THEO PARRISH ( redbull academy interview pt. 2 )

RBMA: »And speaking of soundsystems, what would be, in your mind, your ideal set-up?«

Theo Parrish: »Ok. The best soundsystem I ever went to and experienced was this place in New York called ’Love’. They have a Richard Long system in there. I didn’t know anything about a Richard Long system ‘til I went in there and found out really what it was.«

RBMA: »Richard Long was the guy who set up the system in the Paradise Garage, right?«

Theo Parrish: »Exactly. Now, this system was based after his design. Now, I admittedly know little to nothing about that whole deal! So I’m not going to sit up and start lying and say: “Yesss, he plugged this in…and that…” Nah, I don’t know (laughter from audience)! I just know when I went in there and I played ’Funky Space Reincarnation’, Marvin Gaye, that was the first time I heard everything in the record. I was like ‘Wow.’ I also noticed, too, I couldn’t back scratch on the turntables because that’s not how the tone arms were set up.

Tone arms on each of the 1200’s were modified, had pulleys and weights and stuff! It was just amazing sound and it was great. But the downfall of it was the owner of the place didn’t believe in promoting the night! A philosophical stance. He wanted people to come, and be there based on whatever the music was doing, no promotion. So, I dug that, but you know, looking out there and seeing twenty people you’re wondering: ”Are people going to show, or what am I doing wrong?” And he’s reassuring me, saying: ”Everything’s going right, this is how it should be.” Then you realise it’s something specific he’s got in mind. So you let people do their thing. But that was the best place I’ve been where the soundsystem was just retarded.«

RBMA: »And these days it’s all about promotion and hype to get a party started?«

Theo Parrish: »No, it’s not. It’s an alchemy! You got to balance the promotion versus the location, versus your DJ, versus what’s going on in the city, versus how much you’re charging at the door, versus your wait staff, versus your bar staff, versus the weather!«
(audience laughs)

RBMA: »So you never want to open a club on your own then, right?«

Theo Parrish: »No, I think about it all the time. But all of those things in line at one point make a decent party. It’s magic every time something pops off. It sounds real clichéd and real, you know (mimes a cheesey grin and thumbs up) “It’s magic when a party happens!!” But it actually really truly is because there’s so many other things that work against you, that once it pops off, and it’s good and you know it’s good, and you try to ride it for what it is. It’s like seeing a ghost or something. You’re like: ”I’m going to go to the attic again! Maybe I’ll see that ghost one more time!” That’s as elusive as it gets.«

RBMA: »And speaking of ’Funky Space Reincarnation’, do you have it with you? Maybe?«

Theo Parrish: »No, but I got something else though. It’s close. It’s not quite the same, but it’s close. I’m going to dig a little.«

RBMA: »Because you mentioned a few minutes earlier classics, being a pivotal part of Chicago back in the day.«

Theo Parrish: »Yeah. That’s basically you weren’t given any respect in Chicago. And still, you really aren’t, among people that matter, unless you can play things that weren’t locked up with the sequencer, you know? If you could play those things and make them fit, that’s when you’re given some kind of respect. Nobody cared if you could play the new records over and over again. Nobody cared.

Like: ”Ok, so what? The tempos can be matched up, they can mix themselves. You set it on they’ll do it themselves. Who cares. But can you tell a story? Can you mess with Kool & the Gang, the drummer’s time at the beginning of the song, can you chase it and can you catch it?” That’s what mattered in Chicago when it came down to it. Because Ron Hardy, he was the guy that could play like that. A lot of other guys, Mike Williams, most of these guys can play classics and you’d be shocked. Derrick Carter. People think he can play ’boom-tsh-boom-tsh’. Nooooo, no, no, no. He can play some of those other things.«

RBMA: »So he can surf the pitch?«

Theo Parrish: »Oh yes, quite well. Oh yes. It’s no joke! (searches through his record bag) See I’m running into stuff that has nothing to do with the topic of conversation. And I think I might go there anyway. Aiight. I’m going to get real basic. James Brown, right? Some people say he was the father of not only Rap but also House music. And I kind of concur.

There was a couple of tunes he did that really speak to what a party song is about. Now, the thrust of this so far has just been party this, party that, play the music, but I want to get into the projection side of things in a minute. And start talking about that transition. Because to me, if you don’t start off as the patron in anything that you do: like say, if you play bass. If you don’t go out and hear a lot of bassists play, then you’re starting off on the wrong foot as it is.

Then whatever it is that you’re aspiring to do, if you don’t start off as a patron, as a person that is paid money to get up, and hear what it is that you want to do, then you’re off on the wrong track as it starts. You need to study that, know what that is. And study the people that do it well, and do it consistently. And go and find out what the particulars are. Find out what the preparation is.«

Theo Parrish: »This is the first time I understood the importance of the mix, and how important mixing is. The track just took on a whole ‘nother meaning as soon as you start to bring that guitar down a little bit, brought the foot up. And then dug out with the flutes. (beatboxes the beat) Oh wow. So it really started to get in my head when I started making stuff, that this is all a big – I don’t know, circuit I guess. Because you’ve got this record over here with what this guy’s doing, and this other guy over here, and this other guy and this other guy, and this other girl, and this other girl.

