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Parts & Labor: Sound 'Receivers'

Parts & Labor has spent the last six years crafting fist-pumping, operatic walls of sound with distorted electronics, scorching guitars, drums fit for a rock anthem and lyrics you can sing at the top of your lungs on a cross-country road trip.

Last spring on its MySpace page, Parts & Labor asked fans to send in sound samples, which the band would then use on a new album. A friend provided old cassette tapes of her dad making small talk, a group member contributed sound of a beloved family cat who lived to be 20 years old, and a fan in Florida sent a recording of synthesizers that he took apart and rebuilt.

These and other oddities appear on the band's new CD, Receivers.

Recording Fluffy

"Wedding in a Wasteland" includes that recording of vocalist and electronics-handler Dan Friel's family's cat; the song is actually a bit more uplifting than its title implies.

"That's actually kind of a love song, albeit in a wasteland," Friel says. "Parts & Labor songs for the last couple of records have dealt with the chaotic state of the world and our own lives. I thought we'd do a little bit of a departure, thinking about good things in the midst of chaos."

Using material from other people's lives forced the band to think differently about how its members interpreted the sounds, especially that of Fluffy the cat.

"Fluffy, for the last 10 years of his life, would go into a room each day and sing to himself really loudly," Friel says. "And it sounded like he was being killed, but it was what made him happiest. It somehow fit into that part of the song."

'What Happened?'

The idea for the fan-submitted sound samples came about on tour. Bassist B.J. Warshaw was on the road with his other project, Shooting Spires, when one of his band members started answering a flier he saw in Brooklyn that read, "What Happened?" He'd call the phone number and give an update on the tour.

Fast-forward to the recording sessions for Receivers. Friel and Warshaw talked about getting their friends to send in sounds to use on the record. But in an age of inter-connectivity, they decided to open it up to anyone for an element of chance. One of the submissions came from Claire Lynn, who turned out to be the person behind the "What Happened?" fliers; she collects those phone messages at Re: collection.

Taking In The Sounds

The band received hundreds of samples from about 60 people. Technically, Parts & Labor used every sample it received. In fact, the noisy "whoosh" sound on the opening of the record is a combination of Warshaw's bass guitar and every sample playing at the same time.

Inspired by Roger Waters' spoken-word samplers on the Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon, Parts & Labor required the contributors to respond to some questions: What do your parents sound like? What are you afraid of? Where are you going, or where have you been? What's your favorite, or least favorite, sound?

Parts & Labor already had the songs in mind while in the studio, so its members left spaces within the song to include the samples. But they intentionally obscured what sounds came from the band or from the fans. It's a seamless mix, which ultimately allows all involved to be equal contributors.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Liane Hansen
Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.