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An American Starlet - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 12 / 1 / 2002

An American Starlet - Interview


An American Starlet is a new act from San Francisco, which has recently self- released its debut album 'Sweet Country Lullabies from An American Starlet' on its own Starletsweb label. The group, which was born out of the ashes of two other Bay Area band

An American Starlet is a new act from San Francisco, which has recently self- released its debut album 'Sweet Country Lullabies from An American Starlet' on its own Starletsweb label. The group, which was born out of the ashes of two other Bay Area bands, the Rosemarys and the Magnetic, is a consortium with a floating membership, but its songwriter and leader, however, is the multi-talented Ian Parks, who as well as singing and playing guitar, mandolin, fiddle, dobro, banjo and bass on 'Sweet Country Lullabies...', also engineered and produced it. Both the Rosemarys and the Magnetic had deals with their record companies which went sour, and Parks, promising himself that he would never pay to record in a studio again, made the decision to record 'Sweet Country Lullabies...' entirely in the band's own practice space. Recorded on an "ad hoc" basis with whoever was available and over an eight month period, 'Sweet Country Lullabies...'is a fluent and remarkably diverse album, which, despite its title, has been influenced as much by fifties rock 'n' roll, sixties folk and nineties grunge as it has been by roots music. As well as Parks, it also features the talents of another ten musicians. All of the members which constitute An American Starlet's regular live group,Patrick Harte (Drums), Scott Powers (Bass), Scott Appleton (Pedal steel), Peter Weldon (Acoustic guitar) and Jared Matt Greenberg (Bass, organ, melotron and Wurltizer piano), however, are all present. There are also special guest appearances from Noah Appleton (Additional drums), Dominic Fasso (Organ), David Fox (Upright Bass) and Sophia Campbell and Maria Keagle ("Starlet" vocals). Parks is in the process of moving from San Francisco to Seattle. Work has, however, already begun on An American Starlet's second album 'Dear Lord Let This Dirt Redeem Me'. The group is also starting to attract attention in Europe, and Parks is hoping to play dates overseas, possibly on his own or with some of the other band members, early next year. With three tracks of the new album already recorded, Pennyblackmusic caught with up him and Greenberg, who was also a member of the Rosemarys and the Magnetic, at this pivotal point in the group's career to talk about 'Sweet Country Lullabies...' and also the band's future direction. PB : Who were the Rosemarys and the Magnetic ? Did they record anything? IP : Well the Rosemarys were formed in '91. We recorded our first album in '92 which was released on an indie label called Continuum records. The record was called 'Providence' and did quite well at college radio, and sold around 20,000 units. This lead to us being courted by the Majors, who we were foolish enough to sign with at the end of '92. We ended up on Fox Records, Rupert Murdoch's fledgling label under the canopy of Twentieth Century Fox.This was the kiss of death. We released one album with Fox 'The Rosemarys',and then after being fucked with no end we broke up. The band was very influenced by British Space rock bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine.After the demise of the Rosemarys, all of us except Tim , the singer, went on to form the Magnetic.We hooked up with a British front man named Andrew Ableson. He is the son of the big English Crooner, Frankie Vaughn, and was trying to escape his legacy by coming to the States where he might enjoy some anonymity. We were signed to 'Facility Records' almost right away,and began recording 'The Power of the Thomas', our one and only record. Some of the same demons, however, followed us from the Rosemarys and ended up splitting the band. After this I officially quit music for 2 years, but old habits die hard and I found myself recording again. Initially it was under the name 'Starlet', but after finding about a Swedish band with the same name it was changed to 'An American Starlet.' PB : Can you define what the Magnetic sounded like ? Were they another space rock band ? You say that some of the same demons followed you from the Rosemarys and broke up the band. What were those ? JM: The Magnetic was heavier on the rock than the space, but still embraced both elements. Andrew's voice was a lot more singerly and direct than Tim's wistful vocals had been. IP: As to The Magnetics' demise, the intentions behind the forming of the group were not 100% pure to begin with, so there was no way it was going to make it in the long haul. We were definitely trying to tailor ourselves to what we thought would be embraced by the record industry. PB: You've chosen to release 'Sweet Country Lullabies' on your own Starletsweb label. After your bad experiences with Fox and Facility, what do you feel are the main advantages of releasing albums by yourself ? Do you think there are any disadvantages ? IP: Well, I guess I just wanted to get something out as fast as I could. But now that I have done it once it really seems like the way to go. When we made records for other labels, it seemed like all the fun of making music just disappeared. When you are doing it for yourself, it retains a certain purity. As for disadvantages, well I wish we could get a distribution deal especially in Europe where we seem to be getting the most attention. JM: The clear advantage of putting out your own records is complete creative control, as well as control over how the group's image is marketed. We no longer have ex-frat guy label execs singing their ideas for hooky choruses into our answering machines as once happened with the Rosemarys. We also don't have a label urging us to wear big floppy psychedelic hats and trippy paisley clothing, or asking us to hire a fashion consultant, as we also experienced. On the other hand, a good label can do a Hell of a lot for you if they care to: marketing, radio promotion, distribution, tour support. Not that we ever saw any of these things done well, but in the absence of a label you're on your own. PB : 'Sweet Country Lullabies…' is a very diverse album. There are elements of fifties rock 'n' roll, sixties folk and nineties grunge as well as country. Why did you decide, therefore, to call it 'Sweet Country Lullabies...' ? Did you intend it as an ironic title ? JM: The idea for the title came up as Peter Weldon, our second guitarist, and I were working on the cover layout. Obviously, it comes from the lead track, 'Sweet Country Lullaby', which tends to be a favorite. I think we were conceiving of "lullaby" in a much broader sense, maybe more like "song" or "ditty", The same could be said of "country" ; you might almost substitute "Americana" (our country is America, after all), which in my mind includes all the genres you mentioned and more. I don't think