At about this time last year, I interviewed Deantoni Parks for this very site. Normally, interviewing musicians in consecutive years is redundant, because not much aside from touring occurs after an album cycle. But Parks is different. He’s always releasing new music, working on new projects. Perhaps the only way to keep up with his constant output is to talk with him and simply ask what he’s working on. He has more music than he knows what to do with.
“I call it the vault, man,” Parks tells me from Brooklyn over the phone. He’s exhausted. After finishing scoring Paul Schrader’s latest film, Dog Eat Dog, with his producing partner Nicci Kasper, Parks heads straight for California to do some video work with Velvet hero John Cale. From there? A redeye flight back to New York, where, he tells me, “I’m gonna talk with Will, get myself a fancy ass lunch, and pass out.” More music can wait a day, I suppose.
For the uninitiated, you’ve likely heard Parks’ backbeat before. He plays with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez both with and without the Mars Volta, he backs up the aforementioned Cale, he did a record with Moby, and acted in Mark Ruffalo’s Sympathy for Delicious. Parks has his hands on so many different pulses, yet somehow found a way to release to release Technoself on LEAVING Records in 2015, two more solo records (WALLY and Deanthoven) in 2016, along with a record under the name We Are Dark Angels, his group with Kasper. The We Are Dark Angels album, Look This, was just released, and serves as a prequel to their score work for Dog Eat Dog. In Parks’ words, “It’s both an inspiration for and a reflection of” their work on the film. Look This consists of six grimy, slithering songs; mesmerizing and bleak in steady doses.
Parks is able to balance the electro and the acoustic so well in part because of his Technoself method. The theory doesn’t truly make sense until you see Parks practice it live, but essentially, it’s a real time technique of composition, with Parks triggering samples with his right hand and playing a drum kit with his left. It’s an unbelievable experience to witness in concert, and while the sheer audacity of it doesn’t come across on records, it has a practical function, too. For the Dog Eat Dog score, Parks and Kasper were able to build their soundtrack in live time, placing samples at any given moment and playing along to scenes Schrader had selected for musical accompaniment. Parks’ ability to turn his film scoring work into a new beginning is precisely what makes the drummer cum composer so fascinating. These aren’t end-stops but merely avenues to new beginnings. It’s impossible to guess where he’ll go next. —Will Schube
Are you still out in LA?
Deantoni Parks:I just flew back to the East Coast on a red eye.
You were working with John Cale out there, right?
Deantoni Parks:Yeah. And I was also working with Paul Schrader. He has a new film with Ethan Hawke. He didn’t intend on having a score, but we started doing a couple cues for him…On top of all the other shit I’m working on [laughs].
How did you and Nicci Kasper [other member of We Are Dark Angels] initially link up with Paul Schrader?
Deantoni Parks:I’m not sure if you’re familiar with David Holmes. He did the music for the new Oceans movies. He and Cliff Martinez were both trying for that. He’s a great music supervisor, and I worked under him on a few scores. He was the person that told another music supervisor about me. They were looking for someone who could handle Paul’s film, and David recommended me to do the whole thing. That’s how it got going. Nic and I had worked on True Detective, the Season 2 finale. That was also through David.
Why did you decide to bring Nic along for the Dog Eat Dog score?
Deantoni Parks:Nicci and I have had a long relationship writing together and playing in various bands. Nic and I had a band called KUDU together in New York, so we’ve been on to something for a while. This is the first time we’ve been able to really showcase our chemistry. When you hear the term, ‘We Are Dark Angels,’ that’s what you’re getting. Our world. This is the first time we’ve been able to put our compositions in the forefront. The group is us. It’s a great departure. We have a real chemistry when it comes to this.
Do you think having a jazz background helps with that?
Deantoni Parks:Oh yeah. Big time. You got to remember, John Williams has a jazz background. He’s varied, you know? He loves Bartók, but he also appreciates Thelonious Monk.
