Six Questions with Theo Parrish

Siobhán Kane had a quick chat with Theo Parrish ahead of his Sugar Club gig this Thursday

Synonymous with his pioneering work as a producer, DJ, and musician, Detroit-based Theo Parrish has been at the forefront of inventive music culture for many years now, with his labels-Sound Signature and Wildheart as beacons, releasing his own work as well as other artists’. His projects are expansive – from 3 Chairs, with Moodymann and Rick Wilhite, to his collaboration with Tony Allen, and his residency at Plastic People in London – it is this love of community and collaboration that inspired him to get a live band together again, the first time in a decade. Comprising musicians such as Amp Fiddler, Myele Manzanza, Duminie Deporres, Akwasi Mensah, Ideeyah, and Gehrick Mohr and his “crew of phenomenal dancers” they will be performing “old and new Sound Signature classics” – Siobhán Kane asks him quick six questions.

You grew up listening to a lot of jazz musicians – was there a lot of music in your house? And when did you start playing keys?
Where I’m from, the Southside of Chicago, most people had music playing in their houses coming up, no different from everywhere else. My grandparents had a piano. I remember my Uncle babysitting me whilst he practiced The Isley Brothers, though, and I remember very early that all the black keys sounded good together. My mother was always listening to Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder, Pharaoh Sanders and Jean Carn.

You have been involved with the Red Bull Music Academy, among other projects disseminating musical culture – have you ever considered teaching?
I just talk too much, and believe and feel that we all are teachers whenever we let others in to what we’ve experienced.

There is almost an academic approach to your DJ sets, which makes them so compelling – do you get as much enjoyment out of DJ’ing as you do working in the studio? How has your monthly residency at Plastic People in London been going?
The Plastic residency feeds me as much as I feed it. It’s been a blessing for me to play in such a dedicated environment, and it has completely shaped the way I make music. I’ll play a set at Plastic, get inspired, go home, make something new, play it at Plastic again, and decide how it may need to be mixed – get it close to its potential, construct a set around it finding songs that match or contrast its texture or energy. It feeds in and out. I go through cycles with the production and selecting, moments of hiding and then exposure, luckily I sort of see them as two aspects of the same thing, and I tend to enjoy most of the creative processes involved, it’s the logistical parts that wear me out. Luckily I get a lot of help with that.

Can you recommend some interesting music that people might not be as aware of at the moment?
Budgie. Dego. Akwasi. Fatima. Chalin. Geology. Leron. Myele. Duminie. Ideeyah.

What have you been reading, and watching?
Sound on Sound magazine for studio, Aryan Kaganof for a serious read, Jeremy Clarkson for a laugh, and endless automobile magazines for fun.

What other projects are you working on in the next while?
The new LP, American Intelligence, which is due out in fall, after the tour.

Theo Parrish plays The Sugar Club this Thursday, 17th July.

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