When the air gets crisp, when the leaves turn colours and start to fall, the atmosphere noticeably changes. Generally around this time, I find people like to make a bit of a switch in the kind of music they listen to. Gone are the poppy summer hits and in come the warm and majestic folk-rock tunes. If you find that you’re one of these people, then Toronto’s Parks & Rec will snuggle right in.
Parks & Rec released Seeds Grown Here, their second EP, at the end of September. Since then, I’ve let it linger in the air around me, but I was in love with it as soon as I played it for the first time. The seven tracks each have a calmness that settles in but are exhilarating in discoveries. The comforting feeling you feel when listening to them is something that this band should be proud of. Parks & Rec lost a member, Cristina Taborda, in December 2010 when she passed away in her sleep from a seizure. Seeds Grown Here is dedicated in her memory, and as lead singer and guitarist Charles Tilden says in this interview, they can still hear her harmonies. The pain the band had to go through together has ultimately brought them together.
Seeds Grown Here will plant itself in you and evolve into a weighty image or memory of something you’ll relate to this season. From the upbeat and reflective “All These Lives Collide” to the folky rolling wave of “Light Up the Night” to the softer moments throughout; everything is tender, vulnerable but ready to be seen and heard. Parks & Rec are aware, stronger than ever and comfortable in their atmosphere.
Dork Shelf: How did the band start and how did you come to be who you are now?
Charles Tilden: Parks & Rec has gone through a few incarnations. The band started from a number of friendships that all came together. Pierre and I have been making music since we were 12 or 13. We moved to Ottawa with our at-the-time drummer, our friend Jake. So a few years later, I met Eric, the guitarist. We had started writing songs together and feeling a connection and as though a critical mass of material was coming together. We started jamming with Jake and fleshed out a lot of that material and for a while played gigs without a name. Essentially it was Parks & Rec, but we had no idea what it was called, it was just playing gigs in little pubs. Finally the name emerged and soon we were a five-piece for a while with a buddy Scott playing bass and Pierre playing keys and other various instruments. Then along came the lovely Cristina Taborda and we were a six piece for a short time and then a five piece again as Scotty took off and Pierre took the reigns on the bass. And that was Parks & Rec for the first time a band that felt like it was solid, where everyone felt like they knew what was going on and wanted to drive in one direction together. That’s when we put together our first EP, and that’s when we started hitting the road a little bit and playing a lot more gigs. It’s been a slow, progressive evolution.
DS: And now you have your second EP out. So musically, how are you different now from when you started?
CT: I think when we started, we didn’t really know what we wanted to sound like and recording forced us to think a lot more about what that sound was. I think the transition from the first EP to the second really shows how the sound has evolved because the first is five songs that at the time we felt were the most ready to record. They were just what we thought were our best songs that we had played enough that they were tight enough and didn’t really matter so much whether they were cohesive, we just wanted to get something out and that’s what the first EP was. But by the time the second came around, we had a whole slew of other songs to pick from. We picked the songs for the EP trying to cull together something that was a bit more cohesive, had a flow that felt like a record. It’s not a full-length, but we were hoping from start to finish that you could listen to it and feel like it is one piece, like it’s meant to be. Beyond that, it’s really hard to describe what the hell that is. It’s rock music with a lot of folk influences.
DS: Is it a sound that you want to work more towards in the future?
CT: Well now is an exciting time because now we’ve got those two records behind us and it’s time to start again with new material and soon a new drummer. We have a lot of ideas floating around and I can’t say specifically what it’s going to sound like. Way too early.
DS: Your house and neighbourhood seem to be a big part of you. For instance, you recorded in your home studio, what was that like?
CT: It was terrific because it was comfortable, it is a space we know really well and it allowed us all the time in the world to just make sure we got it right. There are downsides to that as well, because when you have all the time in the world you can take all the time in the world. It was many months in the making, but when we pressed play on the mixing sessions for the last time, it was with full confidence.
DS: It’s very tough what you guys went through with losing Cristina. How are you guys doing?
CT: We’ve heard from friends and people who have listened to our music for a long time, and it’s strange that they come to us with this, because we hear it as well. We hear Cristina’s harmonies all the time on a lot of the songs, which is a bit spooky, but I kind of welcome it. It’s a part of her that still exists. We miss her really dearly. Her leaving us was a really surprising experience in that at first it was a very difficult time and was one that put the band in question. But it actually didn’t take long for us to realize that there’s nothing else that we should do except make music. It brought us closer together.
DS: I’m sure she would appreciate that. It’s good to hear you’re doing well. In terms of the new EP, I know it’s dedicated to her, but does it have a certain theme for what it’s about?
CT: There are a number of themes that run through it. Part of it is about sometimes a seemingly hopeless mission of being a musician but deciding that together it’s something that’s worth it. There are some themes that are a bit more abstract and mean a lot of different things. Obviously there’s the theme of planting seeds and growing them. There are the themes of light and darkness.
DS: What’s it like to be a musician in Toronto?
CT: My comparison is that the Ottawa scene is virtually nonexistent unless you’re a hardcore kid in a punk or metal band. And then there’s a very strong underground movement. But otherwise it felt very lonely making music in Ottawa and coming to Toronto was an amazing experience. Whether you make reggae or electronica or jazz or rock and roll, there’s going to be plenty of people you can connect with. It means collaborating is a lot easier, it means bouncing ideas off each other is a lot easier and having a network. The life of a musician can be harsh at times and just hanging out with others can be nice.
DS: Did you move here for the band?
CT: I moved here to go to Ryerson but also knowing in the back of my mind that this was absolutely the place to be. I remember that being confirmed for me the first time I heard You Forgot it in People. “What? That record is from that city and I’m going to that city!” Jake did the same thing. Pierre came a bit later. Eric moved from London a few years later.
DS: Do you have a favourite venue to play at?
CT: I like the Piston a lot, it’s a great size. They’ve done an awesome job at turning that backroom into a great space. We played Magpie recently, which I think under the right circumstances is a terrific venue as well. Again, small. Really eclectic feel. I generally really prefer a smaller venue. We’ve had great times playing at the El Mocambo and the Horseshoe and there’s a certain excitement to playing those stages knowing the things that have happened there in the past, but ultimately I feel like we can connect better with people when they’re right in front of us.
DS: What other kinds of music, games, movies, books or TV shows you guys are into right now?
Books – I’m reading a graphic novel called The Blue Pill. It’s really depressing so don’t read it if you’re depressed right now. It’s about a man who falls in love with a woman only to find out after that she’s HIV positive and so is her kid. The illustrations are phenomenal.
TV – I’m obsessed with Bored to Death, an amazing show. Watch it if you’ve never watched it. Ted Danson, Jason Schwartzman and Zack Galifianakis are a phenomenal trio and bounce off each other really well.
Movies – I’ve only been re-watching stuff lately that I’ve watched a million times before. But I love Micmacs, it’s a French film about a man who makes it his life-long mission to destroy the weapons industry.
Games – We play board games with our housemates upstairs. We usually go with Scattergories.
DS: Anything else you’d like to say?
CT: I’m working on a new project that’s going to be blues and electro music. I have a couple favourites on the electro side I always go back to, like for a long time I’ve been obsessed with Radiohead. I love Caribou and Four Tet big time. On the blues side, I’m digging as far back into the crate as possible. I like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Big Mamma Thorton and I’m just trying to re-grasp the essence of the blues and then see what happens when you mash it with electro music.
Parks & Rec are playing Don’t Touch That Dial at El Mocambo on Saturday, December 3.
You can find more of Parks & Rec’s Seeds Grown Here on their BandCamp page here.