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They don’t look like aliens: members of Parwana.

photo:Joe Putrock

The Subversive Verses
Experimental rockers Parwana may or may not be from another planet, but they’ll never pass as conformists on this one By Kirsten Ferguson

What’s in a band name? Well, things could be much different for Parwana, had the six-member experimental rock collective from Saratoga County gone with one of their early choices. “Moshing With Ron Jeremy,” for instance, a moniker spit out from a random band-name generator online, would have played up Parwana’s more ridiculous side, by virtue of an implied connection to infamous Surreal Life star and porn actor Jeremy. Another name the group bandied about, “The Alaskans,” would have seemed nearly as absurd, and just as bad, in its arbitrariness. “People would come up with names and everyone else would make fun of them,” says drummer Ryan Stewart, explaining the band’s initial hesitation to commit to any of their sillier ideas.

Fortunately, Parwana took a wiser route: They chose a name that actually had meaning. Parwana is the last name of the band’s multi-instrumentalist, Kamran Parwana. As they explain, they took Kamran’s name not because he is the appointed leader of the band necessarily, but because there is an interesting story behind the name, which is Afghani in origin. And because the name sounds cool and the band members were desperate.

This was 2003 and the band had played a few shows while nameless. A friend, Jeremy Barbeau, the band’s “fake manager” as they like to call him, decided to base a project for his artist management class in the College of Saint Rose’s music industry program on the yet-to-be-named Parwana, which meant he would produce a press kit, record a demo, and book a gig for his fledging “fake” charges. Lured by the promise of free studio time, which they used to record the demo, the band were forced to actually call themselves something.

“It was hard to come up with a name that summed up the six of us, but we wanted to come up with something that meant something,” explains guitarist Matt Ferguson, no relation to this article’s author. Ferguson is more commonly known as Terd. (For the curious, he explained the story of that one in a recent post on the King’s Tavern message board.)

“So they picked my name, even though I knew them the least,” adds Parwana, who didn’t spend the years in Ballston Spa that the others did. Parwana explains that his family name, which means “butterfly” in Farsi, was actually a nom de plume chosen by his grandfather, who was writing “subversive” political articles in Afghanistan in the late 1950s, which led to his exile into the desert and subsequent emigration to the United States. The band found kinship with the name, in part because they consider their own band themes to be “somewhat subversive.”

This interview took place in Saratoga Springs’ Congress Park, prior to Parwana’s afternoon slot during the Localthon fund-raiser last weekend at Caffe Lena, where the band play with some regularity (all band members were present except bassist Matt Vanalstine). They talked about their recent tour, which found them sleeping in movie theaters and crashing a Tennessee Christian youth extravaganza called the Passion, seemingly for the more comic moments.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out here that guitarist and van “driver” Richard Nolan desperately wants me to print that the members of Parwana are from another planet (that would be planet “Parwana” of course), here on Earth for some sort of “molar” harvesting mission. However, given that I once interviewed a rather obnoxious band who showed up to meet me in actual space suits (that would be California band Supernova circa 1995), meeting my every question with a tiring refusal to come out of character as aliens, I’m afraid I can’t play along with Nolan’s request. Sorry, the Supernova experience was that scarring.

But back to the point about Parwana’s tendency to express “subversive” political and social themes that question the status quo: This is found on their latest self-titled CD, in songs like “Art vs. Industry” and “Construction of the Greenback Castle,” musical whirlwinds of abrasive noise and yelped vocals that conceal lengthy polemics about the commodification of art and the ills of global capitalism, respectively. Singer Steve Felano, who writes the band’s lyrics, is verbose onstage and in the album’s voluminous lyric sheet, but is not so much in the interview. So these explanations come mainly from Ferguson. “I just come up with some crazy images,” Felano says, when questioned about the meaning of one of the album’s more nonsensically titled tracks. “But what does it mean?” queries Stewart in an exasperated tone, as he tosses twigs at band members.

Felano’s ardent vocals are nearly unintelligible onstage, and the band’s energetic craziness tends to distract from their song’s messages (‘If we play low-ceilinged places, something generally gets broken,” admits Nolan). So the band took careful pains with their new album to print up a booklet-sized lyric sheet in which the meaning of the words wouldn’t be lost. Armed only with a broken stapler that didn’t line up correctly on the seams, Parwana spent hours assembling their lyric booklets by hand. “We make everything by hand, printing all our shirts, making patches,” explains Ferguson. It was an arduous process that took several days to do (folding staples by hand, no thanks). Parwana have a DIY ethic derived from both practicality and the desire to be unique. For their first album, the band pulled an all-nighter one night to produce handmade covers for each individual CD, patching collages together from pictures copped from Women’s Day, Highlights and porn magazines. Felano speaks fondly of his “fighter plane inhaling a baby” design.

