Parchman Farm

Mining San Francisco's psych-rock past to forge a bright new future

"It was a true Frisco dream," I respond.

"It was a cosmic San Francisco dream," Baker half-jokingly reflects. "I don't think I have ever felt so insane playing music in my life."

On the phone, Shea supplied me with detailed directions to the rehearsal space. I, like a total knucklehead, smoked weed before attempting, in vain, to jot his message down (because getting high and listening to loud rock 'n' roll is awesome). And so to make a long story short, I'm now lost inside this maze of sheetrock-lined hallways and security reinforced doors and there's live music blaring throughout the whole place. Everything here is identical, like in THX 1138, but dimmer and with stained walls. On the verge of banging on random doors, I hear the echoey sounds of a chain wallet rattling and boots scuffling across pavement, kicking aside tattered show fliers and "musician wanted" advertisements. It's Binx.

"Hey." He walks on over and greets me.

"I'm fucking lost. Is this your space?" I point to a door from which Santana-style jams are emanating.

Ignoring my utterly stupid question, Binx coolly says, "No, man. We're down there. We're taking a short break."

Upon entering the band's space, I immediately notice how tiny and cluttered it is (but not with the obligatory assortment of empty beer bottles, ashtrays, and roaches). All four walls are covered with posters of rock 'n' roll legends: Kiss, Gram Parsons, Randy Rhoades, and that Blue Cheer poster featuring a young Dickie Peterson.

"So, what do you want to hear?" Baker asks me as she adjusts various knobs on her axe.

"Don't ask me. Do whatever you would do if I wasn't here," I explain, sitting in this soiled, overstuffed armchair. My thighs hug a Foster's oil can.

The band quickly decides to run through its 25- to 30-minute set, which is the perfect length. All of us present are television babies born in the wake of punk rock. We endorse the "keep it short and sweet" approach.

"Let's do it a bit faster this time," Baker says, looking toward LaBreche. He nods his head as I hear Shea spritzing what looks like Binaca into the back of his throat.

The band breaks loose. LaBreche lays down this born-to-be-a-breakbeat groove. Binx's fingers dance across his thick, metallic strings, generating a throbbing yet melodious bass line. Baker -- black hair masking her face -- adds a succession of funky riffs. Then Shea, who possesses this deep, rich voice, comes in, and the dude can really fucking sing (not scream), betraying his country-rock roots as the former vocalist for the San Francisco band Mover.

A couple of tunes in and I already notice how different Parchman Farm's new material is from the songs on its self-titled five-song EP, released last year on the San Fran imprint Jackpine Social Club. Those jams were by-the-numbers Alice Cooper- inspired FM rawk. Each of the new tunes, on the other hand, feels like a crafted sequence of carefully layered grooves. Every musician in the room is thinking rhythmically at all times, which reminds me of something that Shea and Baker had said to me earlier.

"We have this one tune that sounds totally like an Eric B. & Rakim riff," the singer told me. "Then I bring in some Byrds-y kinda vocals."

"Over the past year, I have been around all these hip hop guys," Baker, who recently married underground rapper Aesop Rock, informed me. "I have watched them make music, and I've always thought it would be cool to apply that to my own band. We put the songs together the way a hip hop song is put together."

So that explains the patterned grooves I'm hearing, but I also pick up another quality lacking in most modern hard rock: a tight, jazz-derived vibrancy. Or, to paraphrase the immortal Dickie Peterson, Parchman Farm is really on top of these songs. Most classic rock-influenced bands these days regurgitate the lay-back-in-the-groove "cock rock" of Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, or the now-rote stoner-rockisms of Black Sabbath. Relying way too much on gratuitous volume and arrogant swagger, very few modern groups follow the lead of Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band and the early Allman Brothers Band, both of which employed a jazzy, groove-heavy swing instead of simply turning their amps up to 11.

Parchman Farm, like these latter two groups, possesses some serious chops and is perpetually pushing its grooves forward, like a jazz or funk band would. This band's music is all about the movement and flow. That's why Baker, in between every song, keeps reminding LaBreche, "Let's play this one a bit faster." She doesn't want that "Feel Like Makin' Love" lethargy to seize control of her music. It's also the reason why so many of the posters plastered to the walls seem so ill-fitting. Parchman Farm is not some cheesy fucking retro-rock band. This group is operating on a level far, far above the "fingers forming a set of devil horns" hard rock cliché that these Kiss and Randy Rhoades posters imply. On the other hand, Parchman Farm isn't quite there yet. Baker's intriguing concept of constructing rock grooves as if they were hip hop beats can be taken even further. Thus, the group is still a work in progress, but probably always will be. If I learned anything meaningful about these four musicians over the past week, it's the fact that they are tireless workers who believe their jams can always be performed a little bit better, tighter, and faster.

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