Richard Reed Parry: „The body is the main brain of a human“

Shortly before finishing the world tour with Arcade Fire, Richard Reed Parry announced that he would be releasing another solo album, „Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1“. And I thought: how the hell did he do that? And when? Now the album is out, and I had the occasion to ask him. The answers I got show how passionate Richard is about music and about the things he does. And we also talked about other interesting stuff. About his work with the Waterson family, about the connection of music to the body and of the body to nature. Quite spiritual and inspiring – see it for yourself.

I saw you perform a couple of songs from „Quiet River of Dust“ during the PEOPLE Festival this summer in Berlin. Was it the first time you performed those songs live?

Not the first show ever, but it was kind of the first shows while the Arcade Fire tour was ending and the record was about to come out. And it was the first show ever playing with all of these folks, so it was amazing.

I am always wondering how you do all that time wise. You’ve been on tour with Arcade Fire for such a long time. And then all over sudden another solo album – I thought when the hell did he do that?

(laughs) The „Quiet River“ stuff was happening whenever I was having free time that was unscheduled. I almost ended up accidentally writing this music when I had free time and space. And on a certain point my friend Aaron and Bryce Dessner from The National were visiting and I played them so many songs. They kind of freaked out and said: you have to finish these songs! They were really into it. They were curating this festival in England and said: you have to come to our festival and play all these new songs. Just do it, even if it doesn’t feel like it’s finished. So I said yes, and that became the first time I was really finishing some of these songs and trying to get them presentable in some way. That was like five years ago and kind of kickstarted actually making the record. Before that I was just writing these songs, but I was not trying to finish them. I wasn’t trying to accomplish anything, just let them fall out. Once I had performed them live at that festival I said ok, now I am officially working on this.

Before the people festival and one day before the Arcade Fire show in Berlin this summer I also saw you performing with the Waterson Family their album „Bright Phoebus“. So on your day off you played an entirely different show. I imagine that so incredible much work!

Well, you could argue that there is something crazy about it (laughs), perhaps something unsustainable in the long run, but also at the same time for me there is something so natural about doing that. I don’t want to say compulsive, but every time something so beautiful comes up, you just say yes. So you are incomprehensibly busy all the time, and then you have this Waterson show and you’re like oh fuck, I haven’t finished rehearsing these songs! What have I done? (laughs). But what drives me is the beauty of it all, the genuine excitement I feel about these things. I am not working on anything that I don’t love, so that’s really the key. The Waterson family, their music was something I grew up with and still today is really close to my heart. I feel like I have a deep relationship with it. I couldn’t say no to doing this, although I knew the timing was insane.

You told at that show that your parents owned one of the few copies of the „Bright Phoebus“ album that were actually playable.

Yeah, and they were going to the same folk club the Waterson family went to. That was part of their very young life together. That music accidentally formed so much of my inner musical world. Whenever there is such a deep connection like that I feel helpless to steer away from these things, even if I’m too busy (laughs).

I hadn’t heard the album before and I didn’t know the story behind it. That when it originally came out in the seventies hardly anyone got to hear it because most of the vinyls were damaged in the pressing. But hearing that music for the first time, it made so much sense that you are heavily influenced by it. Also in connection to the „Quiet River of Dust“ album now.

Totally. I feel exactly like that.

But tell me about how you first got the idea to „Quiet River of Dust“. I heard that it goes far back, almost then years ago.

It wasn’t even really an idea. In a way it was again something that sort of happened when I gave it space. I just found myself writing music that sounded like this, it was coming really natural and didn’t take any effort. So less like: I have an idea for this folk odyssey… it was much more allowing a certain kind of influence that had always been there, in my blood somewhere, to come out. And then obviously applying a lot of conscious, deliberate thought to it. But the impetus and where it all came from was not something that I was consciously trying to decide. It was like influence making itself heard, ideas and feelings that maybe had been there forever. As the songs emerged one by one I started to realize that this is a musical world forming. I knew it had this British Folk influenced feel, but I was aware I was not trying to write very traditional sounding music, but taking it sonically into certain places and channel all other influences that seemed like they would combine in a unique and surprising way. Something that sounded like nothing I had done before.

I saw the live video you did for „I Was In The World (Was The World In Me)“, where you perform the song in a very stripped down version, just you and the guitar. And then when you hear it on the album, it is so big! And it gets bigger and bigger. Where you aware when producing and recording the songs that you wanted to go this way? Or was it something that just happened? Like, oh fuck it, let’s just put another layer on it.

(laughs) I kind of discovered that when I went along. I didn’t know that when I was in the early phases of writing it. Once I finished the song and recorded it it had this form, the stripped down folky version. But something about it didn’t take it far enough. The song is about having this transcending moment, when you lose yourself in nature. At the same time you also have this terrifying moment of realization. As you feel yourself being one with nature there is also this foreshadowing that you really are going to be one with nature one day and all your particles are going to dissolve into the ground. This amazing experience of swimming in a lake or having an incredible walk in the forest, when you are overtaken by this feeling and this environment…. you know one day you will really be overtaken by this environment, you will dissolve into it, you will be going back to it. So this was the idea behind the song and at a certain point, once I had recorded it, I felt like: these choruses, they have to be insane. They have to feel like dissolving into the universe, like all of your molecules spinning around and being ripped apart and merging with everything around you. I played it with a couple of my bandmates and then knew we had to use different choruses. So we kept most of the song but rerecorded the choruses in a kind of explosive fashion. I really just put one foot in front of the other and then it found itself.

I am always fascinated how your music has a direct physical effect on the listener. I had that already with your last solo album „Music for Heart and Breath“, but there it was a bit more obvious, as the way the music was played was directly linked to the body. But still, with these songs, the effect is almost the same. They get me so meditative. The way you describe your work on them, I was just thinking, maybe it has something to do with the intuitive way you receive them.

Yeah, I think it is a very intuitive way of working. I always have a direction, but I am following it in an intuitive way. I think it is finally starting to happen that people acknowledge the body more. They haven’t done that in a very long time. The body is the main brain of a human. Your small brain in your head is just your head brain. But your body knows so much and has its own way of doing things, a non rational way of doing things. Your body wants things, obviously. It has all this basic human functions. We are mainly body driven, not brain driven. I think there are more than basic human survival functions that your body is pulled towards. For me, that is a huge part of music, how your body feels compelled towards something. Your body wants more of this or less of that. It wants to be overwhelmed with something or it wants to be left alone. For me, I find that’s where a lot of my music intelligence is. Once I start to play music physically, then my brain can come in and say: oh, what if we tried it this way. Or what if we treated it like this, if we used this old song as a point of reference. But that is always the second step. The first is letting my body do the music, letting my hands play something and see how my brain responds. There has to be a respond on a physical level for me to move forward.

So this is Volume I now. Is Volume II finished already?

Yes, they were both finished at the same time. Volume II is going to come out in the spring. There are really two sides of the album, like a double album, but it really felt like they wanted to come out separately. It would be too much music to digest at once, it is much more interesting if the albums are tied to the season they come out. For many reason, both conceptual and pragmatical it felt like a better way to do it.

Interview: Gabi Rudolph
Photo credit: Susan Moss

„Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1“ is out now.