BRYN HAMMOND

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JOHN VON Ahlen of Parralox has brought his music to the UK shores but who is the artist behind the 80’s throwback single Electric Nights, and what makes him tick? What are his thoughts on commercial white noise? And what artists have influenced his musical style? Here’s (almost) everything you need to know about John von Ahlen...

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Music is the universal language. What does music mean to you? And what do you hope to achieve with your music?

Out of all of the wonderful human creations, music has to be one of the best. It’s such a unique artform – you can’t see it or touch it. It travels through the air and touches your brain and triggers feelings and emotions in a very special way.

 

I think we all have a favourite song, or a song that reminds us of a certain time and place and feeling. And songs can be so powerful at invoking emotions, and this is something really amazing.

 

As an artist I feel compelled to create, whether it’s an audio or visual work. The majority of my work is in sound / song. So I guess what you really want is your work to be heard by as many people as possible and for them to get some sort of enjoyment and meaning from your work. From the amazing comments I see on social I’m happy to say that people seem to really enjoy the music, and we’ve had fans stick with us since the very beginning, which will be 10 years in 2018!

 

What is your song writing process, and is there a certain zone mentally you have to be in before putting pen to paper?

Most of the time I look at the clock and realise that my singer arrives in 2 hours and I haven’t written anything yet! So I have to write something really quickly! Quite a few times I’ve had my singers sitting on the couch for half an hour while I finish the song. It’s quite hilarious!

 

Other times I will come up with a title for a song and it just takes shape from there. Quite a few tracks come from my dreams too. I can lucid dream, so I always have my phone by my bedside so when I wake myself up I can record that song straight into my phone. Sharper Than A Knife was written like that, as have been countless Parralox songs. Sometimes it feels like cheating, because the songs are fully formed, but they came from my dreams so I guess it’s still me.

 

There really is no formula for when I write songs. I will either start with a song title as I said, or I will hear a certain sound, or musical phrase that triggers something inside. It’s almost a mathematical process, like writing down a calculus formula. Or sculpting a marble statue. You know the final product is there, you just have to chip away and find your way down the right path

until you arrive at your destination. You can “feel” when the song isn’t going where it should, and you also know when it’s just right.

"As the musical landscape changed (hello internet!) the revenues dropped and the major labels took a real hit, and naturally they had to cut costs. You can just see how many Record Shops have closed down in the last 20 years to see what’s happened."

 

How different is the musical landscape in Australia compared to Europe?

Good lord, it’s chalk and cheese. Especially when it comes to Synthpop. Picture a tumbleweed rolling across a dusty, lonely road in the middle of the desert and then falling off a cliff…and you get an idea of how large the Synthpop scene is here. That’s not to say we don’t have one (we do) but it just really small compared to Europe.

 

Australian radio and TV is dominated by banal, awful and mindless content (don’t get me started on those cooking, singing and big brother reality shows), so you can’t blame the public. They’ve grown up with this commercial white noise, and most people have no interest in venturing outside of their comfort zones. I personally always preferred being an outsider anyway. The parties are so much better.

 

Your single Electric Nights travels between the 80s and 90s, with an infusion of modern production techniques and a hint of K-Pop. Do you feel that summarises your sound well or am I totally barking up the wrong tree?

Yeah that’s totally the sound we aimed for with this track. We wanted a 90s feel and we got it! There’s actually a remix on the EP by Vinny Vero that’s a mashup of Electric Nights and Corona’s “Rhythm Of The Night” that nearly made me faint when I first heard it. I was so happy! But yeah, we made a conscious choice to release this track as a single because we wanted a straight up happy, poppy dance track, much like what we used to get in the 90s.

 

Electric Nights actually won best Dance Song in the Australian Independent Music Awards in 2003, so we know that there’s something special about the track.

 

What music artists do you admire? Are there any specific artists from Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s camp?

