“I just didn’t wanna be sad all the time in my music, I just felt like it wasn’t helping me.” -Kern Parks
Kieran Alexander — stage name Kern Parks — is a Nottingham-born musician, singer, songwriter and artist currently based in London. With a style heavily inspired by indie, folk, alternative rock and electronic music, Kieran’s genre-blending music takes influence from his background playing in bands in Nottingham and Leeds, and experiences in the UK DIY music scene. Kieran spoke to PRXLUDES about the meaning behind his lyrics, his thoughts on heavy music, and his signing to alternative label Beth Shalom Records.
Zyggy/PRXLUDES: Hi Kieran! Thanks so much for chatting with me.
Kern Parks: Hey Zyggy, thanks for reaching out, I’ve been looking forward to chatting with you! Sorry I’m a little late.
It’s no problem! You’re releasing a single this Friday called ‘Door’. Tell me a bit about what inspired the song; was there anything in particular you were thinking about during the writing process?
So ‘Door’ is a very new song to me. [My] previous single — ‘Mindless Eye’ — I’d written about a year and a half prior, whereas with ‘Door’, I wrote it in October, so it’s very new to me. It’s about being in a new relationship, and the anxieties that come with that; the second line [is] “I will only break your heart”… that’s not me being like, “I’m an awful person”, but it’s me getting worried that I’m gonna do something, somehow. So it’s about [those] anxieties of starting a new relationship.
Sound-wise, I wanted it to sound like more of a band. The last single had been so electronic and sparse, [so] I was like “right, I want something that sounds like a band” — not quite four people in a room, but in terms of instrumentation. So real sounding drums, big bass, guitar; there’s still keyboards and stuff, but it’s a lot bulkier. I’d been listening to a lot of indie bands, like The Voidz, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra… stuff like that. So I wanted to channel that vibe, in a way.
Are those lyrical themes something that you’ve explored in some other Kern Parks songs so far?
Yeah, actually, weirdly enough. With [my] very first single, that was written like ‘Door’ was, it was very quick, it came together very quickly out of a loop that I made, so the lyrics for that were super current. That was in peak first lockdown, when I made that; and again, I had just met this person not long before the lockdown, and we were talking and everything, and it was [centred on] anxieties around that.
With ‘Elephant’, I had written it the tail end of last year and then re-recorded it. That [song’s] not so much about anxieties [in] relationships, that’s more so about looking at the past and the way you used to be, and letting go of that; realising that you are now doing better than you [were] before, mentally and emotionally. Realising that those things that happened before, that doesn’t define you, and that you’re able to move forward and be better, and be the person you wanna be. But that song was written last year, so I guess the two recent ones this year have been about similar things, in a way; it’s about the same thing, but from different times. So… yeah. Love and anxiety have been on my mind this year. -laughs-
I guess those feelings are something that could be exacerbated by our current circumstances?
Yeah, definitely exacerbated this year. It tends to be pretty typical for me… -laughs- But I think this year, [it] definitely [has]. Especially during the first lockdown, she was back in another country, and I was like “I don’t know when I’m gonna see you, ever”, so there were anxieties around that. I also think in general, [between] losing my job, and signing with Beth Shalom Records, and realising I have to put things out, I have to be consistent… all these things inspired some major anxiety in my life. Nothing I can’t handle.
It’s almost liminal, the state of change mixed with the songs you’re putting out. It’s definitely interesting to see the “journey” your songs have been embodying…
Yeah, absolutely. I’m glad that that’s apparent, because it does feel very fluid, [like] a very active progression, because everything this year has been so reactionary. So I’m glad that’s coming through.
Tell me a bit about your musical background; was there any particular catalyst that spurred you into doing what you do?
