By Robin Linn
Mike Riley, along with long-time musical partner Jason Burns, has been making music around the desert for more than two decades now. Growing older, gaining new responsibilities as an adult, and going about the business of life can detour even the most ambitious musicians from what seems to be their life-path. For Mike, the life of an artist involved returning to the desert after a bold move to Australia and facing life threatening health issues, which became the focal point of his existence for more than seven months. In the time it took to save his life, bandmates Tony Gafrancesco and Jason Burns bore children, and bassist Brandon Ray Henderson began not only booking the Hood in Palm Desert, but pursuing multiple music projects. And as if that weren’t enough, there was a parting of ways with a founding member and close friend, right in the middle of recording their debut record. But Mike and Jason’s vision for Parosella wouldn’t allow them to give up. They regrouped, rotated some positions, and a new record is underway now, off to be mixed and mastered by soundman and engineer Brenndan McGuire. Brenndan left sunny California for the back woods of Canada, and this will be the first record he has mixed in his brand new studio.
I remember Brenndan as the soundman at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown. He has also engineered and recorded such artists as Broken Social Scene and Ray Woods Raw Soul Review. I have listened to Ray’s record more than a dozen times, which features Bobby Nichols gorgeous guitar work and Ray’s sultry soulful vocals. I never realized until now that Brenndan was behind it. Parosella wanted a pair of fresh ears after they did the tracking. They are anxiously awaiting the return of the mastered mixdowns.
Parosella previewed some of the new material at Schmidy’s on January 11th to a packed house on Mike Riley’s birthday. The band was well received and they are continuing to develop their sound as they push forward with the new lineup and the change in instrumentation. Their sound is vintage yet new, with lots of layers and depth in the arrangements. The music is reminiscent of the post-punk pop of the mid-nineties at times and experimental hard rock of the sixties at others. Tony Gafrancesco has a big full range voice and an eclectic writing approach. The man is extremely versatile and completely unique. Tony rearranged and rewrote all of the vocals from melody to lyrics when he relinquished the drum throne to take the position of front man. He provides what the band describes as a utilitarian role with instrumentation ranging from guitar to keyboards using the latest technology. Drummer Marcus Bush is rock solid and together with Brandon’s unique bass approach and ballsy tone they form a rhythm section that drives the band through lots of interesting changes and dynamics. Marcus has a fantastic singing voice that combines well with Tony, adding texture and depth to the overall sound.
When Mike moved to Australia in the late nineties, Jason made the move to LA as bassist with his then band, ZOO. He hadn’t played the bass before…guitar was his instrument of choice. But, he adapted quickly and the band did well. That lineup included Chris Hale and Brady Erickson of Slo Burn, a desert band that featured vocalist John Garcia (Kyuss, Vista Chino). Due to copyright issues, the band changed their name to Prizefighter. They gained representation by Andy Gould Management (AGM) who also represented bands like Rob Zombie, Static X and Hybrid Theory (who would later become Linkin Park). From there they were picked up by Warner Bros. That relationship lasted three years and though the band didn’t have huge commercial success, they created some great music. It was an important life experience that brought them amazing opportunities. It also gave them an in-depth look into the workings of the complex and often unforgiving record industry.
So, for different reasons, both Mike and Jason moved back to the desert between 2000 and 2002. They rented a house Mike still lives and records in today. During that period, Mike played and recorded with Orquesta del Desierto and did a tour of Europe. Two years ago when Parosella began writing and recording, Mike ended up in the hospital and out of commission. At the time Mike became ill, he was self-employed and had no insurance. After being a major contributor to the desert’s music scene via his audio visual talents, performing sound duties for shows and huge benefits, it was his turn to be the benefactor of a fundraising event. Mike still tears up when he recalls what Brandon (Henderson), DJ Ray (Phillips), Kevin Swank, and The Hood did for him along with so many friends, local bands, and businesses. For him it is still humbling to reflect. “Rally for Riley” is a testament of what the desert music community is all about. It is comprised of some amazing people who continue to throw down when one of their own is in need….or just to make sure the show goes on.
Guitarist and bassist, Brandon Ray Henderson, may be best known locally for his recent role (booking manager), at The Hood in Palm Desert. What Brandon and The Hood have done for the desert music scene and fans alike, is create a space for underground music to live and breathe. The Coachella Valley has long been a haven for original, unconventional, unrestrained rock, which has a faithful fan base here. The only reason it was ever really “underground” is that finding venues that would allow the rebellious, innovative, and often loud rock in was extremely difficult. When venues like The Hood, The Tack Room, The Red Barn, The Date Shed, and most recently Schmidy’s and Bar, began allowing “us” in…..it seems the music scene exploded and multiplied a hundred times over. It is what motivated me to begin writing about what I was experiencing again after a long break. It’s a music community I have a twenty year romance with. Between all of the amazing people that come together, it has allowed the music to crawl out from under the boulders in the hot desert sand and into our hearts and heads where it belongs.
As a musician, Brandon’s multi-instrumental capabilities have allowed him to ambitiously explore various original band projects. He played in Half Astro, a band that formed in 2007. They were high energy rock with old and new punk influences. The band also featured Herb Lienau, Billy Cordell and Marcus Bush. In the 11 years Brandon has lived here, he’s played guitar for Del Padres, Half Astro, Brant Bjork & The Bros, and The Pedestrians, and bass for Family Butcher, The Woodys, The Country (members of Gram Rabbit), Giselle Woo & The Night Owls, and Parosella. Half Astro developed a nice cult following and toured about in Europe. But now it is Parosella’s time. They are at the door of success and now that it is a priority for all members, I can’t see anything getting in their way.
Tony and Marcus have been playing together on and off for years in another project, Butchery Boys, a high-energy psychobilly band who sing about bloody crimes and messy murders. The two drummers both enjoy life on the other side of the drum set. Playing in both bands together has helped them to become cohesive in the creative process as well as in the live setting, and led them to work together in other projects as well. Both projects are active and provide the two players the ability to interact in completely different roles. Tony and Marcus mesh together well as do all of the members of Parosella.
So, after all of the twists and turns life has dealt all of these gentlemen, they feel they have finally arrived at the best lineup Parosella has ever had. Together they have created a springboard to push the group to the next phase of their musical journey. They are excited about the music they are making and are transmitting that energy into great new music and exciting live performances. The new record should start finding its way into our hands sometime in February, and you can be sure I will keep you posted.
Visit Robin Linn’s Desert Rhythms to learn more about the upcoming record and for direct links to the band and their music.
Find Parosella on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Parosellamusic
Learn more about Brenndan McGuire:
Brenndan McGuire Discography at Discogs
Read Rockabilly Worldwide to learn more about Butchery Boys at
Photo Credit: Kimberly Utley, Arturo Gonzales – Location credit: Deep Canyon Inn