Parts Unknown

Parts Unknown have been dazzling Toronto audiences since 1993 and Wavelength is thrilled that they are going to kick off the March installment of the series. Mason Hornet’s Doc Pickles spent a chilly week in February picking the fertile brain of Parts Unknown frontman Derek Westerholm via email. You can catch Parts Unknown on March 5 at Ted’s Wrecking Yard. Admission as always, is pay what-you-can.


Hi Derek, let’s conduct an interview on email. We can ping-pong it back and forth as the week goes on…

Sure…I  like ping-pong.

Let’s start with pedigree. Your brother George is in Sinphonic, another well-respected Toronto outfit..

Yes, he’s my brother … or so my parents have always told me…

When the two of you were growing up did you both want to be in bands?

I don’t think the thought was ever entertained in any serious manner… no more so, say, than being an undercover policeman.

Did you come from a musical family?

No, but my mother frequently hums and whistles quite beautifully (honestly!), and my dad’s longtime passion has been recording and cataloguing music of every kind, so we have always had music around us in the home when growing up. Also my grandfather on my father’s side knew several languages and travelled around the world keeping a diary in which he wrote about places, as well as writing poetry and lyrics of songs in various languages and from various regions as well as singing them all day long.. so … yes … I would like to change my answer. The answer is yes; but we don’t really know how to play anything.

Also, Any sibling rivalries about your respective bands?

My brother and I – like my entire family – argue in reverse. We argue about whose band is better, but we are always trying to elect the other’s band as the best. It’s kind of like a sibling ‘un-rivalry’ rivalry.

Does it help or hinder you?

If it weren’t for my brother, I doubt I would have: ever listened to the music that has ultimately influenced me the most; picked up guitar; learnt guitar or thought it possible to get  up on stage. So, yeah, I would say it might have helped me just a bit. 

When did you decide that this was something you wanted to do? 

If it weren’t for my brother, I doubt I would have: ever listened to the music that has ultimately influenced me the most; picked up guitar; learnt guitar or thought it possible to get up on stage. So, yeah, I would say it might have helped me just a bit.

When did you decide that this was something you wanted to do?

I never did. It never seemed like it was really happening until it was too late. I still do now know how to go about forming a band. They just seem to form themselves, then you can’t get rid of them. I think the only decision involved comes in regards to not wanting to do it. To actually answer your question, however I would have to say I’ve always had an affinity towards the written word, especially in poetic form… and liked the idea of writing lyrics. Once you start doing that… it’s only a matter of time before songs follow. Then, next thing you know, you’re eating cereal for dinner and sleeping on floors. 

I’ve always been interested in your lyrics, they don’t really scan like typical song lyrics, there are elements of poetry in there, I always thought you could publish a song like “Chocolate Coffee Kisses” as a poem. What’s the difference between a finished poem and finished lyrics?

Well, it seems you already know, because “Chocolate Coffee Kisses,” which you have cited, quite correctly did start as a poem, with the rest following later. Generally, a finished poem will dictate the form of the song, or, if the song was developed first, it will sound like the lyrics were forced into the structure and doesn’t quite fit. It’s like the jigsaw puzzle that has two pieces that don’t quite match, so you grab a hammer and jam them in. It is true, though, that traditional song lyrics quite often do not scan the same as poetry, and I have always found that odd to my way of thinking as I have always written in the manner you describe. It’s only now that I am beginning to touch on more song-lyric-type writing, having been fascinated with that form of expression lately.

When PU. has pieced a song together, do you raid your old poetry books?

That happened more in the early days than it does now. Somewhere along the line we began writing more songs as the result of collaborative jams, where the song structure would be created first, and lyrics added later. It’s different for every song, though, and that is what I find intersting. A song like “Verdant Green” was an instrumental until the recording process, where the lyrics were written on the spot. Lately I have been intrigued with the idea of divorcing the rhythm of the lyrics from the rhythm of the song, which is especially difficult when you are also playing an instrument. I have come to realize that some of the most interesting vocal approaches have come from vocalists who do not play while they sing. Being a singer-songwriter type can limit your capacity for expression if you cannot walk and chew gum at the same time, so to speak. I have always appreciated the ranters and lately been enjoying vocals that go against the rhythm of the song, or create a polyphonic effect. Unfortunately, my brain ultimately defaults into a failsafe mode where it just follows what my hands are doing on the guitar. Further experimentation is taking place…

Parts has really utilized the Internet to get their material out. Has it helped you hook up with new fans?

It’s hard to know how it all links up. It is encouraging that there is a resource that allows people to operate on a grassroots level, which also has immediate worldwide attainability. The fact that it pisses off the corporate face of rock’n’roll means it is all the more essential. Anything that benefits the fans and bands directly, and hurts the parasites is a very, very good thing, But like any other resource, it has its limits. We have, however, sold a few discs in Japan, if that’s what you mean …

And now standard ‘zine question: Is there a band you regret never having seen play a show?

Prolapse. They broke up before I could see them. I wrote them an email a couple of years ago, when they were thinking of touring the States. They never replied. Bastards.

 Is there a band you regret seeing play a show?

 US3. I don’t know what I was thinking. They were absolutely horrible. The most insipid, uninspiring, flat and unenergetic show I have ever seen, which is odd, because I thought their album had a good energy. They make Stereolab look like a crazed, high octane, rock’n’roll machine.

Interview from March 2000 Wavelength Zine