Parralox is the best Australian band you've probably never heard of. Despite building a massive cult following throughout Europe, the Melbourne based two piece remain virtually unknown at home. And I have no idea why. Their first album rocked my iPod, while the follow up cemented their position at the forefront of electronic pop. It's particularly confusing because Australia is currently in the grip of an electro-explosion. Acts like Bag Raiders, Cut Copy, Empire Of The Sun and Miami Horror continue to make huge waves. Surely, there's room for Parralox - particularly if they keep cranking out tunes as hot as "Isn't It Strange". That song is the third single from "State Of Decay" and is as good an introduction as any to their unique brand of beautifully gloomy electro-pop. John von Ahlen (one half of Parralox) recently took the time to talk to me about the band's sound, image and future plans. Oh and I also got to the bottom of his kinky robot fetish! Enjoy.
John, there's a huge amount of hype about Parralox overseas. How has the band managed to stay so underground in Australia?
Thanks! Yes, Parralox are very well received in Europe, from Dublin all the way to Moscow and beyond. I suppose we have remained underground in Australia because I haven’t chased any of the major labels or radio stations. The major FM stations are only interested in commercial music, as are the major labels. Parralox isn’t concerned with commercial success, so we are happy to remain “underground” in Australia.
Exactly how big are you in Europe? I hear that Eastern Europe is in the grip of Parralox-mania!
How big are we in Europe? Well we are being flown over to Germany in 4 weeks to perform at the Electro City music festival in Berlin, and then again in August to perform at Infest (a major electronic music festival) in UK, so we are really starting to gain momentum. We get Xmas cards and all sorts of things from our fans in Europe and it just blows our minds every time we get something in the mail. One of our fans in the Czech Republic now runs an official Parralox website, which is pretty rad. Europe has been our strongest supporter so we focus all our efforts there.
Can you tell us how the group got started? You were formerly better known as a songwriter/producer.
Parralox was formed in 2008 after I wrote a song called "Factory Friends" for my other band The Tenth Stage which was rejected as it sounded “too electronic”. I got Roxy to record vocals for the track and was blown away by how good it sounded. At that time I was producing a lot of alternative and rocky sort of music and was really getting an itch to do something completely electronic. I suppose the time was just right, so I wrote a song called “I Fell In Love With A Drum Machine” and leaked it onto the net. Heaps of blogs picked up the track and gave it rave reviews, which was fantastic. Roxy and I recorded our debut album ("Electricity") and released it 9 months after the band was formed.
Parralox has a very unique sound and look. What are your musical and visual influences?
Where do I begin? Musically we are inspired by Depeche Mode, The Knife, The Human League, Yazoo, Eurthymics, Propaganda, The Art Of Noise, Deee-lite, Kraftwerk and Jean Michel Jarre and any other band that uses synthesizers. Visually we love David Lynch, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Morrisey, Pedro Almodovar, Anton Corbijn, John Waters and Pierre et Gilles. Some of the authors who inspire me are Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Frank Herbert, Brett Easton-Ellis, Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene and Arthur C Clarke. Both Amii and I spend a lot of time on the visual side of the band, as it’s such an important part of the whole package. We want to create something which will stand the test of time.
Sorry but I have to ask - do you have a kinky robot fetish?
Oh my God yes. There’s something about a strong silver body that just pushes my buttons. I grew up watching Doctor Who, Blakes 7 and Space 1999 and just about every other science fiction show and movie that was ever released. I knew from a very young age (around 8 I think) that science fiction was the only way to go. My father was a very technical man, and introduced me to electronics at a very young age. So anything that had buttons and lots of flashing lights would pretty much bring on an orgasm. LOL. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I saw the interior for the MOTHER control room in the Alien movie. I used to build my own LED chaser kits and have flashing red lights everywhere. I even built my own miniature ORAC (Blake’s 7) but it was basically a bunch of lights and cotton wool stuffed into a fish bowl!
The third single from “State Of Decay” has just been released. How did you settle on “Isn’t It Strange” over all the other gems?
It wasn’t an easy choice. Amii and I both had a chat about what direction the band was heading in, and plans for the future etc. We both have a vision for the 3rd album, so it made sense for "Isn’t It Strange" to be the next single lifted from "State Of Decay". It is clearly single material and one of the darker tracks from the album. Given what the 3rd album will be, we thought we should show people the darker, more serious side of Parralox. Speaking of which, we have plans to release Time as our final single from State Of Decay, on a soon to be released remix album called "Extensions" in the next few months.
