Gary Parks knows the power music has to take listeners on a journey; he's a guitarist and a film composer with credits including the 2006 HBO documentary TV Junkie, about a reporter's crack addiction. Now Parks is applying his auditory storytelling skills to something more personal: His new project, Wall of Orange, is a psychedelic, shoe-gazey trip through the grief he experienced after the death of his newborn child.
“It’s really the story of my recovery, coming out of a very dark period of my life,” Parks says.
In 2008, Parks was asked to play with the reincarnated TomorrowPeople, a local psych rock band that achieved notoriety in the '90s and signed with Geffen Records, only to break up two years later. One of the band's hallmarks was incorporating projections into their live shows, so Parks' work as a film composer, now his main gig, made him a perfect fit.
But later that year, Parks and his wife were dealt a severe blow when their daughter died shortly after birth, leading him to quit music for many years. At first he secluded himself and binged zombie movies, he says.
It wasn't until 2015 that he drifted back toward music, and discovered it could actually help him. He found relief in writing songs, layering confessional lyrics with soft guitar textures. “Small Hour Crimes” describes “a look in the mirror after a colossal fuck up,” Parks says, whereas “Lost by the Sea” is about him and his wife searching for a silver lining.
Parks initially had no intentions of releasing the music, and credits his wife for changing his mind. With some trepidation, he began contacting other musicians to help him flesh out his vision. In August, Wall of Orange released their self-titled debut. Saturday they'll play it live for the first time, at the Kessler Theater. The Angelus and Sudie will open.
The album was recorded at Pure Evil Studios on Dyer Street. Parks plays guitar and keys, with support from session musicians Danny Rix and Matt Hunt on bass and drums, respectively. As far as the writing and mixing, Parks did that entirely himself, and he says it did help him to heal.
“A lot of people tell me the record makes them calm, which is great,” Parks says. “I think in creating the record, that’s what I wanted to do for myself.”
Wall of Orange's sound is very atmospheric; unsurprisingly, it's a bit like a film score, and there's even a loose narrative throughout the album to support this. However, it's not chronological and there's no clear ending to the story, which Parks says he plans to continue in future releases.
“Some might say it's unusually dark for pop music, [but] I suspect Parks will be making as many musical waves with Wall of Orange as he did nearly a decade ago with theTomorrowPeople," Chris Mueller writes on his blog, The Ghost of Blind Lemon Jefferson.
TomorrowPeople released an album in 2008, just after reuniting, and have played a few shows since, but for the most part they're inactive. However, their influence comes through in Wall of Orange because Parks has picked up their fondness for projectors, which he'll use at the Kessler.
“I think what it helps me to do is create an emotional trajectory with music,” Parks says of this tendency to think of music visually. “I pull tools from the same kit.”
He's understandably nervous about Saturday, since it marks his official return to rock music.
“Putting it all out there, people could say very cruel things,” he says. “They can also say very beautiful things."
The vulnerability of the songs he'll be playing only makes it harder, but he says that's what makes them worth playing at all.
"I don’t claim to know much about art. But I do know that what I’m doing now is very pure and very honest.”
Wall of Orange, with the Angelus and Sudie, 7 p.m. Saturday, April 29, The Kessler Theater, 1230 W. Davis St., $15-$25, thekessler.org.