Corey Parlamento’s music sounds like it doesn’t have much structure. His songs wander and flow, and if you find yourself lost in the textures, you’re not alone.
“When I’m practicing with my band, they’re like 'Let's go back to the ... Chorus? I don’t know. Bridge? I don’t know. Pre-chorus? I don’t know!’” Parlamento said.
It isn’t that he doesn’t understand the recipe for Western pop music. As a teen in Boynton Beach, Fla., Parlamento played guitar and sang in metal and emo bands. Today, on the eve of releasing his new album, Parlamento draws on a span of influences -- from film and literature to the bi-polar music of Sparklehorse.
“Improvisation has a lot to do with what I do. That’s how my songwriting works,” said Parlamento, a member of the resident troupe of the Asheville Improv Collective.
“I just keep playing and stuff happens,” he said. “I’ll have a phrase that pops into my head and try to be as diligent as I can with what comes to mind and just let it flow out. I’ll do rewrites, but I try not to overthink what I’m writing.
Parlamento’s band includes a trumpet player and a cellist. Most often, he layers his own sounds, looping one strand of guitar atop another. Even performing alone, he envelopes you in sound.
“I get turned off in a lot of singer-songwriter stuff. it doesn’t feel like I’m being taken into another world or anything,” he said. “But listening to stuff like Sparklehorse, there’s visuals, there’s sound, there’s an actual world you’re living in.”
The wanderlust in Parlamento’s music mirrors that quality in his life. He made a record of acoustic music in 2010 under the name Livingdog. It’s an alter-ego drawn from a passage in Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden Pond,” and he still writes and performs under that name today. But soon after releasing his debut record, Parlamento put music aside, filled up a backpack and spent three months working on farms in Italy and Ireland.
“For some reason, I had romanticized farming, I'd built it up in my head, just live out in the country and farm,” he said. “It was this really romantic notion, and I tend to get swept up in romantic notions.”
Parlamento returned to the U.S. and tried living in Greenville, S.C., and working on a farm in Alabama. He moved to Pennsylvania, then Chicago.
“I just had no confidence. That wasn’t just in music. That was just in life, in general,” he said. “I was like really listening to Tom Waits and Nick Cave and writing all these weird songs and pretending I was some 60-year-old genius, which I’m not.”
He arrived in Western North Carolina five years ago with a job at a mental health center in Tryon. He moved into the basement of a hostel in Asheville, where both his living situation, and his music, got communal. Themes of nature found their way into his lyrics, and they combined with his music to paint sonic pictures.
“Nature is just a word we use and we’re usually talking about the outdoors, but we’re nature -- the stuff we’ve built as humans is nature,” he said.
After his move to Western North Carolina, music emerged in a flood.
“None of it was folk singer-songwriter stuff. A lot of it was more experimental and stuff that had a lot of layers to it, and weird sounds that weren’t just the guitar,” he said. “It’s more interesting just for me to have these other sounds come in that are more ethereal and that I don’t have a lot of control over.”
A successful Kickstarter campaign paid for the making of “All This Beauty,” but still, at age 28, Parlamento strings together two to three service jobs at any given time for the breathing space to create and perform his music.
“I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on the record, and I do think I’ve made a really cool thing,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I still have to bring people their food.”