TF Archives

Phil Parnell - Doing His Living In The Now

Author: Michelle Pirovich
Thursday, August 21, 2003
Phil Parnell - jazz pianist, electronic composer and Herbert's music partner hails from New Orleans and currently lives in London. After hearing John Coltrane being played from the house of someone selling his friend a Volkswagen Beetle, Phil's life changed. 'I bought a best of album that day; it was love at first listen. I had heard jazz of course but nothing like this.'

Drawn to the wonders of jazz, Phil went on to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and when finished he toured Louisiana, the city of New Orleans, and on the Mississippi with various jazz, rock, and r&b bands including George Porter and Gatemouth Brown.

Not content however to remain tied to traditional methods, Phil took to collecting and experimenting with synths and samplers in the early eighties, primarily using the equipment to develop his ideas and compositions.

Approximately six years ago Phil came to meet electronic guru Matthew Herbert, who at the time was looking for a jazz-piano teacher. It was from this point on that Phil and Herbert formed a strong friendship and a deep musical bond.

"I explained to Herbert that I wasn't exactly a teacher but would be happy to help him in return for some tips on how to use the modern electronic studio. We agreed to teach each other and would get together and make suggestions and give advice about each others music. In time I think he got way too busy composing to pursue jazz-piano seriously and it was easier to get me to play the piano for him. He became my electronic music teacher more than I his piano teacher. I was working in his band and studio but in the meantime we became close musical friends as well as personal friends."

Phil continues, "I have spent a lot of time touring with Matt and Dani and you share a lot of experiences when you tour as much as we have. We watched the Twin Towers burn from the roof of a hotel in lower east side Manhattan on 9/11. We have been all over the world and played amazing music together. I recently watched Matt and Dani get married and I'm sure we will remain friends for the rest of our lives."

With past production credits including 'Dear Jo' (Slam Records), the 'Barcelona EP' (Soundslike) and a series of remixes for Atjazz (Mantis) and Riton (Grand Central Records), Phil recently released 'Do Your Living in the Night' on Mantis Recordings - a seductively captivating album.

With twitchy and inventive arrangements, Phil takes jazz and electronica and morphs them into new found configurations. Phil explains that his main aim for the album was to reach a new musical level.

"I was trying to achieve a new direction with a blend of past and present elements in my music."

Despite having clearly blurred the lines between traditional composition and modern techniques, jazz remains a constant source of influence and inspiration for Phil.

"Jazz has influenced my music in every way from the rhythms to structures to the melodies...but mostly from being able to improvise and the knowledge of harmony you need to play jazz."

"If I'm composing a jazz piece I go to the piano and try this and that until I like what I hear. Electronic music is different only because of the tools used to do what amounts to the same thing i.e., to find the sound, melody, chord, sample, arrangement etc that sounds good to me. The structure can be the same or as different as I want. I still use the piano though for melodies and harmonies, whether it's jazz or electronic."

Phil credits Martin 'Atjazz' Iveson and Mantis's Andy Mac for their influences on the production of his album. Herbert too has been a great influence on Phil and needless to say 'Do Your Living in the Night' does have a distinct Herbert feel.

"His influence has as you said given my music a Herbert flavour. Since he was my 'teacher' I think it's fair to say he has had a big influence over my electronic music and perhaps I on his jazzy music. I learned many techniques from him. I think he is an in