By Rebecca Bulnes
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It's not easy for a band to induce reflective or even somber moods and entirely avoid languor, but that's precisely what the Six Parts Seven does with its instrumental postrock.
Like its previous work, the Kent, Ohio group's latest album, 2004's Everywhere and Right Here, maintains a gentle cadence from beginning to end. Allen Karpinski and Tim Gerak's guitar lines trickle through open expanses dotted with Ben Vaughan's lap steel guitar swells, Steve Clement's twinkling grand piano frills, and Eric Koltnow's vibraphone flourishes, while Jay Karpinski's drums and percussion carry the rhythm so unassumingly you barely notice there's a beat. Like breathing or wind blowing through treetops, a rhythm is going on, but in a natural, organic way; one wouldn't exactly think to stop and tap a foot to it. One might just ... sway along.
Still, one doesn't get the same sense of self-absorption or detachment with the Six Parts Seven as with similar bands. The music feels open, perhaps because the group isn't especially interested in indulgence. "We want to have that gut-wrenching feeling without huge drama or grand crescendos," says Allen Karpinski. "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."
The Six Parts Seven's approach has earned it a coterie of supporters that at one time included legendary London DJ and tastemaker John Peel. On Lost Notes from Forgotten Songs, the group invited several indie-rock stars, including Iron & Wine, Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse, and Pall Jenkins from the Black Heart Procession to reinterpret its instrumental tracks. But even without such relatively famous voices, the Six Parts Seven manages to keep the listener's attention via subtle shifts in sonic landscapes. The music is meant to pull you into an internal space.
Which of course poses certain challenges in a live setting. For one, people tend to chatter. "I think you get that in any club that's hosting rock and roll," Karpinski offers. Strangely enough, he's speaking to New Times in the middle of his workday as a bike messenger. (Yes, he's seen that classic of Eighties cinema, the Kevin Bacon film Quicksilver.) "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 whomever 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."
On this particular tour, the Six Parts Seven bandmates find themselves heading to Florida to play a wedding for two friends in Sarasota. Which is fitting, because 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. Having been pulled outside of the relationship by distance, I was able to reassert the strength of my individuality and do everything for myself again. That's where [the album's themes] came from -- me trying to be right in the moment."
Though the Six Parts Seven isn't shy about debuting new material in concert, the set on this particular outing will lean more 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," says Karpinski. Then he laughs, "We're relearning material. The albums that the couple is most familiar with are the second [Things Shaped in Passing] and third [Lost Notes from Forgotten Songs] albums."
But after three albums of meticulous preplanning, the Six Parts Seven -- Karpinski, his brother Jay on drums, and guitarist Tim Gerak, plus new auxiliary 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. They were so pleased with this looser approach that they plan to go even further next time and record with nothing prepared.
"We have to do something different at this point," Karpinski 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."
And in spite of any misgivings Karpinski may have about playing live (he loves touring), 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."