Even when I was really young, I always had an affinity for music, I was always drawn to it. When I was a baby, my mum would play these “chillout tapes” to make me eat my dinner. -laughs- So in a way, I’ve always been into it; when I was four [or] five, I would get my mum to take me to HMV, because I wanted to put on the big headphones and listen to songs. But I suppose I wrote a chord progression on the piano when I was quite young — and I couldn’t play piano at the time — I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but from there, I sort of knew that I always wanted to make music, I just didn’t know how.
Then I played violin through [primary] school, and then my uncle gifted me a guitar. I went for two guitar lessons, I hated the teacher, and then from there, I just started teaching myself — from around 12 years old, I started learning Foo Fighters songs — [and] as soon as I started teaching myself, I realised there was nothing else that I wanted to do. Very quickly, I started writing songs — proper songs — I think I was 13 and I’d written my first three or four songs, recorded in the crudest way possible. I had these Audacity files sitting on my mum’s computer… -laughs- But I was still proud of them, they were mine.
How did that interest develop through your teenage years?
I would say from about [the age of] 12 is when I realised that I definitely wanted to make music. I was always starting bands, and playing gigs where I was too young to really be playing, but they’d let me in anyway. -laughs- From there, it’s just been the case of teaching myself new instruments, and learning more about recording, and now I’m here.
What were those first bands like for you?
I was really into [bands like] Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Soundgarden and stuff. And a big catalyst moment for me was a band called Pulled Apart by Horses, [and] their second record, ‘Tough Love’ — and the first record, as well — when that second record came out, my buddy recommended them to me, and I fell in love with that record, like, immediately. And I wanted to be that band. So my first band sounded a lot like Pulled Apart by Horses; we had our own things going on from other bands we listened to, but it was very much a post-hardcore type [of] band. We were around 13, 14 when we started it, and we played gigs within the first 3 months of being a band; we were just like “okay, we wanna play shows, we wanna go crazy and scream”, and that’s what we did.
The first couple bands I was in were definitely of that post-hardcore flavour. The second band I did was more like Reuben; the band [was] called Fall of the Bastille — named after a Reuben song — and it was very much that sort of flavour of post-hardcore and punk. Around that time, as well, I really got into Deftones, so that was a huge factor for me. [But] it was always sort of loud, aggressive, but there was something delicate about it, and something melodic about it, always. I could never be in a super-heavy band, I just couldn’t do it. I do love some ridiculously heavy bands, but I could never “be” in that band; and I think that need for melodic elements has now gone through to what I’m doing now. It’s the big link.
What spoke to you about heavy music?
In a way, the lyrics were always very vulnerable, you know… I was a sad little boy. -laughs- And I suppose the music was almost like a safety blanket, in a way. The fact [that] the singing sounds harsh, and heavy, and used to scare some of my friends. On the outside I was very much this hyperactive, happy-go-lucky sort of kid, and then I’d get on stage and start screaming about how much my heart hurt. -laughs-
I totally understand. I remember the band I was in when I was in school; I’m sure we scared a few of my friends, too. -laughs-
Yeah, I think it definitely scared some of my friends, but the point was [that] I didn’t feel as vulnerable while speaking about things that made me feel incredibly vulnerable. Having this aggressive music around it meant that I was protected, in a sense.
You spent a lot of time working between Leeds and Nottingham. What were the similarities and differences that you saw between those DIY communities?
I moved to Leeds when I was 18 to go to Leeds Conservatoire, I lived there for three years during my undergrad. But even though I was in Leeds, I was constantly stretched between the two cities [Leeds and Nottingham], because I was also involved in projects back there. In a way, I was popping up to Leeds all the time; luckily, the train was really cheap between the two cities… I might do four days in Leeds, and then three days in Nottingham. There would rarely be a week [where] I was in Leeds for the whole week.