You start to plug ‘em all together there’s this collective body of knowledge. It’s about listening, if you’re critical, not just listening to the lyrics or the isolated instrument that you love so much, but the whole arrangement. Everything that’s going on it, and what exactly those things are. And what exactly is making the sounds that you’re hearing, that are really in your head. Like, what is it particularly about it? And it wasn’t until later that I realised it was the relationship of the drum to the bass in that song that really stood out to me, and how that juxtaposed all the highs that were going on with the guitars and the flutes. You’re not realising until later, a lot of the time.

I’m going to play something more contemporary. Very, very good, but it’s really contemporary. And it’s from an artist here from Detroit. She passed. It’s Aaliyah. And you can see some of the similarities. But if you listen, you’re not getting that mixing dynamic that goes along. It’s still very flat, there’s lots of great changes but it’s still really flat. You’re not getting that emotive quality, because music in the past, that’s what I’m kind of interested in. You not only had the different players on it, but you also have someone else arranging those players. So that they look their best. So that they’re presented in the best light possible.

And that doesn’t really happen too many times in contemporary music. Except in dance music. It happens in dance music. (puts needle on the record) Doesn’t happen in mainstream music too much. In my opinion.«
(music: Aaliyah ‘Rock The Boat’)
»Dope arrangement though.«

RBMA: »What’s the title? ’Rock The Boat’, right?«

Theo Parrish: »Aaliyah ‘Rock The Boat’. Now some people say that this isn’t dance music, that this is R’n B. Now this is the trouble with all those monikers again. That’s this, this is that… No!! Doesn’t matter on the dancefloor. That’s the great equalizer. You can move to it, and sing. You got a straight ahead foot, but if you listen to the mix, you can tell it was made on a computer. At X-point, this comes in, at X-point, this comes out. There’s no danger. But it’s still a good song.

And you can apply that kind of feel to it with EQing, you know? (tweaks the knobs on the mixer) Oh it’s not working. There it is. If you work with the EQ you can get that effect if it’s not in there. Work with it. Isolate as much as you can. Have fun with it. Got to keep your ego out of it though. Everybody’s got a problem with that. Sometimes you EQ a song so much, you cease to let it be itself. (music ends) That’s contemporary R’n B. By an artist from Detroit that passed.

And she was a really important artist, I think. She took chances. You’re not going to hear Sierra do it like that. You’re not. She just won’t. She’s not going to take that kind of risk. And that’s typical of people in the midwest. If you want to talk about taking risks, this is a risk taker. (picks out a new record) This is brother Herbie.«

RBMA: »Hancock.«

Theo Parrish: »Herbie Hancock, oh yeah, and he took risks. That’s a challenge that people are scared of today, taking risks. Risks, risks, risks, you got to risk it all! You cannot be afraid to put exactly what is inside of yourself. Directly. You know, when you get outside of that idea of ‘I’m making this kind of music’ or ‘I’m making that kind of music’, then all of that changes. You end up with music like this (laughs).«
(music: Herbie Hancock ’Sleeping Giant’)

»Ohh, got to cut that out, that’s not House music!! That’s not House music!! What am I doing? They came out to hear a House lecture, that’s not House music! Fuck House music, man (laughter from audience). Fuck any moniker! Fuck any moniker because they limit it. Any moniker (applause from audience)! Now, that has anything that any genre-specific music would want to have.

But it just simply defies definition. People call different musical styles other musical styles because there is no other way to name ‘em. There’s no other way to call it something. There has to be some kind of association. I totally think this manner of thinking is bullshit, and it’s dangerous. Because what happens, what are the new forms of music that we have the potential to create out here if we’re always trying to fit into stuff that’s already come along before us?

Then we never really have a chance to come up with new music. Everything’s stuck, we’re still stuck in the same old shit. I mean, because basically there would be no House music if people didn’t break out of Disco. All these different monikers are very, very dangerous things. You get into Rap, and Hip Hop. I mean that’s going through its own civil war right now. You know, Reggae and Dub. Everything is going to a heavy time right now. This could lead us to our next topic of conversation. (turns to face the interviewer Gerd Janson) You’re just sitting there looking at me. [I’m like] bla bla bla.«

RBMA: »No, I like it! Go on!«

Theo Parrish: »But the idea that we have all this technology – never before in history have we had this amount of technology, and we’re taking things that we’re not necessarily creative with: the technical mind, forcing them into it. For instance…«
(brings the volume up on the Herbie Hancock tune again)

»I’m pretty sure Herbie didn’t want this digitally downloaded. I’m pretty sure. He probably didn’t even have it in mind to have it spun somewhere, DJed or pitched up and down. But the idea is when you pitch something up and down the record still remains a record. When you take it out of this form you no longer associate this imagery with that individual, these sounds. Now they become abstract concepts. “Who’s Herbie Hancock? Who gives a fuck, I got that song.” See that’s where it goes, and that’s the danger. It’s convenient, ain’t got to carry around records. Ain’t got to worry about customs. You can bring your whole collection to a party. Your whole collection? I mean, I walk into party and I know you got access to fifty thousand records. Fifty thousand! You know what I’m going to expect out of you?

I’m going to want my DNA changed! (laughter from audience ) You’re going to have to change my DNA! Because you got 50,000 records and an hour to play. An hour to play? How the fuck are you going to play 50,000 records and an hour to play? Aiight, ok, change my life! I walk in, my life is not changed. I leave, I’m mad. I’m at the door, I’m starting with the promoter because I’m drunk, and they told me the guy had 50,000 songs to play. I came in with expectations and I had six gin-tonics, dammit! I want my money back. You better not pay him tonight! Don’t pay that DJ nothing!

