“Let me pull over, I’m just driving in a hurricane here,” Patrick Park said over the phone as he made his way from one stop on his tour to the next. “I’m in Scranton or somewhere like that, but it’s the windiest I’ve seen it.”
The singer-songwriter is currently on a nearly six week tour that will bring him across the United States, with a stop in Cleveland tonight at the Beachland Tavern. He recently released a new album, Love Like Swords, and an engaging video for “My Holding Hand is Empty.” We chatted about each, as well as the importance of following your heart, even if the end result isn’t what you expect.
I kind of always like to start off with someone’s roots. I know you’ve been playing for a while, but who inspired you to begin making music?
I started really, really young. I just always was really kind of mesmerized by music and my dad played so there were always guitars around the house. I think I started six years old. I don’t know. Early on, I think it was probably just a lot of the folk stuff that my dad listened to, Mississippi John Hurt, Sonny Perry, Bobby McGee. People like that. Mississippi Fred McDowell. And then when I kind of got older I started playing in bands and stuff like that. It’s a little weird because maybe a lot of people can kind of look back and say this artist or this person inspired me to do what I’m doing, but I can’t pinpoint any one specific sort of artist or band or anything that really just inspired me I just feel like music is just something I’ve always been doing and always wanted to do. There’s so many bands and artists that have inspired me along the way, but it honestly changes every day.
So it was something you always knew you wanted to do as a career?
Yeah. Pretty early on I feel like I decided this was something I decided I was going to try to do. Probably when I was fourteen or fifteen I was dead set that this was what I was going to do with my life.
That’s pretty early to make this decision.
It’s like any decision you make when you’re fourteen or fifteen. You don’t really understand what it means or what goes into it or anything, you know? It’s something that I couldn’t not do.
What sort of difficulties have you had to pushed through to follow your dreams?
Well, today, the way the wind is blowing about 190 miles an hour comes to mind. The difficulties on the business side, which is really not my forte. I just try to focus on the music. Stuff like this tour. I’ve been out, this tour is almost six weeks across the US, just me by myself in a van. So, there’s difficulties that go along with that and that kind of life. But I kind of love it. At times, it’s very challenging, just like logistically. If I get to bed at 4 and I have to wake up at 6am to drive to be in a town to do like an in-store or something like that, that’s difficult. But honestly I like to do this. You get to understand your mind in a way that I don’t know a lot of people have a chance to. You’re confronted with your own mind constantly. I really value that.
I feel like there would be a lot of personal growth that you can accomplish when you’re driving by yourself across the country in a van.
Yeah. I mean, I think there always is. I always feel really, really clear when I get back from a long tour. It’s sort of like a meditation retreat in a way. Day in, day out, you’re just by yourself. You meet people at night, which is always nice. But long drives you’re constantly confronted by your own karma, your own mind, however you want to say it. You learn a lot about yourself, which I wouldn’t give up for anything. That’s kind of what it’s all about, right?
Early on you spent some time in NY before you relocated to LA. How did the music scenes differ?
I don’t really know. I wasn’t really in NY long enough to get a foothold. I moved there when I was real young and honestly I just felt like that place sort of ate me up and spat me out. I was woefully unprepared for the realities of that place, so I didn’t really get too far into the music scene and the culture there. It was more like, how can I survive in this place and hopefully be creative. I quickly realized it wasn’t for me and made it back to Colorado and then later on moved out to LA because of a girl. I’ve been in LA for a while now. LA has also been challenging. It’s taken me a long time to find my rhythm there, but I actually really like it there. It’s really just about who you surround yourself with, how far into what you’re doing you are.
Do you think it’s wise to make huge life decisions like relocating for love?
I mean, maybe? It depends. It depends on each person’s situation. That particular relationship didn’t end up working out, but I’m still there. In the end, I guess it was a good thing because it brought me to the place I am now and there’s a lot of people who wouldn’t be in my life if I had not made that decision. It’s kind of impossible to say. You can’t look back and say, if I had taken this road, I would be in this place. It’s kind of like you never know. Whatever life presents you with, I think you just really have to pay attention and pay attention to why it is that you want what you want. I think that’s pretty important. You kind of just make the decision that feels best, based on that stuff, and don’t look back. If you spend all your time looking back, then you aren’t paying attention to what’s going on and you’re going to miss everything, kind of like you’re living in a dream.
