S D Green
"I don't think it took that long," Adam Pierce says over the phone, referring to the making of an anagram that turned his name into the moniker for his band. Adam Pierce literally is Mice Parade. The polyglot band sprung from the nimble-limbed Pierce, who took on drumming duties, guitar, and other, more exotic tools (the band is famous for building meandering, propulsive song structures with instruments like the cheng, a Chinese harp) to craft polyrhythmic and poly-melodious instrumentals, weaving Eastern sounds and loose structures in a post-rock palette that came to fashion with bands like Tortoise. "Not my idea," Pierce tosses off. "A crazy old friend of mine back in the day, when I was trying to figure out what to call [Mice Parade's first] record, he said, 'Make an anagram.' Then we sat down and made an anagram."
An overzealous writer can come to the conclusion that the innate complexities at work in the band name, album titles (that first album was called The True Meaning of Boodleybaye), and song structures are purposeful riddles and not at all accidental to the experience of making music. Yet, talking to Pierce, that all seems wrong.
"Yeah, there's no mission plan [laughs], or plan in action." Prior to Mice Parade, Pierce was holding down the drum kit for the Dylan Group, a distillation of vibraphone-led post-jazz; fitting neatly beside music by bands intellectualizing highly percussive and divergent world musics like tropicalia, gamelan, and afrobeat. But Pierce's Mice Parade is instinctual. While tons of influences co-mingle (a wash of My Bloody Valentine's woozy distortion layered over fevered flamenco guitar) and rhythms overlap, Pierce finds his way by feel more than by force -- particularly on the new record, What it Feels Like to Be Left-Handed. "The process of recording the album was trying to go back to the original process of the first Mice Parade record, which was not writing anything and just going in and doing stuff... improvising a bit as you go a long and just seeing what comes out... being surprised by it all."
And there are a few surprises. The album opens with "Kupanga," an upbeat track riding Pierce's signature fidgety percussion. Into the mix comes a lively kora, and Swahili singer Somi puts a light yet urgent vocal on top. It's familiar as Mice Parade, but with a slightly new twist. "The tune was actually started off with the idea of Rokia Traore [Malian singer and guitarist] singing on it, and we were in discussions about getting that to happen, and it looked like it was going down. Then she got held up in Mali and the scheduling didn't work, so that was one of the last tunes done. An old jazz bass player I worked with at Bubble Core (Pierce's old, self-run label) called Alex Blake, who did a record with Pharaoh Sanders, he plays with Randy Weston. Somi was a recommendation that came through [Weston]."
As much as Mice Parade grows out of Adam Pierce, collaboration is a vital part of the process. The band includes a revolving cast from an impressive constellation of bands: HiM, June of 44, Macha, The Swirlies, mum, The Dylan Group, Stereolab, Codeine, and Diamond Nights, among others. That's mostly Doug Scharin (drums), Dan Lippel (guitar), Dylan Cristy (vibes), Caroline Lufkin (vocals), Rob Laasko (guitar), and Josh McKay (keys), with others like Laetitia Sadier and Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir both adding vocals to the mix over the years. "I always try to get as much from other people as possible. We had people come up here -- like Somi and Abdou the kora player. Meredith [Godreau] from Gregory & the Hawk recorded her vocals live here. Doug played drums on one of the songs. He lives out in California, so he just recorded them and emailed them to us. Our main live singer, Caroline, also sings on several songs on the record. She lives in Japan these days, so she did the same thing. So, there's a lot of sending parts around, but everybody in this band also has really busy schedules. There are a lot of parts I have to just go and get done myself when people aren't around. To me, everything is all about collaboration or just people getting together -- basically, the live experience."
Mice Parade takes the show on the road at the end of the month. As a musician who feeds off of the audience and other musicians, it's part of the fuel that drives his process. "Getting to hang out with our friends together as a band, our little family, that we don't get to see each other very often... I love it to death. If we could do it more, we probably would. I have aspirations of reaching deeper back into our instrumental catalog and bringing along the Chinese harp, but I don't think we'll have time to learn it all because we have some new members. We might not have the time to re-learn everything. I don't know what we'll get to, but I have aspirations of knowing how to play over 20 songs in our catalog. A long time ago we brought two drum kits and I was on one of them, like, half the time. Then, over the last few years, we mostly did one drum kit gigs, and I might hop on it for a second, but I'd stay mostly on the guitar and the cajon [Latin percussion instrument]. And now, for this tour, we're definitely bringing the two kits. I won't be up there half the time, but I'm trying to get like three or four songs under my belt to make it at least worth bringing the kit. In the US, for the first ten days, it'll be with Les Shelleys, which is a project that is basically Tom Brosseau and his friend Angie. Tom Brosseau has a new record on Fat Cat where they do these old public domain tunes, duets. Gorgeous stuff. We're very honored to have Laetitia Sadier from Stereolab, she has a solo record coming out, and she's going to support the Europe tour, as well as Silje Nes, who is another Fat Cat artist."
Pierce now runs the US branch of Fat Cat Records (after running his own Bubble Core), and is as enthusiastic about the roster of artists as he is about his own music, if not more so. "It's fun because it's the music industry; you deal with and listen to music all the time. I consider it a noble cause to try to help musicians -- not that it always does, but at least it's a noble cause to try. I don't mind the administrative part of the job. The drag is the pitfalls of the industry. It's just knowing what sells a record and having to avoid thinking about that when dealing with your own shit. We have a lot of bands that sell a lot of records, we have some bands that don't sell so many records, and I know exactly why. The people who don't sell a lot of records, on our label, are just as fucking good as the people who sell a lot of records. It's a really narrow fucking tunnel. It moves in waves, but the Williamsburg, Pitchfork era has a certain tempo, there's a certain number of members in each band, there's a certain look, it's like, come on. It's a great label. Hauschka, which is amazing stuff, has a record coming out. Gregory & the Hawk has a record coming out. Silje Nes has a record coming out. All these artists are great. David Karsten Daniels' record just came out, you know? Nobody bought it; it's an amazing record. We have a new We Were Promised Jet Packs album, which will be a big record for next year. They're most likely going off to Iceland to record it in a few weeks. There's a new Twilight Sad record as well, and the demos for that are amazing; different from what they've done before, which is exciting. So, it's always exciting and I love the label, so it's definitely good."