Classicists turned pop purveyors Threefifty just released the album Gently Among The Coals & presented us with the world premiere for the performance video for “Andromeda”. Part of the esteemed D’Addario artist family, founders Brett Parnell & Geremy Schulick offer up a listen & look at their recent expansions that features chords that course through all sorts of directions that takes into consideration all combinations of classical, modern & post-modern methodologies. Filmed by Stephen Taylor at Brooklyn’s Exapno; Parnell & Schulick are joined by Evan Mitchell, Eleonore Oppenheim, Joanie Leon-Guerrero Parnell, Kenji Shinagawa, Andie Springer & Jennifer Stock in a performance of chords that collect like constellations of galactic musical formations.
“Andromeda” depicts Threefifty as an expansive ensemble performing together in their element. Combining together their collective talents & instruments like a proper orchestra; you can see Threefifty tap into a frequency that can almost be seen, and is definitely felt by both band members & the audience that is let in on a privy session with the group. The classical components provide cause for grandiose tendencies heard in the execution (and seen by the pointed passions in the group’s performance) that create a piece that defies the conventional structure & offers a series of delightful & entertaining surprises. Brett & Geremy joined us for an exclusive & insightful interview session featured after the following video debut for “Andromeda”.
Describe how Threefifty evolved from classical leaning conceptions to the more progressive & experimental aesthetics that you all have been entertained lately.
Geremy: Brett and I first crossed paths as students at Yale School of Music’s classical guitar program, when we were both completely obsessed with classical music, and found we had a similar approach to that music as we both came from a background of spending most of our teenage years playing rock songs. Our first record, which we made right after graduating, is a reflection of that time period when practically all we were playing/listening to was more traditional classical material (Bach, Handel, Brahms, etc). With our second album we wanted to branch out of that and create something more personal to us, so while Circles still sticks to two acoustic guitars throughout, it is all original compositions and starts to incorporate steel-string guitar with some strummy textures more reminiscent of the rock music we grew up playing. Our third album, Collapses, features electric guitar, effects pedals, electronics, and other instruments on some of the tracks, as we felt a pull to expand our sound world, listening to a lot of indie rock, electronic music, and other classical ensembles in NYC really pushing the boundaries of the genre. The 8-piece band (2 guitars, bass, drums, violin, mandolin, voice, keyboards) that plays throughout on Gently Among the Coals emerged because we so loved working with the guest instrumentalists on Collapses; we wanted to fully explore the broadened dynamics possible with the larger band we’d hinted at before, plus these amazing musicians are some of our closest friends so it is nothing but a joy to play with them!
It’s worth noting that though this album sounds more like a rock record than any of our previous ones, we still composed most of the parts, 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.
Tell us too about your work with the talented Sarah Kirkland Snider & how she has helped inspire the ever-growing work of Threefifty.
Geremy: We’ve never actually collaborated with her, but I’ve long admired Sarah’s music, even as far back as when we were in grad school together. Her latest record, Unremembered, particularly floored me with its lush, impeccable orchestration, and its haunting, immediately memorable melodies. It’s music that reflects a tremendously refined craft and a novel approach, but also is incredibly emotive, and because of that in part I would imagine it is more accessible to your average listener than most of what could fall into the category of “contemporary classical” music today. To strike this balance between sophistication, originality and accessibility is a rare achievement in my opinion, and also what I think Threefifty is striving for. We’re incredibly grateful for all the support Sarah has given to our music.
Interested in hearing about the dynamics of song composition in the group; do you all jam? Are there songs composed ahead of time? What does a practice sesh look & sound like?
Brett: We don’t really jam though I have recently become really interested in the idea of improvisation in a Threefifty sound. Geremy and I write all of the songs and all of the parts. Everyone that we have been lucky enough to bring into the band is so phenomenal that rehearsals are just used for tightening up parts so that they lock in as well as possible. Rhythmic interplay is one of our favorite songwriting tools to play with. Mostly we just crack jokes the entire time.
Give us the inside, behind-the-scenes scoop on the making of Gently Among The Coals.
