Following his barnstorming appearance at Bonn’s Harmonie, Ian Parker gave 3songsbonn.com an honest and forthright interview. It describes his journey through the pressures of success and learning the hard way that there’s more to life than making music.
” Just get an electric guitar
Take some time
And learn how to play
“And when your hair swung right,
And your pants get tight
It’s gonna be alright”
As Tom Petty describes it in ‘So you wanna be a Rock n Roll Star’ the road to Musical fame is a cakewalk.
Inspired by Jimi Hendrix, the young Ian Parker DID get an electric guitar and he DID learn to play it, very well indeed in fact. For Parker though it wasn’t ‘alright’ as he revealed in a frank interview over a cold beer backstage at the Harmonie.
On the internet it seems like you’ve done more live discs than studio ones. Is there a reason for that?
That’s actually probably quite true. I don’t know if I’ve done more, but I’ve done probably as many live and studio which is unusual. That’s partly financial. There’s always a demand for live CD’s on the circuit that I’ve always played on. People seem to like it. And to be honest about how the business side of it works, it’s really cheaper to make a live CD compared to a studio CD. It’s difficult with grass-roots music. It’s difficult to keep a band on the road or keep going, and when you know there’s a demand for it and you know you can put this out after the show and people will enjoy it, then lets do that. There have been a few stages where I’ve had to do that for financial reasons, but also people do seem to like it.
Do you like the live discs of others?
Ironically I don’t really listen to a lot of live albums myself. I love listening to studio albums – maybe because I know how much work goes into actually making a studio album. I’m more a fan of studio records – but people seem to like the live stuff.
You have a CD in the making, called I believe ‘The Stonehouse’?
That’s the working title and probably will become THE title I think.
You had around twenty songs, and had to cut it down to ten, which suggests there is a lot of good unreleased Ian Parker material out there?
Well yes, but we didn’t rush into the studio and make twenty songs up. At the end of 2008 I got to a point where, I actually burnt myself out a bit on the road. I was doing a lot of shows with the band. Playing Blues-Rock basically and I’d just really burned myself out to the point where I had a sort of mini nervous breakdown at the end of 2008. I remember touring Holland, and I just couldn’t sleep at all. I just became a complete insomniac, got too stressed. I realised at that point I needed some sort of a break and started to make some changes. I came off the road so to speak and really, over the last three years I’ve still been doing tours here and there, but I’ve scaled it all down. I’ve spent most of my time learning to be creative again from scratch and writing lots of material, and that’s why, three years on, we’ve got twenty songs. I demoed them all and decided on about half that number, ten songs that really fitted together well and decided to make a record with those ten. But some of the other ten I think have got some merit – they just didn’t fit on this particular record; so I feel I’ve already got at least half of another album waiting to go out.
Was the stress problem your reason for getting back to a more grassroots style or is that just coincidence?
Partly, it might have been. I was always sort of a reluctant bandleader really. I don’t want to be the Boss of anything at all, because if you happen to be the songwriter, singer, or the lead guitarist you become defined as ‘the Artist’ and it’s inevitable that you employ other people to help you make that music, which means you have to become The Boss and I don’t like telling people what they must do, and you have to in that role. It has nothing to do with the individuals I’ve worked with, I’ve been fortunate to work with some very lovely people and indeed I intend to work with other musicians in the future to. It’s not that I have plans to never ever tour with anyone again, but the responsibility for other people – I think that was part of what was building up over the years, so this has been refreshing – right now being in Germany with just my friend Mick who’s my Tour Manager. The two of us just driving around really relaxed. It has nothing to do with the other people involved. It’s just dealing with responsibility and I feel really free like this at the moment. A de-stressing situation you know…
You said at tonights concert (introducing ‘Your Basket Has Never Been So Full’) “This is the only cheerful song I’ve written.” Do you consider yourself a born pessimist?
I used to be. I wrote a lot of sad songs. It’s actually easier to write songs like that. The rawness of emotion seems to lend itself to artistic expression. But I realised that I did overindulge in that stuff and I’m quite a different person now. I joke about that now because now I feel I’ve got a more adult perspective on my music and stuff, it seems to me now that I really did indulge myself in this “How depressing is my life!” you know.
It became ‘Grist for the Mill’ – ammunition for your songs?