Next time I come here I want to hear the guy with 20 records in his box, and blows my mind. That’s what I want. That’s what necessary, and you can’t compartmentalise that. You can’t see that for a dollar a drink. And that’s the danger of these times – because I think they can coexist – but the problem is, there’s too much convenience. These are dangerous, oh they’re dangerous! Records are dangerous things, ‘cause they’re fragile, they get dirty, scratches on ‘em, and now because everything’s commodified, this is worth what? Fifty dollars on eBay or something, I don’t know! But it’s a piece of plastic. It’s fragile. If it gets cold it’ll break, if it gets hot it’ll warp.

Your files are not going to warp, your files are not going to break. That’s the argument. It’s more durable, it lasts. Not if they turn the lights off! Not if they pull the plug, not if your shit crashes, you lose your whole library. All because some fool spilled a beer on your laptop. Now you ain’t got no more music. What you’re going to do? At least you can wipe these off (wipes a 12” on his shirt ). Can’t wipe your Pentium BXP5 off!! Nah. You’re screwed! You’re hoping your boy got it! That’s the other part of it too. That’s the other scary thing. It’ll take you the better part of ten years to collect, in my opinion, the amount of vinyl that’s worthy of being presented to other people.

Take you – what? A couple minutes? To download somebody’s whole collection. Now the question is, is it worth the convenience? Maybe. But are you missing out on all of the knowledge that goes into looking for those specific records. Specifically! Because you know ‘so&so’ played on this record, ‘so&so’ played on that record, are you going to take that time and get your knuckles dusty, and go meet another crazy obsessed individual just like yourself? You got to take that time. Oh you can meet somebody online, their name is James and they got a big dick and big eyes: what is that shit? Motherfucker’s name is Jones, she got 36 double D’s, no! You meet somebody at the record store and they’re picking out records. See, that’s the problem with a lot of things now, the community is going from being something where you go out and have conversations with people and deal with individuals.

Now everybody can hide behind these phoney masks. Do whatever they want. You never know what you’re getting. And that’s a whole ‘nother cultural aspect that’s changing and we need to talk about. But more importantly, what I want to focus on is that you can’t replace a record collection with a file collection. There’s no way to replace it, and it’s up to every one of you if you’re interested in playing music out, to decide if you’re going to deal with both types of formats. Realise, they’re two different types of camps – you’re really cutting yourself off from individuals who respect the idea of collection. It’s a family. And they will be able to tell if you don’t have those records!

And they’re not going to look for you for those records. They’re not going to be interested in replacing an important piece that you might have lost or damaged. If they knew that you went the cheap way and just downloaded it anyway. That’s the other part of it. Now there’s ways to make them coexist; I don’t know what they are. I’m not here to tell you that. That’s not my job. I know what I believe in. I see the different technologies people are implementing and I think it’s cool. But I think it’s dangerous. Because I’m in the business of a record label. I sell records. So, until they develop legislation to make it profitable for me to put my stuff in that format, I’m not going to mess with it.

Because basically – (holds up a 12”) let’s say this cost five dollars. If you can get it online for a dollar and then you can give it to eight of your friends, for free, what’s the point of me being in business? I got to eat. I can’t put out something that’s dangerous. I make House music. I got to make a top ten House hit! You know, because otherwise I’m not going to pay my bills. That’s where it has the potential to become dangerous, to eclipse what’s going on, until legislation changes. Making it, not just profitable – but at least, damn, instead of giving away my music that you paid a dollar for, can you at least make it so if you give to five people, just pay five dollars for it.

You know you’re going to give it to five people, at least pay five for it. Get the coding right. I know there’s people working on it now, to get the coding right, so that the artist that makes this music that’s going into digital format can at least eat a little. I mean, I think a dollar’s too low, for a download, personally. And then also you get disenfranchised in the process. I mean, let’s say the database gets scrambled. You got Herbie Hancock ‘Sleeping Giant’ online, in a file. Then you got John Cougar Mellencamp in a file. Shit gets jumbled! You pull up an image of Herbie Hancock, it’s not Herbie Hancock, it’s John Cougar Mellencamp! You put history on that guy, hell, Herbie Hancock becomes John Cougar Mellencamp, John Cougar Mellencamp becomes this beautiful keyboard player! Seminal guy.

Then it all changes. Those are the kind of silly mistakes that can happen overtime, and that’s my biggest issue with a lot of it. It’s that we don’t get to give the imagery of who really is doing the music. Who’s doing this? That gets lost. It becomes the machine, you know? But, you know, it’s America, it’s the Western world, we like convenience. We love convenience. It’s convenient! Mmh!! I’ve got 70,000 records at my disposal! Oh sorry, files! At my disposal. It’s convenient (laughs)! And they wonder why they can’t go see certain people in concert anymore. Because it wasn’t convenient for them to be there!

