It's not easy for a band to induce quiet, reflective, or somber moods without lapsing into murky languor, but that's precisely what the Six Parts Seven does with its instrumental post-rock. Like its previous work, the Kent, Ohio, septet's 2004 album, Everywhere and Right Here (Suicide Squeeze), maintains a gentle cadence from start to finish. Guitar lines trickle through open expanses dotted with steel guitar swells, twinkling grand piano, and vibraphone flourishes, while drums and percussion carry the rhythm so unassumingly that you barely notice there's a beat. Like breathing or listening to wind blow through treetops, there's rhythm going on, but in a natural, organic way -- you wouldn't exactly think to stop and count or tap your foot. You might just... sway along.
Still, the Six Parts Seven keeps the listener's attention via subtle shifts in the sonic landscape. As guitarist and co-founder Allen Karpinski explains, the band's music is meant to pull you into an internal space. Which, of course, poses challenges in a live setting. For one, people tend to chatter.
"I think you get that in any club that's hosting rock 'n' roll," Karpinski offers. He's speaking to New Times via cell phone in the middle of his workday as a bike messenger. (Yes, he's seen the 1986 Kevin Bacon movie Quicksilver, and he actually works for a company of the same name.)
"It's just that, with louder bands, you can't hear the chatter as much. It doesn't really bother me. We take our music out on the road just to get some sort of a reaction out of whoever shows up. The kind of music that we do is -- at least from my perspective -- geared more towards an individual listener, like someone putting on a record in their bedroom and having a reaction to it that way. One on one, person to record."
Still, you don't get that old feeling of self-absorption or detachment with the Six Parts Seven as with similar bands. The music feels open, perhaps because the Six Parts Seven aren't especially interested in musical indulgence.
"Our writing," Karpinski explains, "is a matter of reduction, just trying to pare things down until it's the essence of whatever feeling it is that we're trying to put into that material. We try and put as much of that into the album as possible without it being too grandiose."
You could say Six Parts Seven compositions lack flash or flourish.
"We want to have that gut-wrenching feeling without huge drama or grand crescendos," Karpinski acknowledges. "There are instrumental bands that have these gorgeous quiet parts, and then they step on distortion pedals and all of a sudden you're standing next to a jet airplane. To me, that's overdone. I guess we're trying to have that same effect on people but to do it in a more subtle way."
In spite of the misgivings Karpinski has about playing live (though he loves touring, he says), the band doesn't exactly take the stage with a defeatist attitude.
"As quiet and as mellow as the album comes off," he says, "it's still a rock band live. It's a lot louder and more dynamic."
On this particular tour, the Six Parts Seven find themselves heading to Florida to play a wedding for two friends in Sarasota. Which is fitting, as Everywhere and Right Here sprang directly from Karpinski's own struggles with the temporal nature of relationships.
"That was my thing more than anyone else's," he explains. "At the time, my wife was in Turkey, teaching. She had been there for a year and a half. I was trying to find a firm ground on my own, really struggling with the fact that I was in a relationship but detached from it at the same time.
Though the band isn't shy about debuting new material in concert, the set on this outing will lean heavily toward older stuff.
"During the wedding reception, we need to play for two hours, which is considerably longer than what we'd play in a club," he says, laughing. "We're relearning material. The albums that the couple is most familiar with are the second and third albums."
There may not be much newer material to speak of. After three albums recorded after meticulous planning, Karpinski and his bandmates -- the core group of his brother Jay on drums and guitarist Tim Gerak, plus new additions Mike Tolan (bass), Eric Koltnow (vibraphone), Ben Vaughan (lap steel), and Steve Clements (grand piano) -- prepared only half the material on Everywhere and Right Here before entering the studio. He explains that they were so pleased with this looser approach that next time they plan to record with nothing prepared.
"We have to do something different at this point," he insists. "For our first three records, the idea was that each one was going to be a step towards perfection. I don't know if we necessarily accomplished that, but we came as close as we could."
As a temporary creative detour, in 2003, the band put out Lost Notes from Forgotten Songs, which features a different guest vocalist on each tune. Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock, Pedro the Lion's Dave Bazan, and the Black Heart Procession's Pall Jenkins all step to the microphone to add their lyrics to older Six Parts songs.
It's one of his favorite projects, Karpinski says, which is surprising, since he tends to prefer instrumental music.
"My favorite parts of every rock song were the introductions or the interludes in the middle," he recalls. "Those were the things that always evoked the strongest feelings in me, rather than the choruses. Vocals are easier. They're telling you what to think and what to feel about the song. That's great sometimes, but I don't always look for that in music."
On the other hand, Karpinski says that having guest vocalists "bend the band to their vision" suited the Six Parts Seven perfectly. Would the next logical place to take this collaborative spirit be film scores? "Any band would leap at the opportunity," Karpinski says. "We've done stuff for friends but nothing on a larger scale. We're just not working on that level right now -- or maybe ever." The chances of Six Parts rising out of the indie ghetto are slim, but Karpinski says he doesn't mind. Still, if you're looking for an instrumental post-rock band to play your wedding, you know where to look.
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