My list of musical influences is massive. So I couldn’t list them all here, otherwise your website would explode! But I love The Human League, Depeche Mode, The Carpenters, Heaven 17, Goldfrapp, Thomas Dolby, Grace Jones, Kraftwerk, New Order, ABC, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, Thompson Twins, Jimmy Edgar, deadMau5, Frankie Knuckles and the list goes on.

 

As for SAW..I love Divine, Sinitta, Sonia, Kylie, Dead Or Alive, Bananarama, Jason Donovan, Mel and Kim, Rick Astley, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Donna Summer, Sabrina and the fabulous Lonnie Gordon! To be honest, I could list 99% of anyone SAW ever produced, because they are fucking geniuses, after all.

 

Electric Nights feat. Johanna Gervin has been remixed by Pete Hammond. How did that come about, and are you happy with the result? Will you be working with him again?

Pete Hammond remixed our track Sharper Than A Knife in 2012, and it reached #22 in the UK Upfront Club chart, and stayed there for 4 weeks. We also coupled that with our first proper animated lyric video (with many classic record covers animated) and we got a massive reaction for that remix, especially the SAW fans. We’ve obviously released many songs since then, but none of them really suited a Pete Hammond remix. So it seemed a good fit to get Pete to remix Electric Nights as that style of remix really lends itself to a solid pop song. I’m thrilled with the mixes he’s done. Both his Classic Retro mix and the newer Club Remix. Would I get another remix by Pete Hammond? Sure, if we have the right song again one day!

EXCLUSIVE

JOHN VON AHLEN

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Subculture is your 10th studio album. How has the sound progressed since your early days?

The Parralox sound is always changing, yet stays the same, if that makes sense. “Synthesizers and Vocals Only” is our manifesto, although every now and then a guitar or saxophone will creep in.

 

Our debut album “Electricity” was chock full of all my 80s influences and I made it sound VERY Human League and Depeche Mode, while infusing the sound with a modern touch. That’s kind of continued through all our subsequent albums. I guess we have been slowly finding our feet and discovering who we really are as a band. And at the same time I’ll also be influenced by what I’m listening to, and what other people are listening to. Case in point is Subculture, our current album. I produced and co-wrote 3 tracks for Peter Wilson’s new album, and they had a heavy Italodisco sound. So I made a conscious effort to give Subculture a very Italodisco feel on Side B, with a very 90s sound on Side A.

 

Our next album has a more mature sound to it, almost like Pet Shop Boys’ Behaviour. A few people have heard the demos and the feedback has been generally very positive.

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What UK band or group do you see as your biggest competition, and why? Do you still have a competitive edge to get the highest chart position?

I wouldn’t say I see any UK band as competition, because we are all in it together. I know most of the players in the UK Synthpop scene, especially bands at the level that Parralox is, and we are all supportive of each other. You can see that from how many remixes we’ve done for each other LOL.

 

That’s not to say there’s not a competitive edge. That’s ALWAYS there for me. I will listen to other bands’ music and watch their video clips and be very inspired to do as good as them, if not better. But all musicians have that really, don’t they?

 

It’s always great seeing your songs in ANY chart, and yes I do try and get as much promotion happening as possible. But the reality for bands like Parralox is that we have a very niche audience, and will never hit the commercial Top Ten. Not because we aren’t good at what we do, but because the commercial Top Ten is full of well….commercial music. And the radio stations have their format, which is sourced from the major labels. That’s not to say we don’t get radio play (we get lots!). I’m interested to see what happens with Electric Nights, as we are running a Club Campaign, so I’m hoping to see it get a position in the club charts. Fingers crossed!

 

The music landscape has radically changed over the last few years. Has this made it harder for you as a group? What are the fors and againsts? And do you feel YouTube has played a big part in music piracy?

When I got started in the music business, vinyl and cassette were king. And then the internet happened, and that all went to shit. And then we had iTunes and digital downloads and everyone complained that the revenue from that was crap. And now we have streaming (stealing?), which is making everyone realise that digital downloads aren’t so bad after all!