They don’t see the convenience in showing for a concert for a thousand dollars when they got signed for fifty million. It’s not convenient (laughs)! It’s just dangerous times. You just got to use this technology responsibly. A little bit of taste. And everybody who plays vinyl or aspires to play vinyl, tack 30% onto your fee. Just ‘cause you’re bringing records. Tack 30% on. A vinyl surcharge! 30%! (applause) You know? (laughs) Let everybody else sort it out. “He wants 30% more? ‘So&so’? Why??” “He’s bringing vinyl.” “Oh, watch out for these vinyl guys, watch ‘em!” You got to fight! It’s a fight! Alright. (pulls out a record) Lil’ Louis again – this is ‘Why’d You Fall’.

This song is one of the first I heard the human voice incorporated into something contemporary in terms of dance music. And I was just buzzed out. I remember the first time I heard it, it blew my mind as usual. You go into the spot and he’s playing this weird little vocal thing that goes somewhere totally different. So here it goes. Turn it on this side, make sure I got it.«
(music: Lil’ Louis & the World ’I Called U (Why’d U Fall)’)

»Now you can see how he took that ”Why fall” and went into that keyboard part and kept moving with it. And what I thought was interesting was that the track didn’t really take off until the second part. (sings the melody) And there’s the additive and subtractive part of it. That kind of harks back to the kind of thing James Brown was doing, with the engineering on it. You bring certain parts up and back. It changes a lot. And that’s prevalent in dance music.

Because you got people moving, but then when you’re able to move these parts, which are huge parts of the arrangement, depending on when you bring them in, when you take them out. You can really bring people’s emotions up. Now there’s a song I did recently, it’s coming up on my new album, and I really messed with that idea. You layer and you layer and you layer and you take back. And basically it’s based on the same groove over and over. Ah, this part will be edited from the online part, because it’s unreleased, so – please! We can’t have any of my shit out there like that please!«

RBMA: »But what was this Lil Louis track now? Techno, House or Acid?«

Theo Parrish: »You decide! You guys decide! It’s Jazz to me! That’s Jazz. I’d get kicked off a Jazz station playing that, but those are the issues for me.«

RBMA: »(smiles) It’s a good answer.«

Theo Parrish: »I mean, essentially, the reason I say it’s Jazz, is that I remember reading somewhere a quote that Miles said. He said that all music is Jazz. It’s the only definition that defies definition. All of it. So. You can tell that to Garth Brooks. He’s making Jazz, he just don’t know it.«

RBMA: »When had you saved enough school money to buy equipment to make fine pieces of Jazz like this?«

Theo Parrish: »(laughs) That’s a funny, funny story. When I was fourteen my uncle, I was living at my grandmothers house, had a band and they used to practice in the basement. He didn’t tell me that it was ok for me to take his keyboarders keyboard up to my room at my grandmothers house, so I procured it and took it upstairs and mazed her. Basically, I stole the keyboard for a while until he found out. And I lied to my grandmother, which is a ‘no-no’. You don’t lie to your grandmother.

But I lied to my grandmother and told her that Dexter, my uncle, said that it was ok to take the keyboard upstairs. It was like: “He said it was cool. Yeah, yeah.” ‘Cause I knew I was trying to finish it before he came back over there. He came home early. Needless to say he was not happy: “You lied to my mother.” So, it was a big issue, but that was the first piece of equipment I got a hold on. After that, I went to school. I was on a scholarship, I went to Kansas City Art Institute. I went in for painting of all things, ended up in sculpture. Went from sculpture to performance.

Performance turned into sound sculpture because I figured at that point that basically you don’t give a person a degree to be an artist, you give them a degree to be able to eat being an artist. So, if you’re going to school to be an artist, then basically you need to be on your shit. You need to know what it is that you’re trying to say. ‘Cause chances are that somebody already said what you’re trying to say – and better. So, what’s your point? And I had instructors like that, that get in your head and really make you think: ‘Ok, you’re a great technical artist.

So what the fuck, what? What do you got to say that’s different to what people already said better than you anyway? Who are you? Who cares? What’s your point?’ So you were always in a state of having to, not necessarily to defend your art, but comment on the ‘why’ of your concepts. Comment on why you feel what your saying is important. And after dealing with someone like that, there was something I was focused on. There was this idea: arrangement versus the traditional idea of music theory. Those strange places in between, noises and notes.

And I came to the conclusion that the only thing that differentiates the two is the fact that noises generally have no specific arrangement. And if you simply arrange noise without any kind of key structure fitting into music theory or anything like that, then those things can easily constitute songs. It’s arrangement and arrangement meaning that specific placement of initiation of sound. It doesn’t have to be in key, it doesn’t have to always fit that mould. If what you’re doing is truly your direct expression, if it’s really what you’re trying to say. That’s why I went to that school.

I basically had no equipment until I got out of school. I came to Detroit because I was broke. I just got out of school, don’t know what I was doing with myself, was there on a scholarship, came back home and I was going to working at a factory or something. My mother convinced me to try and get a job teaching art. I worked for one summer. I taught art to pre-schoolers for a summer at Cranberg. They kicked me out of there.«

RBMA: »Why, you’re a great teacher?«

Theo Parrish: »Well, it doesn’t matter ’cause I had students painting red floors in there. I just turning ’em loose with finger paint: “Yeah, paint! Create! Show me your masterpiece at the end of an hour.” You know, kids five years old just pouring shit out, it was great, I loved it until the end when I had to clean up. There was a big stain on the floor and that was the most pristine art room I’ve ever seen. And it was this huge pink stain, like three feet square.

