Today, we bring you a Q&A with Bryan C. Parker! He’ll be writing the new 33 1/3 on the Beat Happening. You can also read his 333Sound post about the Anacortes Unknown music festival here.
Tell us a bit about yourself in an extended author biography.
I am a writer and photographer living in Austin, TX. I’m currently working as editor-in-chief of the blog Pop Press International and creator of the quarterly print journal True Sincerity. Through these outlets, I interview and photograph artists, working to document the local and national independent music community. I’m a graduate of the University of Texas and hold a bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degree in Literacy. I also currently teach literature, rhetoric, and composition in an Austin area high school.
I started my first music blog, Urban Pollution in 2005, and even though it was, more or less, in the digital era, music was physically delivered to me via snail mail. I drove the records around town to writers and contributors. It is bizarre to think about now that promotional materials (mostly) are digitally delivered.
I’ve been obsessed with music since middle school. It has always felt like the most important thing in the world. My first favorite band was the Smashing Pumpkins when I was in 7th grade. In high school, I fell in love with The Pixies and The Violent Femmes, and from there I discovered a lot of new music, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I became completely immersed in a less mainstream and more local, underground music community.
I stopped writing about music for a while around 2007 after becoming a teacher at a low income school in East Austin which occupied most of my time. Now that I’m writing about music on a daily basis again, and have been for nearly three years, for my blog, Pop Press International, it feels surprising that I ever stopped.
What, in particular, drew you to writing about this album?
The more I learned about K records and the community of artists in the Pacific Northwest that surrounded K records, the more I felt like it was a singular example of artists being almost wholly committed to their artistic vision without making compromises. At the center of that are progenitors Calvin Johnson, Bret Lunsford, and Heather Lewis, the members of Beat Happening. Although I never begrudge or judge artists for signing to larger labels or widening their audience by whatever means possible, I’m continually impressed with this community’s commitment to underground, local, regional music, and to each other. To be embarrassingly honest, I don’t know that I’ve ever had such a close knit group of friends and perhaps it is something that I envy on some level. And for that reason I’m incredibly drawn to it. Beat Happening, especially their first album, imagines a world of possibilities. A world of music and bands that welcome anyone rather than a select few. This album is the prototype for the many records that would follow on K. It laid out the ethos that would define the spirit that spread throughout the cultural underground. I’m also impressed by the fact that, 30 years later, that ethos is still intact, alive and well.
Who will you be reaching out to during the writing process? Why?
I’ve already communicated with all of the members of Beat Happening. The reason for reaching out to them seems obvious: they are the primary creators of the album in question. I’ve also spoken with many members of the community who were actively creating art or living in the area during the time the first album was made. I spoke with Pat Maley who owned the recording facility where some songs on the first album were recorded. I spoke with Steve Fisk–although he recorded Beat Happening’s material after the first album, he has worked with so many important artists of this era and had heard Beat Happening and had thoughts on the band’s sound and influence as someone who worked with them closely. I spoke at great length with Mark Baumgarten who wrote Love Rock Revolution, and has researched extensively on the subject of Beat Happening and K Records. I interviewed John Foster, Dana Squires, and Dave Raugh, all of whom worked at KAOS, the radio station on Evergreen’s campus, which was the point of ignition for much of Calvin Johnson’s passion for independent and music. Still, I would like to talk with Everett True and Greg Sage. I can’t explain how much fun it has been to have spoken with so many wonderful people already.
Describe for us the process of coming up with and pitching your 33 1/3. Did anything surprise you? Did you start with one idea and end up with another? Be as specific and detailed as you’d like.
At the point when I conceived the idea for my 331/3, I had read several pieces of writing recently that used structure to mirror, or support the story itself. In that mindset, I had the idea to structure my book in a fundamental way and use that as a mirror for Beat Happening’s fundamental approach to music. I kicked around several ideas, one of which dealt more with geography but was similarly an attempt at breaking down Beat Happening and their work to a fundamental level. I ended up with the alphabet as a structure for reasons that will be outlined in my first chapter.
What do you want to explore about this band/singer/artist that you feel hasn’t been adequately covered elsewhere in music criticism or academic writing?
I would like to delve deeper into analysis and take the liberty of exploring the under-discussed social implications of Beat Happening and K’s ideologies. I’d also like to take a closer look at the connections and bonds between the people in these communities. Foremostly, K Records and Beat Happening are entities that emphasize and champion close interpersonal relationships. It’s a fundamental way of existing in the world that we all do, and their ability to take the close relationships and friendships and turn them into a lasting music community is inspiring. That’s something I think should be shared with the world. Much of what Beat Happening accomplished occurred because it came at a time when the conditions were ripe. Those conditions are comprised of individual cultural, environment components. I hope that my book and its structure conveys this fact.
What 33 1/3s have you read? Which are your favourites? Why?
As something of a loyalist, I have to admit that I’m most partial to the books about artists I love: The Velvet Underground, The Pixies, Joy Division, Bob Dylan, and Big Star. (Just to name a few.) I recently picked up newer editions in the series: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Smile, and I’m eager to read them. As a Texan with an affinity for the Northwest, I also can’t overstate how proud I am to have Beat Happening come out in a list of titles that includes Dig Me Out; Hi, How Are You; The Raincoats; and Geto Boys. The future of this series looks incredible.
What was your first concert?
I remember so many concerts I wanted to go to before I was allowed to. I wasn’t allowed to go to a mid-90s Smashing Pumpkins concert due to a family obligation, even though my friends offered me 7th row tickets. If I had, it seems like my first concert would have been on the same tour as the show mentioned by fellow 33 ⅓ author Jovana Babovic. Because of a major test, I also had to pass up tickets to the White Stripes at a 500 capacity venue during my first year of college, just before the band erupted into fame. Growing up in a small, conservative, East Texas town, all the punk rock was played by Christian bands, so I saw countless local Christian bands play shows. I also hit up the Vans Warped Tour more times than I’d like to admit in high school. Being impressed by M. Ward’s incredible guitar playing when he opened for Bright Eyes in 2002 at La Zona Rosa in Austin stands out in my mind as one of the first shows I can remember feeling a high degree of agency and deliberate choice in attending.
How do you listen to your music at home: vinyl, CD, or MP3? And could you tell us why?
I listen to most of my music at home on vinyl, although I do listen to a fair amount on my computer with headphones. I see vinyl as a commitment to tangible objects and artistic vision. I like to hold album art in my hands and read the track listing and liner notes on the back of the jacket. Listening to music on a turntable makes the experience more physical and more memorable. After all, a record spinning at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute exudes something magical. It’s infinite.
Name a lyric from the album you’re writing about that encapsulates either a) the album itself, b) your experience in hearing the album for the first time, or c) your experience writing about the album, so far.
“We were wearing our pajamas, we were eating some bananas”
Beat Happening’s youthful lyrics were certainly my first attraction to the band. Later, I would become interested in their darker edge. But, “Fourteen” is the first Beat Happening song I ever heard. It was put on a mix CD for me, and it absolutely encapsulates my experience hearing them for the first time, as well as much of the album’s appeal.