Patrick Park – Something Up His Sleeve
Shake Patrick Park’s hand and you’ll likely notice his most peculiar feature — claws. You might not feel them, per se — two years of wearing them has perhaps taught the Los Angeles musician a thing or two about finesse — but you’ll likely see them coming. They’re somewhat menacing — five white, pointy things perhaps recalling a Hollywood portrayal of an evil villain or warlock.
Such is the occupational hazard of a man fixated on mastering his tool of trade, the acoustic guitar. Tired of mundane artistry and a solo career that was going nowhere, Park tossed his picks in order to find a new technique. But the steel strings kept ripping away at his god-given nails. Hello prosthetics.
“Every time I meet someone new they’re always kinda taken aback, particularly by my thumb, but I’m used to it,” says Park, 26. “Cashiers in particular, they drop my change from about five feet in the air, like they don’t want to go anywhere near my hand.”
Witness the lanky, scruffy Park working the frets and you understand his decision-making process. It’s as if he’s playing three parts to a mere mortal’s one, spidery fingers extending everywhere. Out comes a distillation of folk, blues and rock that mesmerizes both in sight and sound.
But Park’s story is not defined by guitar heroism. For, as good a guitarist as he is, it’s but an understated part of a well-rounded package documented on his recent Hollywood Records debut, Loneliness Knows My Name. There’s the voice — a supple tool that ranges from husky to smoothly bittersweet — and there are the songs — sad and sadly uplifting vignettes of various forms mashed into a multi-hued dose of folk-pop.
Park “grudgingly” accepts being called a singer-songwriter. That’s monochromatic, and he prefers 3-D. It’s an approach the Colorado native took to the studio to make Loneliness, aided by producer/engineer Dave Trumfio (Wilco’s Summerteeth, Handsome Family) and the large, shimmering mixing sensibility of the famed Bob Clearmountain (Bruce Springsteen, Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi). Loneliness delivers small songs with a big flourish — sometimes with unlikely accompaniment such as a harpsichord, often with the underpinnings of rock built for larger venues. It lives somewhere between the straight-up intimacy of the coffeehouse and the flowery lilt of such early-’70s cult heroes Nick Drake and former Zombies singer Colin Blunstone, an admitted Park favorite.
“I just wanted to have more depth,” he explains. “I kinda think of [it] more like a painting than a record — not to sound weird or pretentious — that makes space come alive around you. So with every listen you could hear something different.”
Park grew up just outside Denver, the son of a poet mother and in a house “pretty well filled with music,” be it folk, talkin’ country blues, or classical. The impact was profound, and Park took to guitar early. Soon enough, he found the rock gospel via the Beastie Boys’ landmark 1986 rap-rock debut Licensed To Ill, and eventually turned to making his own punk music.
His parents might have regretted this particular facet of their child-rearing practices. “I think on some level they were also really scared shitless that I was gonna try and do this as a profession,” Park says, smiling. “It’s like they were trying to be supportive but not too supportive. Like, ‘No you can’t drop out of school.'”
He moved to Los Angeles with a plan to join a band. Frustrated, he soon focused on his own thing, hiding away in his apartment between shifts as a stock boy at trendy clothing store for two years until he was comfortable performing on his own. He recorded a demo in the back of another friend’s clothing store, battling a semi-functioning analog recorder and a devious cricket that forced him to record his vocals on his knees in a sound buffer built of couch cushions.
The ensuing tapes started a buzz around Los Angeles, and by 2002 Park’s local star had risen. In early 2003, indie label Badman issued a six-song EP, Under The Unminding Skies (which featured a cover of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”); his big-label debut followed in July.
Park has been compared to everyone from Ryan Adams to John Denver. He recoils at the former, perhaps wary of being pigeonholed so simply, and chuckles at the latter. “I don’t know what that’s about; I mean, Denver’s lyrics are a little too sunny and happy for my taste, but he’s got some really great melodies,” he allows.
Now, Park looks to further expand a fan base built on a road traveled by rental car, bandless, with nothing but guitar and living essentials. And that’s fine for the moment.
“I don’t want to think too much about a career at this point,” he says. “My biggest pet peeve ever is artists who place more emphasis and more importance on their career than their craft and their songs and their art. I think I’m just gonna try and focus on writing songs and touring.”