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We talk to the Detroit house icon about spirituality, the evolution of his production process over the years, and why he still uses his trademark telephone handset to DJ.
Terrence Parker has something of a throwback attitude: he makes music that makes people feel good, and isn’t ashamed of it. From Ken Collier tribute edits like ‘Your Love’ to the camp house joy of his recent ‘Finally’ single, Parker creates inspirational and motivational sounds designed to make real-life clubbers sweaty.
His work has not gone unnoticed, either. The Detroit Historical Museum’s History of Techno International Exhibit and Indiana State University’s Department Of African American Music And Culture have both paid tribute to him in the past, while fans around the world revere him for his DJing ability. Using his trademark telephone handset instead of headphones, Parker cuts and blends, splices and dices, juggles and muddles beats like a hip-hop specialist with boundless energy.
Frankly, the Detroit born DJ and producer’s back catalogue is a daunting prospect. As well as working under myriad aliases including Seven Grand Housing Authority, Telephone and Separate Minds, the sheer volume of music Parker has released is dizzying (over 100 EPs and remixes during the last quarter of a century). It covers far more ground than most, too, with remixes of Beyonce, Kanye West and Christina Aguilera sitting next to crossover hits like ‘Love’s Got Me High’ (more on the curious genesis of that below) and standout full lengths like Detroit After Dark on Studio !K7.
His latest studio album, Life On The Back 9, comes on Carl Craig’s Planet E and is a meticulously produced affair that oozes shiny house positivity, with a title inspired by his father’s words of wisdom: “Terrence, if you think of your life as a game of golf, perhaps the front nine did not go as you had liked. But don’t give up because you still have the back nine.” We spoke to Terrence to find out more about the album, and the spirituality of the man who made it.
Attack: You’ve explained the album title already, so I’m wondering what it was that meant you think the first nine holes of your life didn’t quite turn out how you wanted?
Terrence Parker: I’m not saying that I didn’t have a good life in the front nine – I’ve had many great and happy moments. My dad was only trying to make a point to me because of the dark, low place I was in my life at that time. Life is full of ups and downs. I hope the album will be a source of encouragement for those who listen and appreciate this idea.
“It’s not about promoting Terrence Parker. Instead it's the idea of sharing music and lyrics of hope and inspiration. In today’s world we all need some encouragement.”
Why so long since the last album? What kick started you to write this one and what has changed in your life, how have your tastes and skills evolved, since the last one?
I just felt it was time to release a body of work that represents an idea bigger than myself. It’s not about promoting Terrence Parker. Instead it’s the idea of sharing music and lyrics of hope and inspiration. In today’s world we all need some encouragement. Musically the sound is more mature. I think those who have been following my music over the years will be able to notice the growth in my sound.
Was there an idea in your head of how you wanted it to sound from the start? Was it written as a complete album? It seems a very polished and poised collection.
Thank you for your kind compliment. Yes, it is actually a collection of music recorded over a period of one year. I didn’t set out to make an album from start to finish – instead it was created over time by God leading me through each production.
The album seems to have a very accessible, pop friendly sheen to it – was that ever intentional or is it just the way your music comes out?
I guess it is just the way the music came out. I do not focus on labels and I don’t think music is meant to be placed in a box. I just create what I feel and hope others are open to embrace it.
There’s something old-school about the track titles – often referencing soul, love, God – are you a spiritual or religious person generally? Why do you find solace in such beliefs, and have they ever been questioned?
That’s a first. I have never heard anyone say such track titles were old-school! I wouldn’t say I am a religious person. By definition, one could religiously go to Starbucks every morning to get a coffee. For me it’s about having a relationship with God: truly trusting, depending and relying on him in every aspect of my life. Yes, I have found much peace in walking with God. People often ask me questions about my faith – I welcome the opportunities to share the love of God with others.
“Most people who go out to clubs are going to enjoy themselves and to escape the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Why not plant a positive musical seed in their spirit?”
You’ve often been called a producer of ‘inspirational house’ – do you think the feel-good factor and inspirational nature of house and its uplifting qualities have been forgotten over the years? Is that a reflection of the lives of the people who make it, do you think, or more a quest to be credible, cool and edgy?
House music has its roots in gospel as well as many other genres but I think in some ways the feel-good factor has been overlooked as the years have gone by and house has expanded to so many forms and styles. The music has always been there, however other forms of the music have gained more attention (perhaps because of our current culture). The truth is most people who go out to clubs are going to enjoy themselves and to escape the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Why not plant a positive musical seed in their spirit which they can take with them and use in everyday life? I cannot speak for others – all I know is I feel it’s my calling to give the people a positive message of love.
Why do you think uplifting, soulful house gets something of a bad rap? It’s not regarded as hugely fashionable anymore, I would say…
I don’t know. I have been in some places where it doesn’t work. I’ve been in others places where it worked wonderfully. I guess it’s a matter of taste and the trends of the moment being more popularised in other forms of house.
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