Right On: Catching up with Tess Parks in Manchester

photo by Holger Nitschke

photo by Holger Nitschke

A reverb soaked tambourine shakes over haunting vocal melodies and poetic words. The sound of Tess Parks is reminiscent of 60s psych, with Nico delicacy but a Rolling Stones rock and roll persona. Tess and her band have been a notable name for some years now, working with The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe and having toured across the world. In a break from her schedule we caught up with Tess at Manchester Psych Festival for a catch up.

Hi Tess. How are you doing today? 

Hey Nathan! I'm great. I'm in the middle of recording my new album with my best friends, so feeling very positive! 

Tell us a bit about how you got into music, what was your background growing up? 

My dad played me all the best music while I was growing up. He would put on Led Zeppelin and then play along to their music on piano and my sister and I would dance around and sing along. These are some of the fondest memories of my youth. My parents were really encouraging. It breaks my heart when I hear stories, let's say, about how someone wanted to be a singer in their youth, and one parent or one person puts them down and that's enough for them to never sing again, potentially. It's not that no one ever told me I wasn't good enough, but I think having my parents' unwavering belief in me made me believe in myself and my capabilities, in a way that makes it so much easier and reassuring to actually pursue a career as an artist.

Growing up with that music must have helped you find your sound, and it’s a very distinctive sound. How did you come about finding this in your recordings?

I honestly don't know how to answer this. When it comes to my singing voice, I don't really know what to say. I was in choir for years as a child and I always wanted to be a soprano but my teachers always made me sing alto, and I was like “what the fuck, this is so unnatural.” So I was trained to sing lower than what was at all comfortable. I'd also sing along to a lot of songs and emulate their voices - I used to do a really good "What A Wonderful World" impression of Louis Armstrong when I was like, eight years old. 

Ha, maybe one day we can hear Tess Park’s cover of What A Wonderful World. Do you think working with Anton Newcombe helped you find this style, or where you pretty set before that collaboration began? 

I like to think I had my own style before I met Anton. Naturally though of course, he did teach me a lot a lot a lot in the 5 years that we worked together. I think I have become a much better songwriter since I've known him. I make sure every lyric is absolutely essential and holds just as much meaning and weight as all the others, and sometimes saying less is key... letting the music speak and breathe on its own. 

You can definitely hear Anton’s distinctive songwriting, Brian Jonestown Massacre are very unique. How did the relationship with Newcombe start? 

It's actually a really boring story that I feel like I get asked pretty much everyday. But if I think back to the excitement of going to Berlin to record with him for the first time, it's a story that really changed the course of my life and I'm so grateful for that. I was heading to Berlin to visit my friend Emeka, who is a beautiful poet friend of mine that I had met in London, and I had heard from Alan McGee that Anton lived and worked in Berlin, so I just messaged him on twitter and Anton suggested we try to record a few songs, and so we did and they ruled. 

Do you find your creative process to be different when working solo as suppose to working as a collaboration? 

Most of the music I've made starts out as a poem I've written on my own, and then I add chords on guitar or piano and a little melody, and then I either record a demo or a voice note or something... but the songs really come alive when I share them with the band.  Working alone can be very insular and you can really get stuck using the same formula for everything. Everything is better in collaboration I think. Music is communal. 

You’re from Toronto but you’ve spent a lot of time in London. What about London drew you in? 

Everything about London. I lived in London for ten years. To me it's the best city in the world. I love just walking around. It's so fucking beautiful. All of the music history, all of the literary greats who have lived and worked in London... 

Going back to you talking about your father playing shit hot sounds from the 70s, you’ve got a very notable Nico-stye to you, sonically and even performance wise. I wanna know what’s been spinning on your turn table lately? 

I honestly haven't been listening to a lot of music. My partner Joseph played me "Golden Clouds" - The Orb ft. Lee Scratch Perry a few months ago, and that's pretty much the only song I've been listening to when I'm not writing and recording. 

And to wrap it up, what does the future hold for Tess Parks?

Like, sixty more albums, thirty Oscar nominations, a never-ending anthology of published poetry books, memoirs, diaries, photo books, photography exhibitions... I'm in love with how good the future is going to be. 

Keep up to date with Tess Parks on her Facebook here.