Creepy whispers, atmospheric synths and theatrical weirdness pervade Major Parkinson’s fourth album, Blackbox. It’s like being trapped inside a dizzying lucid dream – and it’s all part of the Norwegians’ grand plan to create a “cinematic experience”.
“Very early, I was hooked on progressive music from the 70s, like Genesis, Gentle Giant and Emerson, Lake & Palmer – all the big ones,” says vocalist Jon Ivar Kollbotn. “I really loved the way they integrated the good melodies from the 60s within this experimental universe. And we’re very inspired by the Cardiacs. The way they made music was so out-of-the-box, it’s so hard to describe what they actually did. They turned music into a different art form.”
Kollbotn started Major Parkinson in 2003, aged 22, while doing civil service at a theatre in Bergen. The job allowed him to mix with like-minded people, put on plays, and begin a band in the loft.
“The theatre gave me a lot of time to do music in my spare time, and the whole thing slowly developed into becoming a bit more serious,” he explains. “I think we’ve created a monster – for better or worse!”
Using MySpace, the band caught the ear of producer Sylvia Massy (Tool, System Of A Down), who brought them to the US to record their self-titled debut – a more straight-up rock album. Today, only two of the original members remain, and the band is now a seven-piece, with keys, violin and an additional brass section on their recordings, giving their music a cabaret slant.
After studying literature for five years, Kollbotn became fascinated by the idea of making the listener “participate in the associative part of songwriting”, and their music is a sonic collage that references books, art and the personal. On Blackbox, complex words and sentences materialise like avant-garde poetry, while the title track contains an explicit reference to the Dali painting The Ghost Of Vermeer Of Delft Which Can Be Used As A Table. It’s a cerebral listen.
“It was supposed to be like a cinematic experience, so we didn’t want to just have a heap of songs – we wanted the listener to be dragged into something that could create visual images,” says Kollbotn. “The whole idea with Blackbox is it’s supposed to be very intricate, but very simple at the same time. Hence the title.”
The record’s centrepiece is the synth-pop burst Madeleine Crumbles, its insanely jaunty refrain at odds with the fact Kollbotn wrote it two years ago when his grandmother became ill. Sadly, she’s since passed away.
“It was supposed to be some kind of lament to her, and she never got the chance to hear it,” says Kollbotn. “My family like the Bee Gees intro. It’s almost like Staying Alive – that was the purpose of the song.”
Major Parkinson are beautiful freaks on record, though Kollbotn explains that they’re more “raw and guitar-based” live, making for an alternative encounter with their music. “We’re trying to do something different, but we show respect for the old classics,” says Kollbotn. “If you’re interested in prog with an extra dimension, give it a try!”
This article originally appeared in Prog 85.