It may just be that he has too much other art going on in his life, but for whatever reason Blair Parkes is evidently reluctant to push his new album onto an over-supplied market. That’s a shame because the charming uncluttered acoustic alt country pop songs found on ‘Cardigan Bay’ are those of a capable and experienced songsmith, his inspiration found in everyday observations. Amanda Mills caught up with him in his New Brighton home.
Though the proud owner of a long and diverse career, it would be fair to call Christchurch singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Blair Parkes an unknown, underrated, and prolific musician.
“Criminally underrated!” he laughs. “I’ve gone on about working quite hard, but I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to work on this, so my feeling is to not stuff around!”
Parkes has just released his new acoustic guitar-based solo album ‘Cardigan Bay’ on Bandcamp. While working up a media release he realised he has put out 36 releases in 29 years. His first band was Flying Nun act All Fall Down.
“We lasted through to 1987, it was… that point in our lives when people were finishing university or going overseas.”
Later bands include Little Dead Things, The Letter 5, Swim Everything, Creeley (with ex-Sneaky Feeling John Kelcher), Range, 103, Thomas:Parkes, and The LEDs. All, he says, were important for different reasons, but Creeley especially stands out.
“We worked really hard, that was for me personally as a musician, quite a challenging band… the other players were really good,” he enthuses.
Thomas:Parkes he notes for the point where he and bassist Marcus Thomas decided to add delay, wah-wah and synths to their songs.
“It felt like we were doing something really new, and it really was to us… playing on instruments we knew nothing about,” he smiles.
Then came The LEDs, who evolved out of Thomas:Parkes. This was an exciting time.
“We just had this incredible surge of interest, it was really freaky… the band was exploding.”
Following the band’s 2011 post-earthquake split, Parkes made noisier music under the Saturations’ moniker, and reunited with Hayden Sharp for the 2014 Range album, ‘Henry Rivers’, before starting work on his own ‘Cardigan Bay’.
Humble about his career, he’s actually surprised at how much music he has made.
“I’m just this guy who picks up his kid from school… this is what I do all day,” he says, shaking his head. “This has been my career – not a terribly successful one commercially, but I think I’ve done some really good stuff!”
The process of creating ‘Cardigan Bay’ began when Parkes’ tried out an acoustic guitar given to his son by a relative. After writing an initial 10 songs, he came up with Yours And Mine, which (excuse the phrase) struck a chord.
“Yours And Mine… felt a bit new to me in terms of songwriting, and I got quite excited,” he smiles. “Over the next two weeks I had five songs that ended up on the album.”
He included three earlier songs, Shoulders, Ruru and Boats, knowing they would work well with his new material. Deciding he needed more strong pop songs, he penned Top Of The Stairs and Footpath, recording them at his home studio. Andrew Moore was called in for bass and tambourine on Sunday Evening, Coming Down, which he co-wrote.
Thinking everything completed, Parkes told Hayden Sharp about his album. Sharp offered initially to mix it but ended up re-doing the drums, and after being mastered in Tokyo by Christchurch scene veteran Rob Mayes, the album was completed in April.
‘Cardigan Bay’ is essentially hook-filled alt-pop, with beguiling melodies and rhythms. Tracks like Stormy Seas could even be considered radio-friendly – was that a conscious decision?
“Definitely. I’m enamoured with catchy songs, that’s what I was trying to do there. This is an album of songs I find quite appealing. It’s not like I’m making confrontational music!”
Thematically, Parkes’ songs are a mix of thoughts, personal recollections, and created scenarios. Living in New Brighton evidently provides ample inspiration for his art, photography and music.
“They’re usually what I’m thinking about at that particular time that I’m playing music. Stormy Seas talks about an incident that happened on the beach out here… a woman was drowning… stuck in a hole in the surf,” he recounts. “I saved the woman, but I got into trouble a little bit, enough to get quite scared… that’s about diving down.”
His musical songwriting process begins with developing chords and melodies on guitar, finishing on other instruments.
“Depending on how I see the song going, I’ll develop it on different instruments,” he expands. “Throwing yourself into something you’re not that good at… you get those happy accidents.”
Still prolific, Parkes is working on another album in a similar vein, as well as other recordings under the Saturations’ guise. While unsure about performing his new album live he concedes that he’d quite like to do house concerts.
“My reluctance really is the single guy with a guitar… some people can pull it off, and I’m not entirely comfortable that I’m that guy right now. Having said that, I really like performing!” he laughs.
Throughout all the mediums he works in, it’s music that provides the greatest satisfaction.
“It’s been something I’ve been doing for a long time. I have certain aims… I feel confident in what I do, and music allows me to really push that. I just do what I want to do.”