The DIY scene in Leeds — especially in the first couple [of] years of me living there — was so vibrant, and rich with bands. I was playing in an emo band at the time — Baby Names — but what I really loved about Leeds DIY was [that] it wasn’t just emo bands; these different scenes would have these overlaps, that would allow us to work with all these different people, and play with all these different people. It was a lot of fun; I’m sure that I saw, like, over 100 bands — which was also great, because there was always a new band doing something that was slightly different, [or] different enough to keep you interested. It was great. You know, it did start to die down a little bit as promoters got older, and had to think more about the future, and all that stuff… it’s natural. It’s very much a lightning in a bottle type thing; a couple years of craziness, and then it sort of fizzles out, really.
I feel like a lot of DIY scenes are like that. Either that, or we just got older… -laughs-
Yeah, yeah. Cause that’s the thing, I’m sure that it exists now, and I don’t know about it. DIY scenes seem to be intergenerational; within each generation, you’ll have four different “pockets”, almost, across that generation. So I’m sure that either I’m missing out on it now, or it’s about to happen again, with a whole new set of kids.
I think that’s the other thing, too; like, [it’s] something that you do when you’re in-between the ages of 16 and 20. It’s sort of “the” time to do it, and I guess now, if those shows were around, I could still go to those shows, but I’m not necessarily gonna hear about them all the time, because I’m older, and my friends are older.
What was it that factored into the decision to move away from that scene, and transition into what you’re doing as Kern Parks?
[It] factored into the decision of “I don’t want to fucking do it anymore”. -laughs- I did love emo for a good few years — and I still have a soft spot for a couple of bands — but I was in it because my friends were in it, and because I loved the atmosphere of it. But as I got more into uni and more into songwriting and stuff, actually really trying to dig into how to get better — and I think you’d find this with any [genre], no matter what the music is in the scene that you’re in — if you start to really pick apart composition, you sort of realise [that] there’s a few gems, and then there’s a lot of bands that you realise are doing the same thing as each other. And I felt as though the band I was in, Baby Names — I mean, Aidan and I are great, Aidan literally lives about 3 minutes away from me in London — I think he’d agree with me, I felt as though we were definitely on the brink of falling into all those bands that were just the same. I think it was the case [that] I just didn’t wanna be sad all the time in my music, I just felt like it wasn’t helping me.
I suppose the transition started in my last year at Leeds, [when] I started doing more Kern Parks stuff. I wasn’t really playing with DIY promoters, it was more [that] I was playing shows with Come Play With Me, and Super Friendz, and that sort of stuff. I was, in a way, trying to distance this project from that, because I wanted to make a point of “this is different”. But it was also tough because it’s a completely solo project, the sound’s always been so fluid; especially in Leeds, when I was figuring it out, I was playing shows with anybody. I did a show with this great Italian musician called Any Other, who a couple of years ago released this amazing record ‘Two, Geography’; so I played with her, and not long after that I played with this amazing producer from south-east London called Jamie Isaac at Headrow House, and at that show I played a completely different set. I was doing a full electronic setup, because I had all these new songs that I was writing for uni, and they were more electronic, which I think is why I was able to get on that bill.
I think it was the frustration of being in these emo bands, and realising that I wanted to do something else, but I knew that within that realm, if I tried doing something else, it just wouldn’t really work. I guess it was that frustration that drove me to do the stuff that I do now.
That’s the advantage of being a solo artist; you have the freedom to experiment with whatever you like, however you like.
Absolutely. In a way it’s good, [but] in a way it can be frustrating… I think I’m closer to figuring out what it is that I do, but it’s taken a long time, and I’m sure that has only hindered me in terms of getting people to actually listen, because every time [I] send it over they’re like “fucking hell, what are you doing this week? What genre are you doing this week?” -laughs-
There’s a beauty in that, I think. Being a bit of a wildcard…
Yeah, for sure. Maybe I should have been leaning into that more. -laughs- I think with the stuff I’m working on now, for whatever comes next, it definitely has a bit more of a “uniform” sound to it, but it’s still covering a lot of bases. I’m trying to do less, realising I don’t have to stretch myself as much in terms of sound, and that there’s other ways for me to stretch myself within more of a cohesive [project]. Especially because whatever comes next will be some sort of longform type thing, it won’t just be a single… It needs to have more of a cohesive thing. I’m figuring out how to do that and still have it sound quite different, within the tracklist. I mentioned The Voidz earlier, [they] do that perfectly. They cover so many different bases, but it still sounds like them. I guess I’m trying to figure that out.
