INTERVIEW: Anton Newcombe & Tess Parks

Every once in a while a collaborative project happens where two artists produce something really special. Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe (yes, of Brian Jonestown Massacre fame) are set to release their first record together on June 29th.  Psychedelic yet modern, I Declare Nothing leaves a haunting and lasting impression on the listener. We caught up with Tess and Anton to talk about the recording process, cocaine cats, society and the whole reason behind recording the album.

Hello! Firstly, congratulations on the album. I’ve become a little obsessed since receiving it.
Both: Thank you, we’re glad you like it.

Could you tell us about how the collaboration happened? Why did you decide to work together?
AN: I enjoy working with other people,and I like the idea of taking a step back on stage and just playing as a part of a group instead of the singer – something I’m more than happy to support Tess with – building a foundation for her words and voice.
TP:  We met through Alan McGee, really. It’s nice to work with good, inspiring people who have ideas and it’s wonderful to collaborate.

Out of curiosity, when did you both become aware of each other’s independant music, and what were your thoughts upon hearing it?
AN: I’m friends with Alan McGee and pay attention to things he’s working on – I think I read someplace that she was influenced by me so I thought, fuck this we should just record.
TP:  I’ve been listening to Brian Jonestown Massacre since I was about thirteen to be honest! I thought it was genius music, obviously. But it wasn’t until I was a bit older that I realized I could actually aspire to make music of the same kind.

You are both impressive songwriters in your own right – was the recording dynamic a challenge?
AN: No, this was really pleasant and natural. Tess is very easy to work with and I hope we figure out a band name and do another record.
TP: I’m totally down for that! Not challenging at all, it was a total musical education for me. It’s amazing to watch Anton work, seriously.

You’re playing a European tour soon, what can we expect from that? 
AN: The plan is to play it exactly like the record and add a song or two. Keep it simple and keep it powerful, just a solid foundation for Tess’s singing – the band is quite good so I expect people will enjoy it.

You split playing the instruments on the album – will there be a large collection of musicians playing with you live or will it be stripped back?
AN: We have a six person group.
TP: It’s a super group of talented musicians from different parts of the world! It’s going to sound mega.

Do you expect the songs to evolve further the longer you play them live?
AN: I don’t expect them to evolve all that much except for very tiny things I left unfinished when writing parts, in that sense I think we get better and will be ready for bigger and better shows as our popularity grows as it hopefully will.
TP: I grow more personally attached to songs the longer I sing them/play them. So at any performance, I might really FEEL what I’m singing more than I ever have before, or the words might take on a new meaning or reveal their true meaning in a way that I hadn’t recognized before. It’s therapy to me, so I’m really looking forward to playing.

Berlin is a real hubbub of creativity, would you say the environment you formed in influenced your writing at all?
AN: Well, I have my studio and I’m in that place and time in life where I’m really focused with few distractions – I’m in the heart of Europe within striking distance of my dreams.
TP: The first time I came to record with Anton in Berlin in February 2014, I was unfamiliar with the city. I had visited once before with my dad and I was very sick with tonsillitis, I was out of it, and we ended up visiting a lot of the historical museums, a jewish cemetery etc… So coming to work in Berlin was a much nicer experience. I originally saw it as a very dark, haunted city, based on what I had seen before, but it’s so creative and so musical and yeah, generally just very inspiring.

Your Record Store Day release ‘Cocaine Cat’ is a stunning wave of thought, I found it interesting that cocaine had a place in the title of such a song, and it was almost a depiction of the conflict between a modern day drug and the psychedelic music output.  Where did that come from?
AN: It’s Tess’s deal, I didn’t mind the title. Tess?
TP: I wrote the words to that song in about one minute when I was seventeen. I honestly don’t know where that came from. I had never even knowingly met someone who had ever done cocaine.

What do you think about the current generation’s view of substances in relation to creativity or society? 
AN: I think young people are just as misinformed about drugs as society is misinformed.
TP: I think a lot of kids who take drugs view it as a gateway into creative clarity, or something.

