Q&A: Matthew Parmenter on jugging Discipline with his solo career

Discipline frontman Matthew Parmenter in mime make up
(Image credit: Graham Stead)

The painted white face of Matthew Parmenter will be a familiar one to those following his band Discipline, who have recorded numerous albums since their inception in the late 80s.

Aside from fronting that band, Parmenter has recorded a number of solo albums, playing most of the instruments himself. He’s just released his latest solo album, All Our Yesterdays, and reveals that it’s a consciously diverse set of songs when compared to those of Discipline.

Your solo work has a stripped-back sound. Is that to deliberately separate it from your work with Discipline?
You know, it’s funny. For me it’s always very clear when I’m writing whether it’s going to be a solo song versus a band song. There’s a little bit less orchestration when there’s a song for my solo albums. I do think that my solo work is pretty different to the music with Discipline, although it’s funny that not everybody thinks so. When I did my first solo record, I had one particular distributor asking me why I didn’t just call it Discipline as he thought it sounded similar enough. But they are very different-sounding and this one even more so, as it has less of the epic prog style.

Do you find it easy to write new material?
I actually write a lot when I’m procrastinating and should be doing other things! So if I’m supposed to be rehearsing for a show, I find I’d much rather be writing. I will just sit at a piano and eventually a whole song will emerge. There’s one song on this album, the title track, which is just Shakespeare’s words put to music. I think that was because I sometimes like to challenge myself, to not write the music first. So it’s good to switch things around and in this case the lyrics were of course already written.

The problem is the superstition that if you say ‘Macbeth’, you’re sure to have a failure. So

I thought to myself, ‘I’m really doomed now!’

So you must appreciate Shakespeare’s work?
I’m a fan. One of the problems I have is my memory, and I always struggle to remember lines from a play, but I can always remember lyrics. This was a way for me to remember it. I enjoy reading and seeing Shakespeare on the stage. The words are from a moment in Macbeth. The problem is the superstition that if you say ‘Macbeth’, you’re sure to have a failure. So then I thought to myself, “I’m really doomed now!” I remember being at a party and being slightly intoxicated and trying to remember those exact words for a friend, and I couldn’t recall them. So I think that was the impetus, and the next thing I was sat at the piano writing the song.

You also got Terry Brown to mix the new album…
Yes. I played the music to our guitarist Chris Herin who knows Terry, and I reluctantly thought, “Okay, maybe Terry could do something with this,” as I’m not a good mixer and I’ve struggled with that in the past. He made it sound really good and the next thing I know I had a finished album. I can’t believe the difference he has made and he has a real gift.

You have an onstage persona called The Magic Acid Mime, where you paint your face to resemble a mime artist. What were the roots of that character?
It was probably a Halloween thing, and I think I went out to a party dressed as a mime back in 1992. It just sort of stuck and I tried it on stage. Having a painted face really helps, as it makes people feel that it isn’t really you. It changes the dynamic considerably and you feel able to be a terrible person or a sad person without having to emote that as yourself. It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed and maybe it’s a crutch for me as well.

Is that something you will always continue? You once suggested that you might continue it simply out of spite to those who think you should stop painting your face.
Did I say such a thing? That’s pretty funny. I’ve had so many people say to me that I should lose the make-up. I guess there is an element of defiance. I’m sure if I had lost the make-up, we would have been millionaires long ago – I’m sure that’s the problem!

What are the current plans for Discipline?
We are far down the road with a new album. We’re overdubbing now and I hope we can look to mix it later in the year. I’d hate to say exactly when it will be finished though, as I’ve done that before and looked like a fool when it comes out a year later than planned!

Your work is often compared to that of Peter Hammill and Van der Graaf Generator. Is that something that ever becomes tiresome for you?
No, I don’t get tired of hearing of it. It’s interesting, as when we first started getting those comparisons, I didn’t know who they were. In 1994 we were playing with Anekdoten and they were saying that they thought we must have been influenced by their music. So they were surprised when I told them I hadn’t even heard their music. But since then, I started to really love their music and got very immersed in them.

It was great to see you at Summer’s End last year. Are there any plans to return to play in Europe?
It was great and was good fun. It seemed like it was good for both the band and audience and we had a really good vibe to that show. As for whether we come back, it’s expensive to play and it really depends on when we get invited to perform in the UK and Europe again. I’m not actively pursuing anything at the moment, but maybe there’s another festival and something might come up. There was a tremendous amount of goodwill after that show so we’re open to suggestions.

All Our Yesterdays is out now on Bad Elephant. For more information, visit Bad Elephant’s website or Matthew’s own Bandcamp page.