GUITARIST, SHANE PARISH
How does one arrive at the creation of an album like “Undertaker Please Drive Slow”?
Here is a boy who, at age 14, picks up a guitar for the first time and decides “this is it!” This is the escape hatch from the tragedy and trauma of an unstable childhood in the sweltering heat, chaos and congestion of sunny Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In music Parish finds stability and eternity and truth, elevated beyond the work-a-day grind and fight for mere survival. There is no music in his childhood home aside from what is being administered on the TV and radio, so music must be sought out and discovered, in the days before everything is instantly discoverable. There is jazz and blues and Cuban and classical music in South Florida. There are innumerable Florida death metal bands and Marilyn Manson is an unsigned local act. Riffs by Iron Maiden and Metallica and Pink Floyd are being passed around by friends, and the friends form bands, and write songs, and try to be original. The ego is broken down and made permeable by the ingestion of psychedelics, and music and life become integrated on a cellular and spiritual level… Naturally, school and work hold very little interest at this point, and the boy Parish drops out and tells everyone he is going to just play guitar.
Here is a young man who, at age 26, has just played his first international jazz festival in Austria with his confrontational, no-holds-barred, avant-garde, instrumental rock band, Ahleuchatistas [AH-LOO-CHA-TEES-TAS]. It’s really just a punk band in this incarnation, almost like Fugazi meets Captain Beefheart. The crowd loves it and the world feels less lonely. Parish is on the cusp of wrapping up a university degree in philosophy, in which he becomes deeply immersed in the anarcho-musico-Buddhist ideas of composer John Cage. He has long dipped his toe in different styles of guitar playing, but has barely scratched the surface, really. Parish’s explorations are now led by an ethos of wide open curiosity and awareness. Jazz is an obsession and John Coltrane is a guiding light in any situation. There is a radio interview with Coltrane in the early 60’s, just before he goes on to record “A Love Supreme”, in which he talks about how he is currently trying to “deepen his roots” because he “skipped over a lot of stuff”. This conversation leaves a lasting impression.
Here is a family man who, at age 38, makes his living playing gigs and teaching lessons. Still very much the experimentalist, touring musician and collaborator, with over 20 albums in his discography, he has spent the past decade cultivating a more embodied approach to playing the guitar: how to pull out the most beautiful sound, or whatever desired effect, by following the breath and touching the string just so. Parish has taught himself classical guitar, as a practice like meditation or Yoga or Tai Chi. As a boy he thought the tape was warped and that was why Andres Segovia’s guitar sounded like flowing water. Now Parish knows that being completely in the moment is the real cause. He turns to the blues and folk music where a universal magic is being shared and passed down generations and permeating every other form of music. Elizabeth Cotten and John Hurt hypnotize and heal with a simple root-five bass line, like a pulse, in four-four time and fill up all the cracks with sparkling melody. Parish sings folk songs to his young daughter and, through her new ears, begins to truly appreciate the regional music of his adopted home in the Appalachian town of Asheville, North Carolina. One winter’s night, just before bed, he thinks, “I’ll write an arrangement of ‘The Cuckoo’ for solo guitar.” Instead, Parish records 45 minutes of music, twelve folk songs, in a trance-like effortless stream of free association. He goes to sleep. It’s as if someone else played it, and he listens to the recording in the coming days twenty or more times. He sends it to friends and labels. The music catches the ear of the great and famous composer and saxophonist, John Zorn, who lives up in New York City. Zorn asks Parish if he would like to record on better equipment, offering him a small budget, and tells him that he can record it whenever he feels ready.
Six months later a recording session in a cabin in the woods yields a 15-song album of original arrangements and improvisations of gospel, folk, blues, field hollers, Child ballads, Scottish traditionals, and Appalachian tunes. Undertaker Please Drive Slow.