Phil Parfitt - The Perfect Disaster (a rock interview)
The Perfect Disaster
I'm not going to ramble on about the history of the band in this intro because my plan is to expose the detail behind Phil Parfitt's creativity processes via the interview itself and I don't want to clog it up with over-clinical illumination right here.
Oddly enough, although I consider Mr Parfitt to be one of my favourite writers, I only ever bought one of his band's albums. Up by The Perfect Disaster is definitely one of my all-time favourite albums. Perhaps, subconsciously, I didn't want to spoil the strength of my love for this album by listening to the other 3 albums. I don't know. Weird innit?
Briefly, The Perfect Disaster were formed by singer/writer/guitarist Phil Parfitt in 1980. They released 4 albums and had various personnel changes (the original rhythm section leaving to form The Fields of the Nephilim) before they split in 1991
On with the interview:
AF: For reasons I explained in the intro, I only ever purchased and listened to the Up album. Do you think that album is your best work, or am I in for some esoteric treats when I catch up on your other Perfect Disaster albums?
PP: Collectively Up, is the nearest I got to achieving what I wanted to realise as an artist with The Perfect Disaster
AF: Was it a painful creative process making that album? It sounds like a lorry-load of emotion went into making it. In terms of an 'emotional masterpiece' it sounds like the real deal?
PP: There was a feeling at the time that we were cohesive as a band and all pulling together, however this was the first time we actually achieved that depth.. There were moments on Asylum Road, the previous album, but as a whole it is less accomplished mainly due to production levels. Yes, there is a lot of emotion in the recording of Up but that is the case for nearly all of my recorded work...once I manage to work out my own way to work I simply channel all this energy and emotional turmoil/rapture into each piece ...it takes a lot out of me as I put a lot in.. the joy comes from communicating through this medium with like minded folks...to touch is to feel.
AF: That's obviously, how I felt the album came across and the 'emotional turmoil/rapture' phrase is a perfect description of the sound
Would it be too difficult to estimate how many songs you have written? I think what I mean is, do you have lots more albums within you given the time and resources to make them?
PP: I have been writing since I was a kid, so many hundreds, most of which would mostly be shite or of little consequence ...I don't actually ever stop writing ...and yes I have many more in me if time and resources allow!! I have at least four unreleased albums kicking about in various states of completion but, yeah, I don't write much that is orientated towards commerciality so this makes it a little inaccessible at times ...If however someone wants to commission a soundtrack for film etc Im the man!
AF: Yes, your music and the way you treat the string arrangements would be perfect for film scores. Your photography is pretty atmospheric too. Is it more important to you than your music?
PP: My photographs are just another way to communicate. I see things in a certain way...I was at first reticent to share them as I once was about my poetry ...but it is just another facet of me as an artist, at this point not more important than music. My love of sound as a medium for sculptural, textural imagery and language in general make it always my most enduring medium...there is always a song or sound trip going on in my head. That said there are some photographs that speak to me on another level.
AF: In your photography you focus a lot (pun intended) on the natural world, trees, plants, landscapes etc. Any specific reason for this?
PP: I always reflect deeply wherever or whatever my environment.. so now it is no exception.. I happen to live in a quite natural landscape close to forests and the Atlantic Ocean. Before this I was living in Sussex for many years mostly in Brighton
AF: What was influencing you, in the world of popular music, in the embryonic stages of your own song-writing career?
PP: Blimey now you are going back a few eons. Ok, so the usual suspects. Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Pretty Things, John Lee Hooker etc Later on Reed, Bowie, Cale, Cohen, Nick Drake, Anne Briggs, Velvets, Stooges, Modern Lovers...fuck me the list is endless. Then punk happened etc etc. Then post-punk and, well, need I go on? There is so much brilliant music in the world and I haven't even mentioned Indian classical or Alfred Schnitke!!
AF: Yeah, some awesome stuff there, as I suspected there would be. Nice one though. Some people are too selfish to name influences. Are you listening to any current music?
PP: Yeah, Fred Neil and Vashti Bunyan hahah
Philip Parfitt and friends 2014
AF: Aha, Vashti Bunyan. Jog Along Bess always enchanted me as a kid
Do you prefer studio work (recording) or live work (performing) ?