any irony was intended, but perhaps it was our attempt to put a spin on it that would emphasize whatever country-western flavor was present and bring it out, much like salt is said to bring out the natural flavour of good foods. PB : Ian, is it true that you recorded the album entirely in your practice space. How long did it take to record the album? IP : Well, this is true. About 4 years ago I swore I would never pay to record in a studio again.Instead I would use the money to buy good mics and Pre amps. You see what makes a record sound good isn't lots of fancy flashing lights. It's having time to get it right. When the clock isn't ticking, everyone is much more relaxed. The record took about 8 months to finish, but only because we would stop and start a lot. 3 of the songs were written during those sessions. PB : You're the frontman, but are the rest of the band session players or all regular members of the band ? IP: We like to think of ourselves as a musical family. Members may go off to do their own projects or take a break from music or whatever, but they are always a part of the family. I can¹t imagine ever making a record without Jared Matt, but if I have to go on a tour without him because he is unavailable, that is what I will have to do. In the long run because we allow each other the freedom to do what we want, it keeps the music pure. JM: The musicians are not session players because they make the music for love, not money. They are much closer to regular band members in that they hole up in a warehouse space and try to drown out neighboring bands together (read: they practice), they play shows and barbecues, they hang out. As Ian said, it really is a musical family. Where the band member model breaks down lies in the fact that for recordings the musicianship is song-oriented, not player-oriented. Players may change depending on the needs of the song and other factors. Sometimes there is pressure within a band to come up with a keyboard part for every song because there is a permanent keyboard player.With the family model, the emphasis is on songcraft; egos are largely ignored PB : Ian, your lyrics are really poetic, yet it has been claimed that you never write any of them down. Is that true ? IP: It is true that I do not write down lyrics until I need to. I will write them down if I need to teach them to someone else. But for the most part they reside only in my head. PB : You both produced and engineered the album yourself. How much previous experience have you had of producing and engineering? Did you enjoy the experience ? IP: I have been messing around with recording for as long as I can remember. I truly love the process. I have recorded demos for friends, and I have always wanted to produce albums, maybe some day I will get the opportunity.If I ever get a budget, however, I would love to hire an engineer, so I could relax a little and let someone else worry about if we are hitting the tape too hard. PB : You're also now working on a second album, 'Dear Lord Let This Dirt Redeem Me.' When do you hope to release that? In what ways do you see it as differing from 'Sweet Country Lullabies...'? How many of the same musicians will it involve? JM: Ian will be moving to Seattle at the end of October, which means we will be entering uncharted territory as far as An American Starlet is concerned. The recording will go on, and we hope to have a release ready by summer 2002. Believe it or not, many of the same musicians will be involved, thanks to such technological advances as fibre optics, ion transport, and internal combustion. There are a few players whom Ian already knows up in Seattle who may end up on the recording as well, in addition to unforeseen stars and starlets alike. Peter Weldon, who made such great contributions to 'Sweet Country Lullabies', however, leads a group called The Clarkes, and he will continue to focus on their music. PB : Do you have plans to release anything else on the Starletsweb label ? ?IP : Well, yes I do have plans of releasing a tribute record to the Cure titled 'Sick'.I am asking for contributions from all sorts of bands, I have gotten positive responses from, Moses McCartney, The Aislers Set, The 93rds, Charles Atlas (of which Jared Matt is a member), and I have invited many more bands to participate. In fact I would love to have submissions from European Bands as well, so feel free to put out the word. Anyone who is interested can email me at Ian@starletsweb.com. All the proceeds of this album will go to the American Red Cross. Deadlines for submissions will be February 15th 2002. PB : You have said in the past that you think that you feel that An American Starlet has more perhaps to offer Europe than the United States, and that you think perhaps that America may not yet be ready for An American Starlet. Why do you feel that ? IP: I could be wrong but it just seems like the European music fan is less concerned with boob jobs and syncopated dancing and more concerned with songs. JM: Well, I haven't been to Eurpose (as I call it) in some time, but my impression is that the European market has always been more receptive to music that includes dark elements, that is raw, that is ethereal or subtle. Add the fact that humans seek out the exotic ; being from across an ocean may actually increase our appeal in Europe. PB: Ian, you're also planning to go it alone and to play some European dates by yourself? When will that be? Where will European audiences be able to see you? IP : I could be over there as soon as this spring. It might be by myself or with others. It is really just a matter of economics, I can tour Europe by myself for next to nothing, but the show is greatly improved by the addition of the other players. The bottom line is that we will be 'Bringing it to the people' very soon. PB: Do you have any other plans for the near future? IP: Well, as Matt pointed out, I am moving to Seattle in search of more musically fertile grounds. San Francisco has taken a turn for the worst for artists of all kinds. So we shall see where that leads. Also, there is this Starlet in Norway that I would love to work with again. I will do my best to make that happen. JM: Hmm. I reckon I might help Ian haul himself up to the North West and check the place out myself. We will resume Starlet recording via satellite once Ian gets set up up North. My other project, Charles Atlas, has a new recording coming out and shows to play. I gotsta go to work. I gotsta eat. Plastic arts, video, and writing projects to further. And, of course, romance to pursue. Oh, but there is infinite time if we know how to exploit it. PB : Thank you both of you.

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An American Starlet - Interview

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Sweet Country Lullabies (2001)
While in part ironic, 'Sweet Country Lullabies...' is a deceptive title. The debut CD by An American Starlet is at one level very much a country album. Much of it also sounds very sweet. A few of its

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