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I’ve learned several things (apart from twenty-nine years’ worth of musical career specifics) from this interview with British musician/producer John Parish.
First, his accent is awesome.
Second, I don’t sound awesome when I use the word ‘awesome’.
Third, according to John there is still hope for those of us (mostly me) who are…how should I put this…musically challenged?
Actually, I learned way more than this, but I can’t stand here all day revealing John Parish’s many secrets. I suggest two things: first, read this interview in its entirety (I like to consider myself a blooming Barbara Walters, minus the speech impediment), and second, go to the PJ Harvey/John Parish show on Friday (after working together on various projects for 20+ years, I think they know what they’re doing). And maybe, just maybe, if you make John a Marmite sandwich he’ll be your bff.

So how’s the tour going so far?
Well, so far the European tour was fantastic and the UK tour went really really well too, and tonight’s the first show of the US tour, so, just looking forward to seeing how this one goes.
Awesome! And you’ll be in DC on Friday, correct?
That’s right.
Have you visited DC in the past?
Yeah, I’ve played there a couple of times, once with Polly and once by myself…I say “by myself”, but I actually had a nine piece band with me. We played…I think it was the 9:30 Club…that’s the place that I seem to remember most strongly. We’ve certainly played there once before.
And is there anything that you’re looking forward to doing this weekend? I don’t know how well you got to know the city in the past.
Not that well, I’ve never had a lot of time there. We’ve got a day off this time which is great, so I’m really hoping to get to the Smithsonian.
Cool. Well I guess we’ll jump into the newest album. What kind of sparked you to work again with Polly now? Was there anything that kind of triggered that decision, or…
Yeah, I mean obviously we’ve worked in different capacities together on and off for more than twenty years now…I’m assuming you’re referring to the writing collaboration which we did on Dance Hall at Louse Point and then again on the new record.
Right, exactly.
We’d obviously expected to make another record together using the same format, my music and Polly’s lyrics, and it was just waiting for the right time to do it or something to spark it off. And what actually sparked it off this particular time was Polly rediscovering a tape of the song “Black Hearted Love”, which we’d actually written a few years previously.

