When I caught up with Parachute’s frontman and songwriter Will Anderson last year, he had just moved from Charlottesville to Nashville, and his band had wrapped up sessions in Los Angeles with the producer John Fields, known for his work with pop artists like the Goo Goo Dolls and Colbie Caillat. Anderson said then that he wanted the band’s new album, The Way It Was, which debuted in the 19th slot on the Billboard 200 last week, to sound like five guys playing together in a room—just a band, playing its songs.
Parachute’s tour in support of new album The Way It Was brings the group to the Jefferson Theater on June 4.
“I think we matched that,” says Anderson over the phone from his new home, Tennessee. “We were adamant about that with John, and he was totally into it. We made an album that sounds big and obviously well-recorded and well-produced. But it can be recreated live, which, for us, is a really important thing.”
The album’s lead single, “Something to Believe In,” is a spirited entry into The Way it Was. As the full-length record goes the way of the 8-track, with The Way It Was the band has hedged its bets on short and sweet. At a brief nine tracks and 40 minutes, it is custom-tailored to a market that prizes the single more than the album. Billboard reported in 2009 that the band’s first release, Losing Sleep, made its charts based on the strength of iTunes sales; for The Way It Was, says Anderson, “We had very specific goals in mind, but, honestly, [the new album] surpassed them. We were really, really excited about the numbers for the week and the response from the fans, and seeing the feedback was amazing.”
It makes you wonder when Parachute will outgrow the Jefferson Theater —where the group plays on June 4 with Schuyler Fisk and Harper Blynn—for the larger nTelos Wireless Pavilion. “Right now, we’re happy to sell out the Jefferson,” says Anderson. “It’s fun to see it sell out every time, and I’m sure within the next year we’ll move up to the Pavilion and really go for it, and really try to blow it out.”
Meanwhile, Anderson’s central task as a songwriter remains a relentless search for creative ways to apply “love” to “her”—sometimes expressed as “you.” The Way It Was fills in the blanks in some interesting ways. The album’s second single, “You and Me,” tells the story of a pair of outlaws up “against the world” and a vague attempt to “take the money and run.” The hints of violence are so out of step with the band’s middle-of-the-road sound and squeaky-clean image as to sound almost farcical. (“We did our crime and got away / stole the gold and made the day,” he sings.)
But adult contemporary doesn’t make any pretensions toward poetry, and more convincing than the band’s lyrical content is its knack for rich and rousing arrangements. The album’s first track “White Dress” opens with a barrage of percussive guitars that will remind listeners of the band’s more Maroon 5-indebted first album that explodes into a sugar-coated chorus. But on the new record the band’s bag of tricks has grown. Alex Hargrave’s hyperactive basslines recall Coldplay, while the soaring vocal arrangements channeled through Peter Gabriel, aided by drummer Johnny Stubblefield’s able imitations of U2’s Larry Mullen, achieve a driving pop transcendence—granted, with the occasional help of a gospel choir.
But parts of The Way It Was will strike local listeners for how much it draws on Charlottesville’s other very famous export, the Dave Matthews Band. You might mistake Kit French’s percussive baritone saxophone stabs on lead single “Something to Believe In” for those of the late LeRoi Moore, Matthews’ horn player. Ditto for the gospel choir, which riffs on latter-day Dave and is a surprising and welcome addition.
“It’s nine really good songs that I’m proud of,” says Anderson. “I’d show anybody to show them that this is what we can do.”