Guest Rooms Uses Ambient Recordings from Campus in New Album

A project four years in the making, “Put Me Together” came out on Feb. 28 as the University of Texas at Austin philosophy senior Mason Parva’s first release under the name Guest Rooms. The six-song album spans just under 25 minutes and is packed with instrumental, vocal, and ambient layers.

Story by Max Friedman

To get some of the different ambient noises, Parva walked around UT’s campus with a field recorder. “That’s people talking at the Starbucks in the SAC in the background of the fourth song, and the PCL doors are in the first song,” Parva says. “I felt like a creeper walking around with a recorder under my jacket on campus, but I’m just obsessed with those ambient noises. They sound cool to me, and through making the music the noises have come to mean different things.”

“Put Me Together” is the story of a break up – a record about the grieving process. “I’m an emotional person, and this is how I processed everything...some people can just go to 6th street,” Parva jokes. But he doesn’t like to think of the album as only a breakup record.  

“I think it’s more about processing seasons of grief, which to me feels like a stripping process," Parva says. "A lot is taken away from us, and we start to figure out who we are. What we’re all about. In religious circles, it’s a period of looking for God, of existential questioning.”

Parva wrote, recorded and mixed the album himself, getting help in the studio from musician friends in Austin, Nashville, Colorado, and his hometown of Kingwood, TX. With this help, Parva was able to layer a variety of instruments - everything from saxophone to viola - onto his piano and vocal-based compositions, aiming for a sound that’s not so easy to describe. His proudest achievement was landing sound engineer Nick Peterson, who famously engineered Bon Iver’s debut album "For Emma, Forever Ago.

“I’m so lucky to have found that guy, cause he’s pretty much off the radar now,” Parva says. “I had to scour the internet for contact info on him, cause he’s just a guy who just lives in North Carolina and works mostly by word of mouth. But I found him, sent him mixes, and went from there.”

Looking to Peterson seemed like a logical step for Parva, as he sees his musical style as a variation of chamber pop, a genre made popular by artists like Bon Iver and S. Carey. “It’s ambient pop/chamber pop, I guess. Which is a sort of a catch-all term for music that ranges from orchestral instrumentation to electronic,” Parva says. “It’s pop in the sense of the song structure, but the instrumentation is more orchestral in its arrangement."

Photo courtesy of Guest Rooms Music

Photo courtesy of Guest Rooms Music

Parva also cites post-rock influences like Sigur Rós, and finds himself looking to Americana artists like Ryan Adams and Wilco for lyrical inspiration. The chamber pop influence definitely rears its head in the title track, while the post-rock vibes are evident in songs like “With Me,” which mixes wailing guitar licks with vocal lilts reminiscent of Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. “I only realize later where it comes from," Parva says. "I’m mostly trying to capture the world I was in with each song, and the listener can take from it what they will.”

One element that shows up in various places is that of spirituality, which provides a lyrical backbone to songs like “Put me Together” and “Holy Saturday,” but Parva says he doesn’t see the music as necessarily spiritual. “I take a cue from mindfulness traditions like the Buddhist tradition and the contemplative Christian tradition, which don’t really see a divide between spiritual and unspiritual,” Parva says. “The album is just as sacred as the table in front of us. But that influence is definitely there. I think the religious symbol of Holy Saturday is important, because there’s no silver lining in that day. It’s literally the death of divinity. I wanted to emphasize the tragedy of that. And there’s not a song called “Easter Sunday” so there is resolve and there isn’t. The song has an end, but there’s not really a conclusion. It’s just kind of to be wondered about.”

Parva describes the mood of Guest Rooms as one of transience. The album echoes a sense of melancholy, but the instrumentation helps keep the sound buoyant. He creates a wall of sound through rich layering which feels happy and sad, often at the same time. Parva attributes this dynamic both to the instrumentation, where synth melodies and traditional pop tempos give way to a wall of melancholy ambient feeling. The ambience is full of hidden gems, like AM radio static and iPhone alert noises, which reveal themselves upon further listenings.

Not wanting to be too definitive, Parva leaves the album and the notion of the guest room up to interpretation. “I mean, I used to record in the guest room of my parents’ house, so there’s that meaning for me,” Parva says. “But there’s a lot of ways you can read into it. I tend to think of it as moving through seasons of life, of different temporary phases. We can get stuck in grief, but when we’re really willing to grieve, we can move forward.”

Parva may end up doing a short-run vinyl release of the album, and says he is looking into touring in the future. The album is free on Bandcamp with the option to buy, and can also be found on Guestroomsmusic.com and Spotify.