It’s a beautiful spring day — sun high in the sky, birds chirping — when I meet Corey Parlamento, aka LivingDog, on the patio behind West Asheville’s OWL Bakery. He’s taking a break from rehearsals for a Saturday, May 12, show across the street at Ambrose West to celebrate the release of his stirring new Kickstarter-funded album, All This Beauty.
As Parlamento relaxes with a lemonade, he talks about the value of spotlighting beauty in art at a time when the news is full of daily anxieties. He delves into Asheville’s music scene and what it’s like to be a singer-songwriter who doesn’t neatly fit the mold of so many folk singers in town.
“I taught myself by learning songs that I liked at the time,” he explains of his musical development. “My hands just got used to [metal] progressions and that type of music, so even if I’m writing a folk song, the chords that I’m using are still somewhat rooted in that type of music — heavier stuff — and less rooted in Americana.”
As a teenager in West Palm Beach, Fla., Parlamento developed an interest in Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. But when it came to the music he played, he was far more drawn to the area’s punk, hardcore and metal scenes. He was in “crappy metal bands” before he began performing as LivingDog in Florida in 2010.
By then, Parlamento knew West Palm Beach — with its juxtaposed beach culture, extreme wealth and working-class poverty — was not where he wanted to spend his whole life. So he took off, traveling for a while, working as a farmhand in various places, bouncing around. Living on the road, he stopped performing music, tore away from metal and tooled around with an acoustic guitar he’d brought with him for his travels.
“[When] I left Florida,” Parlamento says, “the easiest thing to do was to have an acoustic guitar with me. It’s one of the most versatile instruments to travel with, and you don’t need a lot of equipment for it. I started writing a lot of songs on that, and I was listening to a lot of folk music at the time, so that’s where the LivingDog project came from. … Once I moved to Western North Carolina, it started to pick up a bit, and creatively I started to feel more inspired.”
Parlamento landed on a farm in Tryon in 2013, then fell into a job at a mental health facility, where he stayed for four years before deciding he didn’t want a future in that field. He was getting more serious about the music, driving to Asheville frequently for shows. He finally decided the time had come to just move to town.
Digging into the scene as a local, he quickly discovered that Asheville is full of singer-songwriters, most of them channeling the folk, Americana and bluegrass music native to lower Appalachia. With his metal background, Parlamento stuck out like a sore thumb, but that didn’t bother him. He was more concerned with finding his own songwriting voice, experimenting with sounds and recording techniques.
“Something that I like in a lot of musicians’ careers,” he says, “is their ability … to change their style up and do something different.”
To that end, for his 2016 album, Childsurvivors, Parlamento recorded and mixed everything alone in Tryon. So to follow it, he decided to try something completely different, pulling from the abundant wealth of local players.
He worked with them individually and together, arranging parts in person as well as via a computer program at home. The band rehearsed tirelessly to prepare for their two-day studio block at Black Mountain’s Morbid Ranch studio, and Parlamento was inspired by their instinctive ability to follow each other through the song.
The result is that All This Beauty sounds far more deeply considered than the average two-day recording. Katie Richter’s careful trumpet offsets Emily Spreng’s cello and Kayla Zuskin’s electric guitar with a delicate beauty unexpected from such typically assertive instruments. Adding in an intuitive rhythm section, Parlamento ties it all together with his creaky, quiet vocals, which careen easily around his poetic lyrics about emotional experiences and natural beauty — sometimes a beauty his characters see and sometimes one they miss altogether.
Still, the album’s most impressive feature is the way Parlamento employs his band — something that will be well worth witnessing when they take the stage at Ambrose West. After all, he’s likely to try something else on the next album.
“The nature of people being transient [in Asheville],” he says, “is that it’s hard to hold onto a band for very long. … Inevitably, my project will change, and I’ll want to do something different with it. This is still LivingDog, it still sounds like my other stuff, but it’s totally different. That gives me confidence to try different things. I wanted to do something with horns and strings and see if it works. And it worked, so cool. What’s next?”
WHAT: LivingDog album release show with Shane Parish & Family Dinner Improv
WHERE: Ambrose West, 312 Haywood Road, ambrosewest.com
WHEN: Saturday, May 12, 8 p.m. $10 advance/$12 day of show