Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The LEO interview: Van Dyke Parks

Van Dyke Parks is a living legend, especially to record collector nerds. His work is vast and ever-surprising, ranging from his work with peak-era Beach Boys to Joanna Newsom today. He makes a very rare live appearance in Louisville tomorrow, opening for a group that idolizes him, Fleet Foxes. His label, Bananastan, recently released Arrangements, Vol. 1, featuring 15 of his most fun arrangements for himself and other artists.

LEO: Bananastan is a fun word, especially for a record label. What's the origin?

Van Dyke Parks: The word derives from a movie, The Hot Rock, with Robert Redford. My wife used it for her shop name in the flea market of Paris. I thought it sounded totally tropically topical, well-geared to my cogs of industry.

LEO: Do you think pop music and more experimental, baroque, composer-style music will ever coexist happily? Or will the public never accept such genre-hopping on the pop charts?

VP: Such definitions will be eclipsed in time, as was "hep," "groovy," and "far out". The public is pushing musicians ahead of the curve, with world beat sensations genre-hopping die hard pop stars.

LEO: Are there any artists today that you're aware of who make the type of music you hear in your head, or that you've become most known for?

VP: My favorite singer/songwriter is Paolo Conte. Unfortunately, I don't speak his language, But he typifies the kind of artists I like, who bring new elements together to shock and awe. Fleet Foxes has such maverick abandon.

LEO: Song Cycle has become one of the records honored with a 33 1/3 book devoted to it, and likely one of the least-known of the records in that series. Does it feel even more special to be in that position?

VP: Print publicity is all well and good. Yet, I agree with Oscar Wilde, who observed, "Criticism is the highest form of autobiography." Frank Zappa — of whose Mothers I was a player — put it this way: "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture."

LEO: You're touring now with a young band who are inspired by the work you've done since the early '60s, and you have a new compilation out now which highlights some of your earliest work. Do you ever feel like your professional life exists simultaneously in the '60's and in the present?

VP: I'm totally moved to be invited by a group so inspired. They mean so much to so many because of their courage and talented explorations. If anything from the '60s is worth saving, it's courage in the arts. There's a jungle of fundamentalism out there, waiting to be tamed by kind hearts.

LEO: Do you think music, and all of its possibilities, was more fun 45 years ago than it is today? Are musicians today lazier, or less inspired?

VP: My windshield is bigger than my rear view mirror. It was fun being a brunette ... now that there is snow on the roof, a fire rages within.

LEO: What are you working on next?

VP: This month, it's Skrillex, Paddy Malone and Ry Cooder, and an arrangement for Kimbra's debt on Warner Brothers. It's widescreen, at 360 degrees.

Fleet Foxes with Van Dyke Parks
Wednesday, October 5
$35, 8 p.m.

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