That’s a great song, by the way.
Thanks, that was actually written for one of my first solo albums but I ended up not using it. In fact, I ended up not using any of the things I’d done for that particular record because I ended up going in a different direction. But I always really liked that song, but I hadn’t had anything to do with it. And then Polly, when she was finished writing all the songs for White Chalk, came across that tape and played it. And so she immediately phoned me up and said, “Well this is such a good song, it’s really being wasted. I’ve got to do something with it, let’s make a new album together and let’s use this song on it.” And that was really why we actually started working on the new album when we did.
And obviously you and Polly have known each other for 20+ years, but is there anything, you know, maybe aside from that or additionally that makes you guys work so well together?
It’s just one of those things, you know, we just clicked I guess. It was quite an effortless relationship really from day one, you know, back in the mid to late 80’s when we first met. Polly started coming along to see shows of my first band Automatic Dlamini. We just used to sort of chat after gigs and we got along really well. She gave me tapes of her early songs and I really liked her voice, so as soon as there was an opportunity to get her into the band I did. We just found that we had the sort of relationship where you could feel very comfortable sort of criticizing and talking about each other’s work without ever sort of taking offense. It became that we just found we really trusted each other’s opinions and quite quickly came to rely on them. So even nowadays if we’re working on projects apart from each other we still send each other what we’re doing, and we’re very curious to know what the other person thinks.
And so do you find that working solo is necessarily easier than collaborating on a project like A Woman A Man Walked By?
Actually, this collaboration was fairly effortless…that sounds wrong because it makes it sound like it was no trouble and that we didn’t have to think about it. Obviously we put an amazing amount of time and energy into actually writing and recording the songs and getting them as good as we possibly could.
But there was no conflict there. That’s not to say we liked everything the other person did per se, because, you know, there were quite a few pieces of music that I wrote that Polly didn’t want to write words to. And there were a few lyrics that she wrote that I didn’t feel worked for whatever reason. But there was no attempt to compromise on anything if either of us had even the slightest doubt about a piece of work or an idea because we were really conscious that we didn’t want to compromise on any level, which is obviously also a possible pitfall of collaborations. You know, we wanted to just take the strengths of collaboration without any of the weaknesses.
Exactly. And that’s obviously worked really well for you guys. Do you feel that you’ve experienced any kind of personal progression, you know, between the time that you did Dance Hall at Louse Point and this particular album?
Absolutely, yeah. And I think it was kind of interesting to actually make the two albums that far apart. Because with most of the work that we do it’s more of, you know, first you do something and then a couple of years later you’ve got another record out. It’s not very often you’re involved in a project where you do something and then the next thing you do, or the next part of that project, is a dozen years later. And you have changed a lot in that time.
Yeah, definitely.
It was really apparent to us when we looked back at how different we were as people and as musicians, I suppose in many ways how much more accomplished we were. I mean, I really like Louse Point and I’m still very proud of it as a record. But you know, I do feel it was a record made when we were both younger, and there were a lot of good ideas but some of them weren’t…well, I think we’re able nowadays to fully realize ideas than we used to be, and lyrically for certain we have a broader palette and a broader range of experiences and influences from which to draw.
Is there anyone else you’d like to work with? How do you kind of pick and choose? Is it instinctual, or…
I pretty much always let people pick me, really, rather than the other way around, and I’m kind of more comfortable doing it that way. I have to say, there are tons of fantastic artists out there, and it would be nice if they phoned me up to do something, but I feel already incredibly privileged to have worked with the people that I have worked with. You know, I’ve worked with some fantastic people and I’ve learned an awful lot from people like Howe Gelb from Giant Sand and E from Eels, you know, superb writers and really interesting characters.
Is there anything you can’t live without when you’re on tour?
(Laughs) I think the hardest thing sounds really stupidly sentimental but the most difficult thing is actually being away from the family. I find that really really difficult, and I’m sure that most people on tour feel the same. But there’s no practical thing…I mean, Marmite I would eat surely when I’m home, but I can live without it. (Laughs)
You know, I’d just like to know, coming from a person who was second-to-last chair clarinet in her middle school band class, do you think there’s still hope for me in the musical world?
As far as I’m concerned, if somebody enjoys playing something then it’s working for them. You know, if you’re not enjoying it, it doesn’t matter how good you are because it’s probably not working.
Well that’s good news. I’m thinking about picking up the keytar perhaps, or maybe the kazoo…something like that.
(Laughs) That would be a challenge, to get to be good at something like the keytar!
And do you have a favorite instrument or sound?
I like most instruments, I think you can make something beautiful out of them, but I guess I’ve always been drawn to the slide guitar. I like instruments that can go between the notes…there’s something about that that kind of has an emotional pull for me that I always find really irresistible.
So, I don’t know, you’re such a seasoned musician…do you ever get stage fright still, or any kind of nervousness before you go on stage?
Hmm…yeah, occasionally. I mean, not very often, but sometimes, you know, obviously I get nervous if there are friends of mine in the audience. Or sometimes if there are peers, you know, people who I really respect…it just makes you a little bit more self-conscious of what you’re doing. So yes, I still suffer from it sometimes, but it’s not debilitating. (Laughs)
And do you have any plans for what’s coming up next?
Not immediately, no…we’re just about to start the US tour, so obviously taking care of that first. And then afterwards, because we seem to have been touring since the end of February, by the end of this month I think everybody’s really going to need a break. And then Polly and I have started talking about the next PJ Harvey record which we’ll be making next year, which I’ll be involved in as a producer. And I’ve got half a new album of my own stuff written and I’m really hoping to be disciplined enough to finish the rest of the songs this year.
Well all of that sounds great. You know, I’d wish you good luck, but I don’t really know how much credibility I have as a former second-to-last chair clarinetist…
We take wishes good luck from anyone!

Want more:
+come to see John perform with PJ Harvey @ the Warner Theater this Friday June 5th, 8 pm-tickets $40

(bonus: its NO SERVICE CHARGE Wednesday for all LiveNation tickets today)