 

In the “good old days” when I was signed to major labels, you had the pressure of generating sales, and if you, the band, didn’t perform (i.e. generate sales), then you were dropped. Which is only natural, because it’s a business after all. But you also had proper A&R people who would take the time to develop an artist and then hopefully reap the rewards of that grooming and cultivation (Kate Bush is a prime example. Although in her case it’s more due to Dave Gilmore than an A&R person, but you get my point).

 

As the musical landscape changed (hello internet!) the revenues dropped and the major labels took a real hit, and naturally they had to cut costs. You can just see how many Record Shops have closed down in the last 20 years to see what’s happened. So the labels cut down on A&R people and stopped developing bands, because there just wasn’t the time or the money.

 

So instead the labels looked to find bands that had already done the hard work for them, that is, create a fanbase and a vibe. And THEN they would sign them.

 

But the major labels themselves are slowly disappearing and becoming one big master corporation, while at the same time the smaller labels and independents are flourishing.

 

So on the one hand, it’s harder than ever before to sign to a major and get exposure, but it’s also now easier to sign to a smaller label (or create your own!) and create your own exposure and vibe. Mind you, you’re competing with a million other bands trying to do exactly the same thing you are. But like anything else, if you have something original or unique, then people will be attracted to it.

 

If this was the 90s, then Parralox may have been signed to Sony and dropped after our first single (it happened to me when I was in a band called Nova!) and that would have been the end of it. But the musical climate nowadays means you can have a 2nd, 3rd and 4th chance that you would never have had if you were signed to a major. Bands these days are now self-promoting and doing all the things that a major label used to do. We basically create our own fortunes now J.

 

And yes, Piracy will always be there, and you just do the best you can to navigate around it. I use a third party company that scans the net and removes illegal downloads. I just logged in and saw that so far 96K pages have been removed. And Parralox isn’t exactly a worldwide name, so you can imagine how much the major acts like Beyoncé and Gaga are being pirated!

 

As for YouTube, I see it as a promotional tool. I pretty much put EVERYTHING we release digitally onto YouTube as well. “But won’t people copy that instead of buying the album from iTunes?” I hear you ask…Yes, people can rip our stuff from YouTube if they want…but the sort of people who do that would never have paid for it in the first place anyway – and if they are ripping it from YouTube then they must at least be a “fan” of the band, so the best you can hope for is that at least tell some of their more honest friends and share the word about the band.

"If this was the 90s, then Parralox may have been signed to Sony and dropped after our first single and that would have been the end of it. But the musical climate nowadays means you can have a 2nd, 3rd and 4th chance that you would never have had if you were signed to a major."

2017 is almost at a close. What’s next for Parralox, and where can my readers see you perform over the festive period?

As our hardcore fans know, I’m always working on the next new Parralox song! Right now I’m finishing off our annual covers album, which this year is Holiday ’17 and is the fourth Holiday ’xx album. This year we’ve covered songs by Depeche Mode, Strawberry Switchblade, Heaven 17, New Order, The Human League, Eighth Wonder and more! This will be released on CD in December with 2 bonus CDs on conzoom Records.

 

And while all that is happening I’m also working on tracks for our next album, which is due for release mid-2018. I’m well over halfway recording and have heaps of amazing songs already. I’m hoping to get a few well-known singers to feature on this next album.

 

After “Electric Nights” we will be releasing our next single “Paradise feat Marcella Detroit” so that’s going to be really incredible. We already have an amazing remix in by a totally classic remixer. I won’t say who it is but… Everybody Dance Now!

 

We don’t have any gigs planned over the Christmas period, so the only performance I’ll be giving is stomping my feet on the floor when I find out I didn’t get those Black Cha-Cha heels I wanted for Xmas!!

 

Electric Nights is available to download 24 November 2017.

Images / John Von Ahlen & Parralox

Feature / Published 15 November 2017 @ 19:00 PM

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