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DEANTONI PARKS Mars Volta to Flying Lotus


Procession is a collaboration between singer and composer Hanna Benn and multi-instrumentalist and composer Deantoni Parks. Procession promises to be an exploratory fusion of ideas and emotions, brought to life by Benn and Parks’ voice and percussion heard through a lens of improvised loops and processed electronics. Or as Parks put it: “to align on the concept of tech and self”. PAUL DOUGHTY sat down with Parks in the courtyard of the Fremantle Arts Centre, where Procession will be performed this Saturday night, among the rosellas, falling leaves and setting sun, to discuss, among other things, his career in music so far, the intuition of the body over the forebrain, the nature of collaboration and the genesis of Procession with Benn.

Your physical drumming prowess is quite impressive. But given these skills and your background, how did you begin to move into electronics and composition, rather than being “the guy behind the band”?

Well thank you for that. I guess I’ve been quite open about what music actually is, from the start of what I was doing. I think before I purposefully wanted to be a musician, I think I wanted to be a kind of explorer. The films that were hitting me at the time, like there was a bunch of Steven Spielberg movies like Indiana Jones. Academia was always kind of popularised, for some reason, in the culture that I grew up in. And realising that this is a life-long thing – you’re here to study.

I felt that very early on, so that once you have that mind state you’re always improving and, so to speak, updating your software. Much more so than if you’re just thinking about resting on your laurels, and what you practiced or how good you are at something – that can be a bit static and paralysing. But I’ve had that idea that I need to grow and improve and update my knowledge and reinvent myself, more importantly, every eight months. And very much so like technology.

So the older I became I realised that a lot of artists were not on that path, and in particular I just saw more artists as being more selfish – like wanting praise and wanting popularity and things like that. I just wasn’t interested in that.

I was more interested in being “in the shadow” and just observing; learning, taking notes. So I’ve had that since I was a child. My parents aren’t professors or anything, but they are! And that’s what’s helped me. It’s the mindset, the way we trap ourselves with what we think about life, about the outside and the inside. It’s very perplexing – the impact we have on ourselves.

So – from your point of view, from where you’re looking, it’s all music and observation. But because you had the skills early as a youngster, people said: “that kid can drum!” and then “that person’s a drummer”.

But yeah, I’ve never called myself a drummer. You know the drummer jokes and all those things… I just never took offense to them because I’m like “you’re not talking about me, you don’t even know who I am.” People tend to look at what they understand and they tend to process what they understand. But I’ve actually always been something else.

You’ve been a touring drummer with The Mars Volta and other outfits that play big shows on long tours. So how does that compare with being called in to sit on this or that track in the studio, like the [You’re Dead!] stuff you did with Flying Lotus?

Usually physicality, because when you’re touring, you’re out there in the elements. I mean, in life we’re all here subject to obviously us and the machines. I consider “us” superior machines, but us and inanimate things, I guess we can say, are all affected by gravity and friction so it puts us all in the same place. Going out and touring you’re put in extreme hot or extreme cold situations, things that change – because we’re always changing anyway. But it seems like in the studio it’s a bit more of a controlled habitat for you to operate in. So that’s always seemed a bit easier as far as dealing with outside elements.

But I consider them both difficult and they both have their issues. I mean in the studio it’s more about people are expecting you to grab their abstract ideas and somehow make it concrete, when that’s kind of like a miracle when that happens (laughs). So that’s a bit nerve wracking. “Can you figure this out?” Solving problems are what this is. Both are solving problems so I approach them both the same way because of that.

So when someone rings you up, they’re not just going to say “play it exactly like this” because of your reputation. They’re going to say “OK, I can work with this guy”…

Right, I’ve been lucky in that way. When I’ve been collaborative they usually given me reign. The Mars Volta and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, one of my best friends, you know, I love him and Cedric too, all the members I’ve worked with. It’s kinda like an extended family. But the thing is that he controls so much of that environment, and also all the other musicians’ parts and so forth. Even with him, he wanted me to be me.

