Rain Parade - Biography
There is a clip of Rain Parade performing “No Easy Way Down” on The Old Gray Whistle Test in 1985. If one watches this clip with the sound turned off, he probably won't even be interested to hear what the band sounds like unless he's in the mood for a laugh. It was the 80's, and these guys did not look cool. At all. One of them is wearing a white blazer, for example. Of course, once the sound is turned on, none of this matters. Rain Parade, like many bands to come out of the paisley underground movement of the early 80's, were adored by critics and ignored by the rest of us. Watching this clip, it's impossible to understand why. No one else could pull off a psychedelic drone like that and still be melodic, with vocal harmonizations to boot. And psychedelic droning wasn't even their forte. This was a band that emphasized melodic pop songcraft over everything else, but with a natural sound so haunting and distinct, it had to have been accidental. Unfortunately, the band only lasted five years, and their final year produced an album that was, admittedly, mediocre at best. A couple of the group's members went on to gain a much wider audience for their musical gifts in 90's shoegaze/folk band Mazzy Star.
When vocalist and guitarist David Roback – who had been in a band with his brother, Steven, called the Unconscious, which also featured future Bangles frontwoman Susanna Hoffs on vocals – went away to college, he found himself rooming with Matt Piucci, a guitarist himself. They started jamming and called their duo the Sidewalks. Steven Roback eventually joined them as a bassist. All three of them sang. By 1981, they were calling themselves Rain Parade and filled out their lineup with drummer Eddie Kalwa and keyboardist Will Glenn. Via their own label, Llama, the band quickly ushered out their first single, “What She's Done to Your Mind.” The song did well on college radio and it was good enough to get them signed by California indie Enigma Records. Rain Parade were ready to record a full-length, and what a terrific album it turned out to be. Released in 1983, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (Enigma) is a record of easy-going psychedelia, and not one song tries to rock too hard. Its slow pace is deliberate, and in this way, Rain Parade set themselves apart from the pack. Other bands playing similar music would emphasize the garage aspects of 60's psychedelia, while Rain Parade preferred to write delicate songs that float by at a moderate, modest pace and are made all the more memorable for that. The album helped their hipness level a great deal, as did the entire paisley underground movement, which was becoming more popular each day. This is not to say that it was granting them any chart success, however. There's a reason that the short-lived scene was referred to as the paisley underground.
After the debut, the band moved to Reckless Records and quickly got back into recording mode. They emerged from the studio with Explosions in the Glass Palace (1984, Restless), a paisley title if there ever was one. Explosions has been looked at as the best of the group's three studio recordings, as well as one of the finest documents of the paisley underground. It is only five songs long and under twenty minutes, but each song is spellbinding. Even a song like “You Are My Friend” feels deceptive in its warmth, especially given that Rain Parade's lyrics are usually dark. The song opens with a lone distorted chord, giving way to a layered wall of guitars and those sadly sung lyrics. This is the kind of song Ride would have killed to write. The mini-album closes with the aforementioned “No Easy Way Down,” a nearly seven-minute meeting of melody and droning fuzz. Another LA band called the Warlocks would attempt the same recipe fifteen years later to far less impressive results.
Following Explosions, David Roback left his brother and his band behind, opting to form Opal with ex-Dream Syndicate bassist and then-girlfriend, Kendra Smith. John Thoman was quickly recruited to replace him. Kalwa didn't last much longer after that and Rain Parade now needed a new drummer. They found one in Mark Marcum. After the new lineup solidified, toured, and recorded the live album Beyond the Sunset (1985, Restless), something strange happened: Rain Parade were signed to a major label. It seemed an odd move for Island Records to sign a band that wasn't exactly storm-trooping the radio waves. There was definitely a movement happening in LA, however, one that was much bigger than Rain Parade and the entire paisley movement. The LA music scene had many burgeoning sub-genres, including punk (the Minutemen) and Rolling Stones-style rock & roll (the Pontiac Brothers). Excitement about LA bands was bubbling over in the UK more so than in LA, and so Island Records signed a host of these groups in 1985, including Rain Parade.
Crashing Dream was released on Island in 1986. It was not a hit, and did not match the greatness of its predecessors. It would be unfair to blame this on the loss of David Roback, as Piucci is a gifted singer and songwriter in his own right. However, the band had lost its spooky, psychedelic charm. They had become too conventional. Rain Parade broke up after that and the members went on to different projects. Piucci recorded an album with Crazy Horse. Steven Roback and Thoman continued to collaborate as Viva Saturn. David Roback remained with Opal, but once Kendra Smith left the band, Hope Sandoval joined and the group became Mazzy Star. Will Glenn joined them on keyboards. In March 2001, Glenn passed away after his battle with cancer.