Longineau W. Parsons III plays fast for the pop punksters Yellowcard, but that’s understandable, considering his fast musical start. “The first kit I ever played was Max Roach’s,” recalls Parsons, 24, in his decidedly low-key manner. “My father plays trumpet and my mother is a jazz dancer, they were on tour and I was born in Paris. I was two years old and there was this drum set sitting there; I popped myself up on the seat, started playing, and it was legit.”
They work in decidedly different genres now, but it sounds like Parsons soaked up some great traits from the jazz giant’s sticks, like a powerful drive and a real knack for using the drums to tell the song’s story. Check out the band’s major-label debut, Ocean Avenue, or see them live to hear the artful punch he brings to this California-based five-piece. “Drums have always been inside of me,” Parsons says. “Before I sat on Max Roach’s kit, I played on pots and pans. There’s something about drums that just moves me. It makes me carry on, and that’s the way I feel about that.”
Parsons was playing professionally by the time he was five, appearing regularly with his father’s band for the next ten years and soaking up a lot of sonic culture in the process. “I grew up listening to jazz, a lot of funk, and a lot of classical music. Then I started listening to a lot of metal, then rap — pretty much I listened to everything. I try to incorporate my jazz, funk, and metal capabilities into everything I do in Yellowcard.”
When Yellowcard formed during 1997 in their original home of Jacksonville, Florida, the foundation for Parsons’ smart attack was in place and ready to be set loose. “I devoted pretty much 150 percent of my time to Yellowcard when that kicked off. I started hitting the skins, and that’s how I do it: I hit them hard, with conviction. If you don’t hit with conviction, then why even hit them at all? You’re not even sure what you’re playing. I hit everything knowing what’s going to come out, with confidence. That’s where my style comes in. I like to leave an impression on the person listening.”
While the leap from jazz to punk may seem like a strange transition, to Parsons it’s only natural. “It actually aided me in a lot of ways,” he states. “People who grow up just playing rock don’t really feel it. They play, but it’s what they know. Jazz and fusion collaborating allows you to open up a lot more — you’re trained to cover ground when you need to. It’s all feeling, I don’t believe any one song has to directly be a rock song or a jazz song. I believe you have to keep each song open to what’s out there. There could be a song with a kick-ass chorus and a classical outro, then a funk outro, then spice it up a little bit with something jazzy.”
That attitude is probably one reason he works so well in Yellowcard’s unusual lineup, which features the long, cutting sounds of classically-trained violinist Sean Mackin. “That goes back to listening to what’s around you,” says Parsons. “It’s like having a guitar — same melodies, just a different texture.”
Parson’s jazz background gave him plenty of tools and techniques that would prove extremely useful for the strong rush of many of Yellowcard’s songs. “I use a single pedal — jazz allowed me to strengthen my foot up. I use the ball of my foot and my ankle. It’s all ankle work. If you ever listen to metal, like Pantera, everything is accented with the bass drum and it brings a new level of power. What I do is practice a single-stroke roll with my bass drum, straight sixteenth-notes, keeping it solid so each hit is exactly the same volume. Build it up faster and faster until you’re comfortable, and do it until you feel the burn in the back of your calf, then work it out. After that your foot will feel like a feather, and you’ll play a whole new way.
“Another thing to try is the foot to the hand. Take the exercises from the NARD (National Association Of Rudimental Drummers) book and practice the rudiments left hand/right foot, right hand/left foot. Practice every page like that and you’ll increase your ability to switch everything around.”
Listening to Ocean Avenue, the camaraderie is pervasive, a flavor that started with the songwriting and flowed all the way through the production. “The album was written in a mountain house at [California’s] Lake Arrowhead,” Parsons says. “We shut ourselves away from everyone and everything and we’d play poker, wear funny hats, and imitate people. The next morning after hanging out, the vibe was so good, we would just hit, throw together ideas, and the next thing you knew we had Ocean Avenue.
“We recorded it in a studio called Sunset Sound and our producer was Neil Avron. He was amazing to work with. He’s a really happy, outgoing person, and he’ll let you know his opinions of everything. He’s not one of those producers who’s like, ’I want it this way and this way only.’ He’s like, ’Let’s try it this way. You don’t like it? Okay, we’ll do it your way.’”
In conversation, Longineau Parsons might keep quiet, but that’s only because he’s storing up his energy for the time he’ll spend onstage. “I’m a very aggressive drummer,” he says simply. “The best way to put it is I’m an animal: I’m definitely an animal untamed. My deal is this is where my heart and soul is. This is where I put my blood, sweat, and tears. I’m diverse enough where I can do everything needed, so I’m able to make it happen in a big way. And it’s how I deal — I can escape without really leaving by hitting the drums.”