I believe you directed the band's latest video. Is there any aspect of Parralox you’re not involved in?!
I direct all the Parralox music videos. It’s another part of the music process that I really enjoy, and have always wanted to explore in a more serious way. Now that I have good quality High Definition 35mm equivalent equipment, I can finally bring to life some of my visions! The video for "Isn’t It Strange" was launched last week and has had over 2,000 plays in just over 7 days! It was rated #12 top video in Australia the day after its launch on YouTube. This clip is a little darker than our previous one, but still represents what Parralox is all about - good songs with lots of synths! At this stage I am pretty much overseeing every aspect of Parralox. I write, produce and arrange the songs. I take the photos and do all the graphic design and layout for the sleeves. I manage most of the websites and deal directly with the various labels and stores affiliated with the band as well as any other promotional/networking bits. Then there’s the video clips and remixes too!
Have you considered re-releasing “I Am Human” with a video? I think it’s by far the most commercial radio track on the album and really should have been a massive worldwide hit!
Yes, we’d love to do a proper video for that. I actually started shooting some footage for it last year with a dancer called Tony Keeble from VCA. When we signed with our German label they released "Hotter" and "I Am Human" simultaneously which was probably not a wise move. It meant that "I Am Human" missed out in its chance for exposure as we couldn’t really promote two releases at the same time. I’d like to be optimistic and say that "I Am Human" still has a chance for release, but we are recording so many new songs that are even better. Also I am against re-visiting the past, mainly because I’d rather focus time and energy on new songs.
I’m so impressed by the band’s unique approach to marketing – offering limited edition physical CDs, free downloads for fans and different digital bundles. How important is a strong online presence/social media for pop acts in 2010?
It’s essential really. The internet has replaced the traditional model of signing to a major record label for distribution and promotion. Parralox is what I would consider a boutique band, so we need to focus on what we are good at, and that is delivering good songs in great packaging. Fans thrive on collectability and value for money and that’s what I want to give them. We’ve copped a bit of flack for releasing albums with 17 songs on it, but I say if they are good quality songs, then go for it! If the quality is there then you should give people bang for their buck, because, let’s face it, they can always download it for free from any torrent site. That’s why ensuring that the physical CDs are well packaged and presented is so important. The actual packaging of the product is just as important as the actual song. When I listen to any song on the "Dare" album by The Human League I always see the front cover in my mind.
Tell me about some of the other acts you’ve worked with. You were behind Olivia Newton-John’s best track in over a decade. Why was “Best Of My Love” never released? What was the legendary Gina G like to work with? Is Dulta really a miracle cure for insomnia?
I got to work on the Olivia remix via my friend Ashley Cadell (Kate Ceberano, BJ Caruana). It was heaps of fun to do that track, and I’ve posted 2 of them on Youtube which you can listen to right now. The remix was supposed to come out on a CD supporting breast cancer, but it didn’t pan out. I spoke with the songwriter Brett Goldsmith (Olivia’s nephew) a few weeks ago and asked him if the track was ever going to be released. He said he’s catching up with Olivia in May and will ask her about it. So who knows… it may get an official release one day! I started work with Gina G back in 1993 when she was in a band called Bass Culture. We wrote some songs with another songwriter (John Collins) and these were used on the Bass Culture album and some were also placed in the TV soap Home and Away. I still get some lovely royalty cheques from that. We still write together whenever she comes to Australia, which isn’t often now that she’s married and has kids. We wrote a few songs together for her latest album which came out a few years ago. Delta, she’s a very pretty girl who smiles a lot.
What’s next for Parralox? When are you coming to Sydney?
We are performing in Sydney in June, right after we return from Europe in May 2010! Our Australian manager (Jaime Jimenez) is organising the show as we speak. We are currently recording our third album (due for release in November), with the first single slated for a September release. We have more shows planned for UK and USA next year too. Stay tuned…
Discover the full Parralox experience by checking out their amazing website. Make sure you sign up to the mailing list, which gives you access to a treasure trove of free mp3s. "Isn't It Strange" (below) is now available to download from iTunes. You can also score a physical copy from this online store.