Same with John Cale who I’ve worked with the longest, I’ve been working with John since about 2003, and he is my absolute favourite person to work with for obvious reasons. I mean he’s connected to that time period in New York City that the art boom that was just so huge and rivalled the Parisian renaissance. I mean, this is a big deal. And in the States you still feel that impact of what was happening in New York City around that Warholian time period, and obviously the Basquiats, and so I am very proud to have a connection to that scene via John Cale. Obviously at my age I missed it, but the fact that John understood me as an artist: he never once called me a drummer; he treated me like the composer that I was.

So I’ve been lucky in my career. When I do collaborate with people they want my sound. So I’m very thankful and very happy about that.

Shifting to Procession, tell us how you and Hanna came up with the idea…

I’m always exploring, looking for new inspiration. I have to feed this inner… thing that is just energy. Obviously the body, we don’t need as much energy and as much power as the machines and the devices that we have, namely computers and supercomputers, so to speak. With 1 kilowatt of energy we can each process quite a bit as humans. So this is amazing just to know. So I feel like I have to eat to get to that next step, because if I’m treating myself like I need to reinvent myself like every eight months, then that takes a tremendous amount of energy. It doesn’t just come from binge-watching Netflix, although I like to do that as well (laughs).

So Hanna – I just heard her. I heard what she did. She sent some things to me and – she didn’t even know I did this – I took the vocals, I was so inspired by what she had done, that I created the whole kind of core of what we’re presenting in Procession. It came from this curiosity and exploration.

Again – these things always lead you in the right place. I equate it to the “gut feeling”. Or the non-cognitive side of us that really does all the work. Because the thinking side is the slow side, and what we think we know in this faux knowledge. But the knowledge of our bodies and the system that we’ve inhabited is far greater than what we think.

So that’s all connected, and when I heard those pieces I created these things. I didn’t even want to play them for her because I had so much respect. I’m like I just cut these things up, and she really liked it, and so from there we started. That was the beginning of our conversation musically, and that has turned into Procession with her. Really bringing in her amazing compositional approach, and she is my favourite composer right now. I’m mostly inspired by her and my writing partner of the last 20 years or so, Nicci Kasper.

With Nicci it’s quite the same. We have a film-scoring company now called We Are Dark Angels. I met him in college and it was just a similar thing. As soon as I met him it was like “OK we’re going to be working, I don’t know what it’s going to be exactly”.

Most recently we were involved in an Oscar-nominated film by Paul Schrader who wrote Taxi Driver, Last Temptation of Christ, worked heavily with Martin Scorcese obviously. We worked on that film called First Reformed and we’re still celebrating that right now.

That has led from us meeting and having a feeling to a legitimate path in our careers. I had a similar feeling with Hanna. And so I feel like between Nicci Kasper, Hanna Benn, John Cale – these are the kinds of people I need to be around. Which is not easy to find these people and then also allow them to allow me into their lives and trust me and also be supportive. So those three people are very important.

A two-way street…

Absolutely.

Getting back to Saturday night. What can we expect, and is it going to be fairly scripted or a bit of wiggle room for improv?

Well what you can expect is that we will try to expand your mind and give you some kind of food to eat that maybe you’re not getting from any other sources, that’s our goal. Calling it Procession, we just wanted to be under the umbrella of that term because it means just being in some kind of… focus, essentially, in a world that’s so fast-paced. And the fact that we’re just spinning at such a fast rate, like just right now. I mean almost 900 miles per hour. We’re moving all the time. So it’s kind of about trying to stand still in a moving space, if that makes any sense.

It’s about acknowledging what we all have to go through and our differences, which the media helps us to separate. The illusion of race, that we’re different races, and all these kind of things. We’re just human. And speaking on biology, we’re all connected. So we’re hoping that people keep that in mind. It’s not like we’re telling them, it’s something we’re putting in the feeling of this, so it’s in the DNA of the music they’re going to hear.

Hanna doesn’t use language per se, it’s more feeling. But the message gets sent by what you’re thinking and performing at the same time. So people will feel that and that’s the goal – to connect with people on a deeper level.

What do you plan to see and do in Perth and Fremantle this week?

We’re pretty much open. We’re going to see a performance tonight. We want to “get fed” – we want to see some art. There’s some amazing art here (at Fremantle Arts Centre) already, I mean – the Idols. Even just a few of the pieces we’ve just walked around and seen is already intriguing. So we’re just here to get better, to improve and to be different by the time that we leave.

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