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Six Parts Seven: "Blanket Warm" Music For These Cold Times
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
Six Parts Seven have been releasing incredible album after incredible album since forming more than a decade ago in Kent, Ohio. Since 1995 they have recorded and issued some of the most intelligent and inspiring music on a handful of labels, the majority of it on Suicide Squeeze (Minus the Bear, Hella, The Crystal Skulls). Their most recent album, "Casually Smashed to Pieces', was released in January and features a core line-up of Allen Karpinski (electric guitar, mid-range bass, arrangements, samples), Jay Karpinski (drums and percussion), Tim Gerak (electric and acoustic guitar), and Mike Tolan (low bass, electric guitar, banjo) along with several other musicians playing everything from lap-steel and toy piano to pocket trumpet and clarinet.
Six Parts Seven will be playing Sunday, March 4th, at the Brass Rail. I recently spoke with Allen about his influences and the band's upcoming tour with alt.country legend Richard Buckner. In spite of the three hours he had spent digging cars out of snow as a result of the recent blizzard, he was more than generous in his time and candor.
Fort Wayne Reader: Having grown up in Cleveland, the home of rock n roll, do you think that had an influence on wanting to play music?
Allen Karpinski: If it had an influence, it was more of a subtle influence than a direct one. There are a lot of live bands that come through Cleveland just because it's a major stop, maybe 'the' major stop between Chicago and New York. A lot of national touring bands play Cleveland and you have a lot of opportunities to see bands that would sell out shows in larger cities. You can get into those shows relatively easy, the ticket prices are cheaper, so I went to shows always when I was a kid and I guess that part definitely had an influence. It went from just being a huge music fan and buying music and hearing as much as I could and seeing as much as I could, I kinda wanted to take it to the next level and try to actually perform it too.
FWR: You seem to have a broad range of musical influences. Could you talk about the influence of Brian Eno and John Fahey?
AK: Brian Eno, for me, I love his music. I love his rock stuff. I love his ambient stuff. He's a real thinking man's musician. He was the first person I encountered who opened up the door for me and OK'd it to intellectualize music, not that I necessarily do that all the time but he definitely made me think about what I was listening to in a different way and what I was playing in a different way.
FWR: For instance, 'Here Come the Warm Jets'?
AK: Absolutely. 'Before and After Science' is another. It's so crazy because he almost foreshadowed everything that's come twenty years afterwards. There are parts of that record that almost remind me of Belle and Sebastian and stuff. He's just touched on everything. He's amazing.
FWR: And as far as Fahey is concerned?
AK: Fahey is interesting because of his repetition. He's always re-introducing themes. Stuff that he played on his first album he plays on his twentieth album. It's just evolved at that point. He's shameless. He'll go right back and make a three minute song a twelve minute song ten albums later. You wonder if it's the same song but he really makes you listen. He's just another great explorer. Completely different than Eno. He did tape manipulation and backwards tape stuff that were set into his guitar composition and that stuff was done before the Beatles ever did it and the Beatles always get credit for that stuff. He pre-dated it by three or four years. For me the influence he's had is more his open tunings. I never play in standard tuning. I never have and I learned a lot of just different tunings by reading his album liner notes. Before the Internet was around and you could find out anything you wanted in a second.
FWR: Any other major influences?
AK: I don't know. It's like anything else in life; the things that you love make their way into your life in very subtle ways. You're not always sure how they're gonna turn up later on and I think all the music that I've listened to has. A lot of the indie rock of the early 90's. There's a band called Seam that were on Touch and Go that I liked a whole lot and I know the drummer in that band was a huge influence on my brother's playing style and even on the second album they had John McEntire, who's also the drummer in Tortoise.
FWR: I often see comparisons made between Six Parts Seven and Tortoise or Godspeed You Black Emperor! That just seems lazy.
AK: They sound nothing like what we sound like. They really don't. We try and write our songs more like pop songs and instead of having vocals we have a part, it might be a lap steel or horn, those are the parts we write to be vocal parts. No one ever listens to it like that, which is, ya know, whatever. That's how it's intended to be listened to.
FWR: I hear elements of Willard Grant Conspiracy, Lullaby for the Working Class and even Phosphorescent.
AK: I love Phosphorescent. I'm so glad you know about that. I don't know hardly anyone who's even heard of that thing. Phosphorescent's great.
FWR: Why was the decision made for no vocals?
AK: There's two reasons for that. The parts I always seemed to like as a kid were always the instrumental intros to songs. The quiet part before the singing and I always thought in the back of my head it'd be cool to have a band that just did those. Why don't they do more of those? I always thought that. The very first Six Parts Seven release was a cassette only in '95. It was a full-length and I did vocals in it and I played bass and my brother played drums and when we toured for a year off and on we had another bassist. So it was two bassists and a drummer, but the vocals were incidental to the music and at that point I thought, 'I don't wanna be that band that you listen to and the music is so great but when the vocal comes in it kills it.' If you're gonna have good music you're gonna need a singer to match it. So, I didn't really wanna do that and I don't have a voice and I can't really sing and there are a couple people in the band now that can and do but this just isn't the right context for it. If we're gonna do singing, we'll make up another band for it. I'm in three bands. Everyone's in so many bands.
FWR: What are the other bands you are currently in?
AK: One's called Beaten Awake. I just got back from a tour with them. That band is on Fat Possum and Audio Eagle, which is run by the drummer for the Black Keys, Pat Carney. So that band's getting a lot of attention and doing pretty well. The other band I play in is with a guy who's in Six Parts Seven. His name's Mike, he's a bassist. He does a thing called Talons. It's like a singer-songwriter thing. He's really really good. I hope someone finds out about what he's doing soon because it's more in the vein of that Phosphorescent, because it's someone projecting their personality in a very individual way and I think a lot of people are gonna find that attractive. The lyrics are absolutely great.
FWR: So how did this gig in Fort Wayne come about?
AK: That's an interesting one because most of this tour we're going out with Richard Buckner and supporting him. But right before this show Richard is heading back to New York. We were trying to fill in a date 'cause we didn't wanna drive back since we're not in any terrible hurry. So we might as well get one more show kind of along the way. Someone wrote our MySpace saying, 'Hey, I love your band. Why don't you ever play Fort Wayne?' I wrote back asking where do you go to see bands and they gave me some numbers and our booking agent set up the gig at the Brass Rail. If there are people that want to see you and you find out about it, why wouldn't you wanna go there?
FWR: How excited are you to be playing with Richard Buckner?
AK: It's the first time he's ever gone out with a full band. He came down the other day from New York and we rehearsed. I think it's gonna be awesome, honestly. He's doing a lot of the songs I really like and I'm real excited about it. I've been a fan of his for quite awhile so it's an honor really for him to ask us to do this.
For more info on Six Parts Seven, check out: www.suicidesqueeze.net or www.myspace.com/sixpartsseven