The supervisor came in: “What are you doing?” “I’m teaching the kids how to paint.” They were just like: “What’s that stain on the floor?” I was like: “Oh, the stain, don’t worry about the stain. You should have seen what these kids painting, it’s amazing.” “The stain Mr. Parrish, that’s not good. We just laid that floor.” I was like: “But the kids were painting. What’s wrong with you? I’m an artist.” They’re like: “Fuck you, you fucked up the floor. You’re fired.” And that was the end to that. So I was out of there, came back home and said: “Mum, I tried to teach art. I keep going down to the record store, I’m cracked down on records. Ok, I’m living in the basement and I’m trying to get a job at the factory.”

I wanted something that I could let go of because at that point I knew I wasn’t cut of on any teaching, at least not then, at least not there. There were too many things that were tugging on me. And one of the biggest things that was tugging on me was spending the last four and a half years pretending to be in college and just barely skating through. But I really played music every weekend that I could down in Kansas City trying to break something, just collecting all these tunes.

They were all these great record stores there, you can find cuts that I see online now for a hundred/two hundred dollars, they were there for 25 cents or 79 cents. I was just going up there all the time: “Give me that. Yes, I’m not going to class today. No, I’m listening to songs.” So, that’s what was happening. But then, to answer our question, it wasn’t until I started working at the Cranberg place and I got in contact with a couple of people in dance music and started to work for them. You had Dan Bell, he has DBX, maybe a few of you know who he is.«

RBMA: »7th City distribution.«

Theo Parrish: »7th City distribution. He had me putting in floors at 7th City. He didn’t know anything about my productions or DJing, any of that. I was just putting in floors ’cause I lied and told him I knew how to put in floors. I didn’t know, I just wanted a job. I didn’t give a damn. “Yeah, I can put in floors. How hard can it be? I used to weld steel, I’ll be alright.” I didn’t know how to put in floors, but he ended up hiring me. But before that I was working for Ron Trent at Prescription at KMS, which is in the basement.

And I was over there looking after the studio whenever Ron Trent showed and they hired me over there to clean up. So I go over there and make tracks. That was the exchange, I could use the studio. So I really didn’t had equipment for a long, long time. And then finally, I started working at 7th City distribution once it got up and running and somebody else that you might know, Claude Young, was getting rid of a piece of equipment. This was common practice, I always borrowed. When you get tired of a piece of equipment, look around, find a youth, give it to them. Give it to them for if you’re done with it ’cause they’re going to turn it into something and don’t go back to the store, where they give it to somebody.

Make sure that they’re going to use it, that they don’t give it back ’cause that’s what happened with me. Claude Young gave me his old SP-12. That was the beginning. He said: “Here.” I said: “How much?” He said: “500$.” “Yeah, no problem.” It was a problem, I had a little money, but I wasn’t paying full rent at my mother’s basement. So, I leaned on her for a while, I got some money from the job I was working and bought it from him. Once I got that, it was great.

I just made track after track after track. He then sold me a Juno 106, which was broken. I didn’t care, still used it in this broken state. Made tracks with the SP-12 and these little tricks you use because the SP-12 had how many sample seconds? Like 2.5 seconds or something crazy like that? When I wanted to get a snare because I had no outboard gear, put it in there, got it to 45 plus 8 on that thing. And when you got it into the SP-12, tune it down, it had a grainy sound on it, like a lot of like Wu-Tang or Pete Rock stuff sounded like. Premier, too. Madlib, too. It had that weird tone on it, but we didn’t care ’cause it made you go. Fuck it.

And then, eventually, it was a real gradual process, got the SP-1200, bought that off somebody, traded up some stuff, got a hold of an Alesis MMT-8 sequencer. Got a hold on that, started using it with the Juno. So I was blessed to have a real gradual introduction to every single piece that I was using. And I had to use them for so long that I got to know them pretty intimately. So each change-up was different. The first piece that I actually went out and bought from a store was the MPC 2000XL. That piece changed it all for me ’cause that was the first piece I had that was able to deal with the way I make music. ‘Cause that’s a big part of it, knowing what pieces of equipment are going to be important for your methodology. Like, what’s your method? And there’s no such thing as the new shit is the great shit. No, if it fits your methodology, use it. If that what gets your thing out, then do it.

Don’t get held up by the methodology. That’s where it kind of shifted for me ’cause I went in there and I bought this MPC and I was like: “Wow, I got to learn this thing now.” And so, I still use it to this day. I mean, I’m still learning the MPC. Damn Pro Tools, I can’t use Pro Tools. Because I’m still not convinced I got everything out of this piece of machinery that I know. And that’s just my methodology. I like to learn something until there are no more capabilities. And if I can’t do that, then I will continue to and that’s how I kept shifting. So at the time I was doing a lot of sample-based stuff, so an MPC would suit me just fine. It wasn’t really about a whole lot of arrangement. It wasn’t about a lot of key playing. It’s about finding tones and arranging them and mixing them in a method that they’re really strong ’cause I simply just didn’t have the capability.

And if I wanted layers and complex lush things like that, I had to make it work with the MMT-8 and the Juno 106. That shortly changed. I put out a release, things got good, I got excited, quit my job. I was working at that time at a liquor packing plant, it’s called ‘General Wine&Liquor’. So if you can imagine, all day hanging around with a bunch of drunks, putting in bottles of Jack Daniels in boxes for thirteen hours a day and you get a call from BMG France, saying: “Hey, we like your tracks. We’re gonna give you a 1.500$ advance.” I’m like: “Yes.” I went in, quit my job, I just thought that I hit the big time.

