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On The Table Read, “the best entertainment magazine in the UK“, author and musician Sean BW Parker talks about his album, A Gun To The Temple, and what inspires his music.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Sean BW Parker about his life and career, what inspires him, and the release of his album, A Gun To The Temple.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m a writer, artist and musician, I’ve released six solo albums since 2005. Most of these were recorded between Istanbul, where I lived for ten years from 2004, and London.
When did you first WANT to write songs?
Probably in around 1989, at 14 years old. After hearing how effective simplicity could be in the songs of The Cure, and putting that desire to work with some friends at school who had similar urges with their favourite bands.
When did you take a step to start writing songs?
I ‘borrowed’ my brother’s acoustic guitar, and forced myself to learn to play it right-handed, despite being a left-hander in most other things. My thinking was that doing so would make life easier in the future. I was right. I’d then write rather goth-inspired words to fit the chord structures found.
What was your first song released, and what was it about?
‘Enough to Make You Scream’, released on Colchester Recordings in 2003. It was about an affair with a colleague, and the necessity to keep quiet about it since you get on with her husband, who is also your boss. Sonically it has an acoustic-Strokes feel, I guess (with a melancholic, Anglo edge).
What was your latest song released, and what was it about?
That was a cover of William Blake’s Jerusalem, the famous ‘hymn’. I applied a Kraftwerk rhythm treatment and Jean Michel-Jarre keyboards to reflect its possible use in a post-Brexit context. That’s how we were rolling in 2017.
Here it is: Jerusalem – Sean Bw Parker
Focusing on your latest song. What were your biggest challenges with Jerusalem?
Trying not to have ageing social media users lose their shit into their corn flakes when they heard what I’d done to their beloved anthem. Everybody else seemed to think it was either very weird or brilliant.
How many songs are you working on right now?
I’ve been in painting and writing mode much of this year, with States of Independence being released a few months ago. My 2007 album A Gun To The Temple was only released via website back then, so it’s time it got an official release via Believe Digital (my long-term publisher). Alain de Botton wrote that AGTTT was: ‘Wonderful. The songs are as heartfelt as the are intelligent’.
Do you keep to a theme with your music, or just go where the mood strikes?
As with writing or painting, the songs seem to be mini-collections of their own, phrases or sounds I’ve picked up in culture and reprocessed back into the song. Quite magpie-like, but when you juxtapose two influences, what results has its own atmosphere and quality. Which is the key to much postmodern art I suppose.
What is your favourite song you’ve recorded, and what do you love about it?
Difficult question, but probably Shades of Grace, the closer of this album. An old friend who was generally (playfully) rude about my work listened to it, and was crying by the end of it. Always fun to crack tough nuts.
Do you find other people’s music inspires you? Who do you listen to most?
God yes. Spotify tells me I listen to Public Enemy the most, closely followed by The Flaming Lips, Kate Bush and George Gershwin. Which sounds about right.
Do you write your own music, or do you have musicians you work with?
I’ve been in around ten bands since 1989, and played many collaborations. I’ve written almost all of the songs, except for singing with Exeter funk rock five-piece Demon Groove Lizards in 1993, where I just wrote the lyrics, and in collaboration with avant garde musician Ettuspadix Beautilator in 2015, where I voiced the adventures of an invented character named Anthony H.Wolfstadt on our album Ninja Lit.
Do you play any instruments?
Yes guitar, piano/keyboards, bass, kitchen spoons, but I started on drums. Like Brian Eno once said, I really play the recording studio.
Do you like performing live, or does it scare you? Where can people watch you?
Yes, it’s great playing your music in real time, taking it out of peoples’ personal realm and into the communal. It’s a great sort of nervousness too, that reminds you that you’re alive, and that you care about this at least. The fear factor turns into a sort of professional joy as you get used to it; though I haven’t played live music much since starting to give more culturally-informed talks in 2013. Here is a video of my 2011-2014 band Scorpio Rising, in Istanbul:
Is your music available online, and where can people listen to it?
Yes my albums – now including A Gun To The Temple – are on all the major online stores, here’s the Spotify link:
Are you able to make music full time, or do you have day job?
I’m the editor of a justice reform website, I give talks on that subject and certain piquant aspects of culture, and also have a sideline in contemporary painting, some of these can be seen at Saatchi Art, here:
Are your friends and family supportive of your music career?
My son, 23, is a guitarist himself, and my daughter is bringing up a family. I inherited my love of music from my mother, who has been a singer in her local choir for some years. She also introduced me to Adam Ant, The Police and The Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar when I was young, so you could say supportive.
What’s something you never expected about being a songwriter? What have you learned that surprised you?
You start out wanting to emulate the feeling a certain record or song gave you, but will always fail in that; instead you create an entirely different atmosphere in the mind of a new listener, as your own confidence in creation grows. An unexpected chord change, imaginatively produced, is probably my high point of all culture. ‘All art asprires to the condition of music’ – Walter Pater
Have you had any experiences that really stand out because of your songs?
I remember playing Whose, from A Gun To The Temple onstage at Shaft Bar in Istanbul in 2008-9, and looking out to see a friend of mine who had brought his new date along. I spotted them launch into a full blown kiss during the second verse, and I was very moved.
Do you have any important events coming up we should know about?
A Gun To The Temple is released on Friday 23rd December, and my collection of poetry about prison and justice reform, Panopticon, will be out in 2023. I’ll be sure to let you know the exact date of that when I do! Hopefully there will be a speaking tour of some sort to support it.
What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to write songs?
As soon as something starts to feel comfortable or you start to repeat yourself, change tack slightly, change the rhythm, go to a completely unexpected chord change, and practice that until it becomes your new habit. You don’t need radical changes in genre or subject matter, just incremental changes of direction, to keep the language of your music growing.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Oh heavens yes. A creative has to get it out in order to get on to the next thing, or they’ll often be unhappy and frustrated. If technology has just one benefit it’s in making this easier to do. So make it worth it, by being bold and writing what you want to to write about, rather than what you think might ‘sell’.
Pop all your music, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
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