Sunday, 20 July 2014

An Interview with Chris Parker (Chain Letters)

Back in March I featured Bad Reflection by a new band called Chain Letters. It's a great debut single and you should check it out if you missed it. There didn't seem to be much information about them online and so in an attempt to rectify this I asked guitarist Chris Parker if he would do an interview and he very kindly agreed. Thanks Chris.....

Hi Chris, From chatting to you I can tell you're a big music fan, especially when it comes to catchy punk influenced pop songs with female vocals. Who are your influences and have you always wanted to be in a band?

Main influences are the Zeros, Avengers, Go-Gos, Talulah Gosh, The Donnas and early Buzzcocks. I was always a total music obsessive since before my teens but I've never been in a band before…

You live in Cambridge (UK), the rest of the band seems to be either in Los Angeles or Toronto. How did you all hook up?

We are pretty spread out geographically… Johnny is in Toronto, Sophia is in LA, I'm in England and I'm not sure where Violet is right now! We really only ever planned to make a record, the idea was to make a killer single and that would be that, but now we really want to make another one and it would be great to play live someday. All I set out to do was to make a record just for the sake of making a record. Because from the moment I was given 7-inch singles as a kid, and a toy record player, they were magical things to me. They were halfway between toys and something adult and I got obsessed with music through them and that never left me. So, I wanted to make a record above all, but I had two major problems - I couldn't play an instrument or write songs. So I tried to forget all about it, but it just wouldn't go away. So I tried to learn drums - which was a really stupid idea because I'm not well co-ordinated. All the while I was making up songs in my head, just while driving or walking around. I'd had a bad experience with a cheap guitar years before, it was a finger-shredding beast of an instrument that put me right off playing music. But then I saw one in a music store window and I had to have it, and this time it just felt totally golden in my hands, especially when youtube taught me the three main barre chord shapes! Suddenly I felt like I could play anything and I quickly put chords to those songs that had only existed in my head, and made really rough, really bad demos. So now this was the point at which I had to reach out to other people and ask them if they wanted to get involved - and this was really hard. Just putting myself out there, saying I wanted to do this strange thing, felt very uncomfortable. It's funny - lots of bands had siblings in (Talulah Gosh, Redd Kross, Loli and the Chones etc) and I think it's because they get over that embarrassment factor more quickly - you start off with two like minded people who kind of affirm each other's craziness and then it all starts to come together. So the first person I was in touch with, who wanted to make a record too, was Johnny Bubblegum (ex-Tyranna) the bass player. And then I started to realise we could really do this, and when Sophia said she wanted to be the singer, that was amazing! But my guitar playing was still super-basic and to be honest I struggled to get a reasonable take of the songs on the 7-inch. We lucked out by finding Violet X who is an amazing and rock-solid drummer. That allowed me to get away with some sketchy guitar playing. I've always found it exciting when bands sound amateurish and rough around the edges (like the first Donnas LP) so I wasn't trying to be Jimmy Page, I just wanted to keep up with the drums. Hearing a rough version of the finished song was awesome, and holding the vinyl fresh from the pressing plant was amazing! But we had no idea whether anyone would want to review it, or distribute it, so it was a great surprise when everyone seemed to love it and we started sending it out all around the world. All I really wanted was not to have cartons full of them stacked up in my garage. It's really thrilling to me, the thought of these things going out there and maybe being listened to by someone many years from now. You just never know where it's going to end up, whose hands it's going to fall into. To have people enjoy it is incredible to me and a total bonus. We all want to make another 7-inch, though we never thought about that at the start. Lots of the best punk records came from bands that only ever made one 7-inch and there's something great about that…

Do you manage to get together much? You've never played live?

No, we have never played live, we were really only interested in recording, but we would definitely like to do some gigs in future, but I'd have to get a lot better at playing the guitar.

Chain Letters bassist is called Johnny Bubblegum. Do you ever curse him for picking such a cool name or wish you'd done likewise?

