Opening Photo By: Luz Gallardo
Usually sighted as the collaborator of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe, Tess Parks has a hazy psych sound that puts her listeners in a trance, and to take a momentary break from recording, she’s bringing that sound to the Festival Musique Emergente in Rouyn-Noranda. The Toronto, often UK-based singer-songwriter, has been busy this summer—working on the follow-up album to her 2022 release, And Those Who Were Seen Dancing. Before her solo show at FME, PAN M 360 had a chance to briefly chat with Tess Parks about her new music, why words are still spells, and channeling emotion into a song.
PAN M 360: And Those Who Were Seen Dancing has been out for a year and a bit now, so are you onto working on the next album or project?
Tess Parks: Yes! I have been in London this summer recording the next album. It’s the best one—I haven’t been this excited about music in ten years.
PAN M 360: Is the idea to “road test” new songs at live shows? Will we hear any new sounds at FME?
Tess Parks: I have really been thinking about this. I will do my best but I find it seriously terrifying to play new songs on my own for the first time. I used to go and play open mics when I was first starting out so I will do everything I can to channel that courage again. The songs on the new album are more of a collaboration than ever. One of my best friends and long-time collaborators, Ruari Meehan, is producing the album and it’s honestly a masterpiece—he’s going to become a household name after this. So he wrote most of the music for these songs and kind of re-taught me how to sing in the most patient and kind way… but anyway, I don’t know how to play these songs on guitar yet. I have a whole album’s worth of songs I wrote alone but I’m still feeling shy about them.
PAN M 360: It seems this album (And Those Who Were Seen Dancing) shifted to more of a piano focus than light guitar psych. Was that an organic change?
Tess Parks: I was living in Los Angeles when the last album was being recorded and I made a point of always wanting to have a piano in the house … we went and picked up a free upright piano from Craigslist that belonged to an old elementary school. I was just drawn to the piano more than the guitar around that time. Plus one of my best friends/bandmates/ collaborators Francesco Perini (Pearz) is the most amazing keys player so that’s him you hear on all of the songs – and then when we were finishing the album in Toronto, I got my dad to record piano on a few of the songs too.
PAN M 360: How do you determine when a song is going to be a bit “heavier” like on “Do You Pray?”
Tess Parks: Honestly, that song didn’t turn out the way I had expected at all. I would do a lot differently now.
PAN M 360: “Words are spells,” is from a quote you said around And Those Who Were See Dancing release. What did you mean by that and do you still believe it to be true?
Tess Parks: Yes 100% the truest thing there is to know! We speak things into existence. We summon experiences with our thoughts and our words. When I changed how I spoke to myself internally and chose to be deliberate about how I spoke out loud, my whole life shifted in the most beautiful way. We create our reality. Literally please try saying only nice things out loud, only words of love and your greatest hopes and dreams, and see what happens.
PAN M 360: You’re often referenced as a “psychedelic” artist, and that term used to mean a specific sound. But would you agree that the genre is such a huge umbrella now?
Tess Parks: Yes. Totally. All music is psychedelic. Like what the heck? Someone is just making that sound with their voice or moving their hands, which is just an extension of what their brain is telling their hands to do — on a weird instrument that someone invented and all these sounds are coming out and it’s making you feel a certain way … it’s the craziest.
PAN M 360: Do you have to be happy to write a happy song or sad to write a sad song?
Tess Parks: I love this question and it reminds me of Almost Famous – I hope that is the reference here. I guess if we are going with the notion that words are spells, then yes, I think these things are intertwined. But you can also write your way from sad songs to happy songs if that’s your intention. In a way, all songs are happy even if they sound sad because someone did the best they could to channel that sadness into something tangible and beautiful and didn’t just keep it inside.
Tess Parks // Katy Newcombe
PAN M 360: What have you been listening to lately that you find really inspiring?
Tess Parks: The new Vacant Lots song “Damaged Goods” has been on repeat for a little bit – but mostly a lot of meditations or silence. And in between recordings, we’ve been listening to a lot of reggae.
PAN M 360: Many people discovered your music through your collaboration with the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe, so going off that, what did you learn from working with him?
Tess Parks: Always meet your heroes.