The band’s DIY ethic also stems from a survivalist frugality. They don’t have much money themselves, so they don’t expect their fans and friends to be able to pay a lot for shows or CDs, either. Hence the allure of the privately thrown basement show. “It’s more fun when people don’t have to pay a lot of money to see your band or pay a lot of money for drinks,” Ferguson says. “A lot of our friends are broke, like us.” No money, no problem. The band members speak fondly of their dumpster diving for choice throwaways from area bakeries. Ah, youth. “If you could send a message out to Dunkin Donuts employees to not put coffee grinds in with the donuts, that would be great,” says Ferguson on the way out of the park.

Parwana will be opening for the Mitchells and the Figgs this Friday at King’s Tavern (241 Union St., Saratoga Springs). For more information, call 584-9643.


JOHN DELEHANTY SURE KNOWS HOW TO KEEP HIMSELF BUSY Local longtime rockers Martly are close to finishing recording a new full-length record at Scarlet East Recording (owned by Martly guitarist John Delehanty) with renowned producer Dale Penner, who has recorded well-known acts such as Econoline Crush and Nickelback. Just how did Martly get hooked up with such a well-known producer? Well, it was really a stroke of luck, Delehanty says. It seems that Martly’s entertainment lawyers happen to work on the same floor, in the same building, as Dale Penner’s entertainment lawyers, and voilá! A connection was born. The new album, titled Hum, is being mixed in Vancouver, B.C., and will have a release in late May or early June. Delehanty says that working with Penner was “a really good learning experience, to observe someone working who works for major labels.” Watching Penner, Delehanty picked up some new techniques, and “[Penner] reinforced some of the ways that I work, too,” he says. In addition to the Martly album, Delehanty’s downtown-Albany recording studio also is home to a few other projects. Delehanty is in preproduction for a new release from the Clay People; punk-rockers Blasé Debris’ new, as-yet-untitled album will be mixed at the end of April; the Erotics’ new album, recorded at the studio, is being pressed as we speak; and plans are in the works to record a solo album of Delehanty’s work, which will be titled XO.

NEW TOYS IN THE SAVOY In case any of you were wondering about the transition going on over at Justin’s, I’ve got an update for you. The restaurant’s interior renovations have been finished, complete with new upholstery, a new color scheme and a fireplace, just to name a few of the decorative changes. More importantly, though, the new management at Justin’s have pledged to make the restaurant a “more serious music venue,” and to keep their promise, they bought a brand-new PA system and a brand-new Yamaha grand piano, both of which now take up residence in the dining room. These new additions will come in handy since the restaurant has reinstated music on Saturday nights (shows have consistently been happening on other nights of the week and during Sunday brunch). Justin’s will host jazz artists from all over the region, as well as artists from (in some cases) around the world as part of their Visiting Artist Series. Also, FYI: Starting in May, showtimes will be from 9 PM to midnight every night there is music. So those of you looking to have a quiet dinner, be sure to book your reservations for early on in the evenings. Check our club listings for an updated weekly performance schedule.

COLLECTIVE SOUL SHINES ON NORTH ALLEN The band, not the street, that is. Collective Soul, the band famous for hits like “The World I Know” and “December,” have invited the local rockers to play a gig with them in Poughkeepsie. “This is a great opportunity to work with one of this decade’s definitive rock groups,” says drummer Tim Frank of North Allen. “Apparently Collective Soul heard about North Allen by word of mouth and asked our manager to send some music to the band.” As guitarist Matt Greco says, “they must have liked what they heard, because the next call they made was to ask us to play the Poughkeepsie show.” Impressive. North Allen are currently touring in support of their upcoming release Walkabout. The show will take place at the Chance (6 Crannel St., Poughkeepsie) on Tuesday, April 12 at 7 PM. Tickets are $25. Call (845) 471-1966 for more information.

HOW DOES ANYONE MAKE IT IN THIS FIELD, ANYWAY? Well, find out when Hudson Valley Community College hosts a music-industry workshop this weekend at the college’s Bulmer Telecommuni cations Center Auditorium. Budding songwriters and performers can learn about the industry and how to get their music played on the radio, and have their work critiqued by professionals. Singer-songwriters Michael Bowers, Kate McDonnell, Ben Murray, Scott Petito, Siobhan Quinn and Leslie Ritter will provide a “revealing look at the business of music on radio, television and film and how attendees can approach their careers and make them successful.” The workshop will begin with a concert at 8 PM on Friday; Saturday and Sunday sessions are from 11 AM to 4 PM. Admission for the weekend is $50. Individuals also can purchase tickets to Friday’s concert for $10 or Saturday’s session for $35. For more information, call 629-7170.

—Kathryn Lurie

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