Michigan-based The Go Rounds was one of Atwood’s 2021 Artists to Watch. With the brilliant “Harpees” out, we sat down with lead singer Graham Parsons for an existential conversation about the power of music and the purpose of being in a band.
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Stream: “Harpees” – The Go Rounds
Anyone who has seen The Go Rounds play live will tell you it’s a special experience. Their shows have a visceral energy that pours through every note. I remember standing at the front row of El Imperial –Mexico City’s legendary indie spot which closed permanently in 2018–, drenched in a mix of the band’s sweat and my own; and feeling that the music wasn’t just being processed by my ears and brain, but by my whole body: bones, guts, blood, goo and whatever else inside there could pick up a frequency of every stunning melody or sudden time change.
The Go Rounds started as a collective led by singer and lyricist Graham Parsons more than a decade ago, but consolidated in 2013 as a band with its current four piece lineup of Mike Savina on guitar, Adam Danis on drums and Drew Tyner on bass. Since then, the Michigan based group has been working non-stop. Before the pandemic, it was normal for them to play a hundred shows in a year and spend the rest of the time writing new music. Through constant touring they developed a deep connection that led to high-quality mind-bending shows like the one I described.
But there’s a challenge that comes with being so good at playing live. How do you then go to the studio and record music that lives up to what the audience has already experienced firsthand? Most independent artists have the exact opposite problem. This is a dilemma you can imagine huge festival acts like Daft Punk facing, but not an emerging band from Kalamazoo.
With every release, The Go Rounds have tried to bridge the gap between their live energy and their studio sound. They successfully did so by taking risks and going deeper into sonic experimentation with the 2019 album, whatever you may be. Tracks like “Pattern & Vanity”, “Bali” and “Foxtrot” are wildly creative in their song structures, layered atmospheres and abstract poetry. As we wrote in our 2021 Artists to Watch feature, they “push the boundaries of indie, reaching a place in which psych-pop, americana and twang-rock come together in one brilliant controlled explosion.”
Now, The Go Rounds have a fresh new single. “Harpees” is their first song in over two years and arguably their smoothest ever. Just listen to how effortlessly it all flows. Every verse, a soft breeze. Every chorus, a river in spring.
Listen: “Harpees” – The Go Rounds
At first listen, “Harpees” may seem a deviation from the psychedelic indie-rock I described a few paragraphs back. It showcases The Go Rounds’ lightest side with expansive textures, slow rhythms and catchy hooks. However, once you pay attention to the details, it becomes clear that all the elements in the alchemy of the band’s quintessence are there. Allow me to present a series of beautiful contradictions:
One. It’s intellectually stimulating, yet it can also induce a state of trance. This, like many other Go Rounds tunes, might start as a sonic puzzle and then take us to a place where thoughts dissolve entirely.
Two. It’s full of unusual complex arrangements, but it passes as a straightforward pop song. Take what happens around a minute and 45 seconds into the track, for example. The way a collection of voices in perfect harmony takes over everything else, builds up a huge atmosphere while singing the loveliest cocaine reference I’ve heard, and then drops back down to the chorus like nothing ever happened. It’s a spell that other genre defying musicians like Andrew Bird have mastered and very few mainstream artists are able to achieve.
And three. It’s both dark and full of hope at the same time. Just look at the last lines of the lyrics:
They’ve come for the mother
To slit at the throat of time
We can unfuck the future
How could I not forget it for the thousandth time?
“Harpees” comes after a very difficult period for the band. On top of struggling for more than a year without their main source of income, they recently suffered the tragic loss of a dear loved one. Putting out new music and finally being able to play live shows again feels like a healing balm for third degree burns. It’s a starting point. A place of hope. The single was already written before the pandemic began, but it feels incredibly appropriate that it’s coming out now. A mellow blend of hypnotic riffs and silky vocals to remind us that it is still in our power to “unfuck the future” and convey the moment of serenity that The Go Rounds have arrived at. Over the phone, Graham Parsons opens up to me about his state of mind heading into this new stage of their career:
“I’m just in a tender place. No interest in being cool or in fame… As a band, we just want the depth of human experience to move through us. All of it. All the hardest shit. The harder we can laugh and the harder we can cry, the more the audience will be able to dip their cup into the well that we have cultivated.”