Yes, Johnny Bubblegum has one of the all time great punk names, I couldn't compete with it so I kept my real name.

So far, your only release is the single Bad Reflection / Boulevard Girls, every review I've seen is extremely favourable and it seems to have quickly sold out. How much of a relief was it that after so many years of being a music fan, your first single is so loved? Why the delay in following it up? I'm sure I'm not the only person gagging for more, when can we expect a follow up?

I've nearly finished writing the next A and B side songs but it's still a long way off because we are all busy with other things. Also I want to make the songs as good as I can. When the needle is two-thirds the way through the song, I want people to be itching to go back to the beginning to hear it all over again, like I am when I listen to "Beat Your Heart Out" by the Zeros or the Avengers' "We Are the One".

One of your favourite songs is Magic Words by M.O.T.O. in which Paul Caporino sings about dreaming those magic words "they come to me when I'm asleep." Where do your song ideas come from? Is it something you find comes easily or is writing a struggle (and do you constantly worry whether what you've written is any good)? You say you've nearly finished writing the new a and b sides, does this mean you set out to write a "hit" or do you just write and then decide over time which song will be the a side?

I usually start with a chorus or verse melody, or sometimes just a chord sequence I want to use. The words come a long time later, right at the end, once the tune and chords have been completely worked out. I'm really still finding my way on how to do all this, trying things and seeing what works. With the first record, I got to the point where I'd be restlessly listening to new records but nothing really did it for me - because what I really wanted to hear was the record that only existed in my head. That's what compelled me to make our first single. So I've written quite a few songs but only some have that thing where I just can't wait to hear them and they're going through my head pretty much all the time... I'm reaching that point now with two songs that will hopefully make up our next 7-inch.

The band's Facebook page lists the members as Sophia Dilley (vocals), Chris Parker (guitar), Johnny Bubblegum (bass), Violet X (drums), Michael Dent & Mary Jane Dean (sleeve art). How important to you is the artwork as part as the overall package when producing a record? There's been some great artwork throughout the history of this type of music, your sleeve reminds me a little of Girls At Our Best's Nowhere Fast which has been a long time favourite of mine, have you any favourites?

I'm really into record sleeve art so I took a long time to find the right image. Johnny Bubblegum found the image we used, it was taken by someone he knows, the photographer Mike Dent. When I was first buying records I was always drawn to the super-D.I.Y. xeroxed sleeves of the early 80s so those kinds of styles really sunk in with me…I really like how lettering printed on an inkjet printer gives a kind of fuzzy, imperfect edge. I took all the sleeve information and stuck it together with a glue stick, sticking on another layer if I made a mistake. I just had this obsession with creating a design with texture and a really handmade feel. I don't know what the printer must have been thinking when I walked in with this scrap of paper all crusty and stiff with dried glue.

The single was released on Pogo Time Records. I believe this is your own label, can you give me a little info on it?

Yes, Pogo Time is our label but we'd be interested in putting out records by other bands we really like. I also like the idea of collaborating with other bands as a writer. I'm writing all the Chain Letters stuff, but sometimes I come up with something that doesn't fit the band, something a bit faster and more bratty, and I'd like to start a side-band with like-minded people.

Some people are willing to spend weeks cooped up in a house being filmed 24 hours a day or will eat kangaroo anus' in order to advance their career. Would you go to such extremes in order to help promote the band?

re kangaroo balls etc - our only aim is to have a few people who really like what we're trying to do… that's way better than having a couple of thousand people who think you're kind of OK.

I've already featured Bad Reflection as song of the day so today it'll be the flip side, Boulevard Girls. Who are the Boulevard Girls and as you're from England shouldn't it be Main Road Girls or Dual Carriageway Girls???

I really like writing for Sophia as she always takes the basic song and adds inflections that I would never have thought of, that make the song ten times better… this is about someone who is getting away from the street where they have lived for a long time, to escape the memories of a bad relationship. But it also means losing all the friendships that have sustained them over the years… a little drama going on there.

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