Pop Philharmonic: Cale Parks Plays Everything

Story by Gracie Remington

Photography by Nikki Turner

Farrah is pregnant. A popular cheerleader and high school senior in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Farrah’s announcement comes by way of clique-ish backstab job at the hands of her best friends. Though shunned by her cheer squad, it’s news that leaves her in the loving arms of an MTV camera crew, a reality star of the network’s popular show, 16 and Pregnant. She whines about her newfound lack of a social life. She goes to the doctor. She battles her mother for control of her life, her baby, and the family car. Somewhere in the background, the soundtrack of her life is intermittently interrupted by Brooklyn’s Cale Parks, whose soundscaping provides a comforting counterpoint to the drama that swallows Farrah. The brief musical interludes, with their spare, hypnotic instrumentations, serve as a calming point in a storm of (televised) teenage motherhood.

“I’ve never seen it, thank goodness,” Parks admits over drinks at a bar near his apartment in Greenpoint. “I can safely say I’ve never seen it. I got a MySpace message or a Twitter from a fan, and then I told my manager and he got in touch with the label. We had no idea.”

While he may have been unaware of the role his music played in the soundtrack to Farrah’s life, such odd juxtapositions are nothing new to Parks, who works simultaneously as a multi-instrumentalist in Aloha and White Williams while also performing and recording as a solo artist. Referencing “Dance Dance Revolution-type” music (especially Capsule, described by Parks as “Daft Punk with 200 more notes”) along with the Tough Alliance and Scritti Politti as current favorite bands, Parks floats through genre tags as he would from drum kit to the lead mic: effortlessly and freely. Whether recording with Aloha or cutting tracks in his apartment for his solo work, he imbues his work with a raw, some might say lo-fi immediacy, a bent one might argue comes from his desire to follow a similar path to that of Phil Collins. “He’s a really rad drummer but then he made these pop songs. His solo stuff isn’t flashy drum kit music. They’re just songs; they’re just what they are.”

Parks’ desire to emulate Collins shines through in the sun-dappled pop hooks that comprise To Swift Mars, his most recent EP. Parks’ transition into electrobliss heralds a new direction for the artist, whose previous album, Sparklace, focused more on trance meditations. This time around, no longer hiding his vocals in a dense web of slow, contemplative instrumentations, Parks’ voice sounds utterly triumphant. While he “just started singing last summer,” Parks explains that he wanted his latest release to “mix more like a pop record,” the vocals sitting shotgun.

Drawing heavily on new wave, J-Pop, and now commonplace electro pop (drawing comparisons to tour mates Passion Pit, amongst others) approaches, Parks’ latest release focuses on the sunnier side of life. Album standouts “Knight Conversation” and “One at the Time” are road trip jams, snippets of cross-country sun and horizon. Though its recording intersected with that of Sparklace, To Swift Mars marks an exciting, collagist’s turn for Parks, while remaining true to the fundamentally personal nature of all of his musical projects. Brian from Apes and Androids helped mix the album, while Parks’ fiancée, Kendra, provided the backing vocals on “Knight Conversation.” Recording was done in Parks’ apartment, and Parks will tour with friends Lemonade starting in August, co-headlining and switching spots in the lineup at every show.

Like his idol, Phil Collins, Parks is clearly comfortable working in a variety of situations, as a drummer and as a solo artist, and his flexibility shines through in the varied nature of his solo output. His latest evolution suits him just as well as Collins’ transition from solo artist to soundtrack maestro. “I like to be busy all the time,” Parks explains. “I can’t stand to not do something.” Once his solo tour wraps up, he plans to tour with Aloha following the release of their upcoming LP (due out sometime this fall or winter) while continuing work on his solo project and recording with White Williams. Maybe fifteen years from now Farrah’s baby will hear Parks’ music on TV or Disney DVD or vinyl. It’ll be out there in some form or another.

Pop Philharmonic: Cale Parks Plays Everything