Los Angeles band Permanent Ability walk a line through funk, pop and hard rock, approaching all three without touching down entirely in one place. Approaching the release of their third album, we spoke with singer and mouthpiece for the band Brian Lanese about creating visuals that best suit his sound, what he's learned doing things on his own, and the future of his band.
The funk component in your music is very clear – how did that come about, and do you trace it to geography...something about a California sound?
For sure the funk is definitely a vast component in my music, however, it's not the only one that inspires it. The bands sound derives from a bunch of diverse musical genres intertwined with influences ranging from LL Cool J to Led Zeppelin.
Geography really has nothing to do with it...take Funkadelic, for example. Their roots stem from Jersey and Detroit, so you really can't distinguish this genre as only breathing in California, or sounding California, in my opinion. I also have East Coast roots being originally from Connecticut, and the funk component that's audible in my music comes from a much grittier fist of rock 'n roll, punched with metal, and even hip hop at times. Even though I grew up listening to all genres of music, funk always appealed to me 'cuz of its energy, and how diverse the genre can be...especially when fused with rock. And it fits my personality like a glove, too.
Brian, what were your projects before Permanent Ability? Are we correct that you were/are a graphic designer, and does that mean you do all of the visual artwork and representation for your band?
I had a colorful musical background growing up. I was fortunate to have music education be apart of my daily curriculum through school as well. Before I founded Permanent Ability, I was in a few bands (both original and cover) performing around the Tri-State area (CT, NY, NJ), and I sincerely have a passion for performing and making music.
As for my daily profession, you are correct. I am a graphic designer and a 3D Animator as well...I mean hey, I gotta eat. I do use my skills to help brand, and give the band its professional package, varying through every media resource available, and giving us an advantage over the majority of bands. Being that the band is currently independent, a job is crucial in letting me keep doing what I love...which is making good music. I know musicians that think it's cool not to have day jobs, but honestly that shit don't cut it, and won't fund a creative endeavor (or for that matter a band). Luckily my skills give me the liberty to contribute, and produce a quality product for Permanent Ability's brand both visually and musically.
What are some common mistakes you could steer novices away from when making their own logos or album art?
It's subjective, and everyone has different tastes, especially when executing a final product for a band's brand. For me, I'm a less-is-more designer. I like simple yet clever graphic design, which I feel Permanent Ability's new album cover successfully depicts. Although, I've branded the band like that since the beginning really. If my album covers show creativity visually, I feel it also suggests my music will convey it creatively. My first album cover for the EP From the Womb to Hollywood, is a Marshall AMP with Permanent Ability in place of the Marshall text, with a baby in a womb in the center of the speaker. I like taking two completely opposite things, and creatively making them visually powerful.
Let's talk about that first EP From the Womb To Hollywood. It was produced by you entirely, but you also had the input of seasoned bassist Lige Curry of Parliament Funkadelic in the studio, correct? How did you get to work with him, and what lessons did you learn from your first release?
With From the Womb I was still kinda green to the entire process of making a record, and it was such a MASSIVE learning experience! Overall, the EP is no slouch. It has excellent songs, and the production quality is superb, too. I call it PA's really, really, expensive demo. It's not a record. It did however sell more than 1000+ units globally in almost a month due to the hit songs "Little Black Bra" and "Hey Now," and still continues to be successful even today. Somewhere down the road I'd like to eventually redo the songs on this record, but I'm always on the fence about it, 'cuz of the great feel each song captured. Having Lige Curry and his veteran experience implemented into the recording process was outstanding. He is immensely professional, and still a close friend of mine. We met through Dwayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight, who was a long time Funkadelic player, and even had a quick stint in the Red Hot Chili Peppers back in '89 before John Frusciante joined. I sent him an email on MySpace asking if he new any funky bass players to help me complete my record. So he referred me to Lige Curry, and when Lige heard my demos, he was instantly on board and said this exactly: "The funk is on now!" From there, we went in and cut the record here in Los Angeles at an excellent studio called Eagle Rock Studios in May of 2008. The rest is history.
Next came Bring It On!, where you were able to work with famed producer Jim Wirt. What did his experience bring to the table, and what did you learn working with him that you'll continue doing? Conversely, were you making mistakes previously that you won't make now that he's 'shown you the way'?
Jim brought everything to the table, but it was already set, so to speak. He definitely helped define the sound, and captured it with Bring It On!. On the first EP, I felt it failed to capture the original sound that I was looking for, and the overall tightness which can only be achieved when taking the time to make a real record. With Bring It On! we worked and worked the songs before recording and already developed the sound. So when Jim Wirt stepped in, it was easy for him to refine it if needed, and he also implemented his producing style to it. I was with him daily for twelve hours, twelve days straight just soaking up all the knowledge like a sponge, asking questions, making mental notes, etc. The final outcome was priceless, and without the knowledge he shared, and resources I now have moving forward to create music, it's finally becoming second nature.
Even with experienced guests and production, your band is doing most of the footwork of promotion and more on your own, right? What advice can you impart to our readers who are also trying to do it themselves?
(Laughs)...yeah, we're real grass roots with our promotion, huh? We've been very fortunate at how effective it is, even though ya gotta search and earn it. The best piece of advice I can give is this - you have to remember no one is gonna push your music more passionately than you, so it's up to you to push it yourself the majority of the time anyway. It's very easy to get distribution now without a label, and just utilize your online resources and social networks for promotion.
Tell us about your forthcoming release. How did you end up working with bassist Mario Pagliarulo of Serj Tankian's solo project? And how are the newer songs a progression for your sound?
I feel the new record is the best one yet, and it will be our first full length release, narrowed down to about ten to twelve songs. It's tentatively titled, 'Love You to Death,' inspired by the album cover design [see above]. It's recorded with excellent equipment this time around. We used the top vintage gear, and just like Bring It On! it was recorded at 4th Street Studios in Santa Monica, CA. With this record I wanted to execute a "less is more" approach. Busy is great when performing live, but simplifying the parts was necessary, and playing what's right for each song became vital. Now don't get me wrong, it has its moments of flashy showmanship, it's still extremely energetic and menacing with our signature sound, but it grooves a lot more because of this adjustment. My collaboration with Mario came into play when he randomly heard the music online. He simply reached out to me, and really loved what Permanent Ability was doing, and he passionately wanted to be a part of it. Mario did an awesome job, too! When an opportunity to collaborate comes knocking you don't say no, so it was an excellent experience to get to work with him. We are already talking about future projects together as well.
Permanent Ability makes a point of recognizing their fan base. What do fans provide for your band, and how do other bands miss out on what their listeners can do for them?
The fans are great! They are so supportive and passionate about the music. Here's a true story - one time we were performing at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip, and a fan told us a story that he broke into a car to steal our record off the front seat just to get it signed that night. It floors me still to see what great lengths fans will go to just to prove their admiration, and it is very humbling. Even close friends are passionate. Some not even in the music business support us by posting PA stickers around the world in the major cities when they travel to for business just to help us expand. We are very grateful for everyone who believes and supports what we are doing. After all, without them we would be just another casualty in the sea of failed bands floating around L.A.. Other bands miss out on what their listeners can do for them by NOT listening to them, so turn your ears on.