Toronto singer-songwriter Tess Parks finds her way back home
To Torontonians well acquainted with her enchanting rasp and woozy psychedelic spirit, it can often seem that Tess Parks hasn’t been embraced and celebrated as much as she should be by her hometown.
A native of the Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood, Parks has spent 14 years building an internationally respected underground career whilst living on and off overseas in London, while her biggest supporters have been folks like Scottish DJ and Creation Records founder Alan McGee – who released her first album, “Blood Hot,” on his 359 Music label back in 2013 – and San Francisco expat Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre infamy, with whom she recorded 2015’s “I Declare Nothing” and 2018’s “Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe” in Berlin for Newcombe’s own A Records imprint. And if she’s not exactly a household name abroad, recognition of her talents has still been even slower to come in Toronto and Canada in general.
Parks, however, places the blame squarely on herself.
“No, I didn’t always embrace Toronto the way that I should have,” she contends, while soaking up the sun on the beach at Ontario Place one recent sweltering afternoon.
“I was an angsty teenager who just wanted to leave and get away from my family and high school and whatever and just be far, far away and start over somehow because I felt the world wasn’t good to me here and if I went somewhere else somehow magically I would feel better. And I’ve realized over the years that obviously you need to feel good and at home within yourself before you can go anywhere and feel good. So I love Toronto and I’m sorry I that I didn’t embrace it the way that maybe it should have embraced me all those years ago.”
‘Happy Birthday Forever’ is the first single from the new Tess Parks album, ‘And Those Who Were Seen Dancing’, due out May 20th 2022 on Fuzz Club Records & Hand Drawn Dracula. Stream/pre-order here: https://tessparks.lnk.to/dancing
Parks is back in town at the moment precisely because she wanted to experience the transformative rush of springtime in Toronto, for the record, so clearly she and the city have patched things up over the years – although she concedes that she was very much ready to get back to England this year and get reacquainted with her band after many months trapped back home in “the longest lockdown on the planet.”
The trick now will be rekindling the live chemistry she and bandmates Rian O’Grady, Ruari Meehan, Francesco Perini and Mike Sutton carried over from heavy touring in support of the “Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe” LP into the sessions for her brand-new solo album, “And Those Who Were Seen Dancing,” when they hit the road again in earnest through the fall after a high-profile date with the Verve’s Richard Ashcroft and Ride at the U.K.’s South Facing Festival on Aug. 6.
She and the band raced into the studio in the summer of 2019 to see if they could bring the sure-footed vibe of their live show to a new recording, only to have that momentum completely disrupted by an injury that rendered it impossible for her to play piano or guitar for months and the subsequent onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She sought refuge for a time in photography and painting, “drawing dots and deciding what to do with my life,” before eventually resolving to finish what would become the beautifully bleary-eyed “And Those Who Were Seen Dancing” – a dreamlike blur of Mazzy Star, Marianne Faithful and Doors-esque acid-rock released May 20 via Hand Drawn Dracula in Canada and Fuzz Club Records internationally – with help from mixer Josh Korody of Toronto bands Breeze and Beliefs simply because “I couldn’t bear the thought of more time passing and these songs not being finished.”
Now that the record is finally out in the world, Parks admits it’s a bit “dissociative” to talk about music again “because it’s the thing I’ve done the least for the past three years but it’s the thing I’m talking about the most these days.” She’s spent a long time in limbo.
“I didn’t see the band for two years so it’s kind of like I’ve been getting to know them again in London,” she says. “And it’s weird because we had just come off another tour in August of 2019 and we were feeling really ‘gelled’ together and we’d been playing properly together for awhile off the back of the last Anton record so we decided to start recording new songs and I’d never done it that way before where it was, like, ‘Wow, there’s a really tight band here that’s ready to record.’
“There’s never been any method for me. It’s basically been whenever the timing has been right, and at least four times in my life the timing has been so right that I’ve somehow managed to make these bodies of work. But it’s all been very organic. I don’t seek it out.”
A chronically deep thinker, Parks – a photographer of no small repute who showed up to this interview bearing the gift of a small painting for the writer’s 5-year-old daughter – did find a species of quiet comfort during her time away from making music and performing in realizing that she can survive without making music and performing. There are other things she’s good at, so she has the luxury of being able to return to music when it feels right to return to music. And right now it’s starting to feel right to return to music.
“It was never an ego-serving thing for me. I’ve always felt really uncomfortable onstage so me going onstage was a way to test myself to do something that really terrifies me,” she says. “I’ve seen a lot of people struggle with these ‘ego deaths’ during COVID but I didn’t need to be seen to have my existence verified.
“What’s been really f–ing with my head for the past several years is what is the point of doing anything and does it matter? There are so many other things that matter in the world. Why is my contribution to this and why do I feel that my contribution has to be this?
“But I think I have severe mental-health issues and if I’m not creating something beautiful with my hands then, like, what am I doing? Even if I’m having negative thoughts I can still be singing or even if I’m having a bad day I can still be making beautiful colours on a canvas. That’ll make me feel better that day.”
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