After I quit my job, my mum was: “Are you sure? They only gave you 1.500$. Are you sure you want to quit your job?” I was like. “Yeah, that’s what I want to do, mum. That’s the beginning of something.” She was like: “Ok, get out!” (laughter) “What do you mean ‘get out’?” “Well, you’re doing your thing, it’s time for you to go.” So I was like: “Well, got to step out. Step into tomorrow.” So I ended up going back to ‘General Wine&Liquor’ and asked for my job back. Got it back and moved out. Once I moved out, I knew it was on ’cause at that point I had started my label.«

RBMA: »Sound Signature.«

Theo Parrish: »Yeah, Sound Signature. Shameless promotion (points to his Sound Signature T-shirt). Once I started that, that’s when it all kind of changed. I was: “Alright, I got to hustle. I got to make sure that I got stuff coming out.” But the beauty of it was, I’m not going to go out of the box. I’m not trying to do what I’ve heard, I’m trying to do what I feel, if it feels right. So I ended up putting out what I felt, trading off with a couple of buddies of mine that were in it already and tried to help them out as much as I could and they helped me out as much as they could. And trying to get some music out and it did work.

Just taking a step, a leap of faith and knowing that it’s all on me now. Every concept I have in my head and how I want to manifest it, is totally on me now from beginning to end. From the time it wakes me up out of my bed till the first thirty day return after the distributor is getting a hold of it. And everything in between: label design, mastering.

You have to learn all these different things to be able to do it. And I ended up learning. Some of it I was good at, some of it I wasn’t. But the one thing I knew that at least I had some kind of experience making a track ’cause it wasn’t really about me making something to be made for consumption anyway ’cause I been doing this since I was thirteen. So I said: “Hell, just keep the same ethics.” I just want people to go off at a party. So, stay right with that shit and that’s what happened.«

RBMA: »And you tried to stay in control of everything, right?«

Theo Parrish: »Not anymore. It changes a lot.«

RBMA: »But you were very aware of that in the beginning?«

Theo Parrish: »You have to be ’cause it’s something you build from the ground up, so every aspect of it you have to wear a different hat to deal with that and still create. And still be intuitive, and still possibly have a social life. ‘Cause we don’t realize how much what we do socially effects what comes out creatively. I mean, it means a world of difference. Like my uncle told me: “How much time do you spend on a track?” I said: “Eleven hours.” He was like: “Eleven hours? After four hours, take a break, go outside, go live. You’re dead now.” I’m like: “What do you mean I’m dead?” “You’re dead.”

I didn’t understand what he was talking about. He was saying: “If you don’t live life, you have nothing to draw experiences from. If you don’t go through up’s and down’s and pains, you’re basically just masturbating for people.” “Look how well I can jack off.” (laughter) “I jack off so well. I can jack off in this flavor and that flavor.” “No, are you living? Are you really talking about something? Are you really going through life? Are you dealing with something somebody can handle?” That’s what a lot of it is: reflection, human experiences, that’s what people hear underneath the notes and can relate to.

Somebody on the other side going through something that they maybe be going through and that’s the place you try to be in. Many people can make great tracks, but you can always point them out. “That sounds like a so-and-so track.” I used to get scared of that with people identify with what I’m doing. “That’s a so-and so sound. Why do you make things like this?” “I don’t know. It’s coming out that way.” It’s like asking somebody to define identification. Like: “Why is your dukie green?” “Because of what I been in-taking. (laughs) You know, that’s what I’ve been going through.” Those are the sort of things we forget about that it really is just an extreme visceral experience. Crying ’cause you were hit. Laughing ’cause I made you feel good.«

RBMA: »Inspiration and ingestion.«

Theo Parrish: »All of it.«

RBMA: »And what was the first track you put out?«

Theo Parrish: »The first one I put out? That would have been on KDJ#15, it was ‘Lake Shore Drive’, the name of the track.«

RBMA: »Do you happen to have that with you?«

Theo Parrish: »You know what? I’m going to check and see. I might not have not with me.«

RBMA: »And who is this KDJ fellow?«

Theo Parrish: »I don’t know, you got to talk to him about that (laughter). No, our brother Kenny. He’s been doing his thing a little bit longer than us.«

RBMA: »He’s also known as the mysterious Moodyman.«

Theo Parrish: »Yeah, he is known as the mysterious Moodyman, that’s very true. He actually let me put a track of mine on his fifth release, KDJ#5, and that’s ‘Lake Shore Drive’. Let me see if I can locate that for you guys. (flips through his CD case) If not, then I have to grab something I did in ’87, some real stinky business. Let me see if I can find it. Oh no, I might not have brought it, man.«

RBMA: »What a shame.«

Theo Parrish: »Yeah, man. It is a shame. It’s actually not the greatest shame ’cause I don’t like the track anymore (laughter).«

RBMA: »Why is that?«

Theo Parrish: »Because it’s all sample-based. If someone can explain their song to you, it’s generally something they don’t like. It’s a damn Mass Production sample with some 909 under it. There you have it.«

RBMA: »I still like it.«

Theo Parrish: »It’s alright, it does it’s thing. But as you start making things over the years, you realize how limiting the bigger samples you take are. If you’re really trying to put your mark, your fingerprint, you’re really having based around somebody else’s imprint. It’s a difficult thing to do.«

RBMA: »You also started to work with some ‘real musicians’ in the last few years, right?«

Theo Parrish: »Right.«

RBMA: »The Rotating Assembly, as it is called.«

Theo Parrish: »Yes, that’s a unit I more or less formed to have when it came to do live things. ‘Cause somebody was like: “You should do a live thing.” And I said: “Well, I can’t imagine me standing behind an MPC being that interesting for a couple of hours or something. But if I would get some individuals that I like to be playing with, some people that want to come with me, then I might be kind of interested.” So I talked to a lot of musicians I was cutting with it at that time, and this is over the course of several years, I didn’t really start working with musicians until my eleventh release.