PP: Both are satisfying in very different ways. I'm quite contemplative so I like to record spontaneously but also letting things build. Live is different because of the ambience of any given audience. That can be such a buzz to connect with people and we almost feel we can break through to another level with some. The downside is that sometimes, if the sound isn't good, or, if there are other technical issues, it can be a pain in the arse. But that is life...so to speak
AF: Can you remember the first song you ever penned? Was it good, bad or forgettable?
PP: I can't really remember anything about my very early stuff...In terms of lyrics ...it was more about melodies or sounds. A little like some people have very strong memories about smells... my own are more about sounds and certain film soundtracks or specific things like machines or engines. I always found that there was melody in machines and rhythm of course..
AF: I totally agree with that, having once used a typwriter for the rhythm section in one of my recordings. Anyway, can you tell us a little about your recent projects and about plans you have in the pipeline?
PP: I'm currently writing and recording a follow up to 'I'm not the man I used to be'. I'm talking to one of my old labels about back cat and, later this year, we will continue to play concerts..
AF: It seems you were dormant for rather a long period at the turn of the century. Were you disillusioned for a while, and what, if anything, prompted your return to the sometimes corrupt kingdom of commercial music?
PP: It is true that I was a little tired of the industry side of things, as it was then. I'd had a lot of critical acclaim and for a while it seemed that TPD were going to achieve something like what I thought we were capable of musically, but we were always struggling with our label and line up changes. When Wiggsy left to join the Breeders, after we'd played with the Pixies, it was difficult to maintain the momentum. We eventually found that the most suitable replacement for her was her predecessor but it took a while. We had to delay the release of Heaven Scent and a European tour, as well as a trip to the states. We got tired and fizzled out. I could have continued as TPD but by then I wanted a change. I went through a few guises at this point but found I was happier to record alone and invite friends to play...hence Terry Bickers, Laurence O'Keefe, Dave Francolini from Levitation,House of Love and Jason Pierce from Spiritualized (whom I had talked about forming a band with prior to Spiritualized but it didn't happen. We did write some stuff though , some of which he used later...I went on to do Oedipussy and sign to Chrysalis. Also, after Up, the record label Fire kept on telling me to record another like the other but I DID the album I wanted to do. Needless to say that it sold none on account of they, as were most record companies of their ilk ,were unimaginative as to what to do with us. Likewise press really..no pigeon hole big enough...anyway I kinda gave up on commercial success a very long time ago ...pretty near the time when everyone started telling me I should do this or that. I never have been good at following orders!! So I stopped releasing stuff and eventually got back into it as friends and fans were asking nicely and I thought why not ...indeed it was your video of Time to Kill that prompted some enquiries as to my whereabouts.
(interviewer's notes: I made a video to two of TPD's songs in the early days of youtube because there was nothing by TPD on there. There's lots on there now)
Oedipussy - I Heard An Angel Call My Name
AF: Are you galvanised into action by the music or by the lyric when you are writing a song? Or is it a 50/50 situation?
PP: In terms of lyrics or even prose and verse .. I'm nearly always writing. I'll find a phrase or something jumps out of the imagination and I can usually twist it or at least use it to say something else. Then this goes into a little book or phone/tab/device whatever is to hand. If I'm trying to write it's usually in a note book...I like the act of writing...however...I play guitar most days so a melody will often prompt something and then I often refer to my notes to develop whatever takes my fancy from scribblings therein
Phil, Letchworth, England. 2912
AF: I definitely wish I had written the GO AWAY song before you did (and I kick myself at times for not doing so) Are there songs, written by someone else, that you wish you'd written?
PP: Good question. No is the answer.. I only wish my next to be better than my last. That doesn't mean that there are not a lot of great artists who have had a big influence. Thanks for the compliment about 'Go Away' I get a lot out of putting in a lot!!
AF: For those who may not have heard your music, explain your sound in 5 words now!
PP: Blessing that heals my soul
Outdoor Clothing Catalogue Shot 2014
Thank you for your time, Phil, and for supplying some great illuminating answers.
Thank you to anyone and everyone who reads this humble blog and interview
Here's a few links if you want to check some more of Phil's work out
Phil Parfitt Music Facebook Page
Philip Parfitt and Friends Bandcamp Page
Louder Than War (album review)
The Perfect Disaster wiki page
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