Is this the first score you’ve handled on your own?
Deantoni Parks:Yes. This is my first time as a department head in a film. I’ve always secretly wanted to achieve that. I couldn’t be more lucky to have my first film be a Paul Schrader film with Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe.
When you hear about the idea from Paul Schrader, how do you write a score for film versus composing your own music? Did you have references to the film? What was that initial process like?
Deantoni Parks:It was amazing to sit down and spot the film with Paul. He’s so musically—he’s just into it. He knows what he’s hearing and he knows how to describe what he wants. Luckily for us, he was very specific. That made it a lot easier. He was just communicating ideas to us. Some things, he was like, ‘Can you do something that sounds like The Killing Joke?’ For another cue he’d be like, ‘Can you do a Black Keys thing?’ It was basically nailing abstract concoctions. We’d hear Paul describe it, and I was like, ‘I’m talking to Travis Bickle over here,’ you know? It was freaking me out [laughs]. The guy is such a legend, I just wanted to nail each thing.
The beauty of each musical cue—and the beauty of two people being in We Are Dark Angels—is that it takes the stress away. Whatever cue I get, Nicci has my back. We have two different but similar backgrounds. We cover each other quite well in that respect. Beginning that initial dialogue with Paul was just so crucial. He didn’t know if we could do what he wanted to do. I don’t know what composer would have actually been able to do that [laughs]. He told us to our faces, ‘I like you guys. But I don’t know if you can actually do what I need you to do.’ Because he didn’t know us at all. He thought we were some cool looking guys just smoking weed and doing beats. So we had to let him know, whatever you want, we can do it. He was like, ‘Don’t worry. If you can’t handle it, I’ll just call up Philip Glass.’ The dude knows his stuff [laughs].
That lights a fire under your ass I’m sure.
Deantoni Parks:He can get anyone he wants to do this. The guy gave Jack Nitzsche his start in film scoring. He worked with Giorgio Moroder and Bowie. We know he has an ear. Every time we nailed a cue, it was like getting a film history award.
Did you use the Technoself method for the score?
Deantoni Parks:I sure did. You’ll hear it. One of the songs on my album made it into the movie. It’s during a great scene where Dafoe and Cage jack a drug dealer. Even some of the Technoself outtake ideas made it into the movie. It just took everything we had. We played Paul the Elvis Presley remix we did, and he had us do it for a Porter Wagoner piece. We can write classical themes, but we have modern day engineering techniques to remix it on the spot. We turned a Porter Wagoner song into this dark, post-apocalyptic, Satanist, jam. But it’s Porter Wagoner! So that plays out during the end credits. Paul totally understands us, which is so important. The whole thing just came in line with our work as a duo.
Were there any film composers you were looking to while writing and recording?
Deantoni Parks:Oh, for sure. We love Mica Levi. I like her band. But just to hear her bringing that unconventional, atypical score to Hollywood is amazing. I love her Under the Skin score. It’s hard to name many others, because I think she’s so far ahead of others getting into it. Carter Burwell and Jóhann Jóhannsson, obviously. Just that time period, it was so great. We Are Dark Angels, we’re going to be able to blur lines between cinematic art music with whatever you want to listen to day to day. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the whole experience.
What was it like the first time you heard your music accompanying images on the big screen?
Deantoni Parks:I got a small shot of this—I worked on Mark Ruffalo’s directorial debut, a film called Sympathy For Delicious. I play in a rock band with Laura Linney and Juliette Lewis. We bring in this guy who has the ability to heal people, so we exploit him. Mark Ruffalo is an activist, so the film is a metaphor for big companies and the way they exploit us. I got to act in it and work on the score with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and Cedric from At The Drive-In. That was my first film, basically. I’ve done a few things—I worked on a John Travolta movie called Criminal Activities. There are a few things around that I’ve played songs in, but this is a whole different beast. Being a department head and the politics involved, it was incredible. It’s a game changer. I’ve wanted this for a long time, and I understand what it takes to get there.