And these were musicians out of Jazz Head, a group, I would go see them ’cause they were the only ones I heard in the city playing the kind of stuff that I liked to hear in terms of a Jazz band really getting down. And they really just blew my mind. They would go into Brazilian stuff, they would go into the Herbie Hancock stuff. They had this – oh, I can play that – they would do a cover of this song that just blew my mind. Once I heard them do this, that’s when I knew I had to… (holds up the cover of Herbie Hancock ‘Headhunters’) People familiar with this album? Think then you all know what I’m going to play off here. ‘Watermelon Man’ really did it. I said: “I got to cut with these guys.” So they hit me with this attitude, they were like: “Why do we need this DJ motherfucker? Who is this DJ motherfucker, we don’t need him?”

I slowly broke them down, ’cause they actually heard me play and I ended up residenting at this spot called ‘Alvin’s’ in Detroit where they would play. So I opened for them a couple of times and we ended up knocking heads, kicking it for a minute and it ended up going alright and we worked on a lot of stuff, so I got some of their stuff with me, too. So I play the Herbie Hancock first before the Herbie Hancock. I will play some early work and you all can check out the progression. This is a track, when I was in my grandmother’s basement and stole my uncle’s keyboard. This track is called ‘Insane Asylum’ and it was made in 1987 and I put it out much later ’cause I didn’t really believe in this at all ’cause I didn’t think it needed to come out. I was like: “Man, this is far too wild. It needs to stay where it’s at.”

But a good buddy of mine talked me into putting it out, he works for me now with me at the label, his name is Howard Thomas. He said: “Put that out, that’s sweet.” I said: “No man, it’s garbage.” But he said: “No, it’s sweet. It shows something.” “What?” He said: “It shows that you been somewhere.” “I don’t know what that means, I put it out if you say so.” So I put it out. I got to find where it is [on the CD]. This is it. 1987 y’all.«
(music: Theo Parrish ‘Insane Asylum’)

»Funny thing about this song: I remember making this and it’s the last thing before my uncle tripped out on me. It’s sad. Got to stop lying to my grandma. It was made with a Kawai beat machine.«
(applause)

»Thank you. It’s crazy, if you notice there are no hi-hats or anything else in the track and the low keyboard line, what’s funny was is that necessity is the mother of invention, that’s a perfect example of it. I had this Kawai beat machine that I had midi-ed to this Casio keyboard and I programmed everything up in the Kawai and it registered everything that was going on in the Casio, but the drums didn’t fit at all.

The drums were crazy as hell, so I ended up turning the drums down on the Kawai, the only thing of the drums that was there, was the foot. So I left that in and I noticed there was a pitch bender on the side of the Casio, so that’s how I would go up and down like that. Now the pauses, I just ended up stopping the Kawai on the fly and then I hit it again.

There was also parts where it gets really crunchy sounding. How the hell did I that do? I had no filters. The RCA on the back of the keyboard (laughter) had a short in it and it was plugged in to the back of the mixer where I was recording it on cassette. And I would jiggle the chord and it would make that sound, it was bugged out and then, when I didn’t like it again, I would hit it again and it would straighten out the signal (laughter). Necessity is the mother of invention.

You’re not going to get this kind of thing with Cakewalk or anything like that. You’re not going to get that kind of hands-on. That’s just my methodology, I like to touch things as they go. Some people don’t like it, I have no problem with that. But that’s how I get down. But that was a real interesting time ’cause I didn’t even know anything about mixing down or seperating instruments or any of that stuff. I had no idea. So that’s where that went.«

RBMA: »So you can see yourself being a software guy in the near or far future?«

Theo Parrish: »It just doesn’t have the same hands-on thing for me. For me, I like to know that there’s knobs and levers for me to push and take things out and know that when I go like that, that does something. That’s where it makes sense for me. Knowing that I got a point and click and that’s how I’m turning it down? No, can’t get with it. That’s not my thing. I know that there’s artist that like technology, this is where I get upset, this is where I check out. Drum programming is one of the most difficult and easiest part of making music that exists, or any kind of music for that matter.

It’s easy and difficult at the same time. It’s easy to get interesting patterns going, it’s difficult to get basic patterns that are interesting going. That’s hard because you have everything lined up, you got a click track. How do you make this songs that have a rhythm pattern that’s really doing something and really getting with people and yet still not be a bunch of mud, it’s just clicking and clacking all over the place? It’s a difficult thing. So, I guess, I get upset when I hear a track and I can tell that they just looped somebody else’s drums and just pieced something together. It irritates me, which is interesting, ’cause I’m guilty of the same crime. ‘Cause I went in and got somebody’s 2-bar hook, do some drums over it and called it my own.

