The Chris Parry interview (part two)
So, the part one of this story was posted earlier today. Chris Parry was, once, the drummer of New Zealand band The Fourmyula. And tonight (in Auckland) and on Saturday (in Upper Hutt) he will resume that role. But when The Fourmyula called it a day Parry moved away from the stage, to a behind-the-scenes role in music.
He founded Fiction Records - best known as the home of The Cure. He produced records by The Jam. He worked as a talent scout for Polydor Records in one of the golden eras for both music (output) and the A&R role (the talent scouts). It wasn't such a behind-the-scenes role the way Parry played it, but it sounds good now saying it that way.
We had chatted happily about The Fourmyula reunion. But I couldn't let the opportunity slip - I had to talk to him about some of his other adventures; about hanging with Robert Smith and Paul Weller...
"Robert Smith lives in his own bubble - that was part of the appeal and the frustration of working with him." That's a sample quote. You hear that - you have to ask more, right?
When Parry moved from playing drums to working for a record company he figured his skills ("being a musician") would help him. He had been on stage, he had rehearsed and recorded. He had travelled in vans - and on a boat; The Fourmyula travelled to England by boat and found out when they were on board that they'd be playing as part of paying their way. So those experiences were going to be useful to Parry, he figured.
So - what experiences has he learned from the other side of the tracks to apply to music when he comes back to dabble at the drums?
"I guess, simply, it's that idea of listening to music - of just hearing a lot of music. And even though I don't play the drums often I will always tap out rhythms on my knees...for example, I'll listen to someone like Dr. Dre - whose beats I love - and I'll start tapping them out. It doesn't mean I can play them straight away on a kit, but it means I'm thinking about it."
These days Parry is "semi-retired" - he sold Fiction Records; The Cure, the band he used to bankroll the label, were sold back to the parent record company. Fiction has since been restarted. Parry has "interests", as he puts it - and manages his life between London and three-four months of the year in a beach-house in Whangamata.
"It was a good time," he says with a laugh. "And it was a good time for music too, I mean. It was amazing to be involved with all of this stuff..."
And he is sure now - as he believes he was then - that it comes down to one main thing:
"It is all about the songs. That is the basis - like the colours for the artist, then you can start working the palette. There needs to be a cogent song."
The Cure, he says, had songs. They always had songs.
"I knew that I would sign them as soon as I heard them - and I knew that they were something special. I'm not saying they were the best band in the world but they were their own thing. Every band is influenced; every act has influences. Sometimes it is obvious - and that doesn't mean it is a bad thing - but with The Cure it was a bit more subtle. I mean, you could hear some of the things that Robert [Smith] liked but then, at other times, you had no idea. And his songs seemed to come from him rather than from his record collection."
Another of the songwriters that Parry worked with who "definitely had songs" was Paul Weller of The Jam.
"Weller had his own way. I mean you can so obviously see where it came from - and people know his influences, I don't need to list them - but things like Small Faces and The Kinks had clearly had a big impact on him. And later it came out more, the whole Stax soul and Motown thing - but he was listening to that lot back then as well. But he also had his voice as a writer very early in his career. I mean, he had written In the City before I met him - and that's a great song for a young person - for any person - to have written, without any help."
But, as Parry goes on to explain, the "Modfather" was always sure of himself.
"He told me," Parry says of Weller, "in fact he would tell anyone who would listen, 'I know I'm going to be successful' and he had that drive from day one. From when he was in his teens or only just out of them."
I mention that That's Entertainment is a pretty great song for someone so young to have written.
"Exactly. Well it's a great song for anyone to have written at any age, isn't it? I mean songs like that - that's the business. That's just such an amazing song - one of the really great songs."
Another iconic artist that Chris Parry worked with was Siouxsie and the Banshees.
"You can listen to those early Banshees albums today, The Scream, Join Hands, things like that, and again you've got something different. A sound that was of its time but also wasn't the same as everything that was happening. It's also about songs there too - sure there's a mood, there's layers, but there are good songs on their records - and very different to a lot of other things - so even when it was of its time, it also wasn't, if you know what I mean."
The relationship with Robert Smith is a bit different these days, though Parry says they have kept in touch. "To be honest I think he's a bit f**ked off with me, from when I sold Fiction. I offered him out of his contract, no hassles, but Robert is not a man who doesn't like change. At all. I was offered to be interviewed for a 30th anniversary documentary for something to do with the band but when I found out that he was the executive producer I said no, because I figured he'd just edit out anything in there that he didn't like. And, I dunno, that probably got back to him..." There's more to that story and if Parry isn't saying exactly what, then his laughter is at least ensuring there's more to the story...
This colourful life might make it into a book. Chris is not desperate to tell his story but says "it is something I have thought about. I think I've got a great story in all that has happened and it is something I am looking into...I am looking at ways of telling it and of writing it."
Meanwhile he'll have a bash on the kit this weekend with The Fourmyula and go back to England soon after. He'll work on seeing the newly discovered (old) Fourmyula album released on vinyl - in a very hands-off capacity.
And he'll continue to keep his ears out for good music. Dance music is of interest these days. But Parry says that even in that genre he is listening for the song. "An act'll come along, in hip-hop, in electronica, dance, dub, whatever, and they'll have a good song - a hook - and that's what I listen out for. That's what does it for me. Always."
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