A few weeks ago I was introduced to Conspire, an incredible band from Tampa, FL via their freshman LP The Scenic Route. Lead vocalist Parker Armstrong agreed to answer some questions for me via email, and invited me to his CD Release show. After the show we sat outside and chatted. You can check out that conversation here and here. I could have left well enough alone, but Parker surprised me today with the answers to those first questions emailed prior to his show. After reading them, there was no doubt in my mind they had to be read by as many people as possible.
Shockwave Magazine: What musical experiences did you have prior to forming Conspire?
Parker Armstrong: Outside of learning some guitar at a young age and playing the clarinet, worse than Squidward, in middle school band, I don’t have too much experience musically. I had the pleasure of touring with This or the Apocalypse for a brief period, mainly just selling merchandise and a small guest spot each show. At that time, I already knew I wanted to start Conspire, just needed to learn more about my vocals and grow comfortable on stage. The opportunity allowed me to pick their vocalist’s brain as I received informal lessons along the way.
The songs on your upcoming release The Scenic Route are thought-provoking and humbling. I have, no kidding, had it on rotation for the last three hours. Where do you go for the inspiration for your lyrics? In that same vein, do you write lyrics first, music first, or work together to pound out a tune?
I don’t consider myself much of a writer, but when you’ve got a story to tell things flow pretty naturally. So, the theme itself was already in place from the start. A lot of credit goes to our producer, Ricky Armellino. He helped tremendously in the lyrical realm and was a key contributor to helping articulate many of my thoughts and ideals. I had a generous amount of material written going into the studio, but the structure of some of the tracks changed quite a bit while recording. I’d say I prefer writing lyrics after being given at least a skeleton of the song. Inspiration comes from challenging times in my life, more specifically the emotions I felt in the midst of turmoil.
At times, the metal-core message can get lost in the mosh-pit. But, spoken word is a powerful medium that pulls the audience in an entirely different way. How have audiences received you so far? Feel free to tell a story. I like stories.
I completely agree. Once the record was done I remember thinking, “How the hell is an audience going to react to this live?” There’s just so much diversity between tracks. I wasn’t exactly worried about how well we’d be received, but more so, just curious as to the how. Currently, we don’t have too many shows under our belt. But, I’m pleasantly surprised by the reaction thus far. Being a brand spankin’ new band; I don’t expect an audience to get too into songs that they aren’t familiar with. I also don’t see a need to put an expectation on an audience. Each listener is free to respond however the music resonates with them. My only hope is that we create an atmosphere that welcomes thought and encourages community. I suppose intimacy is key, and I really feel like we’ve been cultivating that vision more and more with each show as we grow comfortable in our environment. Some of these songs strike a chord with me emotionally when we perform them and I can’t help but let that take over, seeing a face or two in the audience that responds similarly is powerful.
Every song has a different mood or tone, but one unique sound that unites each song to the other, and a message that is unmistakably pro-enlightenment. First, what were your musical influences, since I hear so many styles (pop punk, metal-core, space rock, etc) in the mix.
That’s a great question. Our guitarists, Kaleb and Ryan played the biggest role in writing the music. They feed off of each other so well. Kaleb seems to enjoy interweaving some heavy breakdowns with beautiful chords. And Ryan has a background in worship music that is evident in a lot of the ambient parts. It’s a cool combination for sure, and their personal influences range from Ascend The Hill, to Underoath. Personally, Hundredth, and La Dispute were heavy on my playlist heading into the studio.
Second: It’s clear you have a message to deliver. While you touch on many thematic expressions, is there one overlying philosophy you hope people who listen to The Scenic Route walk away with?
It’s simple. Love, is the answer. And with love comes listening. I believe many issues in our world can be resolved peacefully if we put forth the effort to better understand the perspective of those we differ with. Often times, that allows us to find faults in our own practices and for common ground to be discovered.
“Row” is one of the standouts for me on The Scenic Route. “I need you to row” is a powerful plea for us to get our collective acts together. It may in fact become my mantra. In regards to these lyrics:
And it’s wrong to broadly classify others as enemies. No rationalization solves this and clinging to hatred only clouds it further. These are commonplace ideas and I thought you were too exceptional for them.
Can you clarify whether that last line is a form of sarcasm, or if there is a reference point for it that I’m missing? Who is “you” in this line, and what do you mean by “too exceptional?”
You definitely caught on. I speak with far too much sarcasm in my everyday life; I had to sneak one line in at least. In this particular line “you” is referring to whoever does what’s easiest in life, at the expense of others. Exploitation for political/economic gain, having enemies, and breeding hatred seems instinctive to human nature. Anyone who acknowledges their conscience knows that this negativity will take a toll on you in some way. But, choosing to pursue righteousness and admitting our faults will ultimately lead us on a path of reconciliation.
Sticking with “Row,” you stated on Facebook that it was written during the election cycle as a response to the division you were seeing. Now that cycle is over and a president-elect has been named, anger appears to be heightened. What message from “Row” do you think is most important for people to hear?
The song finishes with the line: “Your defenses are ruining who you are.” If I had to choose one line to slap on a bumper sticker, that’s it right there. It’s clear the president-elect needs this realization in his life. But, so do we who oppose him. It’s too easy to compromise what we stand for due to a perceived threat.
Okay, still sticking with “Row,” it was recorded with and produced by Ricky Armellino of This or the Apocalypse. What’s your relationship with Ricky? How did you meet and how did he come to produce and contribute to your project?
In 2013, I was living in California. At that time I had started to express interest in forming a band. I then began an online search for vocal coaches. That’s how I discovered Ricky. We set up our first lesson to be in person at a TOTA show. But, en route to Southern California their van broke down and they had to miss a number of shows. Bummed out about our lesson being cancelled, I sent him a message pitching the idea of some sort of an internship for production/audio engineering. Surprisingly, he was down. Soon after, I packed my bags and drove out to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I’m not quite sure how seriously he took me as he seemed to almost have forgotten about the arrangement. We got along great and I was quickly learning a ton about music. But over time, we both realized my main interest was vocals. Being on the road with his band I gained a bit of knowledge about warming up, vocal technique, and delivery. Near the end of the “internship” I asked Ricky if he’d do the honors of producing the debut Conspire album. Six months down the road, we drove up north and recorded The Scenic Route. Three of the dudes came down with the flu while we were in the studio. I don’t think the record could have been completed without the healing companionship of Ricky’s corgi, Starks.
There are a few veiled evangelical terms that I picked up in a couple songs. From “Captive Son:” “I was called to love your worst enemies,” and from “1971:” “I was made brand new but that image wasn’t you. Would you really put someone down, if you had the choice? Would you really put, really put someone down there?” Is this a call to question our beliefs or is the content stemming from your own upbringing?
Definitely a call to question our beliefs. For a while, I blindly followed an institution who in my opinion abuses the name of God as they focus more on furthering a political agenda rather than putting into practice the faith they proclaim. The track “1971” stems from this. 43 years prior to recording would have been 1971, the year in which Liberty University was founded. As mentioned before, I met Ryan while attending the school, and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. But, when the administration defended Donald Trump and the words he preached at convocation to “get even with others,” I’d had enough. This year he spoke there again, on MLK Day. Disgusted by how disrespectful that invitation was, I’ll leave on a positive note:
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
If you missed Parts I or II of our coverage, click the links to read more about Conspire.