Back in November, I had the pleasure of writing a review of Tampa, FL band Conspire’s freshman LP The Scenic Route. I put my headphones on and set to my normal routine of multi-tasking. Before “1971” (the first song) was over, I had already closed my laptop, silenced the voice of responsibility, and closed my eyes. Lead vocalist Parker Armstrong’s poetry tunneled through some serious deflecting I’d been doing for a hot minute (okay, fine, most of my life). You know that Batman meme where he slaps someone mid-sentence? That’s Conspire and me. By the time I got through “Sustain,” my review was written and I was actively looking up tour dates to hear Parker deliver one line live: “I’m here.” By the time he hit me up on Facebook to invite me to the CD release party, I’d memorized half the songs on The Scenic Route. I booked a hotel and drove four hours up north to catch their 10:30pm set at Local 662 in St. Petersburg, FL.
Local 662 is a tiny venue, a rectangle really, with a pool table at one end and a stage at the other. It’s the kind of small dive you wouldn’t expect a diverse crowd to occupy, but I was neither the oldest (yeah) nor youngest (meh) in attendance. After listening to the fervent nature of Armstrong’s delivery on CD, I expected him to explode onto the stage and blow out the red lamps illuminating the band (grrrr). To my surprise, he calmly walked up the steps, took the mic, and proceeded to deliver The Scenic Route, cover to cover, with the most humble, peaceful affect.
Armstrong’s recitation is both inward and outward. He connects himself to every word before he delivers it to the audience. In turn, the audience connects with whatever outlet or exercising of demons suits them best. Some sat on the side and listened intently; others formed pits and released their emotions on each other. Make no mistake, this is emotive and thought-provoking music. There I was trying to take pictures while singing, “I need you to row” and growling “I won’t say it again. I swear to God I won’t say it again!” By the time Parker delivered the line I drove for, I had fallen into his community and received “I’m here” with tears in my eyes. It was only later, after speaking with Parker’s dad, I realized how truly special that performance was. The diversity of the audience came from common ground. Parker’s classmates and friends, going back to middle school, were in attendance, as were many of their parents, including Michael’s, the friend “Sustain” was written for after his tragic death.
Parker was gracious enough to sit down with me after the show to give me some insight into his personal story, the songs on The Scenic Route, and the band’s history and direction.
I really wanted to ask you about “Sustain.” As a reporter I’m interested, but as a fan, I’m genuinely fascinated by what you’re doing. The song “Sustain” — we talked about this before, that “I’m here” moment. I understand now that was written about your friend.
He died some years back?
And his parents were here tonight?
That was the last song we wrote on the album, actually, the last one I did lyrics to. He was always on my mind throughout the recording process, and I knew that at some point he was going inspire in some capacity, whether it be a lyric or the feeling of a song. We kind of wrote it on the spot, said this is going to tell this story, because he was a really good friend of all of ours. He was a drummer as well, and we used to jam with him. His name is Michael. He ended up passing away in a car accident in Tampa and it had dealt with controlled substances as well.
I happened to be overseas in Germany at the time, just on a short training deployment. I felt a lot of blame, just because with loss that’s easy to do, in human nature. What could I have done differently? Did I miss any signs? If I had been there would this not have been happening? All those doubts and questions and scenarios running through my head, that was tough to deal with. But over time that actually affected me really hard, like more so than I’d wanted to say at the time. I’m always very reserved. I feel like I don’t like bothering people, and I always keep my feelings in a shell. It wasn’t until recently this project has allowed me to share and be a little more open. But yeah, that took me down a bad path. I coped with it with just drinking pretty much every night for a couple years. I didn’t attribute it to that at the time, but I just didn’t seek help. I didn’t talk to anybody, and that’s what it was. And so, two years later the album was recorded, and then we had another two year gap before we started playing shows, and over that time I realized how low I had sunk. I’m singing these songs about people reconciling relationships and getting help, knowing they’re loved and what not, but I looked in the mirror and I didn’t see any of that. The album itself encouraged me to get my own life together. I’ve lost 100 pounds over the last year and kind of got my priorities straight, and opened back up relationships with people that I had neglected.
I actually went back up to the studio to change one of the lines in “Sustain.” While I was gone, another friend, his name was also Michael, passed away in a vehicle accident, and it was also related to substance abuse and drunk driving in this case. Not to bring down anyone’s life or legacy — that’s just the situation that had happened. A lot of his close friends and his ex-girlfriend are here tonight.
So I’m sure that was powerful to be able to perform it for them. Have they heard it live before?
I don’t even know if they’d heard the song before because they don’t typically listen to heavy music. But, we all hugged afterwards and everyone was crying. The “I’m here” lyric that was a favorite of yours is, I think, my personal favorite just because it was me understanding that I wasn’t present in a lot of peoples’ lives. Now to be able to say it with confidence a couple of years later, it definitely hits pretty deep. I’m glad that it resonates with you as well.
It does. A lot of your lyrics do.
It’s doing its job. I hope you enjoyed it as much live as you anticipated.
I did, very much so. So, tour plans? Are those in the works?
Currently in the works. We played So What?! in Texas, and we’re hoping to go back for the spring edition. This is the ten-year anniversary, so that would be really cool to be a part of. Hopefully we can get a tour package in route to that, so February or March we’ll be back out there. Honestly, I’m open to any tour package. I think that’s the cool thing with our sound. You can toss us just about anywhere. Silent Planet is blowing up. I would love to go out with those dudes. They’re solid guys we’re close friends with. Like I said, we don’t sweat anything. After waiting a couple of years for the album, we’re just glad that the wheel is rolling and wherever it goes, it goes. As long as community is being practiced, the band is going to be around.
I see good things. I’m rarely wrong. It’s the prerogative of being a girl, so we’ll follow you. That’s my promise to you because what you do is really special. I appreciate you inviting me out and sitting down to talk to me.