BEHIND THE MASK:
The Ideals and Dramatics of Discipline
By Douglas Levy
THE SOUTH END, September 14, 1993
Large, plastic harlequin faces surround the stage area of the Royal Oak Knights of Columbus Hall, as if to depict a sort of kitschy Hallmark anniversary card turned virtual reality.
The very mixed crowd–95 percent of which is seated, and ranging from teens to middle-agers–is paying full attention to the musicians housed beneath the masks. Jon Bouda’s easy guitar rhythm stirs the semi-smoky air.
Then Matthew Parmenter walks from the crowd to the stage, and in his get-up, is a harlequin himself, with white makeup and a black jester-like suit. He joins the rhythm of “Diminished,” the perfect opener; not a full-on rager, but a slow, moody transcendence that opens the book of Discipline.
This is not some kind of over-the-top theatrical rock troupe of sorts as much as it is a welcome merging of both art and tightly-knit (hence the band name) modern rock. “I think rock and roll is strong enough to endure theatrics,” says Parmenter, sipping on a glass of iced tea. “Yet, if it was always there, I think it would probably be tiresome. You’d end up having another overhaul and you’d have to go right back to punk rock.
“But I don’t necessarily think it should be excluded. For me, it’s like, if I were a kid and I went to see a rock show, what would I want to see? I try to imagine the enthusiasm of young people in the audience, going ‘Whoa!’ Like going to a movie to see big special effects. It doesn’t matter if the movie leaves some things open, or if it doesn’t make sense.”
Based in Royal Oak, Discipline–whose current roster consists of Parmenter on vocals and guitar, Bouda on lead guitar, bassist Matthew Kennedy, keyboardist David Krofchok and drummer Paul Dzendzel–is like a stigma for what’s considered the Detroit “scene,” relying more on the Gabriel-era Genesis than any kind of MC5 garage rock or R&B to “fit in.” At the same time, however, the discreet critical acclaim has many other local acts wondering what it is that’s making such a quiet splash.
Blame it on the band name, if anything, as Parmenter–who took the title from a King Crimson album–admits more people are prone to think of the band as a heavy metal outfit than what it really is. “It’s a natural conclusion. You hear the name and you think of whips. I think of it more as an aesthetic, an ideal.”
Such aesthetics are the foundation for the complexities throughout the music heard on “Push and Profit,” the band’s self-financed debut which has so far won raves from all. With the kinds of sonic epics that made King Crimson and Yes household names, Parmenter approaches his songwriting as both a duty and a challenge.
“I’ll try to make it sound clever if I can,” he says. “Or I try to use concrete images. I’d rather sing about something tangible and somehow elevate it to a level that may have some other meaning, rather than just sing about emotions that you can’t quite grasp at. One song says,.’There’s a stain on the wall where a spider once crawled,’ and I like the image because it’s very clear. And from that, I can make leaps.”
The band recently visited Norway to perform at NLH, an agricultural college in Aas, outside of Oslo. This stemmed from an exchange student seeing the band at Paycheck’s. (“It’s a very different system there,” says Parmenter. “They actually will support artists.”) Surprisingly, that was the only place Discipline has traveled outside of Michigan to play.
But don’t expect Parmenter to be caught without his makeup in front of a crowd anytime soon. Though not exactly his life source, the facial paint is a crucial part of his stage persona.
“It makes it seem more like an occasion,” he admits. “I’m usually a bit nervous in front of people, but with (makeup) on, I feel like it’s not me. I can stare people down, look right at them and be aggressive; otherwise, I might feel more inhibited. It’s not a crutch because I can be really mean when I wear it, and I can be really sad when I wear it, too.”
Discipline will be performing as part of its CD release party–and what promises to be a multi-media extravaganz–at the Magic Bag Theatre (22918 Woodward, north of 9 Mile in Ferndale) on Sept. 18. Call 544-3030.