Val’s Chat with artist Anders Parker

It was quite a thrill to chat with the artist who wrote one of my all time favorite songs, “Circle Same” (from his self-titled album 2006) and many since, including a brand new album “There’s a Blue Bird in My Heart” (June 2014). Meet Anders Parker, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist from Burlington VT who will grace the stage at the Grand Point North Fest on Sept 14th with his band Cloud Badge. And it will be good. With two decades of music industry experience under his belt, playing with bands and solo, and collaborating with other greats, he’s seen it all. Here he is in his own words:

Val: Who is Anders Parker?

Anders: I grew up in the Hudson Valley, New York state, and music was part of my life from the beginning. Yeah, I grew up on my parents’ music; in retrospect it was a pretty sweet collection – Beatles, Stones, Carole King… My dad was really into the first folk revival in the 60s with Pete Seeger, Joan Baez… I played piano, guitar, sang, played saxophone in elementary school…
Val: Whoa. Saxophone in elementary school — that took a lot of confidence!
Anders: Actually, I wanted to play drums, but at that age drums were in big demand [chuckle] so I settled on saxophone. But I finally got a set of drums in middle school (and I still have them).

Val: Multi-instrumentalists amaze me. How one can play guitar, drums, sax, keyboards – all different platforms – takes a special kind of brain!

Anders: Playing more than one instrument is a great thing for anybody to learn, as it gives you perspective on each role a band member plays. Makes you appreciate each other, as sometimes there are some weird lines drawn there… Like for me, definitely playing drums helped with my rhythm guitar playing, helped with the rhythm side…

Val: And then there’s your amazing songwriting… Were you an introspective kid who watched the world and wanted to comment on it?

Anders: I was definitely, I guess, introspective – kind of shy. Definitely a day-dreamer. I know that because I was often scolded by teachers for not paying attention! [chuckle]
Val: hmmm… Little did they know that you had big thoughts going on… that you’d be going places!
Anders: I think it was always important to me to write… even when I was playing drums I wanted to create original music, write a song, the idea of making something of my own was always in the forefront. I mean I’ve played with a lot of bands in high school, etc. that played mostly covers and that was fun, but in the end that wasn’t the most satisfying to me overall as a music experience.

Val: When did you actually start playing gigs professionally?

Anders: Wow, I can’t really remember exactly [chuckle] – You’d think I’d remember my very first gig! ha.. I did the usual early on: school talent shows, parties, open mic night, played in punk rock clubs… I moved around, upstate NY, and moved to Portland OR for a couple of years in early 90s.. That’s when I started getting a beat on my songwriting, played in committed bands, made a few records, one of which ended up being my first proper release.

Val: When did you move back to Vermont?

Anders: My dad is from Vermont, we spent a lot of time there growing up, skiing, hiking, hanging out. My wife and I moved from New York to Vermont to make a change. We love it here.

Val: Studio or Stage?

Anders: I like them both. Especially with a band there’s a real kind of freedom there – I mean, when we play live, of course the songs are arranged and everything but there’s room for things to move and flow. We have a real flavor of our own. A studio is a studio. It’s a very different endeavor… Honestly, I like them both.

Val: Are you a perfectionist? Is a song ever really done?

Anders: Well, a song is a kind of organic thing that can change. I mean, I definitely have perfectionistic tendencies when it comes to music, but I feel like if you let that stuff get out of hand you can sometimes adversely affect the spirit of the song. Especially these days it’s so easy to correct every little thing, and make everything totally in tune, and make everything totally on the beat… honestly, it’s boring! In fact, I like to leave things that sound weird, and if you listen to all the old classic rock records that everybody loves, there are mistakes, there are tuning issues, and people are singing out of key… you can hear it but the actual whole effect of people playing together, and the spirit of it is much more important to me. It’s kind of about attitude an approach — you have to be careful with too much micro-tuning.

Val: Your newest album, out last month, is titled “There’s a Blue Bird in My Heart”. (Love this title.) I thought it might be a “blue” album with pensive songs… but when I researched the word bluebird, I found it represents just the opposite: “happiness, joy, strong medicine, Iriquois legend: the bluebird repels evil, Russian lore: bluebird symbolizes hope, heading in the right direction.” Was the album written in this spirit?

Anders: Titles are a funny thing. Usually they come to me right away but this time I could not for the life of me decide on a title for this record! So I started doing something I don’t normally do – I started working on and searching for a title. I mean, usually titles just fall out of the sky for me – directly related to a song or lyrics – with a unifying theme. This album title actually comes from a Charles Bukowski poem “Bluebird” – I’ve listened to it many times before – it’s the first line of the poem.

Val: Maybe there’s a double entendre in the title?

Anders: Yes, some of the songs can go either way – into the darkness or into the light, I suppose. To me the title is evocative and somewhat open to the listener’s interpretation. Maybe you initially see the song one way, and as you listen, it can change your perspective.

Val: Do you make designated times to write?

Anders: I write all the time – not always at a designated disciplined time – but I’m always noodling on my guitar, jotting down lyric lines, etc. With songs and writing you can work it, but often it’s when you’re not expecting anything, letting your brain relax is when the words come to you. Being loose and open – not thinking or searching – often the best songwriting comes.

But my big thing about songwriting is finishing. The spark of a song is the easy part. The important thing is to finish the song. Fine tuning the arrangement, getting the lyrics straightened out, that’s where the work comes in. I don’t call it work really, because I love this part, but that’s where the discipline comes in. Like the joke, everyone’s got a screenplay… but actually sitting down and writing it – there’s the difference.

Val: Tell me about your band Cloud Badge.

Three of us live in Burlington and see a lot of each other. Bass player Creston Lea is a guitar maker in Burlington – I bet you’ll see quite a few of his guitars on stage at the fest with some of the local bands. Steve Hadeka, drummer is an old friend of mine and on keyboards is Mark Spencer from VT who’s lived in Brooklyn for 20 years now – he’s played with Lisa Loebe, Freedy Johnston, Son Volt, etc.

Val: If you had a free Saturday with absolutely no work to do, what would you do?

Anders: Oh, I have a lot of things that are interesting to me: photography, film, carpentry, … I wish there was more time to do it all. On any given day who knows, I might go for a hike, or work all day in the basement on a project, or go skiing, or spend all day on the couch reading a book or watching Monty Python [chuckle]…

Val: Nice to know you, Anders.

Read more of Val’s artist interviews

Val’s Chat with artists Dwight and Nicole

Val’s Chat with artist Lowell Thompson

Val’s Chat with artist Rayland Baxter

Val’s Chat with artist Caroline Rose