by Bob Hanshaw
Andres Parada is battling his demons in the public sphere. But they aren’t the sad and well-worn demons that have harried musicians since time immemorial – no tawdry addictions stripping him of dignity. No, Parada has created for himself – and created himself for – a sweeping narrative of lost faith and the crushing despair that follows. In his lyrics and art, it is the single overarching theme; it seems to occupy his thoughts much of the time. It triggered the deep depression for which his music is his self-medication. And as much as he fights it with blasphemy and absurd irreverence, he also engages deeply with the religious themes and stories he had been brought up to learn.
It can be hard to reconcile some of the outrageously stupid displays with the real and unsettling insights that seem to inspire them. But for all the contradictions, Parada’s apocalyptic folk ensemble, Human Behavior, is doing something important in Tucson.
MOLDY PEACHES, MUSHROOMS, HAIR REMEDIES
Parada was born in Fresno, spent his boyhood in Tubac, moved to Chile with his grandparents for a year, and has lived in Tucson from his adolescence to the present. He learned the guitar at the age of 15 to play some Moldy Peaches songs for his high school girlfriend.
Human Behavior is Parada’s “first project as an adult musician,” coming after some hardcore music-making, and an earlier folk band who “toured in the way where we just hopped on other people’s shows… [we would] just show up and expect to play. It was terrible.” But Human Behavior formed at the opposite pole from that type of experience. It started in Minnesota.
Parada had moved to Austin, MN (pop. 20,000) “to clear my head after a long, drawn-out depression.” The episode was more or less touched off by a nasty breakup. “I moved out there, started writing all these songs, wrote a musical, and wrote… mostly garbage.” His behavior, though, became more and more erratic. “I was growing mushrooms [in his grandmother’s house, where he was staying alone]. It had to be really hot, so I was always sweaty… I went crazy.” He continues, “I was like, ‘Shit, I’m losing my hair!’ …So I was using whiskey as a home remedy. […] I was rubbing whiskey into my hair. And I was going to this community college there, and I didn’t cut my hair at all… so it was really thin and long and disgusting. And I started… gaining weight aggressively, I started getting all fat. I would go to school [like that] and I can only imagine what all these kids thought.”
Clearly something else was going on. Indeed: “I moved to Minnesota partially with the intent that suicide is an option… once I was there, I realized that loneliness is pretty overpowering. I started looking for ways to conquer it, and one of the ways to conquer it was to look into it, to explore… killing yourself, with the hope that that’s what’s going to make sure you don’t do it.”
Parada had been down that road before. “I had just gone to a mental hospital right before, for coming too close to killing myself a few times.” It hadn’t helped, or at least not as intended. “In the hospital they teach you all these ways to become a normal person… you think these thoughts, you take your medicine, and then one day you love your family and everything is OK. And it didn’t ever work, or at least it never worked for me. [But] going into music, using music as a medication, did start to work. So I think most often my lyrics go into battling depression, battling the things that trigger depression. That’s what I’d say most of my songwriting is, as a form of self-medication.”
In Austin, Minnesota, Parada knew no one, and eventually realized that this self-isolation served no purpose. He moved back to Tucson to pursue Human Behavior.
What draws Parada to his adopted genre? “It favors lyrics. […] I try as often as I can to [write] lyrics first, because I feel if you ever do guitar first, you’re willing to sacrifice the lyrics to fit the song. But if you start with the lyrics… the music is imprisoned, the lyrics are free.”
But it wasn’t always this way. “I love hardcore [punk]… where people are angry, but nobody really knows why they’re angry. I can just connect with that on an emotional level…. You don’t have to explain yourself, you don’t have to explain why you’re punching somebody. And I love that, it’s just extreme.”
“But I didn’t love that, a lot of the time, you [can’t] understand what they’re saying. And a lot of the time, when you do look at what they’re saying, it’s just not thought-out at all. It’s just about being upset, it doesn’t go into what being upset means to you, or why you’re upset. It’s just like ‘I’m pissed off.’”
