To Torontonians well acquainted with her mesmerizing rasp and hazy psychedelic mind, it can often seem like Tess Parks hasn’t been embraced and celebrated as much as she should be in her hometown.
Born in the borough of Yonge and Eglinton, Parks has spent 14 years building an internationally respected underground career while living in London and abroad, while her biggest supporters have been the likes of Scottish DJ and Creation Records founder Alan McGee – who released her first album, “Blood Hot”, on his 359 Music label 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 been even slower in Toronto and Canada in general.
Parks, however, puts the blame entirely on himself.
“No, I haven’t always embraced Toronto that way l should have,” she says, soaking up the sun on a recent sweltering afternoon on Ontario Place beach.
“I was an anxious teenager who just wanted to get away and get away from my family and high school and whatever and just be far, far away and somehow start over because I felt the world wasn’t right here was for me and if i went somewhere else i would magically feel better and i have realized over the years that of course you have to feel good and at home in yourself before you can go somewhere and feel good So I love Toronto and I’m sorry I didn’t embrace it the way it perhaps should have embraced me all those years ago.”
Parks is back in town right now precisely because she wanted to experience Toronto’s transformative rush of springtime, for the record, that’s how clearly she and the city have patched things up over the years — though she admits she’s was very much ready to go back to England this year and reconnect with her band after many months of being stuck at home in “the longest lockdown in the world”.
The trick now is to rekindle the live chemistry that she and bandmates Rian O’Grady, Ruari Meehan, Francesco Perini and Mike Sutton took from the heavy touring in support of the “Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe” LP to the sessions for her brand new solo album, “And They Who Were Seen Dancing”, as they hit the road again in earnest this fall after a high profile date with Richard Ashcroft and Ride of Verve at the South Facing Festival in the UK on August 6.
In the summer of 2019, she and the band rushed into the studio to see if they could bring the confident vibe of their live show to a new recording, but that momentum was completely shattered by an injury that made it impossible for her to play piano or piano for months. playing guitar and the subsequent onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She temporarily took refuge in photography and painting, “drawing dots and deciding what to do with my life”, before finally deciding to finish what would become the beautiful hazy “And These Who Were Seen Dancing” – a dreamy 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 can’t help but think of more time passes and these songs are not completed.”
With the record finally out in the world, Parks admits it’s a little “dissociative” to talk about music again “because it’s the least I’ve done in the last three years, but it’s what I’m talking about the most nowadays.” She has been in limbo for a long time.
“I haven’t seen the band for two years, so it’s like meeting them again in London,” she says. “And it’s weird because we had just come back from a tour in August 2019 and we really felt ‘learned’ together and we’d been playing well together from the back of the last Anton record for a while so we decided to make new recordings to make. songs and I’d never done it that way where it was like, ‘Wow, there’s a really close band here ready to record.’
“There has never been a method for me. Actually, it’s always been when the timing was right, and at least four times in my life, the timing was so good that I somehow managed to make these bodies work. But it all happened very organically. I’m not looking for it.”
Parks, a chronically deep thinker, a photographer of no small stature who came to this interview with the gift of a small painting to the writer’s 5-year-old daughter – found some sort of quiet solace during her time away from making music and perform in the knowledge that she can survive without making music and performing. There are other things she is good at, so she has the luxury of being able to return to music whenever it feels right to return to music. And now it’s starting to feel good to return to music.
“It was never an ego service for me. I’ve always felt really uncomfortable on stage, so going on stage was a way of testing myself to do something I’m really scared of,” 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 really been going on with my head over the past few years, what’s the point of doing something 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 I think my contribution should be this?
“But I think I have serious psychological problems and if I don’t make something beautiful with my hands then what am I doing? Even if I have negative thoughts I can still sing or even if I’m having a bad day I can still create beautiful colors on a canvas and I feel better that day.”