Yeah, but now I realise the human condition is about much more than the sad stuff, you know. I just found it easier to write songs from that. But on the new album the emotions are much more wide ranging and actually I’m a really happy person these days. I love life now, whereas before I really wasn’t sure about it. Like I had a wheel ‘out of kilter’. I had that feeling throughout my twenties. I was having a good time, it wasn’t that – I just wasn’t really at one with myself. But I feel completely different now. I’ve got a lot more perspective and I’ve stopped feeling so self important actually. What I do with my music, it really doesn’t matter. In the wider world it has no importance whatsoever, other than for the people who pay money to hear me. Hopefully they enjoy it, and if they buy the record that’s great, but that’s about it.
There are more important things in life?
Of course. I’ve got interested in other things in life and that’s really important. Before it was waking up to write and play music, and booking the tours and that. It was nothing – just music, music, music…
And then it becomes difficult to write about themes outside of music?
Well that’s true. If you’re the person writing the songs and doing the creative work from source you need something to talk about. I found myself becoming a boring person in conversation with really nothing to talk about. Nowadays it’s great to talk about things other than music. Obviously people want to talk to me about that, and that’s nice, but it’s good to end up chatting about other things. I’m interested in other stuff now. It’s given me loads of balance. My music is still important to me but it’s an element of who I am now, not the whole thing.
You are no longer with RUF Records and although you did the Robert Johnson and J J Cale your set this evening was much more Folk oriented.
Yeah, I never really know what to say about all the different genres. Blues music is really important to me. I heard it at a really young age. My parents were into Blues and playing the British Blues things like John Mayall. So I heard that as a kid, alongside the Beatles and BB King of course and I love it. But it’s not crucial to me in terms of my sense of identity to be a Blues Musician because I like lots of other stuff and I quite enjoy the freedom too. If I call myself a Blues Musician a don’t want to mis-sell myself. So if I say I’m a Blues man I don’t want 150 Blues fans to turn up at a show and be disappointed. I want to feel free to delve into different things and do that, and some of it is Folky. There’s a whole scene that’s emerged in Britain. A sort of Folk/Pop thing that’s come out in the last few years where you’re getting these artists that, probably in the same way I grew up with Blues, they grew up listening to traditional Folk but they’ve made it relevant and given it a Pop element so you don’t have to be a Folky to get it, and I started to get it, and I don’t know the traditions of Folk. There are people coming up like Ben Howard from the south-west who’s making Folk based cross-over music. Seth Blake, Laura Marling is just an unbelievable talent although she’s only in her early twenties she has three records out – the first made when she was sixteen – and I don’t understand how she could do it, but these are people who came out of the Folk tradition to make something that’s contemporarily relevant. That’s something I feel personally I’ve missed in the past. Whether I’m recording or writing something that’s Blues or Folk or whatever. I’m trying to give it some sort of contemporary relevance. I’m not sure if I’m succeeding. I thing the danger of genre Music is that because ther’s a tradition involved it’s very easy to pay too much homage to that tradition.
Why sound like BB King when we already have BB?
Exactly. Like I played a Robert Johnson this evening (‘Walking Blues) because I ran out of material and I love that stuff myself and I know there’s some Blues Fans here at the show (in Bonn); but there are some Artists in the Blues World – and I’m not criticizing them, they want to replicate the past because they feel that’s the way to keep the Music alive, and maybe they’re right. I’m not making a value judgement here. For me, I want to take the spirit of that music. It could be the spirit of Robert Johnson from 1932 or whenever but I want it to be relevant to people in 2012. I don’t want it to just be for people to just sort of remember that, you know?
And you have a modernising approach to acoustic music onstage. I noticed your use of vocal tape loops and the drum pad. Actually you didn’t need a band in that case…
(laughs) It depends on the context. I’m not saying it’s forever or that I never intend to play with other musicians again. I’ve brought other musicians in on this record with their own styles. I’ve brought in Beth Porter on cello for instance and where a lot of Classical players come in and just do some Pop work she’s not like that at all. She actually calls herself a Pop musician and not a Classical musician, and she’s great. I really feel that it’s been great to sit down and collaborate with other people over the various parts. So it’s not like I’m shutting myself away from other musicians and doing everything on my own. I really enjoy working with other people. To be honest part of it is just that when I’m on the road I don’t like being responsible for everything whereas when you’re in the studio for a couple of days it’s great.
Finally Ian, after all this music genre talk, What about the new cd. Will it be Blues? Pop? Or more Folk oriented?
It will be a broader spectrum than before. It won’t be all ‘happy, happy, happy’ but what I’ve tried to do is, if I’ve gone into something that’s dark, I’ve tried to resolve it. I think life itself is like that.
Ian. Many thanks, and good luck with your new cd.