguous that seems familiar.
Weld: Most people associate singer/songwriters with being autobiographical. Do you feel like your lyrical process has changed now that you’re in more of an actual band situation?
Sanderlin: I think it has. It’s been cool because when I started writing this original batch of songs, I was also writing solo stuff at the same time. The solo stuff started to come from the same well of inspiration that all of my other music had come from. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I felt like I was treading the same water over and over again. I was inspired to write outside myself and write something that maybe had an autobiographical feel to it, but was more story-based and something that spoke about something other than my personal relationship problems. Weirdly enough, writing that way helped me overcome a lot of that emotional stuff. Usually, I write about that stuff as therapy, but this approach was even better.
Parishop will be at the Syndicate Lounge on Friday, August 12th, with Connor McCullum opening. Tickets for the 18-and-up show are $7 with music starting at 9 p.m.