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Arp Kisser

Andrea Parker does not suffer interviewers gladly and she lets you know it - within 20 seconds of her picking up the phone. When asked how much time does she have for our chat, she replies "I don't know." Not 'I don't know' in the 'I-don't-know-how-long-would-you-like-talk-to-me?' sense. But 'I don't know' as in 'I-don't-know-how-long-will-I want to-talk-to-you?' Changing tack, I offer that I really like her long-delayed debut album. "Oh, she says, "I'm bored with it already." At this stage Parker's reputation as a from-the-hip interviewee seems set to continue and I'm counting down the most arduous telephone conversation of my life. Scratch the surface however, and you find someone who takes their work very seriously but themselves a lot less, someone who punctuates their comments with a wicked laugh (think Mutley with a 40-a-day-habit) and someone who has good reason to be suspicious of the press (more on that later).
spacer But if Parker herself is already bored with her debut album, Kiss My Arp (a homage to a German analogue synth which she swears by), then the music world has had quite the opposite reaction: reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, heaping praise on her sense of sonic adventure and her reluctance to pander to formula. Indeed, the album covers the canon of her influences, from beguiling electro instrumentals (Sneeze - which samples her sneezing) to heavy-duty bass workouts (Melodious Thunk) through to classically-tinged epics (Clutching At Straws). And despite the fact that Kiss My Arp has endured a lengthy birthing process, many have pointed to how fresh and current it sounds.
spacer "The album seems so old to me now that it's just a bit of a shame really," she sighs. "A lot of people have pointed out to me that it's lucky I wasn't just doing a drum 'n' bass or techno album because it would be so out of date now it would be hideous. I'm really surprised that everything that has been written about it is so positive. I'm not a perfect singer and I'm not a perfect producer so the album was a learning process for me. While people have been waiting for this album for three years, it's actually taken me ten years of my life to make it."
spacer But, if you're thinking that some Brian Wilson-style obsession with detail is the reason behind the delay to Kiss My Arp then think again: the problems were of a more corporate than creative nature.
spacer "Basically it was because A+M actually owned Mo'Wax which I was signed to," she recalls. "Then A+M folded so a lot of the Mo'Wax artists went to the parent company Polygram and everyone got distributed on different labels. Then Mo'Wax sorted out another deal with Beggar's Banquet . That's basically why it was put on the shelf for so long, because I was trying to sort all the Polygram stuff. As you can imagine, it was great fun getting mixed up in all of that!"
spacer If things had gone according to plan, Kiss My Arp would have appeared on people's stereos sometime in early 1997, following-up on Parker's second single The Rocking Chair. Released in the late summer of 1996, The Rocking Chair marked a serious volteface for a beats-oriented label like Mo'Wax and an artist who had cut her teeth in the techno sphere. Built around a 40-piece string section and Parker's beguiling vocals, it sounded like nothing else on offer that summer. Predictably, the critics loved it. But with the adulation however, came the need for a character and a persona for Parker to fit into. The one they arrived at was as a goth-addled diva of doom - an image which persists to this day.
spacer "It really annoys me," she sighs. "I look at a lot of hip-hop like the Gravediggaz and that's the darkside to me. I do not look at what I do and think in the same way. I think a lot of stuff that I've written in the past - even the techno - has always been associated with doom and gloom. Now people expect me to turn up at interviews with bats flying out of my hair and smoke and stuff! They have to find someone to compare you and I really think that underneath it all these boys expect women just to do happy house. Even when I'm DJing and I put a record on, a guy will come up to me and say 'what's this?' When I tell them it's one of mine they just say 'yeah, right!' and walk away!"
spacer Such a response if anything has led Parker to defiantly explore as many different avenues as she can: producer, DJ, singer, remixer and collaborator with the likes of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Ryuichi Sakamoto. "Yeah," she laughs, 'I'm working with all the old men because I'm not one of these people who just sticks to one genre of music until it give themselves a nosebleed. I really admire anyone in music who is the first to do something , and those guys were some of the first people to sequence strings and do mad things. They also make all of their off sounds without sampling too much and that's what influenced me when I was growing up."
spacer Parker's formative years were spent in Kent listening to Art Of Noise and David Sylvian albums. While at school, she studied piano and cello, but claims not to be very good at either of them (a fact which is contradicted by her cello-playing on Kiss...). "I didn't think about it (music) much when I was at school," she says. I was one of those sad people who wasn't very good at anything except for sport and art . When I left school I ended up doing a lot of care work for the elderly and handicapped. I got a lot of satisfaction from doing that work: when you take the elderly out for the day it's just the funniest thing. They're not trying to be something they're not and you just have great conversations with them. They were forever saying 'now make sure you want to do everything you want to do because the time will go by really fast'. It was then that I decided I wanted to do music."
spacer Her decision prompted a relocation to London and a succession of jobs ranging from hairdresser to record shop assistant. "I had always wanted to sing," she explains, "so I got a job in a hairdressers where all the DJ's used to go. That gave me the chance to give them demo tapes and through that I got a lot of session singing. But for me session singing was really uninspiring - nothing was ever weird enough or different enough. So I started to concentrate on my own stuff instead."
spacer Her first collaborations were with the techno group Inky Blacknuss and the techno auteur David Morley which eventually led to her solo career and the album she has such difficulties talking about.
spacer "I've always found it a bit of a weird philosophy... interviews," she pleads in her defence. "You have to do them, but this album has taken so long to come out that I don't really have that much interest in doing them! I know that sounds really bad, but I just want to move forward now. Plus I've got real problems with people asking about lyrics and stuff - sometimes there's just no reason for doing things. It's like when someone does a painting and it goes on exhibit: you've got 20 people staring at this painting giving 50 reasons why the poor guy did it and most of the time they're wrong."
spacer With new material ready to go, Parker is branching out again, gearing up for her first bona fide American tour and toying with the idea of scoring films, having recently worked on a project for Sci-fi legend Arthur C. Clarke.
spacer "It was in a club where they linked up a lot of cinema screens. Arthur C. Clarke wrote a script and was beamed in by satellite from Sri Lanka onto one of the screens in the club. It was actually eight hours long and I had to collect a lot of sound effects for it and put them to the script. I was really trying to keep everything in time, but with the time delay I had the wrong animal sounds coming out of animals! I was laughing hysterically at the back because a camel would open his mouth and a frog sound would come out! No-one seemed to notice, though."
spacer Parker has appeared just once in Ireland but really wants to come back. Her mother is Irish and teases her continually about not playing enough here. "She keeps saying to me 'why can't you play more over there and take me with you?' We're actually going over for a family reunion in Wexford next month. My mother's from a very large family so there'll be a couple of hundred there."
spacer Any chance you'll be doing some DJing for them?
spacer "Oh no!" she roars. "I don't think the invite goes that far!"
Harry Guerin

Kiss My Arp is out now on Mo'Wax records.

Originally appeared in Wow! August 1999. Copyright © WOW!