Seeing Parent quietly play around Chicago this past year has been a story of watching one of the city's promising young indie pop acts grow into a formidable live force. But the most memorable show I've caught of the young band was when things almost fell apart. At a headlining gig this spring, the sound mix in the room was definitely out-of-whack and the engineer was often nowhere to be found. While Parent's soft-and-delicate songs were unquestionably strong and the band powered through it, frontman Trey Gruber grew increasingly pissed off and ended the band's still-undeniable set with an apology before storming off.
I mention that show to Gruber while we sit down for lunch at a trendy Northwest-side cafe, and he laughs timidly: "I remember in middle school my band at the time played our 7th-grade dance. I played this slower song I wrote but the kids wouldn't stop talking so I threw my guitar and walked off. I was like, "Fuck you. Fuck you and fuck you too.' I was probably 12." Gruber continues, "The whole band makes jokes about it. I get so wrapped up in it and so obsessed with these little things in music I sometimes throw these little tantrums that are so stupid and embarrassing."
Raised in rural Clinton County, Ohio, which Gruber affectionately called "the sticks," he learned folk guitar early on and cut his teeth on a steady musical diet of John Prine and Nirvana. In his early 20s, Gruber bought a one-way bus ticket to Chicago after couch-surfing and hopping between service industry jobs. In Chicago, he tried to fit in with other bands: "I was playing rock 'n' roll with some friends but I hated it. I didn't want to play that kind of music because at the time I was more into things that are more dynamic and trying to make softer and more delicate songs than the volume turned up to 11, crowdsurfing kind of vibe." But when he met drummer Tyler Bixby in late 2015, he found someone who shared his taste. "Tyler was like, 'Let's just do this thing for real' and we just sort of kept adding members who wanted to play 70s-inspired Laurel Canyon-style music for people who like Elton John unironically," says Gruber of Parent's formation.
Local contemporaries like Whitney and Twin Peaks channel golden 70s-rock into sunny nostalgia, while Parent takes it to a darker and more psychedelic place. Of the demos Gruber's sent me, all are woozy and pretty doses of pop songs evoking that era. On the gorgeous "The Leaving," the twangy ballad is laced with a string arrangement that seems like it could've been plucked out of George Harrison's All Things Must Pass while another, the folksy "Last July" finds Gruber channeling the most mournful offerings in Greenwich Village 60s folk where he sings, "The more we tried the more we fell apart/ you and I girl were just doomed from the start."
But arguably the best of Parent's recorded output so far is "I Tried," which Noisey is premiering below. The bittersweet track, which Gruber explained deals with a particularly dark time in his struggle with addiction, begins with the blunt line, "I tried to die."
"You can't really get around like the forwardness of the lyrics," he says. "The track comes from this pretty desperate place I was in about two years ago." Though on paper it seems like the song might be overly maudlin, it's an unquestionably pretty listen. Gruber laughed, "But, really, my friend taught me what a major seventh chord was and it just went from there."
Catch Parent opening up for NE-HI Saturday, July 15 at Lincoln Hall's Official Pitchfork Fest Afterparty in Chicago.
Josh Terry tries. He's on Twitter.