PARENTZ is the invention of Jeremy Sullivan, an electronic artist based out of Oakland, CA whose mega chill tunage is sure to excite even the most cynical of music enthusiasts. An adventure in future pop with a bit of trip hop thrown in, the world of PARENTZ is one a listener is sure to revisit time and again. BIG is the name of their latest release, with more than just a nod to the classic Tom Hanks movie. Here is an interview we conducted with Mr. Sullivan to find out more about PARENTZ and their unique exploration into the realmz of chill. Kick back and read on…
Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in PARENTZ, and how long the project has been in existence…
First of all it’s PARENTZ all caps! It’s been in existence for a long time as a vehicle for my solo stuff while I was in MakeMe and Chambers, but I started going really full force around July of last year. I started the year with a full time job and two bands, and by July I had no bands, no job, and this became my life. I do everything, which means program the beats, play guitar, sing, arrangements, etc., but I get a lot of mixing and mastering work done by Adam Myatt of James & Evander, with some consultation from Glenn Jackson, also from James & Evander. I’ve started letting go a bit and have collaborated with a few folks, mostly female singers Kia Smith, who plays with me live and is on “Before You Know It,”and Sarah K. Melfy who is on a lot of the songs on the tape. Both are amazing singers with really different voices.
Where are you based out of and what is your local music scene like there?
I live in Berkeley, CA but I would say I am based in Oakland since I practice there, and play most of my shows there. The scene is really taking off! There are a bunch of bands that are starting to get a lot of attention, and we in the electronic music scene are really coming together as a group. James & Evander, Yalls, Elephant & Castle, along with other electronic acts from SF like Blackbird Blackbird are really coalescing into a scene. Also, there’s I’d say as a part of that emergent scene bloggers both nationally and in the Bay Area that are offering consistent and powerful support including epicsauce, ears of the beholder, yours truly, Mapzzz, Bay Bridged, Bay Area Bourgeiose and a bunch of others. It’s really just a great group of people helping each other, remixing each other, going to shows, hanging out, and finding a place in the community. Add to that the rise of Downtown Oakland’s nightlife through a slew of new bars, venues, and restaurants, and you have a perfect recipe for a great scene, and a great community, with lots of fun nights. It’s a great thing to be a part of.
Prior to PARENTZ, what other bands were you involved with and what was their music style?
I was briefly in a band that I was really proud to be a part of called Chambers that ended a bit prematurely. It was a supergroup of sorts with 5 people from various bay area bands, and a ton of gear. We had amazing songs, some of which I didn’t have any part of writing (I joined as a drummer after a first batch of songs were written) and the live show was really strong. I played drums, but there were two people who also played floor toms and snares, electronic percussion… it all created a really visceral, loud, intense experience live. Honestly we were probably the sound guys/gals worst nightmare.
Before (and during) that I was in a band called MakeMe with my girlfriend, Zola. We were a girl-fronted indie-pop act. We had a great time and I learned a lot about playing shows and working with people from it. Ultimately two of the members got married and had a baby, and Zola and I decided we were looking for different things musically, and so she’s moved on to a girl-pop duo called Bam!Bam! and I moved on to PARENTZ. It’s been great for our relationship!
Is there any story behind the name PARENTZ? What made you decide to bestow that moniker on your project?
I’m sort of a contrarian some of the time, and I like to identify things and sort of swing in the other direction. In this case I identified the youth obsession in indie and then electronic music, and especially in the band names. The Arcade Fire is kind of always annoyingly talking about “the kids…” this and “the kids…” that. And there’s a bunch of kids bands like Black Kids, Get-up Kids, songs called “Kids” and the artists themselves the way they often like swoop their hair forward to cover the wrinkles on their foreheads and receding hairlines, it just all seems like a big farce to me. So I thought, what is the least cool thing to a kid? Hmmmm… Plus I thought it’s funny how sometimes when big corporations or government agencies try to market things to kids they just put a “z” on it to make it “hip.” So absurd. I guess it’s a mix of absurdity and a reaction to pop-culture’s obsession with youth.
Are you a fan of Tom Hanks and the movie Big and how did the movie influence you music?
I am a big fan of Tom Hanks. What initially led me to Hanks and his characters as a vehicle for the music is I was forming PARENTZ as a solo project, and I thought that I would need to have video projections as a part of the concept since it would just be me on stage. I typically hate when someone just like projects the news or plays random clips from old movies along with an artist since there is no relationship between the music and the visuals, so for me I wanted to create a show that had visuals tied to the music conceptually. I also happened to write a song about a plane crash, and then another about being marooned on an island. Tom Hanks came to mind because of Castaway, but also, Joe v. The Volcano, and it was off from there. I began to create a whole narrative that was kind of a new set of experiences bonded by the moments, themes, emotions, and music in all of Hanks’ movies. Big is just one section. The entire piece is something I haven’t debuted yet. Big is just the teaser. The forthcoming full length is going to be the complete idea, with a sort of abstract movie made from clips of Tom Hanks movies to go along with it.
