Q&A: Parts & Labor On Remembering Whitney Houston, Their Indefinite Hiatus, And Possibly Reuniting At Coachella in 2020


Brooklyn’s econo-electronics-mishmashing, art-rocking noisemakers Parts & Labor are calling it a day and throwing a farewell jamz bash to ring in the band’s indefinite hiatus on Friday at 285 Kent. Conceived in the early aughts by electronic gnaw artists and dueling vocalists Dan Friel and (bassist) BJ Warshaw, Parts & Labor were an omnipresent and major force in Brooklyn’s DIY spaces. P&L played a slew of gigs over the last decade and had a killer five-album stretch of noise-rock deconstructionist glory, crash ‘n’ burn sonic melodies, arena-wired anthemry and throbbing dissonance. And the alliance the band formed with the likes of local buds Oneida, Liars, Black Dice and Yeah Yeah Yeahs helped morph the borough from barren wasteland into choice music destination, for better or for worse.

Village Voice scribe and drummer Christopher Weingarten, along with guitarist and Noveller mastermind Sarah Lipstate—both P & L alum—will take part in Friday’s festivities. “I was a fan of Parts & Labor long before I joined the band as their guitarist in 2008,” Lipstate writes via email. “Someone at my college radio station gave me a copy of the band’s amazing instrumental debut album Groundswell, and I used to play the track ‘Autopilot’ regularly on my radio show. I even saw them perform two or three times while I was living in Austin and remember thinking that it was funny how each time I saw them they had a different drummer in the band.

“Needless to say, I was beyond surprised when I was contacted by BJ in late 2007 about possibly joining the band as their guitar player. After only a couple of rehearsals with the full band, the guys asked me to go on tour with them down to SXSW in Austin. I remember waking up on a sofa in this huge Baltimore loft space where I had played my second show with the band the night before and seeing this cat curled up asleep on an old pizza box right next to me on the coffee table. At that moment, I remember thinking, ‘Yep, I’m definitely in a touring rock band now.'”

Sound of the City caught up with Friel, Warshaw and drummer Joe Wong (on, of all things, a conference call) to talk about Parts & Labor history, plans for the future and Whitney Houston. Some comical moments ensued.

Hey, it’s Brad from the Voice.

BJ Warshaw: This is BJ and Dan so far. I was just about to tell Dan I was the first one on the conference (call) and I got treated to little bit of “Hey Jude” on hold music waiting for you guys.

This is so official. I’ve never done a conference call interview before.

Warshaw: Yeah, seriously. Jags got it together.

Jagjaguwar is Grammy Award-winning, so….

Warshaw: [Laughing, as a beep chimes in and Joe Wong enters the conference call] Joe, however, has done this before. [Laughing]

I’ve never interviewed a band that’s going on indefinite hiatus.

Dan Friel: We’ve never done an interview after announcing that we were going to go on indefinite hiatus. [Laughing]

How are you guys feeling with a week to go before it’s all over?

Friel: Feels good!

After seeing your labelmate Bon Iver win all those Grammys, are you having second thoughts about breaking up?

Friel: We’re just happy to help Jagjaguwar rise to the top. [Laughing]. Our work is done here and we can ride off into the sunset.

No trepidation at all?

Friel: No, no, not for me. BJ?
Warshaw: No really. This has been such a long time coming at this point. We had our initial discussions about what to do next around this time last year; we were kinda thinking about what would happen. Over the course of, pretty much the summer, we had decided that we were gonna take a long, extended break, at the very minimum. We had plenty of time to adjust to the change or telling everybody else about it.

From an outsider, there doesn’t seem like there was too much tension in the band.

Warshaw: It’s safe to say from all of us the one thing is that we are all still really psyched to be making music together. I think it’s just more just a lot of practical issues that have come up and our lives going in different directions that have made this make more sense (to go on hiatus). We just felt like rather than drag anything out and have our goodbye be via fadeout or not even have one that we just make a big party out of it and have a nice 10th anniversary show and invite all our friends and everything.

What do you have planned for your final show?

Friel: All former members of the band are going to be involved at some level. But we don’t want to give everything away.

Will there be a spectacle like BJ shaving his beard off onstage?

Friel: [Laughing] I’ve actually thought about that.
Warshaw: I’ll just show up with the beard shaven.

What were the more memorable moments or downers for you during the band’s existence?

