Dan Friel Is a DIY Renegade Here to Save Us from Ourselves
The former Parts & Labor member's new solo record 'Life' is an epically melodic and harshly noisy set.
From 2002 through 2012, Dan Friel co-piloted shapeshifting electro-pop noiseniks Parts & Labor, and along with Oneida, Black Dice and shit-ton others, shaped Brooklyn’s then-barren underground wasteland with the punkest of DIY beliefs, setting up shop and putting on shows in every basement, parking lot and deathtrap warehouse they could storm into.
While P&L went out in a blaze of glory in a farewell show at the defunct 285 Kent, Friel has soldiered on, albeit at a more moderate touring pace (cut him some slack. Dude’s got a kid now). After P&L’s demise, Friel rebounded quickly in 2013 with Total Folklore, a slab that found the synth whiz perched himself in front of his Xmas lights-decorated noise table, his 1984 Yamaha Portasound and his rows of pedals and creating a walking-themed sonic dystopia of swooshing and stabbing poptones and brutal noisescapes.
Now Friel is back, headbanging over his noise table once again with Life, yet another epically melodic and harshly noisy set, complete with subliminal White Zombie hints (what?) and a Joanna Gruesome cover. Like Total Folklore, Friel proves synth scientist, knob twiddling up a futureworld of Kraut-inspired motorik rhythms, the percussive mayhem of his buds in Lightning Bolt and, of course, his former band’s sonically catchy mettle. We hit Friel up on email to talk dad life, broken bones, and food poisoning.
Noisey: Last time we spoke in 2012, Total Folklore just came out. You were getting set to move out of Williamsburg to Greenwood Heights, you got hitched, a kid was on the way and you were struggling with accepting being an “adult.” So…how’s adulthood been treating you?
Dan Friel: It's good. Generally speaking, in the history of our species, my transition into adulthood is about as easy as it gets. Sarah and I and some friends collectively bought the place in Greenwood, and I've been enjoying putting down roots. It's tricky finding time for music, but I have a space in the basement for recording at weird hours.
Total Folklore was based on a walking theme. Are you still walking everywhere like you used to?
I don't go aaaanywhere. This is probably the most stationary I've ever been. I spend my time hanging out at home with my son, working on the house, making music in my basement, and working an office job. Recently I've started playing and going to shows again, but there sure as hell isn't any place in walking distance of my new place, other than the shows in Greenwood Cemetery (which is actually a beautiful place to go for a walk).
The new record is called Life. What's the theme this time? I'm thinking the title refers to your being a dad.
There was period half way through cramming to finish the record when I broke my foot and got food poisoning. I was feeling pretty "fuck everything" and the name struck me as really funny. But yes, it's also a reference to the birth of my son, and the experience of being a dad. Wolf was born 5 days after the release of my last record, so if this music is in any way a document of my life since the last record, there's a lot of him in there. There is footage from the Total Folklore record release show where you can see Sarah dancing and just pregnant as all hell.
The first track on Life is called “Lullaby (for Wolf).” Is that an actual bedtime song for play for your kid? What's the story behind that?
I would "oooooo" that melody to him as a baby. Actually I'd sing it and do the wiggling-a-finger-in-front-of-your-mouth-to-pretend-sound-like-you're-underwater thing. He loved it.
Ha, cute. Life supposedly completes a trilogy of related LPs, the first being 2008's Ghost Town then Total Folklore and now Life. Are these all concept type records?
No concept, just a feeling. Similar themes. As a set I feel that they stake out all corners of the world I can build with this instrument.
What about the album art for Life? The cover is trippy just like the other ones.
The cover painting was dipped into a pool of dirt, paint, hot sauce and vegetable oil by my friend Sto. The colors and grittiness felt right. It's part of a series he's been doing where the paintings are then assembled into books (http://stoishere.com). He also runs Cinders, a long-running gallery in Williamsburg. Our next project (hopefully) is applying the same process to hand crank music boxes that play my new songs.