For me, as someone who is often discouraged by the slim chances of actually making a living or earning any kind of conventional milestones of success through independent music, Parsons’s words are profoundly inspiring to hear. When he talks about the well they have cultivated, he is referring to much more than just a great setlist. For The Go Rounds musicianship is inseparable from friendship, and both things are inseparable from being fully immersed in life itself. Their mesmerizing on-stage energy stems from that. Graham describes it like this:
“This magic that we wield… it is like a little ball of light and fire that we hold among us… our strength as a band deepens the longer we go within our relationship as human beings. There’s a magic in the journey we have been on. We can hold that up when we are performing. We are on our path. We are sure of it. When people see that, on one hand it’s kind of mystical, but at the same time I think it resonates with them in a very simple and humble way. Maybe they feel their own magic too, they recognize the magic they hold in their own lives.”
I know exactly what he is talking about. I have witnessed several more Go Rounds concerts since the one at El Imperial and have always been blown away. No matter if it’s at a small coffee shop or a packed venue with hundreds in the audience. There is always a sense of communion, like the whole room is taking part of something real and unique beyond the realm of indie-pop music. It has nothing to do with a fan base or a shared identity. It’s something that happens there on the spot, taking a lot of unsuspecting crowd members by surprise. On many occasions the band plays mostly new stuff – whatever they are working on at the moment, so the magic happens even if no one knows the songs.
There’s usually a disparity between the way The Go Rounds sound live and the setting where everything is happening. Imagine Radiohead wasn’t famous at all and then you walked into a bar and there they were, playing “Idioteque” at full blast. Would your life be transformed? Would you be in awe of greatness in such an ordinary context? It might sound exaggerated, but that’s the sort of feeling I walked away with the first time I heard them perform and I know that is a sentiment shared by many more. “I saw you play the other night, now you are my favorite band”, wrote a new fan on a social media post recently. “Literally changed my way of thinking after I saw them. New favorite band” reads another comment on their Facebook wall.
If the music industry was purely based on talent and creativity, The Go Rounds could eventually headline any major festival (and they’d slay). Of course, reality is very different and maybe it is unlikely something like that will ever happen, but that does not stop Graham Parsons from being absolutely certain of the road him and his bandmates have chosen:
“We believe in what we are doing. But it’s a very different thing to believe in our shit, than to expect something in return from it. Our narrative is nothing more than growing constantly. We have no expectations of getting somewhere in particular. We don’t need that. We are already there.”
He doesn’t mean that they won’t keep moving forward, but that they embrace and understand their art as a destination in its own right. Whatever results, “Harpees”, or their next album, are just the aftermath of what they have already built: A craft. A voice. A family. Sure, they’d jump at a chance to play Lollapalooza or be on the cover of SPIN, but none of that would make their music any more meaningful. Even if things ended tomorrow for whatever reason and The Go Rounds faded into obscurity, their legacy is already tangible. Parsons adds:
“There’s so much that is eternal in what we’ve already been through. We have proof of the hours spent and the purpose fulfilled.”
That proof is of course the music. Songs such as “Harpees” that shine like pearls in an ocean of noise. The purpose, as I see it, lies somewhere in the fact that I once helped out an upcoming band from Kalamazoo, Michigan put on a show in Mexico City and was absolutely enchanted by their music. Six years later I am still writing about it, trying to figure out what portals were opened that night. That’s what The Go Rounds do. That’s what they’ll keep doing.
:: stream/purchase “Harpees” here ::
Stream: “Harpees” – The Go Rounds
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