Post-rock is becoming a bit of a dirty word these days; bands left, right and centre are claiming to be the next Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky. However, if there’s one group set to buck the trend, it’s Leeds-based instrumentalists Richard Parker. Their melodies are poignant without delving into cliché and the whole package is underpinned by a groove that is sorely absent from much of the contemporary instrumental scene.
That the melodies are so prominent throughout Richard Parker’s work is testament to the compositional ability of its alliteratively-named guitarists Ben Budd and Mike Miller. Each displays an awareness of the other’s ability and it is through this relationship that they fuse pop sensibilities with post-rock structures, forming the Richard Parker sound.
Naturally, the band are big fans of instrumental forefathers like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor but it is their individual influences which help them to avoid treading old ground. “Being an instrumental band we feel it’s easy to fall into stereotype territory,” Ben says. “It’s important to differentiate ourselves so we let a lot of the other bands we love affect the sound of our band.”
Certainly, the pair couldn’t be more different as guitarists. “I find that having a good technical ability allows more diversity when it comes to writing,” Mike explains. “Although it has become quite unpopular to listen to technical artists, I still draw a lot of influence from guitarists such as Buckethead, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert and numerous 80s glam rock guitarists. There’s a lot of merit in hard work and a detailed knowledge of the instrument rather than just picking up a guitar and strumming variations of the same four chords.”
Contrastingly, Ben is more into the anti-guitar heroes of the 90s, with Graham Coxon, J. Mascis, Stephen Malkmus, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore amongst his idols. But these differing influences are what makes the band great, as Ben explains, “Mike and I are really different guitarists in terms of how we play and the bands we’ve been in before but we’ve found a way of writing that really works for this band and for us as guitarists. It’s made us a lot more open to each other’s different playing styles and that’s helped develop and hone our sound.”
Richard Parker are big Fender fans. Ben uses a Mexican standard Telecaster, the first guitar he ever bought and also the most reliable. “I know a lot of people would probably look down at it but it’s perfect for how I play right now,” he adds.
Mike, on the other hand, employs a gorgeous white American Jazzmaster. “I have a number of guitars but I like this one for its durability and the versatility of sound I can achieve in a live setting,” he says. “I prefer the warmer tone that it produces but there are so many options on this guitar I still don’t think I’ve used it to its full potential yet!”
When it comes to his backline, Mike’s got something of a confession. “Honestly, I’m a little ashamed of my amp,” he admits. “I have a Marshall 100DFX head and cab. Although I would love to get a valve amp, I bought the Marshall simply for durability, plus I won’t be concerned if it gets bashed about on tour.” Don’t feel too sorry for him just yet though: Mike’s been making full use of 70s valve amps in the studio.
For Ben, there’s only one colour of amp: Orange. “I’m using an Orange Thunder 30 with an Orange 2×12 open back cab,” he says. “It’s got a really nice clean channel that breaks up early and gives a deep, warm tone… I use a lot of reverb and delay too so the open back cab really helps spread the sound.” Ben’s been micing this cab at the back in the studio, the effects of which will be heard when Richard Parker unveil their latest recording exploits later this year.
Once again, Ben and Mike are seemingly at odds when it comes to effects, but this only ensures that one doesn’t step on the other’s toes. Mike lays down the foundations while Ben is the main man when it comes to effects, a role which he’s delegated himself. “A lot of what I do in Richard Parker is to add texture to the songs,” he explains. “I’m always interested in using different pedals to get different sounds; my board will definitely see some new additions soon!”
Currently that board adopts a “maximum sound, minimum gear” philosophy: it features a Korg Pitchblack tuner, ProCo Rat 2, Boss DD-7 (predominantly set to analog or reverse modes) and Boss RV-5 set to modulate at all times. For rhythm tones, Ben makes use of the Orange’s dirty channel and clean break-up, switching to a Rat/DD-7/RV-5 combo for leads. The simplicity of this setup is key; it enables Ben to switch things up without too much pedal-dancing. Do look out for some Roland Space Echo on the band’s forthcoming LP though; Ben says the tones are going to be big.
When it comes to actually penning the tunes, Mike is a purist. “Writing is best without all the effects put in first,” he says. “I have seen so many bands in this genre literally play nothing and rely on their pedalboard to do all the work.”
To combat this pitfall, Ben and Mike compose the main melodies together before bringing it to the rest of the band to add their respective parts and jointly decide on a structure. It’s refreshing to hear from a band so verbally passionate about their songcraft, so it seems only fair to let Mike have the final word.
“I’m a strong believer in melody,” he says. “If you have a good hook and a good guitar line, which is the bulk of the melody for an instrumental band, it will be more genuine and engage the audience in something that is believable and well-crafted.”
You can hear Richard Parker’s Mechanisms EP above and download it for free from Bandcamp. The band are currently recording their debut LP with Matt Johnson at Suburban Home, the results of which can be heard later this year on a 7-inch release and the album itself, both released on Communal Blood. For more information follow Richard Parker on Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter.