Welcome The Parmesans

We heard recently from The Parmesans, a new bluegrass outfit in the Bay area of California. Like many young urban bands, their members are interested and involved in a wide variety of musical styles, in this case “ranging from punk to electro pop to metal and beyond” as banjo man Andy Brown puts it.

Brown is joined by Brendan Welch on mandolin and guitar, Skylar Kilborn on bass and guitar, Andrew Byars on guitar and trumpet, and Spencer Acton on bass and guitar.

Since formally assembling earlier this year, The Parmesans have two recordings to their credit, with at least one other planned before 2012 comes to a close. Both Uncle Dad’s Cabin, which aping Spinal Tap has a solid black cover, and Horse Crumbs, which was recorded live this past August, are short form albums with a a total of 8 tracks between them.

As their varied interests suggest, the band’s sound is as much alt-folk/Americana as it is bluegrass, and their songs likewise reflect those sensibilities.

Here’s a video of the boys rendering Brahms Was A Satanist, live at San Francisco’s Boom Boom Room.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMLhWkb0NVI

 

Purists may place The Parmesans on the outskirts of mainstream bluegrass, but it remains encouraging to me that so many young musicians seeking expression for their muse are turning to banjos and mandolins to bring it out.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.

  • Dennis Jones

    Outskirts? It’s nowhere near the town of Bluegrass structure, rhythm, vocal style or drive wise. They are a Rock band flailing away at a banjo and mandolin. They aren’t even on the right road to Bluegrass in this clip, their GPS is broken.

  • Ivor Trueman

    Sounds a bit cheesy to me…

  • Darren Sullivan-Koch

    THERE ARE YOUNG PEOPLE ON MY LAWN. HEY, YOU KIDS, GET OFFA THERE! WHAT WITH YOUR BACKWARDS BALL CAPS AND YOUR DIET SODAS! IN MY DAY, WE NEVER WOULDA DONE THAT!

    AND WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH TV DINNERS! C’MON, SWANSON. PULL IT TOGETHER.

  • The key is that they have approached bluegrass music sincerely, are endeavoring to play it, which their fans think they are doing. There is no benefit to drumming them or their fans out of the club at the start because it doesn’t fit someone’s mold.

    Their music will rise or fall on its own merits.

    • Darren Sullivan-Koch

      Agreed. I’m very inspired by young bands working bluegrass/stringband ideas, instrumentation, and repertoire into their own sound. It’s the same spirit of innovation that fueled Bill Monroe. I’d rather here an innovative band fail than listen to yet another bland, by-the-numbers Sportcoat Mountain Boys outfit.

      • Darren Sullivan-Koch

        “hear,” not “here.” Oops!

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  • Joe P.

    Once again, a group of talented and motivated folks calling it one thing and playing another.

    Mr. Lawless, it’s not bluegrass. Thank you.

    • I guess that settles it then.

      • Darren Sullivan-Koch

        Ha! Come on John — get it straight. Your audience consists of BLUEGRASS fans, not MUSIC fans!

        • I understand that people will differ where musical tastes are involved. What bothers me is the attempt to run people off who have a passion and an interest in bluegrass.

          I don’t like every new group that comes along, but will encourage anyone who chooses banjos and fiddles and mandolins when I can.

          Ultimately, those of us in our declining years will lose the battle to define the future of bluegrass.

          This is such a tedious argument!

          • The Parmesans

            Hey John,

            Thanks for such a positive write up (and coming to our defense)! We sure do appreciate it. And, while traditionalist might reject what we’re doing, there is a strong undercurrent in the bluegrass world, people changing the music, making sure that it evolves and never stays sedentary and we are proud to part of that movement. And that’s not to say we don’t pay tribute to the inventors – if anyone bothered to listen to our records they’d realize that we do renditions of 2 Doc Watson songs, we know our roots 🙂 And don’t you think the greats like Scruggs and Monroe would be happy to see such evolution? Look at players like Bush, Thile and Grisman – even Jerry Garcia – they’ve all taken the form in new directions and have all been rejected at points by ‘the community’ but are now considered some of the best and true legends. I hope we can follow in their footsteps 🙂

          • Darren Sullivan-Koch

            Agreed! I’m so sick of people dismissing things because “it’s not bluegrass.” If they don’t like it, that’s one thing, but imposing narrow definitions and then arguing about it gets us nowhere. Imagine if someone had done that to Bill Monroe back in the day? None of us would be here now. Party on, Parmesans.