All the songs on the record hit a nerve with me as being particularly personal and drawing upon emotions most people don’t touch on. Does that ring true to you?
AN: I try and reflect a full spectrum of human emotion in all of my works.
TP: Thank you for saying that. That’s the ultimate reaction I think we’re looking for. This isn’t thoughtless pop music. I think we’ve really worked on making a deep, soulful, inspiring and powerful record that makes people question life’s most basic and unanswerable questions. Like, where do we go when we die?

Did you find the creation of this record educational in finding more about yourselves?
AN: For me it’s more like a chance to use what I know and fine tune that as we go along.
TP: I definitely have grown from this experience as a human and as a musician/writer.

Was there anything in particular you bonded over when making the album?
AN: I think our compatibility as people helped create a great flow – I have so many ideas so quickly it tends to crush other people in the studio quite quickly – this was a nice balance and I would be interested in exploring song ideas outward to expand the sound in the future as I really wanted to keep it stylistically very narrow for my own reasons.
TP: In a sense, we come from very different backgrounds, but I think fundamentally, especially when you’re creating music with other people, there is an unspoken understanding and respect for each other’s art. It does help that we are also influenced by a lot of the same music.

How did the recording process work?
AN: It was recorded at my studio with the help of Fabien Lesure – I’m in the process of building a new and better studio with a different layout so even thinking about this question brings back fond memories of a productive time – Tess just nailed track after track – like I said we work so very quick, I establish a click, then stereo acoustics, then bass and fuzz, then vocals and drums – organ or melotron. It all happens so quick.
TP: Anton’s I guess what we call “old” studio now, where we recorded, will always be a very special place in my memory. You’d have to have been there to understand it. It was just so unassuming and great! A great breathing space to create. We did work very very fast. I was there for I guess a total of two weeks? Maybe a bit over two weeks? And we got eighteen songs tracked. We didn’t overthink anything. I think that’s perfect.

Do you find a particular time to record more inspiring than others? I know some musicians find it easier to record from the early hours, do you have a similar thing?
AN: Nah, for me it’s all about doing it all the time – 6 days a week – winter is a great time to work – fall is good too.
TP: I used to record all my demos on Garageband! Just straight into the computer or with a USB microphone. I’d record whenever, afternoon or 4 in the morning, it was great. Winter is particularly a good time, yeah.

The album has a very clear emotive and musical identity – did that happen organically when working together or was there already a clear vision for the album?  
AN: I sort of spoke about that in one of my answers and on the back of the album – I very much wanted everything to be sort of all the same if possible – I’m really fond of that approach sometimes – Tess was cool enough to say ok.
TP: I came to Anton with a fair few songs and he gave the project guidelines and structure.

How did you work together – did you write songs independent of each other or together?
AN: Tess has a big book of words, and she can write fast. She had some old songs and parts and we tore some of that apart, and then we wrote new stuff too.
TP: That’s exactly it. But for instance, when I walked into the studio in September, Anton had a whole song ready that he was working on when I got there, and it was literally like “hey! nice to see you!” and then I was singing.

What would you like people to derive from your work?
AN: I hope people are inspired to make music – I think Tess has such a unique voice, wouldn’t it be great if more people, more women were singing in their own voice instead of that fucking god awful Whitney Houston Christina Aguilera ad infinitude vocal acrobatic bullshit voice? Yes it would thank you.
TP: Haha! Yes, inspiring people is the main priority. Giving them something to turn to when they’re sad. Giving them a soundtrack to their days/lives. And with regards to women/young women, I hope I at least inspire young girls to be themselves and learn some self respect, maybe sing in a voice that they’re comfortable in, if that’s what they want to do. I see girls like Taylor Swift… auto-tuned and with a million co-writers on one record, prancing around on stage and in their videos wearing nothing, it makes me sick… That’s not girl power. It’s sending a bad message. We’re sending a good message. Challenging people to think.

I Declare Nothing is released on 29th June 2015 via A Recordings. Anton and Tess play the following UK and Irish dates in July:

12 Leeds – Brudenell Social Club
13 Manchester – Ruby Lounge
14 Glasgow – King Tuts
15 Dublin – Sugar Club
17 Bristol – The Exchange
18 London – Oslo
19 Brighton – The Haunt

Daisy Taplin