On the “Athena” Tour with Sudan Archives
We caught up with violinist Brittney Parks in the midst of her first major tour.
I’m parked on a couch at the back end of the SOhO Restaurant & Music Club in Santa Barbara while I wait to talk to singer-songwriter/violinist Sudan Archives, who’s interacting with fans at her merch table. It’s a warm Saturday night and Brittney Parks has just hypnotized a crowd with her heady violin melodies and looped beats. Although she performed alone, her stage presence is larger than life, nearly comparable to the four-armed Hindu god Shiva as she juggled looping and playing the violin. Sometimes it seemed like Parks was doing everything at once.
“I didn’t know Santa Barbara was going to be this crazy because I’ve never been here before,” she tells me. It’s midnight and she just went through a long line of fans, taking pictures and signing records. Her energy seems infinite, even after performing for over an hour. “It kind of feels unreal,” says Parks about the first tour of her career, with dates across the U.S. and Europe. When I bring up tour expectations, she explains candidly how easily those ideals can be dashed—she tries not to have any preconceived notions.
Sudan Archives’ musical journey began in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she learned to play the violin in fourth grade. During that time, she was influenced by her church choir and Irish jigs. At one point her stepfather—a music executive that started LaFace Records with L.A. Reid—encouraged her and her sister to perform as a pop duo under the name N2. Fortunately for Parks it was short-lived, as that wasn’t something she was interested in.
After a fight with her parents at nineteen, she ended up moving to LA in 2016—an act of individuation and a yearning to find her own identity. Despite their disagreements, her parents still encouraged Parks to pursue music. This led her to experimenting, learning about non-Western music, and discovering her own voice. Living on her own, Parks transformed into a hustler. She worked two jobs while simultaneously making music in her bedroom. She was soon discovered by producer and Stones Throw Records’ A&R person Matthewdavid, making everything a lot easier. But then she wrestled with the task of coming up with new material while working with producers and engineers within a finite time table—something she wasn’t used to.
“Fucking annoying,” says Parks, laughing, off these early experiences. “I didn’t know how to work with people. Imagine you work like a hermit in your bedroom, making all these beats. Then you’re working with all these people, explaining your process, and getting help from them. It was difficult going from one thing to the other.”
The former DIY artist released her debut Athena last November, the album cover featuring Parks as a statue. She wanted to model herself after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war, aiming to replace the typical white bodies she would see in museums. “I knew I wanted [the album cover] to be a sculpture. I was traveling so much, seeing all these sculptures of white people. That led me to research all these goddesses. I just thought it would be cool if you google ‘Athena’ and you see me.”
“I knew I wanted [the album cover] to be a sculpture. I was traveling so much, seeing all these sculptures of white people. That led me to research all these goddesses. I just thought it would be cool if you google ‘Athena’ and you see me.”
Athena itself consists of heady loops, polyrhythmic beats, and a lush violin at its center. Because of the unique scales Parks uses, the record has an ambiguous, otherworldly feel. However, the recordings don’t quite capture the rawness and excitement of her live show, which exhibits the diversity in her fan base’s age. “A lot of people who listen to my music are older than me,” she says. “They’re from thirty to fifty years old. I think that’s pretty interesting. I feel that what I do on stage is very technical. It may be harder for younger people to notice these things, maybe? A lot of my music is polyrhythmic, so I feel like it’s harder to get into.”
Although Athena has only been out for a few months, she’s already thinking about her upcoming sophomore album. She wants to make something with a higher BPM, something that will make people want to dance. “I feel like my next album is going to be dance-focused,” she tells me as she gesticulates with her hands, simulating a fast beat. “I don’t know what that is. Is that house? It would be nice to have a live band, a drummer, and a bass guitar. All I do know is that BPM-wise I want my album to go dum-dum-dum-dum.”
Parks explains that she wants to crowd surf, which is why she wants to make an album that’s rowdier. “I’m gonna play that fucking violin like a fucking guitar,” she concludes, slightly sardonically. “I’m still going to be playing the violin—I’m just going to be crowd surfing and playing the violin.” FL