Tell me about your history with Beth Shalom Records. How did you and Joe Booley end up working together?
Ah, Joe… lovely lovely Joe. -laughs- Honestly, I love him. We came to work together because I was a live member of Petlib; during the time when I gained a bunch of weight and had to squeeze into a jumpsuit that was really too small for me, and now it’s captured on hundreds of T-shirts for everyone to look at. -laughs-
So I joined that band… I didn’t play on the record, but the idea of me joining was there already [when it was written]. I joined as a live member, and [then] Petlib released ‘Maker’ on Beth Shalom Records; it was Joe’s first time managing a band, as well — we were sort of the maiden voyage for him — so we worked incredibly closely for several months. Then Petlib sort of dissolved; George [Milner] started working with Joe, now Beth Shalom is two people. Through that, and through becoming friends… he’d [Joe] been saying for a while that he’d love to do something with what I do — and I had taken a break from making solo music, I’d become a bit disillusioned — but during lockdown, I was finally just like “why not? Screw it, let’s do it”.
Exactly. Of all the times to do it, now’s probably the best… -laughs-
Exactly. It’s great to work with Joe because we’re friends. I was lucky enough to be at his wedding, which was wonderful, a really special time. I have a good relationship with Esther [Booley] — his wife — so it’s like I’m just working with friends, and they appreciate me and the way I am, and the way I may wanna do things. It’s just good; a very natural thing. It’s the thing of, like, I know that there’s a level of care that goes into it, that may not be apparent if I was working with someone else who I wasn’t friends with beforehand.
What do you reckon is next in line for Kern Parks? Are there any particular ideas or themes going through your head at the moment?
I want to make something that in five years, I can look at, and go like “I was totally honest, I was totally myself”. I’ve made EP’s and stuff before, and even though there are some parts of it that I think are good, I can’t really say that about them. I guess the main thing is, I just want to make something where I was completely honest with myself and did exactly what I wanted to do. Whether that comes in the form of an EP or an LP, I have no idea; I don’t know if I’m ready to write an album, because if it’s a record, I want it to be amazing. I’m still recording myself; I record, mix, master everything myself. The things [that] might change would be [that] I would get someone in to master it, someone else to come in and do some additional mixing as well, but I’m still gonna record everything. I’m also wanting to stretch myself, try and learn a new instrument — specifically for the next [record] — so I can incorporate that in some way. I might re-learn violin, because I used to play that as a kid. I got really into Andy Shauf and his use of clarinets in a lot of his stuff, I think it’s beautiful; so something like that could be amazing too. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to open the project up to having other people play on it yet, but at the same time, it might be a good idea.
But, like I [said], it’s all in very early stages, and it’s still very reactionary. I’m realising more so the direction I want [it] to go in; I want it to sound fuller, a bit more like a band. But I wanna do it in a way that doesn’t sound like people in a room, I wanna do it in a way that sounds like “he made it, but I can really hear a band playing this”, on stage… whenever that happens again.
Kern Parks’ upcoming single ‘Door’ releases Friday 4 December, and can be ordered on 7″ vinyl from Beth Shalom Records, at: hyperurl.co/KP-DoorPreOrder
Check out more of Kieran’s work at:
- Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – Human Sadness (Cult Records, 2014)
- Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love (Jagjaguwar, 2015)
- Pulled Apart By Horses – Tough Love, full album (Transgressive, 2012)
- Any Other – Two, Geography, full album (42 Records, 2018)
- Jamie Isaac – Doing Better (Marathon Artists, 2018)
- Andy Shauf – I’m Not Falling Asleep (Tender Loving Empire/Party Damage, 2015)