As far as Big and Before You Know it, I wanted to use a sound pallate that is a little more cheesy and tongue-in-cheek than full, rich, and chillwave-y. I have songs that are the other end of the spectrum that I really love, but for those two songs, and Housesitter, that was my intent. I am trying to reference Peter Gabriel, Michael Jackson, and other artists that use that pallate that sounds ironic to us now, but that at the time was used to express real genuine emotions and feelings. It’s again a bit absurd, but also a really effective and useful sound pallate. It’s all about context and how the thing can remain the same, but the context around it can change and alter one’s experience of it. Like when you put colors next to each other and it changes how one color looks. The color hasn’t changed it’s just the context.
Select two songs from Big and what inspired the lyrical content…
Hmmmmm… Let’s go with Big, and Before You Know it. For Big, I wanted to create a song that had the sort of enthusiasm and exuberance of a lot of 80s pop. A lot of those songs seemed to have an overwhelming optimism as well as a didactic kind of message in the music. Think “Let My Love Open The Door” by Pete Townshend, or “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, or “Man in The Mirror” by Michael Jackson. (It’s all about those little tings. Yes I do mean tings.) I started just thinking about growing up and how you are told to do something and live a certain way and you’ll be happy, sort of like that scene from fight club where Tyler tells Norton “get a job, get married, have a kid…” etc., and how really harmful that path can be to people. It doesn’t take in to account a whole breadth of human experience, and it makes a life apart from the straight and narrow path seem bad or wrong, when it really is better and works for a lot of people.
For Before You Know It, it was again about growing up, but in this case it was more about death, and how its funny to put things in order, but that if you aren’t paying attention and really enjoying life, before you know it, it will be gone, and you will not have done anything you wanted to. I actual recorded those lyrics in a closet at my mom’s house in Massachusetts after having traveled there for my grandmother’s funeral, so it’s a bit about that experience too. It’s about how you can just slide through life if you aren’t paying attention.
Have you ever performed live as PARENTZ, and if so, what could one expect from a live PARENTZ show?
Well I’ve played many times in the past year. When I first started it was just me and a backing track, but now I play some light-up midi controllers, maybe drumpads, guitar, and if I can I have Kia Smith sing with me now. She’s really been a great addition to the live show. Made me tighten up my vocals a lot.
I also have video projections tied to the music, at long last. Wanted to get them just right. Genre wise I go a bit all over the place. Some rnb, pop-rock, and rap as in “Back It Up.” Sometimes I wear a skullmask. I’d like to add more people if I can afford it. Want to make sure the vocals are really strong, and that people really get it. Basically it’s a fun show, where I engage the audience rather than have like a 4th wall up. I like to have fun on stage.
Do you plan on doing more hip-hop/trip-hop influenced songs like Back It Up? And what made you decide to explore that style of vocals?
Oh yeah, definitely! I have a few songs done for the full length that have a bit more of a heavy beat, but with more of a melodic vocal style than rapping. I like rapping, It’s fun! It just came to me the first verse about parking your car, and I thought, why not? It’s been a good decision as that is far and away my most popular song live. But I’m not sure I’m ready to go down that road. I’d rather fuse some of the disparate elements in the songs I’ve written so far and get more of a cohesive sound. I like singing a lot. But who knows I might just make an entire rap album next.
How did you wind up working with Chill Mega Chill Records?
I posted songs for an intended self-release of the Big tape on bandcamp, and Tripp from Chill Mega Chill just fell in love with them and the concept. He was really anxious to put something out, and for copyright reasons I had to change the art anyway, so I decided it would be good to have him help me release it. He called me up and told me how much of a fan of Big (the movie) he is and he started rattling off a bunch of ideas for the packaging, and picked some additional songs. When someone displays that level of enthusiasm for something you’ve made and starts having ideas that blow you away, you have to sort of get onboard. It’s been so awesome. He came up with these Zoltar fortune/download cards that come with the tape and that I’ve been handing out as promos. They look really good and are a great conversation piece. Really fit the concept. And they just make people smile and laugh when they get the connection. That’s the point. Things like that.
What is it you’d like a listener to remember the most after hearing your music for the first time?
I want people to get it. To be disarmed by the humor in the arrangements and lyrical content, but then really hear what I’m saying in each song, and the songs together as a whole. I want them to feel the emotions that I’m trying to capture with the sounds. I want them to remember that they are going to die someday soon and that they should love, learn, and enjoy it while they can. Try to do something that’s seems impossible. Or just to smile and laugh.
Any other PARENTZ music or Jeremy Sullivan music projects in the works?
I got about 8-10 more songs ready for a full length. I have a Wallpaper remix in the can but I want to wait to send it to him until the time is right. Almost done with a Halloween song about a scary night in Oakland when I was mugged that will be coming out on a Chill Mega Chill compilation called The Chiller real soon. It samples e40. It sounds so good.
I’m also working with Adam Beck from Death of a Party on a collabo project, Lovesick Parentz, with the album called watchthephone. (he’s Lovesick.) It’s sounding cool. darker.
What was the name of the very first song you ever wrote, how old were you, and what inspired you to write the music/lyrics?
The first complete complete song I ever wrote was called Knobs and Switches. I think I was about 14-15. It was an acoustic song all about the different ways we try to control things to make our lives better and how trying to control things really makes it worse.
Any final words of wisdom?
deal with it, deal with it, deal with it.
back it up, back it up, back it up
(Interview by Kenneth Morton)
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