Patrick Park: Suddenly everyone with an acoustic guitar is a singer/songwriter

Categories: Gimme Songs
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In Gimme Songs, musician Mark Mallman talks songwriting with his peers and heroes. This week, a conversation with Patrick Park before tonight's show at 7th St. Entry.

As you are reading this, Patrick Park is driving across America in support of his new album Love Like Swords. He is driving and performing the whole U.S. tour all by himself. Damn! I once drove to Louisville alone and lost my mind. But Patrick is so mindful of the present, he should write the Zen and the Art of Songwriting book. I've been a fan of his for many years, and even though we used to be labelmates, this was our very first conversation. Talking with him is like a visit to the songwriting Buddha. Needless to say, it got heavy.

Mark Mallman: With this new collection of songs, you hit the minor key and all the dark spots, but still maintain the ethic of hope and positivity that is on your previous material. I like this balance because I like darkness, but the manifestation of darkness frightens me.

Patrick Park: Yeah, you want a taste, but you don't want to drown in it or anything, ya know? When I wrote "Love Like Swords," I'd been sick of the "singer/songwriter" thing. I'd tried some different ideas that maybe it would be a side project kind of thing. Then I eventually realized it would be my next record. Sometimes you have to trick yourself in order to try new things. I didn't want to make a record of acoustic songs of one guys perspective of whatever subject.

How do you think the public perceives the singer/songwriter, as opposed to a rocker or a rapper?

I don't deal with the stereotype of a rapper or a rocker because that hasn't been my world. I hate even saying the term singer/songwriter. I don't know when or how it happened, but it became decidedly negative in my mind. All of a sudden, every person with an acoustic guitar is a singer/songwriter. I think it's great that people write songs, but the majority of what you hear in that genre is a very self indulgent and uninteresting perspective, lyrically and also musically. I personally find it really boring, and listen to almost none, which I guess is ironic. That's just my opinion, I'm not even saying it's right. I feel like it's just another facet of a super narcissistic, self-indulgent culture that we've created.

There's an idea among creative people about the karmic potency of what we create. This is the idea that we must be held accountable for whatever we put in our lyrics, etc. For instance, I was once in a grocery store debating about asking this woman I liked out on a date. The loudspeakers of the 7-11 happened to be playing "Tell Her About It," by Billy Joel on the Muzak. I thought, "Yeah, Billy Joel, I'll do it!" The song inspired me do something fun that ended up making me happy. I also think about that moment when it comes to dark songwriting like Joy Division or Elliott Smith. Do you ever think, "I don't want to write that in a song because I don't want to put negativity out there?"

Songs have a life. You can put something out there that really resonates. I've been very mindful of that since I was 15 years old. In essence, I always talk about songs as being a mirror. I want to deepen someone's experience of this short life that we all have. Or give them a question. In general, questions are much more interesting and useful than out and out answers.

There is a quote by Anton Chekov, "The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them."

The best you can hope for is that what you put out there is going to resonate and reflect. If you think back on negative music, it just made the shitty things in people's lives just seem all that much more monumental. It ripples. I see people do it all the time, blowing up something till it's a huge mountain they can't get around. As an artist, what ever any of this means -- despair -- I don't want to contribute to that.

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