"I think people will enjoy our music most when they're on their third beer," says Matt Squires, bassist for Denver's dream popsters Gray Parade. "When they're just kind of settling down and getting comfortable."
"Yeah," adds guitarist Joel Richardson, "when the couch starts to swallow them up and they don't feel like moving."
On the surface, this is good advice. But be careful not to overdo your imbibing, because the euphoric noodlings of Richardson, Squires and their pals (guitarist/vocalist Andrew Gonzales and drummer Armando Crespin) have an intoxicating quality all their own. Given the band's sound, which combines the sparse psychedelia of Syd Barrett with the lethargic riffs of Galaxie 500 and the bluesy jazz cool of Miles Davis, you can understand why caution is recommended.
Then again, Gonzales insists that a listener need not be loaded to enjoy the Parade. "I think our music could appeal to a broad audience," he notes. "Even the guy on the street--you know, the heavy-metal guy who steps into the bar for a drink--could appreciate it, because there's a certain talent factor involved. They may not agree with the songwriting style or the vocals or whatever. But at least they could appreciate it on that level."
The quartet started pushing its narcotic stew on the masses nearly three years ago, while the musicians were attending a Lakewood high school. At the time, Richardson reports, the only common thread that linked the four was their mutual love for the Velvet Underground. "When we started, we were all absolutely under the influence of Lou Reed," he elaborates. "But none of us except for Andy knew how to play much of anything. He'd go over to the park and play to all the pretty little girls and break hearts and stuff. I thought that was pretty cool, so I started playing with him."
The players dubbed themselves Sister Ray and memorized a good portion of the Velvets catalogue, along with a smattering of original material. A month later they played their first gig at Cafe Euphrates, where they earned a grand total of $14 for their efforts.
The group subsequently changed its name to Gray Parade ("We found out another band was already using Sister Ray," Richardson explains) and has since developed a decent fan base along the Front Range. Thus far, the band has had the opportunity to perform alongside some of the area's better-known rock acts, including the Christines, Twice Wilted and Sympathy F. According to Richardson, breaking into the local music scene has been a slow and steady process. "Don't quote us as saying we've been lazy," he jokes. "But we've been pretty, well, lazy. We've just kind of taken what's come to us."
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If the members of Parade lack ambition, it certainly hasn't affected their songwriting skills, as their self-titled cassette demonstrates. Swarming with fluttery guitar solos, stirring melodies and the supine aural smoke rings that are Richardson's and Gonzales's vocals, the three songs on the demo are as solid and seductive as anything found on the last Cowboy Junkies record. In addition, there are a few surprises--such as the sweet tickle of a banjo (courtesy of Gonzales) that distinguishes "Slipping Away," the tape's final track. "About three months ago I really started getting into Bela Fleck," Gonzales reveals. "So, naturally, I had to run out and get a banjo. I'm hoping we can use it more in the future, but hopefully in more of a weird way. It won't change the way we write songs. It'll just add a little twist."
"We've talked about fitting it in a little more," Richardson interjects, laughing. "The banjo is something that hasn't been used a lot in your basic pop-rock setting. It's like cheap, easy originality. Camper Van Beethoven had a violin. We'll have a banjo."
Not that Richardson and his fellow Parade marchers need help in the originality department. In a scene overrun with volume-happy punks, Gray Parade's mellow approach to songwriting is a breath of fresh air. It comes as no surprise, then, that Crespin isn't all that thrilled about the current state of alternative music. "It seems that ever since the grunge movement became popular, it's become acceptable for things not to sound good," he points out. "I think for that reason, we just want to make music that is aesthetically pleasing."
Richardson agrees. "If people are going to enjoy our music, we want them to like it because they can kick back and enjoy it. We don't want to bludgeon them over the head with it.