Parada has something of a love-hate relationship to hardcore music – the very rawness and directness that excite him, also get in the way of communicating anything deeper. It’s no wonder that, though he listens to hardcore, he chooses to perform in a completely different genre. “And so with Human Behavior, I just decided, why not combine the two [approaches] and carry what I agree with, at an emotional level, from hardcore music, and just use that as lyrical content in a folk project?”
Anyone who has seen Human Behavior perform knows that the visual aspect of the performance is almost as important as the music. Or rather, that it provides crucial context for the experience of the music. On that, Parada says, “I wanted it to be very imposing… because when you see a folk band, it’s very easy to disregard… Anybody who’s played in a folk band has played in a bar and felt that. Where an entire crowd of people can be in your presence and not hear a single thing.”
“So I thought, well, how do you conquer that? How do you carry the impression of metal or hardcore, and you get that connection, where if you’re at a metal show, you can’t really escape it, you don’t really have many options other than leaving.” Parada originally went to school for film, and began using that knowledge to assemble film accompaniments to his music. They typically play on a stack of old TVs that sits in front of the stage for Human Behavior shows. “It has like a found footage/horror movie type [aesthetic]. It just makes the aesthetic that I love about metal in a place where I don’t think it belongs very much. So you put the lights down, turn the movies on, there’s a group of people in front of you, and it’s almost militaristic, I think it’s more hardcore.”
“And I don’t think anybody else necessarily views it like that.” But for Parada, the hardcore influence is key to his vision. “I like exploring falling away from religion, or these ideas that exist in hardcore. The upside-down cross is used a lot in metal and hardcore music, so I use that a lot… it’s a really, really powerful symbol.”
THE UPSIDE-DOWN CROSS
It’s fair to say that the story of Human Behavior began with Santa Claus. “I believed in Santa until I was way too old to believe in Santa. Then, when you find out Santa’s not real, when you’re old enough to where you should have known for a long time, then you realize, ‘Oh… Santa’s not real. What else isn’t real?’”“And just from that first question – well, what else isn’t real? – you start looking for answers, not in religion, because religion is the thing that fed you the tradition of Christmas, of anything in Christianity… Once you question tradition… you go after sources that basically say that tradition isn’t compatible with higher thinking.”
“And I don’t believe that at all, I think it totally, totally is… Religion wasn’t the problem, but… that fear – oh, Santa’s not real, God’s not real, and all of this story that I’d been led to believe, I don’t believe that it’s real – then what is? And if I don’t know what is, what’s the point? I think that’s a pretty terrifying feeling, to realize everything, the basis for life, God, that’s not there anymore.”
“[…] The girls all dressing similar and having [a] female choir, I wanted it to be sacrilegious, I wanted it to be the gospel… a lot of my songs are about Catholicism and about what it did to me growing up, so I wanted it to be blasphemy.” His ensemble is lately 11 members strong, featuring sparse acoustic arrangements backed by a group of women who often sing operatically high. “They’re all wearing black. And you’d think that it would be singing praise… In our new set, we do go into traditional gospel songs, but I changed all the words and messed with the melodies, and turned them into basically what is, to me, a satire of what American folk music means to people: just that it’s supposedly connecting people with God, and that’s what folk music has done for so long.”
Parada’s goal is precisely the opposite, although he does it with a profound appreciation – even, paradoxically, a reverence – for religious imagery and themes. “Now I love going to Catholic church. I don’t believe it, at a deeper level… [but] Christmas is my favorite day of the entire year. It has nothing to do with Jesus, although that’s also a pretty amazing story, and a lot of my lyrics deal with rewriting the Bible because that still interests me so much.”
SOUNDTRACK TO GOLGOTHA
Parada’s upcoming album, recorded at St. Cecilia, is only two songs. It’s also 45 minutes long – “which makes it really, really hard to market at all. Nobody wants to be involved in something that is so demanding of the listener. And to me, [that] makes sense. We play live, and it’s very demanding. [If] people are talking, it doesn’t go very well, it’s very sensitive.”
