Todd Parker and the Witches step out of the star chamber, and bring greetings from the red planet on Martians. Martians extends Parker’s hand even more from his ‘return’ on Greetings from The Star Chamber, using its launch pad while still building on his legacy with Tadpoles. It’s a darker album, embracing some ominous tones, but also tipping his hat to a love of pop, of all kinds, both aspects made evident on the admitted Cure-ish Zero Sum. A brooding outing, Zero Sum finds kinship with other moody cuts like the closer, Conduit. Wrapping arms around some throbbing, repetitive drone, Conduit is deeply tied to Parker’s often big closing statements; Sunrise Ocean Bender from Tadpoles’ swan-song release Whirlaway, the indirect reconnection of Disconnect from Star Chamber. At the same time, it’s a definite new tangent, revealing more detail with each pass. Martians is far from a full-scale downer invasion though. Cuidado, Helium Breeze…cuts rooted in psych pop, but with a stronger loyalty to ‘song’ that frees them from being confined to a strict genre add more waves to the transmissions. In between, tracks like the outstanding Malacandra and the exotic Nakhla meld both sides into a pliant and elastic ensemble. As good as Star Chamber is—as a loose homecoming and album on its own—Martians feels more realized, more conceptually whole though there is none…sort of….That in turn makes Martians come across as more personal. Due partly to Parker approaching Martians as a coven of one as much as being a more current and vital application of where he is now, and how he got here…and there. The production is bubbly thick while paying respect to the space inside the spheres as well as in between them. Rich bass pops and bounces, animating Martians’ dynamics, especially grabbing your attention from the get-go on Malacandra. The bobbing and nodding also points the head to a New Order vibe, a band and, more tellingly, a time that had a big impact on Parker, even when buried under the psych fuzz of Tadpoles. Those kind of vapor trails and trace elements bind with where Parker’s head space is now lending Martians a sheen that’s not tied to one time, but still sounds of the now; familiar and fresh without being transient. If Star Chamber was Parker getting ‘back into the spaceship,’ Martians is the sound of the cap’n enjoying the flight without the weight of destination’s payload. Go ahead, stretch the legs inside that tin can.
Parker put down his Tang recently, had an oxygen hit, took a breath and lent his insights to Martians and what makes them tick…and finally addresses the nagging “Seger Question” that has plagued the release of Martians.
How do you perceive Martians, in relation to your ‘return’ on Greetings? Continuation, new flight plan, synthesis…?
Greetings from The Star Chamber was me getting the rust off from sitting basically idle, musically, for a decade. My equipment, other than 1 or 2 guitars, was literally in storage since Tadpoles ended in 2000. So, those tunes were culled from about a 20 year period of unfinished demos, half-baked ideas as well as a few brand new things. Additionally, it was also a reunion with drummer Mike Audino and a renewal of a creative relationship that started the Tadpoles out as a band in the first place. So, there was rust there too. But, I felt like we shook it off with Star Chamber and I was ready to jump back into making music again, albeit in a modified way, essentially as a studio-only entity.
After Star Chamber, Mike proposed that we rework a very old Tadpoles cassette album that had gone unreleased called Beautiful Music For Ugly Children from 1989 (Retitled Evil Bliss for the Witches version). That was the first serious thing he and I did together back then and really led me down a life-altering path in that I moved to NYC to form the group with Mike and went on to meet my other collaborators in the Tadpoles, as well as develop a personal life there, being married, having a daughter. So, since he was into giving that album its “due” after all these years, we decided to go back in time and approach that album again as if we were heading into the studio with our 1989 brains and proceeded to cover ourselves almost note for note, sound for sound to the original cassette version, but with superior equipment and sound quality now. While it was a fun trip back to Weird Wonderland, it wasn’t representative of us currently.
So, It became important to find my modern voice so that the Witches project did not become an exercise in nostalgia for days gone by. As it turned out, it became obvious that Mike and I had wrapped up whatever unfinished creative business we had together through producing Star Chamber and Evil Bliss and we both decided it was time to move on once again. He made some wonderfully quirky videos for the Evil Bliss album that I hope more people get to see over time.
Martians is apparently where I’m at presently. All new songs, all written since Star Chamber. No old demos or rehashed tunes. Didn’t really plan it out, but went with my instincts and it developed song by song that ended up being the running order of the album.
They’re both your babies, both great records, but do you feel Martians is a ‘better’ album in the context of being newer material overall? More of statement than Greetings?
