Butch Parnell and Runaway Dorothy counts Roseanne Cash, Adam Duritz, Rob Thomas, and Ryan Adams as fans. The band has also been fortunate to have a very engaged fan base to support its latest album, The Wait. Runaway Dorothy’s sensibility is both rustic and refined, mining folk, country, and alt-country with a songs-first restraint as to leave ample space for the group’s captivating storyteller lyrics, mesmerizingly melancholy vocals, and achingly beautiful harmonies. The band has performed at SXSW (Runaway Dorothy played 11 shows in the 5 days they were in Austin), The Outlaw Roadshow during the CMJ music festival, and headlined the Red Room in Boston. They’ve been featured on Fox News, the popular video blog The Rock Office, and garnered accolades from PGH Music Mag.
The Brooklyn-based band’s origins date back to when band founder Butch Parnell was plucked from singer-songwriter obscurity to be the guitarist of a promising rock band playing big shows and showcasing for major labels. “I was hesitant at first, I wanted to do my own music, but this opportunity allowed me to just focus on being a musician,” he explains. As industry pressures sapped the South Carolina band’s morale, Butch kept on writing for himself. However, when the band was summoned to New York City for label a showcase, Butch had a career-shifting moment.
“I ran into Ryan Adams randomly on the street,” Butch recalls. “We hung out all day, and I got the chance to play him some tunes. I played him the band’s music and my own solo stuff. When he heard my tunes, he said: ‘This is the stuff you should be pursuing.’” And when the band finally splintered, that’s exactly what he did: Butch moved to Brooklyn with a handful of songs; recorded the Runaway Dorothy debut, The Arc, in Springfield, Missouri; and then assembled a band.
The Wait marks the debut of the firm lineup of Butch Parnell (vocals, guitar, harmonica), Butch’s younger brother Brett “Bert” Parnell (electric guitar), Warren “Jiffy” Robbins (bass), Evan Mitchell (drums) and Kenji Shinagawa (electric guitar). The band plays with dynamic sensitivity: the players patiently let each song’s meticulous arrangement unfold in the center spotlight, and then contribute motifs to enhance the mood. The band developed its sympathetic chemistry through grinding it out playing live on NYC subway platforms. “It was like boot camp for becoming a cohesive group,” Butch explains. “Can we sound good as a unit when it’s so loud down there?”
The new album is a staggering achievement for Runaway Dorothy, and particularly Butch as a masterful songwriter. Lyrically, The Wait is both personal and mythical. “Half the album is a story I made up, the other half is about a relationship that just wasn’t going to work,” Butch confides. Hauntingly gorgeous tracks like “Ballad Of A Dead Man” and “Blue Kentucky Rain” are snapshots of gritty Americana, both weaving together a narrative of a man driven to murder to provide for his family.
The gracefully sparse track “Hurry” is a standout relationship song with curious origins. “The song began as a Japanese bubblegum pop song,” Butch says laughing. “I sent it to my brother and said ‘Do whatever you want with it.’” Brett “Bert” Parnell picked up the banjo and re-imagined the track. It’s a collaboration that speaks to the mutual respect and deep creative connections the brothers share.
Runaway Dorothy self-produced The Wait and recorded it at Threshing Floor Studios in North Carolina. The band went for a lean approach with the production treatment, delicately adding only essential flourishes. “The songs have to stand on their own with just voice and guitar,” Butch says of his production philosophy.
Currently, the band is further exploring its creative synchronicity by sharing in songwriting for Runaway Dorothy. Butch is eager to record the third album with this expanded pool of songwriting talent. Reminiscing back on the time leading up to The Wait he says: “You know, I started off singing Counting Crows cover songs at open mic nights. It was so special when Adam Duritz mentioned our band in an interview. It’s just amazing to me all of this that has happened.”