No Longer a Bridesmaid

Legendary producer John Parish takes the stage.

John Parish

Friday, November 22nd at Akropolis

Apropos of the coming NATO summit’s world leader bluster, Prague will also
be welcoming John Parish, one of music’s storied men behind the scenes. His
first band, Automatic Dalamini, made just tiny ripples and is probably most
well known for sending the British group’s frustrated lead singer to record
some four-track demos of her own. Polly Jean Harvey’s story we know, but it
wasn’t until 1995’s To Bring You My Love redefined anger that the world’s
ear heard the name John Parish again. His production work on PJ Harvey’s breakthrough
put him behind the boards with Sparklehorse, 16 Horsepower, Giant Sand and The
Eels, whose Souljacker was named 2001’s album of the year by Time magazine.

Through his career as a producer and contributor, Parish has perhaps inadvertently
helped to define a fleeting genre some call Southern Gothic – a constantly mutating
blend of ballad, tragic narrative, marshy, layered sound and a keen sense of
the absurd.

Now on tour with a nine-piece orchestra, John Parish is bringing his own music
to Akropolis on November 22. How Animals Move, released on Thrill Jockey
this year, defies the label’s penchant for minimalism and moodiness, plunging
into the deep drifts of instrumentalism explored by the modern chamber music
sound of The Rachels. It is flowing, calm and ultimately listenable music that
bears some of the marks of a patient master’s opus.

The Pill caught John as he was passing the payphone in the back of the
Vega Jr. club in Copenhagen.

PILL:How’s the tour going?

PARISH:Quite well, thanks. We’ve been out for just over a week now.

PILL:Have you played Prague before?

PARISH:No, I’ve never even been there before. It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit
for a long time, and I’m glad to have the opportunity.

PILL:The Akropolis is a converted theater. Looks like a theater, feels like
a rock club. Should we bring our director’s chairs?

PARISH:That sort of club actually works quite well with the tone of this tour.
You’d think it’d be better in a sit-down, classical sort of concert hall, but
it’s been working really, really well in rock clubs. There’s more communication
between the group and the audience and that’s the way I want it to be – I want
this to be music people can relate to.

PILL:In terms of relating to music, do you think current trends to over-produce
albums are making music like yours or The Rachels, for example, more attractive
and more viable?

PARISH:A lot of people, myself included, are very hostile to mainstream production
values. They sort of polish the life out of decent ideas or, on the other hand,
inject life into ideas in which there is no validity in fulfilling because the
idea isn’t that good to begin with. I also think that there are simply a lot
of people interested in writing contemporary instrumental music. That’s a relatively
recent development – the last time it happened was when jazz was in its heyday.

PILL:Your work with groups like Sparklehorse and 16 Horsepower has helped form
the Southern Gothic sound. As a Brit, how do you connect with this movement?

PARISH:Obviously I connect with it in a very voyeuristic fashion. It caught
my eye because it was so foreign to me, and then I started working with some
of these bands. Whenever you start working within a certain genre, you learn
the mechanics of it. You learn what interests you about it and what doesn’t
and you can become more discerning. I’m always nervous about being connected
– or even connecting other people – with a genre because it’s very hard to move
on from that. I think a writer like Mark [Linkous, of Sparklehorse] is such
a good writer that he has no problem moving in and out of that, whereas other
musicians might function quite well within the sound but be unable to progress.

PILL:As a producer, what has been the most important technical change for you
in the past ten years? Are you a Powerbook guy or do you have a reel-to-reel
in the basement?

PARISH:It would have to be computers, really. I’m not a huge fan of recording
with computers, though. What they enable you to do is phenomenal, but that can
be a bad thing. You can make really bad musicians, bad singers, sound adequate
and you’re never going to create great music out of that. You’re never going
to make something great out of something inadequate, no matter how clever you
are with computers. It can also be dangerous in that it gives people too many
options and they become unclear about what they want. It can be very counterproductive
[unless] you know what you want. I’ll use the example of The Eels: Souljacker
was recorded entirely on ProTools and it took about two weeks total, and most
of that was writing. There’s no way that could have been done on tape. [The
Eels] had a very clear idea of what they wanted and it was just a matter of
finding the right option and laying it down.

PILL:You’ve said that How Animals Move was recorded in many studios and non-studios
around the world.

PARISH:Well, I have a laptop, but I never ever record on it for myself. I always
use ADAT, because that’s how I grew up – with that tactile way of recording.
These days, you can have relatively hi-spec recording equipment in your home
for a relatively small amount of money.

PILL:Do you think this tactile approach affects the flow of your music?

PARISH:I think the flow is there despite the recording method. That’s something
I’m particularly attuned to when making a record. I think that radically different
sounds and atmospheres like are on How Animals Move can flow really well together.

PILL:Do you have any big surprises scheduled for the tour? Any special guests?
Carnival tricks?

PARISH:Everyone on stage is a special guest, as far as I’m concerned. We’ll
be mixing it up a bit though, playing some tracks from Rosie [a 1999 film score].

PILL:You know the NATO summit will be in town when you play. If you could be
a delegate for 30 seconds, what would you share with the other delegates?

PARISH:Thirty seconds. How about “Say no to war”? I think they’re very important
and would have very little interest in anything I might say.

Video on YouTube

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