Thanks. I do think Martians is a better album and more of a pure statement than Greetings From the Star Chamber, which, while fun to make, is more of a hodgepodge of styles and sounds from a very wide period. Some good stuff on there, though. I think Disconnect from Star Chamber is one of the best songs I’ve ever recorded. Technically, it was a Tadpoles’ demo from the early 90′s that never saw the light of day, so I finally gave it some light in this new version. But, it was of that era. With David Max playing bass on it, Mike on drums, you have essentially the same core of musicians that recorded the Tadpoles first album, 1994′s He Fell Into The Sky. Martians is probably the most personal album I’ve done. It has little to do with Martians of the little green men variety. But, I love the sci-fi imagery, and possibilities for metaphor in the theme.
Martians has a definite darker tone, aura—Zero Sum, Conduit—but also feels more personal this time around. Was that just a natural tact that emerged on its own, or a conscious choice?
Yes, darker at times. Though there are also a couple of pretty poppy tunes in Cuidado and Helium Breeze. Cuidado even has a real chorus! The personal, probably introspective side to this came naturally, I think, from working totally on my own this time. I haven’t done that over a whole album since way back when I started making songs with my 4-track in my college apartment in the 80′s. Solitude can sometimes bring that 3rd eye introspection. And without the dark, there is no light. So, I acknowledge that too. I also no longer write specifically with a band in mind that needs to play the tunes like I used to do in Tadpoles. So, there are more of the keyboards and instrumentation choices that I used to use back in the 80′s that I stopped using so much with the Tadpoles guitar-based assault.
There’s a definite flow to the record, especially leading up to the close, Conduit. How important is sequencing the record, how much decides itself? Do you think taking the time to sequence a record deeply plays into the overall tone, or message, of the record? It seems pushed to the side frequently these days.
The art of the album is unfortunately becoming a lost art in the digital download era. But, it’s certainly not lost for everyone, and not lost for me. I still appreciate a well-sequenced album that takes you somewhere, rather than a front-loaded selection of individual tracks. Not that every album has to be a concept album per se, but without getting too hippy-dippy here, there is an energy level throughout a well-considered album song sequence that ebbs and flows and directs the listener’s mood and perceptions. I think that as artist, you want to have control over that. Part of the new social network stuff that perplexes me is the idea that artists are having fans vote on song sequences, album titles, whether a song is good or not, whether it needs more or less bass, etc, all in the name of “engagement.” Even Devo, whom I respect immensely, did that for their last one. See, I’d rather hear a Devo album the way Devo wanted it, not the way a random group of fans wanted it. I think they ended up coming to their senses and released their own version as the standard. Anyway, I’m happy to see the resurgence in the interest in vinyl releases as the idea of song sequence was very important on vinyl due to the limitations and the idea that you have essentially two opening tracks, for Side A and Side B. Even though vinyl releases have not been in the limited Bakery (Parker’s label) budget, I’ve always approached all the Tadpoles and Witches stuff that way in terms of sequencing. There is a first half of each album and a second half.
Is there a message with the emphasis on Mars?
Probably a theme I’ve worked on throughout my whole career … kinda out there. On one’s own. Alienation. That sounds kind of dark or negative, right? But, there’s the other side, too. Traveling to inner and outer destinations unknown. Exploration. While waving your Martian freak flag high. I can embrace both. Tadpoles albums, He Fell Into The Sky and Far Out come to mind with those themes. Whirlaway, too. And, I suppose I was locked away for a decade in some far off Star Chamber before sending the Greetings that I was still alive in 2010 when I got back into the spaceship.
After being in the game for more than a few plays, how much impact does what’s going on in the music universe play into where you’re at? Or does that tenure allow you to disconnect from that kind of pressure, or perceived pressure?
At this point, it’s all the bonus round for me. With my work with the Tadpoles in the 90′s, I really achieved what I had set out to do with my music to various degrees. Made a bunch of albums that I’m really proud of, that people still discover and enjoy. I played with a lot of excellent musicians, collaborators and partners, many of whom are still dear friends. I played a bunch of shows all over New York City, did some touring on the east and west coasts, and we presented ourselves as we intended to the best of our abilities and resources. So, really, that was the career. Jumping back into this a few years ago has also been very gratifying. With the technology available now, with the internet, with the social networks, I can really just focus on creating what I want to create and leave it at that. I don’t need anything else from the music universe. And, I’m happy to drop whatever I’ve got cooking into the current cosmic musical stew and I’m satisfied if it has the opportunity to reach some people who might get something from it. And, it’s still fun to meet some of these new people who like what I’ve been serving up.
Was it a conscious choice to release Martians on Bob Seger’s birthday? How do you feel about accusations of coattail riding?
Ha, If I had known that you were going to premiere Martians right on Seger’s birthday, I would have flown over to Richmond and set up a Chooglin’ party right there at the station so I could lead the midnight staff in an accapella rendition of Katmandu. Hey, that’s not a bad idea anyway. Maybe I should do a Kickstarter for that…
Martians is available via BandCamp and the usual suspects. Green or otherwise.