How does recording and touring solo stack up to doing it band-style like P & L? Pros? Cons?
So much easier but occasionally lonelier. There's nothing better than taking on the world in a van with friends. I still haven't done one-tenth the touring that P&L did. That band toured a lot. Recording-wise, almost every P&L record felt like it almost killed me. The solo ones don't feel like that, with the exception of that week with the food poisoning and the broken foot.
Supposedly Life has a White Zombie reference. Can you clue us in?
The breakdown in the middle of "Life (Pt. 2)" is very “Thunderkiss '65.” A few people commented at shows. Really I drew attention to it just to see how long it would take Chris Weingarten to find it, and of course he identified more references to White Zombie than I actually put in there.
Then there's the Joanna Gruesome cover, “Jamie (Luvver).” What made you cover that one? In the end though, the vibe it gives off is unmistakably your sound.
I loved Weird Sister. So many bands would sand the edges off songs that good, but they sound so committed to both the pretty and the harsh sides of it. I also thought it might serve as an entry point, or a signpost, indicating that what I do is also fundamentally "noisepop" even though the term is so tied to guitars.
Let's talk about your live setup. I dig the vibe the Xmas-style lights dangling off your rig give off. What gave you that idea to do that?
A guy playing a noise table isn't much to look at most of the time. I thought that by doing that and turning off the lights at most shows I would give people's minds more room to wander.
Then there's your Yamaha Portasound keyboard. Is it true you've had that since you were a kid? How'd ya get your hands on that?
Christmas 1984. It was a gift to me and my brother—our first instrument. We had sheet music for Chariots of Fire.
Let’s talk about Parts & Labor. P&L were one of the crucial bands who helped shape the Brooklyn DIY scene. Now that you've been broken up for a few years, have you taken time to reflect on P&L's legacy?
I'd like to think the legacy of that scene is Silent Barn: a sustainable above-board version of the spaces that we were playing in 2002, providing a home for bands that are too new/weird/opinionated to play anywhere else. The best legacy would be for the Barn, Secret Project Robot, Trans-Pecos, and Market Hotel to thrive as legal, non-traditional venues, grow their ties to the community, and avoid getting pushed out by condos or whatever comes. It's fine for most DIY spaces to be transient, but they don't all have to be. Flywheel, a community space I helped start in Western Massachusetts, has stuck around for 15 years, and done shows with Fugazi, Le Tigre, Dan Deacon, Iceage, and a million others. Having more spaces like that in Brooklyn might help keep neighborhoods from becoming money-centric, condo-happy cultural wastelands.
As for a musical legacy, I don’t really see it, but that's fine. We weren't well known outside of small circles, and if there's anything I would want bands to take away from Parts & Labor sonically it's the drive to sound unlike other bands.
What’s next for Dan Friel music-wise? Do you see yourself being in a band situation again, a la P&L?
I have a couple of ideas. I am both drawn and repulsed by the idea of playing in a band again, but now that I've proven to myself that I can finish still finish a record, I'm feeling up for anything.
Life is out now via Thrill Jockey and catch him on tour with labelmates Lightning Bolt here:
11.21 Le Guess Who Festival Utrecht, Netherlands w/ Lightning Bolt
11.24 Hangar Dublin, Ireland w/ Lightning Bolt
11.25 Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK w/ Lightning Bolt
11.26 Electric Ballroom London, UK w/ Lightning Bolt, Om
11.27 ATP Nightmare Before Christmas @ Pontins Prestatyn, UK w/ The Notwist, Lightning Bolt, Black Pus
11.29 Mutations Festival Brighton, UK w/ Lightning Bolt
12.01 Jazzhouse Copenhagen, Denmark w/ Lightning Bolt
12.02 Folk Gothenburg, Sweden w/ Lightning Bolt
12.03 Bla Oslo, Norway w/ Lightning Bolt
12.04 Kagelbanan Stockholm, Sweden w/ Lightning Bolt
Brad Cohan is a writer based in Brooklyn.