I have to apologize, that was sort of a selfish question because I’m kind of in the middle of that situation.
Are you? Not to pry, you don’t have to answer me if you don’t want to, but you’re thinking of making a big move for somebody, then?
Yeah, I’ve been talking to this guy for months now and he’s asked me to relocate. I’m thinking about doing it. I need a change of scenery.
It’s not like that’s so far that you’re moving to Australia or anything like that. I can’t say what to do, but just like I said, think about, ask yourself, am I going to always wonder if I stay? Am I going to always be regretting the fact that I stayed? And vice versa. Am I going to feel like I missed out or sacrificed too much if I leave? Chances are you kind of already know the answer. And we can go round and round in our head on this wheel that we’re always on and kind of get nowhere. Really, you know what you want the whole time. Pay attention to why you want what you want. I don’t know if that answered your question or not.
It did. Thank you. Back to your music, when you’re writing, what comes first? Do you start with lyrics or do you fiddle around with melodies?
It happens a bunch of different ways. I try to just be really open to letting it happen however it happens. As long as I’ve been doing it, I realized there’s a large part of the process that really doesn’t have anything to do with me. I don’t necessarily know where a lot of things come from. Sometimes it’s like whole songs will just come to me. There’s songs that like, I’ve played the songs when I’m writing it, start to finish the first or second time I ever try to work on it. I don’t know where that comes from. That has nothing to do with me at all.
I just try to be open to whatever is presenting itself. Sometimes it starts with the music and I’ll hear a melody that kinds of goes with it. Sometimes it starts with something I really feel like I need to say and I’ll craft around that. Sometimes it’s this overall feeling that is already there and I’m just trying to give some structure to something that’s already there. I don’t know if that sounds weird or not, but that’s kind of how I feel about it.
I think that totally makes sense. When you’re creating anything, I don’t think you always know the genesis of it.
It’s really hard to pinpoint where something begins. Songs I guess have a definite end in that they get recorded and that’s that. If I let myself, I could probably keep tweaking them forever, but that’s just a one way ticket to crazy town.
I’m always curious about where things start because I’m always interested in how people listen to things as well. For me, I always listen for lyrics first and I don’t know if that’s because I’m a writer and that’s what I’m drawn to. Or if I’m listening to orchestral music, I hear the flute lines first and I don’t know if that’s because I play it or not. That sort of stuff is always interesting to me.
When I listen to music, definitely the lyrics are important to me because that’s the human perspective. I listen for what the perspective is first and then you kind of listen to everything all together because the music, the backdrop, sort of informs the emotional charge of whatever that perspective is. So, I mean, yeah, lyrics are for me too the first thing kind of that I consciously pay attention to, but everything is kind of one thing.
You just released a new album this month. How do you feel “Love Like Swords” differs from your previous work?
It’s definitely tonally kind of different and atmospheric. I wanted it to be one of those records that becomes the fabric of whatever it is that you’re going through and kind of hopefully becomes like a mirror and reflects your own life back to you as a listener. I wanted it to be atmospheric and nebulous and something that you sink into. I did start this record not knowing what it was going to be. I was writing these songs and I didn’t want to make a strictly acoustic record. When I was writing all these songs I just like myself go, like I don’t know what it’s going to be, maybe it’ll be like a side project or something and then I just kind of realized, no, it’s just my next record. It felt certainly different in terms of the layers and the choices of tone and instrumentation. I feel like as far as the songs go, it’s still me and my perspective, but lyrically maybe it’s a little bit more esoteric because I wanted it to be like an open-ended question.
And within the last week you also released a video for “My Holding Hand is Empty.” Tell me a little bit about the filming of that video.
