Livingdog and Mike Johnson release ‘CRO$$’

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS: To accompany the launch of the collaborative album ‘CRO$$,’ Corey Parlamento (right, with Mike Johnson), made a film. “I started filming these short clips that I would splice together and write like a minute [of] something on guitar or synthesizer,” he says of his foray into filmmaking. Photo by Ariana Dixon

Last year, Corey Parlamento recorded the EP Creation. Stagnation. at Make Noise studio with multi-instrumentalist and engineer Mike Johnson. Once that project was completed, the pair were so inspired by the ease with which they worked together that they decided to keep going.

They launched almost immediately into another recording effort that used Johnson’s studio as the starting point for a piece of music rather than the place the artist goes after everything is well-rehearsed and perfectly polished.

Though Parlamento and Johnson emerged from those sessions unsure as to whether they would ever even release the recording, they eventually gave it a title, CRO$$, and will release it at midnight Saturday, June 15, at Grail Moviehouse.

Parlamento is perhaps best known to Western North Carolina audiences as Livingdog, a singer-songwriter who distinguished himself by straddling the chasm between metal and folk, experimenting with the space between. Johnson is a Berklee-trained artist, born and raised in Connecticut, who landed in Asheville with his band, Midnight Sky, and became entrenched in the local scene as both musician and engineer.

The collaboration, CRO$$, is a collection of sleepy, dreamy, magical soundscapes that center on guitar and synthesizer, among many other instruments. And though the album crescendos to a dramatic apex, it is the aural equivalent of background music in a purgatorial massage parlor, staffed equally by angels and demons.

Parlamento and Johnson wouldn’t be surprised if people dozed off during the release party, and they relish the opportunity to provide the space for that level of relaxation and enjoyment. “It would be really nice,” Parlamento says, “if somebody fell asleep at the show. I feel like that would be more appropriate to me than somebody talking during the show.”

After all, Johnson says, recording the album felt to him “like we were in a lucid dream. You have all your variables, you realize you’re dreaming, and then you start playing with the reality that’s there.”

The songs are pure musical expression, inspired by ideas the artists had when they were leafing through old photographs. They would stop on a photo that moved both of them and discuss what emotions or colors came to mind from the photo. Then they would take up their instruments and improvise to capture that mood.

“We would set up these little areas that had some limitations for ourselves,” Parlamento explains, “and then be like, ‘Let’s just start, let’s go.’ Then we’d do it and oftentimes we’d be 20 minutes into a song and be like, ‘Whoa, that was really cool.’ There were moments of being really loose, and then we’d have sessions where we’d be like, ‘All right, we have to figure it out.’ Even going back in the mixing process, we [would decide], ‘We need to cut this down just a little bit.’”

The result occasionally feels directionless, but in a way that calls the listener to explore alongside the artists, much like the emotions that are evoked by photography. But it was because of the music’s relationship with imagery that Parlamento started thinking about what he might be able to do, visually, in order to give an audience more of an experience during a release show.

The decision to hold a release party at the Grail came from a filming project Parlamento started working on several months after he and Johnson had wrapped recording.

“I had been trying to figure out ways to utilize social media better — Instagram specifically,” he says. “I don’t like posting videos of myself talking. I don’t like posting myself playing. So what could I do? I started filming these short clips that I would splice together and write like a minute [of] something on guitar or synthesizer and post that.

“We were trying to think of different venues [where] we could do a show and I thought, ‘Man, I want to go somewhere where people want to come listen and not just hang out.’ We wanted it to be a quiet event. I [said,] ‘What about the Grail Moviehouse?’ I emailed them, and they got back to us and they were really into it. I told them I have this movie, and they were like, ‘Great!’ But I didn’t really have the movie, so I [figured], ‘All right, now I’ve got to do this thing.’”

Parlamento made the film much the same way he made the music: by starting at the end and working his way back to the beginning. There aren’t many avenues in life where one is afforded the opportunity for that level of exploration and experimentation, but if ever there were reliable guides through the backways and reverse psychologies of musical expression, Parlamento and Johnson are two of them.

WHAT: CRO$$ film and live score with Corey Parlamento and Mike Johnson
WHERE: Grail Moviehouse, 45 S. French Broad Ave., grailmoviehouse.com
WHEN: Saturday, June 15, midnight. $8

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About Kim Ruehl
Kim Ruehl's work has appeared in Billboard, NPR Music, The Bluegrass Situation, Yes magazine, and elsewhere. She's formerly the editor-in-chief of No Depression, and her book, 'A Singing Army: The Life and Times of Zilphia Horton,' is forthcoming from University of Texas Press. Follow me @kimruehl

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