          • Jon Weisberger

            Tedious, indeed – but anyone’s declining years nothwithstanding, I don’t think it’s really a generational one. From Sam Bush to David Grisman to Del McCoury to Jesse McReynolds and Bobby Osborne, there are plenty of older people who appreciate a broad range of bluegrass styles – and some younger ones who don’t.

            I’d say it’s more a matter of some people feeling an overwhelming commitment to definition – and to insisting that other people share both the commitment and their definition of bluegrass – and others who think that there are better, more important and more interesting things to focus on.

    • Dennis Jones

      Bill Monroe didn’t try to steal a music genres name. He played his own music in his own style and let others decide if they liked it or not. Trying to “change” Bluegrass in order to in some manner catch the coat tails of a successful, defined genre is what “Big Tent” acts are trying to do. If the “new” music is great, let it stand on it’s own like William S. Monroe did.

      • Darren Sullivan-Koch

        From their website/facebook, “bluegrass” is just one of the genres they cite. I don’t think they are trying to pull the proverbial wool over anyone’s eyes.

        • Lynwood Lunsford

          Well, here is what the writer described them as: “We heard recently from The Parmesans, a new bluegrass outfit in the Bay area of California”.

          That description simply makes me scratch my head.

          • Darren Sullivan-Koch

            Good point. Then they are liars and frauds and should be punished accordingly.

      • Jon Weisberger

        “Bill Monroe didn’t try to steal a music genres name. He played his own music in his own style and let others decide if they liked it or not.”

        He also let others decide whether to call his music bluegrass, country, folk or whatever name they might prefer – an attitude he shared with other giants of the genre. It’s a healthy one.

        • Dennis Jones

          That’s what I said Jon. Let your music stand on it’s own, do try to sell me a Chevy when I’m buying a FORD. I have as much right to call a group what I want as much as you or anyone else does.

          • Jon Weisberger

            “I have as much right to call a group what I want as much as you or anyone else does.”

            Indeed you do. But when other people exercise their right in a way you don’t agree with, you say they’re opportunists who are trying to steal (that’s your word, steal) something. That’s not respecting their right, and it’s not very friendly.

      • The Parmesans

        We aren’t trying to steal anything – our only intention is write and play songs that we enjoy and make us happy and hopefully make others happy in the process. If people want to place the music we make in the realm of bluegrass, that’s fine; if they want to call it folk, that’s also fine, or country or whatever.

        • Dennis Jones

          And good for you guys. It takes all kinds of music to make the world go around. I hope send a copy of your project to WNCW, we play ALL kinds of music.

        • Lynwood Lunsford

          The music of Bill Monroe (and those that followed his pattern) was placed in a number of different categories until someone finally coined the term “Bluegrass”. Most everybody knew that it didn’t fit into other categories, but they had no better term for it.

          IMO, the music of The Parmesans (and many other groups, now known as “Big Tenters”)are afflicted with this same conundrum. The music is clearly different from the categories that people seem to want to place it in, but no better term has been coined yet. In the case of the Parmesans, maybe “Parmesian” would be a suitable term to describe your music! 🙂

  • Lynwood Lunsford

    Bluegrass? You’re kidding, right?

    • Darren Sullivan-Koch

      There he is!

  • Darren Sullivan-Koch

    So, um, what were we fighting about again?

  • Ivor Trueman

    I like the guy’s “Telecanjo”:-

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaFjszaHt_Y

    …reminds me of the D-rangers home-made bass:-
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCySqOkOAJQ
    (don’t watch if easily offended)