A FEW MINUTES WITH: Corey Parsons of Banditos
By Don Wilcock
“We know each other better than we know ourselves,” says Corey Parsons, vocalist/guitarist and songwriter for Banditos, who open for Lucero at Club Helsinki in Hudson on Tuesday (June 27). “We’ve all known each other for over 10 years. I was with Danny Vines, our bass player, when he got his first bass. We’re the closest thing to family we have.”
They’re so tight, you forget there are six individuals in the band. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Banditos have a twang to their rock bang, but their orchestral primitive delivery slides through genres like Vaseline on hot pavement, informing their music with influences as varied as The Ramones, Jefferson Airplane and Waylon Jennings.
“Oh, man. We hardly have to even talk to each other.(Chuckle) I can tell you what our banjo player (Stephen Pierce) is going to order to eat depending on what restaurant we stop at. He’s a meat and cheese kind of guy. No condiments, no vegetables – hamburgers or cheeseburgers. If they have an option for a cheeseburger, that’s what he’s getting. It could be a fine restaurant – meat and cheese.”
And what has Parsons learned in 10 years about Mary Beth Richardson, lead vocalist and the only woman in the band? “I can’t think of a good one that won’t piss her off.”
Banditos have learned to give each other space, even in tight confines. They all lived together in Birmingham before moving to Nashville, where the energy is higher octane. I caught them on the phone last Monday at a gas station in Kentucky, their first day out on a tour promoting their album, Visionland. By the time they play Club Helsinki eight days later they will have traveled more than 2,000 miles and played six shows in Indianapolis, London (Ontario), Toronto, Montreal, South Burlington, Portland and Boston.
The instrumental tracks on Visionland were recorded at Plum Creek Sound Studios in Dripping Springs, Texas over a two-and-a-half-week period of seclusion. The CD was co-produced by Israel Nash and Ted Young. “Israel Nash is a singer-songwriter,” explains Parsons. “I don’t get into much contemporary music, but I’ve come across some of his albums and really dig them. Kind of like a Neil Young vibe to it.
“We were in Oslo, Norway, and he happened to be at the show. He really dug it and came up and talked to us afterwards. We all got pretty drunk, and we were talking about our next album, and obviously his experience in the hill country. So, we kept in touch over the next few months, and we decided we’d do our album out there in Texas. We were out there for like two and a half weeks just completely secluded, getting weird, immersing ourselves in the album, no distractions.”
More than half of the 10 cuts were road-tested on a back-breaking schedule that included dates all over Europe and their fourth time at South by Southwest, testing ground for rock and Americana bands on their way up. “It’s like a week-long party for us now. The first year we went we played like 16 shows in seven days. We didn’t really know what we were doing, so it was kind of a headache, but Bloodshot did come out to see us at a workshop we played, so I guess it was very successful.”
Visionland is Banditos’ second CD for Bloodshot, a Chicago-based label whose roster includes Alejandro Escovedo, Justin Townes Earle, Wayne Hancock, Neko Case, Rosie Flores and Graham Parker, all extremely talented and fiercely independent artists in good company with Banditos.
At a time when indie blues/rock and Americana bands either cling to old clichés or try too hard to capture an edginess by recording analog with 60-year-old vocal mics, Banditos charge right down the middle with solid, original material road warrior-tested by a gang of six that knows each other so well that they can predict what each is about to say. They’re smooth in a way that Roy Orbison and the Moody Blues were/are smooth – not edgy, a tad ragged, with a bit of southern bravado and a repertoire that’s as infectious as New Orleans gumbo or Haight Ashbury psychedelia.
“Yeah, I haven’t heard that (the term “orchestral primitive” to describe us) before,” says Parsons, “but I can totally see that. I think really we’re just into older music. We’ve never been too (dependent) on contemporary music. We all kind of formed this band by our similar taste in music. We grew up on oldies stations. We’re pretty knowledgeable when it comes to ’50s through early ’80s music.
“It’s just building off what’s already happened. I mean I think that’s the way most things are, and frankly I don’t think anything’s necessarily original. Everything is taken from something else. We just take our favorite parts of past generations of music and kinda make ’em our own. I don’t even think we do that consciously.”
Rolling Stone credited the band with “everything from ZZ Top’s greasy boogie to the Alabama Shakes’ co-ed soul.” American Songwriter said their music is “for fans of honest, gritty southern rock ‘n’ roll.” And The Washington Post gushed, “Corey Parsons and Jeffrey Salter start picking at their guitars like they’re dialing up Waylon Jennings. Richardson responds with a howl, as if she’s crash-landing some southern-fried Jefferson Airplane. And it’s on.”
I asked Parsons if it’s hard to live up to such laudatory press. “Naw! I feel like they’re late to the party.”