The Technoself method, philosophically, is a way for you to do everything on your own. What was it like involving Nicci while you still practiced that method?
Deantoni Parks:It was great. It’s funny because Nicci sort of adheres to the same thing. Even when we recorded music for the film, a lot of it was done in real time. Everything has a brevity to it. There’s no way to achieve that unless everyone takes the same approach. There’s a baby kidnapping scene, and that was recorded in real time. You hear a Juno 106 and me on the timpani. When you allow the music to direct you, all of these different possibilities come available. Nic and I use the method to record a vault of music for film. Just picking different tempos, different sounds, and creating a vault of these moments. Through the editor and the director, they get put to use. Technoself is not just my album, it’s a new way of composing. It’s almost like automatic art. It’s very close to what Pollack was doing in painting. We’re using the magic of the present moment. That’s the most amazing tool to be used in composition, I think.
You and Nicci just released a new record. I was surprised when I read that it was your debut together as We Are Dark Angels. Why did you decide that now is the right time to put out a record when you’ve been playing together for so long?
Deantoni Parks:Mainly because of the film. Once we got the film opportunity, that is branding on another level. The fact that Paul and the producer gave us We Are Dark Angels branding says a lot about the work we did on the project. They don’t have to do that, you know? For first time composers (in their eyes), they could have given us the freshmen treatment. But because we won over Paul and delivered, they gave us the ultimate respect. The fact that we had our brand go to Cannes Film Festival, that was huge for us.
We had this record, Look This, before the film. We write and then hold and wait. You can imagine how much music we actually have. This is our coming out party. It’s great that we didn’t drop the album first. We dropped the movie first and now we’re releasing the movie to go along with it. That was something I wanted to have available when the movie came out.
How do you make sure an album like Look This is the right aesthetic when you have so many songs to choose from?
Deantoni Parks:It’s tied into the film score. It’s around the same time period. What you’re hearing on Look This is the music that inspired the score for Dog Eat Dog. That’s the connection. You hear the results of me working with John Cale for the last decade. You hear our influences. Nicci brings that futuristic aspect to it. He’s a thematic machine. You get him behind a Chamberlain [logic board], and he makes it sound like no one else. These are very powerful elements for us to use in the cinematic world.
You say Look This is a reflection of and an inspiration for the Dog Eat Dog score. Are you going to keep making new music as We Are Dark Angels?
Deantoni Parks:Oh yeah. This has given us the excuse to put out records. This is number one in a long series of original music. We have a lot more remixes. We’re currently mixing our We Are Dark Angels Beatles remix album. We’re trying to get it to Paul McCartney. T. Bone Burnett is trying to get it to him. Apparently Paul is the coolest guy on the planet. T. Bone told us he’s going to lose it when he hears it. We also have a Grateful Dead record.
We Are Dark Angels is all about giving it up to the ancestors. We like to give it up to people who have passed away, too. It’s a different vibe when people are deceased. It’s very important for us to remember these people. It’s a lifelong art piece. I do it almost every other day. Nic and I, it’s how we practice our engineering skills. We have all these records—Mahavishnu and Queen, too. We don’t want to flood the market. Now, with the film out there and attached to Nicolas Cage and Paul Schrader, that gives us a platform. Definitely look for a lot more We Are Dark Angels records soon.
Are you going to put out more solo Deantoni Parks records, too?
Deantoni Parks:Absolutely. The second installment of Technoself is coming early 2017. I have two records of my production that I’m releasing with TAR Records, which is a Brainfeeder subsidiary. There’s an EP coming soon under a new moniker, too. We also have a couple We Are Dark Angels live records coming, and I have a Technoself live record coming, too. I’m going to be lighting up my Bandcamp [laughs]. Now I can do so many things because my vault is getting so big. It’s exciting.