Friel: Joe, do you have any memory at all of being in the band?
Joe Wong: [Laughing] I’ve blacked it out. Let’s see. I feel like we’ve continued to improve since my involvement began. I think we’ve really come together and reached an apex toward the end, so we’re kind of going out on top. I was a little bit disappointed at the time with how our previous, our penultimate album turned out, Receivers. And then I feel like we all kinda coalesced by the time Constant Future was being recorded, and I think everybody was really proud of that one. I’ve been [in the band] for half of its existence at this point, and I think all of us are actually just excited to see what happens next. I don’t think any of us are really all that bummed out about it.
Friel: It’s weird to get into this other thing we were doing but we just did this piece for Impose today where we gave them something like 15 show flyers from the last ten years and we wrote about each of them and that felt like a real trip down the highlights. Just looking at those posters and thinking about some of those shows and some of the awesome lineups from back in the day. There was one for a show that BJ helped organize in the parking lot of 151 Kent Avenue where it was us, Lightning Bolt, !!!, Les Savy Fav, Tyondai Braxton, Forcefield, The French Kicks and like 14 other bands, all up our alley. It was also the same day that there was an outdoor show like five minutes away that had Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and I think Oneida. Looking back at that period of time, [2002-2003] was kind of a highlight. That summer was really great.
Warshaw: I’m having trouble because my mind is flooded with too many options. The recent trip to Japan was probably my favorite tour we’ve ever done and that will be the last tour we’ve done. That was very personal for me, because I’d lived in Japan briefly about 11 years ago so I got to meet a lot of old friends that lived there and meet their children. It was something I’d always wanted to go back and do, and I’m glad we had the opportunity to go there finally. We owe the thanks to our label in Japan for bringing us out there and organizing the whole thing. That tour was just amazing. A lot of it is just the novelty of being a band from the States over there, but the reception is just unlike anything else I think we’ve done anywhere in the world. I felt like one of the major reasons to start a band was the opportunity to travel, make friends and see new places, and that’s almost on equal par of getting to make the music. I’m pretty thankful for the people we have met. There’s a lot of people we still stay in touch with we’re friends with from ten years ago playing DIY spaces across the country—lifelong friends we’ve made from through this experience of being in a band.

All of you have had projects going on during Parts & Labor. BJ, you have Shooting Spires, Dan has a solo thing and Joe…

Wong: I write music for movies and TV shows; I was doing that before I joined and all throughout the involvement of the band, I was doing that, as well. I definitely want to start playing drums in some other bands pretty soon.

Do you like doing the double drummer combo, like you did with Christopher Weingarten at the Knitting Factory last December?

Wong: Sometimes. I don’t know if I’d want to do that for every band I play with, but I’ve done it a few times. I just got a chance to play with Man Forever. That was four drummers—it was Kid Millions, Brian Chase, Matt Marlin and myself. That was really fun.

Dan, you have some solo gigs coming up.

Friel: I’m finishing up a solo record that will be out later this year and I’m going to go to South by Southwest. I’m just trying to make a seamless leap into devoting my energy into [playing solo] now. I haven’t really decided yet [about a label]. I figured I’d finish it off, then start figuring it out from there. I also feel like I am gonna start on the next one as soon as I’m done with this one because I tend to leave many years between my solo records and I kinda want to start getting a little bit more of a consistent flow going with them.
Warshaw: I actually got a couple of shows lined up at the end of March with my solo project, Shooting Spires. There’s one [show] in New York and one in Boston and I’m doing a couple of shows with a Japanese musician that I played solo with last summer in Tokyo. He’s coming to the States for the first time. I also got a bunch of solo songs I have yet to record that I kinda want to commit them but I’m not sure what I’d do with them yet or if I’d make a formal release out of it. Lately, we’ve been having the urge to try out creative endeavors other than music, be it visual art or getting back to writing. I’ve spent a lot of time doing computer programming so I’ve been thinking about getting deeper into that stuff.

Is this the last interview you are doing as a band?

Warshaw: Uhh… no. We’re doing one interview the night of the show, actually. I think this is the last print interview we’ll doing. That other one is a videotape thing.
Friel: We’re doing an interview for The Week in Rock… [Laughing]
Warshaw: …with John Norris. [Laughing]. No, seriously.
Wong: I don’t think it’s for The Week in Rock, though. Right? [Norris] interviewed Whitney Houston and people were posting it online. It was interesting.

Were you guys fans of Whitney?

Friel: Probably, yeah. But not a huge fan.
Warshaw: I was out to dinner at this Thai place in Queens and [the news of Houston’s death] came on the big screen there on CNN with the sound off. The entire restaurant just like stopped eating and everyone was just staring at the screen. It was really pretty surreal. When we left and got in the car, I looked through Spotify to find some Whitney Houston to play. I found an a cappella version of one of her songs and it was really creepy. I recommend her a cappellas highly.

You guys can so a Whitney cover at the last show.

Warshaw: Are you gonna come up and sing that with us?

Yeah, sure, man!

This is one of your last interviews ever as a band. Any final words?

Warshaw: Thanks, everybody.
Friel: We’ll be back.
Warshaw: No we won’t. [Laughing]
Wong: Uh… If the price is right, we’ll be back. We’re gonna play at Coachella in 2020. It’s going to be really controversial, though, because we’re gonna replace BJ with his son. [Laughing]

Parts & Labor plays their final show on Friday at 285 Kent.