Brett: With this album we actually made the decision to track and mix everything ourselves. We wanted to have full creative control down to even the most nerdy details. We tracked drums and bass at my rehearsal space and everything else in my apartment. It gave us a lot of flexibility and time to work. Then we got down to all of the nitty gritty mixing. I feel like we each have ears that focus on some different things so we make a pretty good team on that front. I know more of the technical things and Geremy has an amazing attention to detail. It was many, many hours in the making and somehow we didn’t kill each other!
Describe the energy & connective synergy that informed “Andromeda” and the accompanying visuals.
Geremy: I wrote Andromeda a couple summers ago when my wife and I were able to escape to a little cottage in the countryside of Indiana (where she’s from) for two weeks and do nothing but work on our artistic endeavors — my composing and her writing. I had been watching a lot of shows about the cosmos and was feeling beyond bewildered about it all…something particularly struck me about the Andromeda Galaxy, our closest neighbor to the Milky Way, and how it contained about 1 trillion stars, at least twice as many as the Milky Way. Of course the universe goes way beyond that, but even just taking in that simple fact was boggling my mind, envisioning all these distant worlds none of us know about.
Perhaps more so than any one piece I’ve written, Andromeda brings together a bunch of contrasting musical influences. The folksy repetitive opening acoustic guitar line is a tip of the hat to Over the Hills and Far Away, my favorite Led Zeppelin song, and I’ll admit I totally stole the idea of the opening riff recapitulating as a 12-string guitar drowned in reverb at the end. The tuning and overall sonority of the acoustic guitar is also reminiscent of José González’ playing style, which I greatly admire. The mandolin’s main featured sections surely are inspired by Chris Thile’s (Punch Brothers, Nickel Creek) brilliantly virtuosic style. The repeated overlapping motives throughout certainly come from my adoration of Steve Reich’s music, but that probably also comes in equal part from listening to a ton of Daft Punk, especially how the layers build up and then at one point it suddenly contracts, before an even fuller sound drops in — that’s a classic EDM trick that I’m a total sucker for. The middle section is a pretty blatant reference to Baroque music, with the trills and the violin and mandolin in canon with each other. It’s paired with a sort of folk-rock minimalism though, with acoustic guitars hocketing strums back and forth, and the kick drum ushering in dramatic chords from the keyboards. Toward the end everyone freaks out with these ascending, increasingly dissonant tremolo figures, and of course that is very much in keeping with post-rock music a la Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky. That kind of all-out explosion is something I love but I do think gets over-used at times in post-rock, so we were wary of not doing that too much on this record, and tried to really make it count when we did.
We’ve been fortunate to work with the incredible filmmaker Stephen Taylor on a number of our videos, and with this one as with the others he does such an exquisite job of capturing the energy of the music with his inventive vantage points and impeccable editing. He’s worked with a number of musician friends of ours too, and we lovingly refer to his music performance videos as instrument porn.
What else have you all been listening to on repeat lately?
Geremy: You know I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to being in the know with new music! Maybe you could recommend some stuff for us. Some staples that have always been in our playlists though, and also influences on us, include Glenn Gould playing Bach, The National, Sufjan Stevens, Redhooker, Ratatat, Bon Iver, Clogs, The Books, Dire Straits, Arvo Pärt, Braveyoung, and Benjamin Verdery (our former guitar teacher).
Notes of interests from the NYC scene these days?
Brett: Admittedly we don’t get out to see nearly as many bands and musicians as we’d like to since we both do the freelance musician hustle in NYC which keeps you running. Most of the people I see are at other gigs that I’ll end up playing. G plays for Brooklyn Youth Chorus and I was floored by some of Caroline Shaw’s (Roomful of Teeth) music that I heard them perform. I feel like a lot of bands are starting to experiment in slightly different ways now. Six or Seven years ago it seemed like emotive energy was the driving force and now I am seeing more focus on form and rhythmic ideas. It seems like bands are building the narrative in a new way. It really can’t be overstated how many amazing bands there are in this city. I hear it in my rehearsal space all the time. Almost all of the bands are super solid.
Brett: We are gonna book a release show and start looking at planning a tour. With an eight piece band both of those things can present a challenge! Also, I’ve always wanted to have an animated video for one of our songs so I’m looking into making that happen. I believe our song “Running in a Burning House” is just perfect for something like that. It has this Philip Glass meets spaghetti western feel to it that I’d love to pair with an animated story.
Threefifty’s new album Gently Among The Coals is available now.