A part of it is ignorance, other part of that is what am I going to do with that? So, my music making changed. You have to follow your instincts of what you’re supposed to be doing musically, too. Because if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t be where I am. One of the main things was, somebody was tugging on me, saying: “Yeah, you loop somebody’s stuff and you put drums on it and came on with a new track and it made me think about the 2-bar bit of the song.” That’s true, but if I continue to do that, am I really going to grow? So it went from sampling somebody to playing over that sample, learning where they’re at and growing from that.

And after that, it started from taking that sample out. So, it’s like having training wheels on your bike and taking one off at a time and eventually you are riding on your own. That’s kind of where it went ’cause this (points to the turntable) was actually before the sampling thing, the track we just heard. That was way before when it was all about midi and it wasn’t really about sampling. Now it’s come full circle. Went to sampling, then went to playing with the sampling. Then went to never mind the sampling, having musicians come in. Now, I take beef with people that have nine guys come in and play a song and then they put their name on it and give them no credit. You may be a bit of a producer, but your still not giving credits to the people that put their energy on it.

That’s a big problem in my thinking that in dance music you got a lot of guys going around saying: “I’m so-and-so”, and they’re really riding off of a band’s backing. Name those people, that’s all I ask, on your record. If your name is so-and-so, then name the other guys who played on that. Never mind if you wrote it, that’s fine, credit it properly. It’s real simple, there’s a lot of shady business going on like that. And that’s something I didn’t want to have happen with the Rotating Assembly.

I produced every track on this album, we did an album the Rotating Assembly called ‘Natural Aspirations’. The important part is… I’m all over the place right now, I just got caught by seven different thoughts and I try to touch on each one. Ok, Herbie Hancock ‘Headhunters’ (holds up record sleeve and shows back side). Herbie Hancock, ok, but who are these guys? They’re all named on here. If it’s the Rotating Assembly, it needs to say every person that’s on there. And that’s where I got off on that. Ok, I’m at ‘Alvin’s’, I met these guys and they played this song, a cover of this, and I knew I wanted to work with them, so here we go.«
(music: Herbie Hancock ‘Chameleon’)

»But when I walked in, they weren’t playing this beginning part, they were already at the drums, which is the sick part, which is going to come up.«
(music continues)

»A few people sampled that, quite a few. That’s when I walked in and: “Oh, wow, these guys are bad.” So after warming up to the idea of them having someone that’s approaching music from a different angle working with them, they were able to get down with me and I’ve been working with them ever since. I play some of the stuff that we’ve been working on, stuff that’s due out on the next Rotating Assembly album. I went in a lot of different directions with them. I really had a kinship with the guitarist, just one of the most amazing guitarist I’ve heard. I dare say in the heart of Seattle that he is the 21st century Jimi Hendrix, I dare say it. I say it nevertheless, he is bad.

I was under the assumption that guys in a band would make tons of cash. And because they’re so talented, they’re almost go on autopilot and do their thing. Just a bunch of solos all night. I had this real weird concept of what live music is all about, didn’t really understand the kind of chemistry a band has to have to really hit, to really do something.

And in the studio, the clarity and the openness that you really need have to have to get into the pocket with people is something else, too. I mean, I previously had nothing to do with. I had no problem getting on-time with the beat, but getting in the pocket with people is a different kind of thing. And then, getting the musicians, who are not necessarily used to play on a structured beat like that to do that too, is that strange relationship we had to negotiate. That was an interesting part, that’s a part of what I learned there. Now, the track that I played earlier, I call that ‘synthetic flim’.

I really don’t do that much in terms of sampling and sequencing anymore, I’m a lot more interested in playing all the way through a song. The first track that I played for you guys, that was all more or less me playing keys live over everything. I’d record the track down and play keys all the way through it. Layers, layers and then mix it. It doesn’t sound that way. I don’t care, that’s exactly what feels good to me right now and that’s where I’m at.

One of the ones that popped up that inspired me recently to get up and do was; I am recently married. My wife, we were going through this whole ‘love nest’ thing and I was feeling very romantic in the morning and on the radio it’s Al Green ‘Love And Happiness’. I was like: “Love – yeah.” I just got out of bed, and usually my wife doesn’t like me to get out of bed before she does, but I was like: “I’m going downstairs.” She’s like: “What’s going on? Are you alright?” I’m like: “Yes.”

So I go down there and about five minutes later my wife is right behind me and I’m trying to work out the melody to ‘Love And Happiness’, trying to get that… (scats the melody) Couldn’t quite get it. And then she helped me out: “Do it like this.” “No, it’s the wrong key, I just don’t know what it is.” She’s like: “Why don’t you just sample?” I’m like: “No, no samples. We’re not be sampling in this house.” (laughter) So, I finally figured it out and I play what I came up with. I know it’s kind of crazy, I don’t know if I brought it. {flips through CD case) If I brought it, then I’m in good shape.

But if I didn’t bring it, then you all can just pretend that I did it. Let me see. I’m actually going to be disappointed if I didn’t bring it ’cause I really want to hear it now. Oh oh, maybe I didn’t bring it. Let me look a little bit further ’cause I really want to play it now. Why is it that whenever you want something really bad you can’t have it? Where is it at? Oh, that sucks, man.«

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