But he recognizes the quixotic nature of his chosen format. “It makes it super hard to get it to be heard.” Not that it won’t be worth it:
“The [next] album, 2 songs, [will be] called Bethphage. The last album is Jesus’s death, Golgotha, the hill of the skull, where Jesus died. It’s also believed to be the resting place of Adam’s bones. Where life begins, Jesus’s death, where Adam’s bones are, it’s this huge cycle, it’s incredible.” Parada has an eye for cosmic drama.
“[For] this one I wanted to go one step back… so now it’s Jesus [at] Bethphage, overlooking his trek to Bethlehem. He’s going to go in and he has this donkey stolen for him to ride in on. … As he overlooks this… he’s God, he knows everything, so he starts crying – and this is me, not the story, but [my interpretation is that] he’s crying – not for his death, but for this huge romantic tragic story of the death of God, and the guilt that these people have, and the ignorance that these people have.”
“That wouldn’t fit into cookie-cutter songs.” He doesn’t believe in singles. “Oh, here’s a song that we wrote, no context. But to me, context is what makes the artist… it’s a body of work, you present that. So I hope that we present it as something cinematic and something that is dynamic… something that’s hopefully interactive, even if only on an emotional level. Something that’s demanding. Something you can communicate with. That’s what we’re all working toward, isn’t it? Trying to build an actual connection with people.”
TUCSON: FORCED TO BE TOGETHER
“I mean we’re in a desert, which I think is a pretty lonely place to be. And we’re in a small town, too, so a lot of the time, relating with other bands is tough. If you’re in a place like New York City, even just within your own genre… you have a community of like-minded people. But in Tucson, because we’re in a small town and because we’re in the desert, and you have to be a little crazy to live somewhere where it’s so hot, it’s just a bunch of people’s brains that are independent. … There’s not really bands that sound like each other. Every band is different enough, and when you book shows, you’re like, ‘Who the hell am I going to play with on this show?’ And so you go into genres as vast as a ‘rock and roll’ show.”
“In any other city, you’d be like, ‘We have to find a goth-doom-pop band’… and you can do that! It’s an option! But in Tucson, you have these shows where these bands don’t sound anything like each other, or you have a band who’s influenced by genres that are totally unrelated to anything they’re doing.” With the exception of garage rock, which Parada does not claim to understand.
“I think that’s the cool thing about Tucson… Everybody is disconnected in their influences, everybody is doing their own thing. And we’re forced to be together. It just makes the coolest, weirdest music community.”
I asked Parada what his favorite bands in Tucson were, and they were mostly hardcore or experimental: Territory, Gatecreeper, Chamber, The Manx, Man Bites Dog, Get A Grip, Aroma. With Aroma, “you never know what you’re going to get into, you don’t know what he’s going to do.”
And with people: “I think what Logan [Greene] is doing is killer, just connecting artists [through] Diet Pop [Records] or the Trundle Sessions. I think that’s really important. What Matt [Baquet] is doing, too, that connecting artists, is just important… they’re getting people excited. It’s not just music [they’re promoting], but the community of music.”
Baquet is “super supportive, too. He puts on mixed shows, and he’s killing it [as a musician] in his genre… even though it’s a genre I can’t identify with. They’re doing it right. […] It’s just inspiring to see people chasing their dreams. And not just saying they’re chasing their dreams, but actually going all out.”
TO MAKE SOMETHING THAT NOBODY HAS EVER HEARD
Parada admits that the whole thing is terribly complex. “I’m contradicting myself over and over and over. That’s a sign of craziness, I think.” So, does he identify with that?
“Crazy? I hope so. I always think – I always wonder if I am crazy, so I do things [so] that I’m self-aware enough to know if I’m crazy or not […] I thought, is this something a crazy person does? Or is this just something an idiot does? So I don’t know. I would like to believe I’m crazy, but I’m scared that I’m just an idiot.”
It is, inevitably, left up to the listener to decide. But for Parada, that’s enough. He recently quit his job to focus on Human Behavior full-time.
“I feel like I’ve spent my entire life just trying to do this… Just to make something that nobody has ever heard.” Parada may well be on the way to achieving just that. “I think that’s the goal of artists… to actually create something, not to replicate something.”