That video was so fun. It’s all one shot. We’re lighting shit on fire and breaking things down, so we only got one take to do it and whatever happened was going to happen and we were going to get what we got. We did the whole video in the director’s backyard in LA. It was all very DIY. We kind of did it all ourselves, just got a bunch of friends and people to help. Fortunately a lot of those friends are super talented and professionals in that field so the video looked amazing, I think. I was pretty nervous about the fire aspect of it because we were just in a backyard in Los Angeles, which is pretty illegal. And also, we knew that the piano had to go up in flames and we only had one shot to make sure it went up. We were throwing lighter fluid and paper and rubber cement, basically everything that’s flammable we threw into that piano to make sure that it would go up in flames. In the back of my head I was thinking, we’re going to burn half the city down or something. Of course, everything was fine. We were safe, but it was a little nerve-wrecking. There’s a lot of stuff in that video that you kind of have to watch it a couple times and you see different things every time. There’s a lot of stuff that happened that wasn’t necessarily supposed to happen, but that’s what it was. That’s why I like that video so much.
I was impressed with your ability to stay focused on looking forward because I feel like if that was happening to me, I would have been freaking out inside and it would have been visible.
It was a challenge to stay stone-faced. The other thing was that we shot the song in slow motion. That means we had to shoot it at twice the speed. So I’m singing the song at twice the speed as we’re filming it. So all that stuff is going on and I’m trying to sing this song super fast and just focus on that. It definitely was really challenging. I couldn’t have hoped for it to turn out any better.
That would have made me anxious, too! Having to sing twice as fast and things being on fire behind me.
It was definitely an exercise in maintaining composure.
I’ve just got one last question for you. What challenges do you think artists face now in a world of mostly digital music consumption?
That’s a really interesting question. It’s something I think about. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to the whole digital way that people sort of consume music now. There’s things like Spotify and Pandora and all these things that are on one hand, are really good and I’m really for because they enable people to hear music and find new music that they might not have otherwise found. I remember growing up to find new music it was really hard. I grew up in a little town in Colorado and I remember it was really hard to find new music and really find stuff that you liked. It’s more and more challenging for artists to make a living doing this, which I think is going to be interesting to see. There’s a lot more music coming out now than ever before. It’s a lot more easy to put music out now, so the field has widened quite a bit. That has a few things that it does. It sort of broadens the field so much that it’s harder and harder for people to tell what is good or what is real. And also, and this might just be my fear or my opinion, but I wonder sometimes if just the ease and availability of so much music for free at all times kind of has the effect of lessening the value of music as something in people’s lives. Honestly, that would be really tragic.
When I grew up, we didn’t have video games, we weren’t really allowed to watch TV too much. For me growing up, I would listen to music, listen to records from start to finish. That was my form of entertainment. It wasn’t something that I put on in the background while I was doing other things or whatever. I would go in my room and put a record on and just sit there and listen to it from start to finish. Not saying that everybody has to do that, but I just hope that the gravity of music and the transformative effect that music can have for people isn’t lost in this day and age of immediate gratification and constant stimulation. Now people go from one form of stimulation to another to another to another, fifteen times in one minute. Their total attention is pretty dissipated. I just know for me how it is and how important music has been in my life and how certain music has opened up for me what it meant to be alive in certain moments. It was really important to me. I just hope that isn’t lost, first and foremost. I hope that music doesn’t become sort of cheapened as an experience and lessened overall and relegated to something that’s a ringtone or something in the background while you’re doing a thousand different things.
I think that’s a definite concern, but I feel like there’s two prominent groups of people: those who are absorbed with this instant gratification and you can hear especially in pop music how it’s been cheapened over the years. I remember how it was when I was in junior high and high school versus how it is now and there’s not really any musicality to it, at least what’s on the radio predominantly. But I think the other group is people who are taking the time to really listen to music and experience it live. I know with the vinyl resurgence I feel like people are starting to listen more intently.
That is definitely a hopeful sign, that people are starting to buy vinyl because that’s just such a different experience listening to music that way. To be a nerdy kind of studio engineer guy for a second, there is a physicality to digital music versus music on a record or something like that. The actual wave is different when it’s in a digital format and it becomes clipped. There are frequencies that you’re not getting in a digital format versus an analog format. I don’t know if that matters or not to be honest, but it is interesting that it’s an actual physical difference.