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Shannon Livewell

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 “A conversation with John Parnell: The news that sparked the noise” 

We all have outlets, creative nuances that allow us to express feelings in constructive ways. Sometimes, however, our creative outlets can be forced to change due to natural forces in which we have no control of.

John Parnell, and artist and musician from Birmingham, Ala. knows about this force of change all too well. The husband and father was faced with a large obstacle when he was diagnosed with ataxia, a disease that causes a loss of coordination in the body’s extremities. At the time of his diagnosis, Parnell was discovering Japanese and drone music, and as a part of his coping with his newfound disease, he decided to create an album formatted around noise and chaos – a type of music that depicts his inner struggle.

The new record, entitled A Taxis (coming from the Greek origin meaning without coordination), is focused mainly around the distortion of sound and the album was mastered at high levels to achieve abrasiveness. In his own words, “This is my attempt to explain the struggle I feel having a form of genetic ataxia. While performing and recording (which took place at the same time) I was very aware of the direction I wanted the music to take. I knew I wanted the album to be more than just a collection of songs.”

As a music lover and creative enthusiast, I wanted to know the importance behind noise and drone music and what sparked Parnell’s initial interest in sharing it with others.

“Initially I loved the minimal aspect of it,” he explained. “I felt you could interject your own emotional response. Those two types of music spoke to me in a different way than other forms of outsider music did. To me, they convey the images of abstract art into a sonic form. This type of music is a lot like abstract art. I mean that in the sense that whether you like it or not you have to deal with it. You have to process it.”

Parnell brings up a distinct comparison of noise music and abstract art and their similarities to one another. As a listener, you find yourself searching for meaning behind the noise the same way you do when viewing an abstract painting and individuals can derive different emotional aspects from abstract art, the same way they are evoked by distorted and non-confined musical combinations.
Realizing the literal struggle within Parnell’s music, one may wonder how his diagnosis has affected his outlook toward his creative work.

“In a way I think it has given me a stronger work ethic. The feeling that time may not be on my side. I loved the fact that ataxia comes from the Greek word a taxis, which means without coordination, I think, something along those lines,” Parnell said. “I’m sure some could say noise music or drone could be defined that way. To me it’s perfect to have this disease and make this sort of music.”

All of the instrumentation and recording for A Taxis was constructed by Parnell himself. The album was mastered and released under Parnell’s label OBS. He went onto explain his biggest influences both musically personally that have helped nurture who he is today as an artist and entrepreneur.

“Musically…Damn…too many…,” he joked. “Boris, man. They are such an inspiration in the fact that it seems like they do whatever they want musically. Personally, is simple,” Parnell continued.

“Henry Rollins for his sheer attitude towards work and his work ethic. By work I mean creative endeavors. Also, I would have to give credit to Ian Mackay. His story of forming Dischord Records and how it is run is very inspirational to me and how I would like to grow my label OBS.”

Parnell is an inspiration both musically and spiritually. He is a man who truly seizes the moments and opportunities that life presents. He is inspiring and innovative and his creative risk-taking transcends the confines of the music industry today. I feel very lucky to have been able to speak briefly with the man behind the music and encourage you to listen to his latest project with an open-mind and inventive spirit. Be ready to experience something new and develop your own emotional surmise from what you hear.

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