November 02, 2006
Cale Parks is a fellow you might have seen before, though you might not have noticed him. He's been a longtime member of jazzers Aloha for a few years, and he's also done a stint as the drummer for hip-hop/electronica innovators Cex. But it wasn't until the release of his debut solo album, Illuminated Manuscript, that Mr. Parks stepped out into the spotlight. And what a step it was! His music sounds familiar to those who know his previous work, but yet there's an element, a spark, that's all his own. We caught up with him the other day while he was taking a short break from sightseeing, and we asked him about his decision to go solo, and we were quite surprised by a revelation at the end of the interview.
Why did you decide to do a solo record?
Hmm, I actually just kind of did it. I started writing songs last fall. I was staying with Tony, Aloha's singer, for a little while. I was living with him while I was in between a few different things, and when he and his wife would come home in the evenings, and would start to make dinner and things, I'd go into his recording studio and start messing around, making music, and pretty soon these bits started to become actual songs, and then they became fully realized. So I started a Myspace page for my songs, and I began asking all of Aloha's friends to be my friend. I asked a record label in Japan to add me, and I didn't really think about it, I just asked for a friend request. They emailed be back, saying, "We love Aloha, will you send us a CD?" So I jokingly said, "I don't have a CD, could you, umm, why don't you put out my record?" And they said, "Sure, we'll do it!" (Laughs)
That's cool! An unintentional solo career!
Yeah! I was just recording songs for fun, ideas that might have been demo ideas for Aloha, and then this little label in Japan put it out. After that, I started thinking that I should get an American label to release it. I started asking different labels in the states. I didn't ask Polyvinyl, because I've worked with them for so long, and I sort of knew that Matt and Seth had said they wouldn't sign any more bands that didn't intend to tour behind their records, and I certainly had no intentions of doing a solo tour. So I didn't even think about asking them. After that, I was chatting online with Seth one day, and he said, "Why haven't you asked Polyvinyl to put this out?" (Laughs) I said, "Man, you told me you wouldn't release anything..." and he said, "Dude, you go on enough tours already, you could sell them at Aloha shows, and that should be fine."
Was this the first time in your musical career that you stepped out and did your own thing as a front man?
Yeah, pretty much. Definitely, as far as writing and recording it all, it's the first time I've ever done anything like that. I still haven't done my first live show yet. My first live performance is coming up. I'm playing a show with an electronic artist named Dosh.
When you perform live, will you be by yourself, or will you be with a band?
(Frustrated) Umm, I've been trying to figure that out for months. I've been trying to figure out a way to do it. Initially, I was going to try and get a band. I just moved to New York, to Brooklyn, and I was going to try and get a solid live band together, but it's difficult. But I'm playing along right now with all my songs on a laptop. I'm going to play keyboards and bells and xylophone and drums and do vocals long with my prerecorded tracks, and just pad and layer and manipulate those things live.
As this was your first experience fronting a band, how was the creation process for you?
It was pretty easy, honestly. I'd just come up with an idea for a melody or a chord progression and just go. The way I write songs is pretty organic, and it would happen fast. Like, I'd write three songs in one night straight, and I'd come up with, say, a piano part, and I'd add that to them. Generally it was me creating a click track. A lot of the songs have around the same lengths, like two and a half, three, four minutes length. So I would make a click track about that long and would sing and play around that click track, and I'd pad and layer the song up around it. So it came pretty easily for me.
Your music seems to strike a balance between what Cex does, which is more hip-hop in nature, and what Aloha's jazz/post-rock style. I'm curious if you explored these ideas on Illuminated Manuscript, because they were things you really couldn't do with your other bands?
Hmm, yeah. Yeah, it's kinda like that, yeah. With Cex and Rjyan, it was more about me playing live drums along with his hip-hop beats than doing anything like a group. I've always listened to a lot of electronic music and hip-hop. With Aloha, I'm not really able to explore all that much, so yeah, I guess it's an unconscious thing I did.
"Wet Paint"--was that sample from Marvin Gaye meant as homage?
(Puzzled) Wait...what? Sample of Marvin Gaye?
On "Wet Paint," there's a rhythm pattern that reminds me--and other people I've asked--of Marvin Gaye's classic "Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holla)."
Really? I've never even heard that.
Really!?!? You've never heard that song? (Somewhat incredulous)
(Nervous laughter) No!
(Shocked) You've never heard Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues?"
Wow, because it's almost note-for-note the same rhythm, and me and a friend were wondering if you were paying tribute to him, because it's such an obvious thing…
(Laughing) Really? That's hilarious. I'm going to have to download it tonight.
"Inner City Blues," yeah, you should check out the entire album, What's Going On. It's an important concept album and social commentary.
Yeah, I know "What's Going On" and a few other songs, but I've never heard "Inner City Blues." (Amazed) Wow…this is crazy!
You really had no ideas?
No, man, thanks for the tip! That's cool…I'll definitely check it out!
It'll change your life!
Cale Parks' debut album, Illuminated Manuscript, is available now on Polyvinyl Records