Analogue Music | Model Child

Model Child

By Matt Conner

Danny Parker aren't done exploring.

After years of songwriting with and for the likes of everyone from James Blunt and Nick Jonas to Britney Spears and Jessie Ware, Parker recently set out to create on their own terms under the banner Model Child. The early results, on the heralded debut Dropout, gave a nod to '90s rock shades, but Parker were always interested in expanding out from there and turned to producer Rusty Santos, who is well-known for his work with Animal Collective and Panda Bear, to make it happen.

Unscrewed is the new EP resulting from Parker's studio sessions with Santos, and the results are markedly different. The electro-punk experimentation is an exciting new chapter in Parker's burgeoning catalog, and the expansive palette, according to Parker, provides permission to follow in the footsteps of musical heroes who also refused to remain in a single lane. Still through it all, Parker hope fans will come along for the ride, even if some of the turns taken are a bit drastic at times.

Analogue: The new EP shifts away from the ‘90s rock influences that marked your last album, and I’d love to start there—specifically with how you decide on that sort of sonic vision. Is it planned going into a project to explore an influence or is it more organic than that?

Danny Parker: Well, when I first started the project, I was playing around with production and getting more into that—kind of Fever Ray or Thom Yorke influenced beats and then singing over the tracks and writing like that. I made a bunch of stuff I was excited about. Then over time, I was less excited by it or just didn’t know if it was the right thing for the project.

I’d had this melody in my head for about a year and I’d wondered what to do with the thing. It popped into my head one day and I just wrote the song. It ended up being the first track on Dropout called “Strawberry Bowl.” So that was the first time I wrote a song as Model Child, on guitar doing a more traditional, if you will, song structure and writing from acoustic guitar to then make a demo from that.

I wasn’t excited by that but this was the first time where I went through that process and thought, ‘This is kind of cool.’ At the time, I was listening to grunge and, as you said, a lot of ‘90s-inspired stuff like Breeders, The Pogues, Sonic Youth, Millions of Dead Cops—that kind of stuff. On Dropout I think it was subconsciously very influenced by that sound.

On the EP, it was the first time I worked with Rusty Santos, this producer who I’d been a fan of for a long time. I went into it with an open mind. We just had one day scheduled and I didn’t know what we’d do. We ended up writing “Pilot” and it was this blend of punk, trashing elements, and some electronic thrown in and these weird sounds. I liked it but I wasn’t sure if it was me.

We decided to do some more days and explore. We decided we’d stick to this palette of punk with some techno thrown in there but we still wanted to keep it loose, as to not box us into something in particular. But for the EP especially, we had colors that we were drawing from and were sticking to.

Analogue: I want to ask about those sessions, but how did you and Rusty come together in the first place?

Danny: My friend, Maral, is a deejay and an experimental underground musician in Los Angeles. She was managing me at the time and we’d been huge Animal Collective fans and the early 2000s Brooklyn music scene. She ended up meeting Rusty because he was on her dub live show and she interviewed him. Maral thought we’d be a good fit and I was like, ‘Fuck, yeah.’ I was super stoked. I couldn’t believe it was happening. [Laughs] So it was Maral’s idea to put us in a room together.

Analogue: Did you feel pretty at home there or did it take some time given how much of a dream pairing it was?

Danny: We were at my place in L.A. and it was casual enough. Also I was moreso excited than anything. He came in hot with the guitar part that propels “Pilot” forward. We were off to the races at that point. When I’m in a song and in writing mode, I almost go into this trance or something. Usually if I have any nerves before a session, once I meet the person and realize, ‘oh, this is a human being’, then it’s just fun. [Laughs]

Analogue: You’ve got such rich experiences of other collaborations. Are you postured well for that or is that hard for you in any way? Some artists are precious about things.

Danny: I’m pretty experienced with collaboration and I think having done that for so long for other people, I do have this preciousness around Model Child. For Dropout, I wrote everything myself and demoed everything. Then Pat Morrissey came in and fleshed everything out and brought it to a place I couldn’t have gotten it to myself.

Credit: Marcus McDonald
Credit: Marcus McDonald

But then with Rusty, if he was going in a direction that made me think, ‘Well, I don’t know,’ I would just trust him. I was a little less precious. I would write all the lyrics and melodies and stuff, but if Rusty had an idea of throwing me for a loop for where he wanted a song to go, I realized it’s a collaboration and that’s how you grow as an artist. I wanted to learn things from him and then it would become part of my own musical language.

Analogue: Since you had other collaborations, did it feel vulnerable to step out as Model Child?

Danny: I think the most vulnerable it felt was performing. I hadn’t done that since before I got into songwriting. For the past six years, I was in studios and wasn’t on the stage, so I was a little nervous to get back out there, but I felt like the music brought out this different part of me that I’d not experienced performing before.

It was the nature of the music. There’s almost this persona that came out a little bit, and so it felt very freeing and vulnerable in a way. There’s something about being in front of people in a physical space in that it’s an immediate response with this give-and-take of energy. I really love that dynamic, so I think live performances were the biggest way of putting myself out there more than recorded stuff.

Analogue: Does working with Rusty make you feel like you can go wherever you want?

Danny: It does. I think there are a lot of artists who have their thing and they’re really good at that. Album after album, they’ll expand on that sound or it will be nuanced in some way. Maybe down the road I will do that. But I’m really inspired by artists like Beck or David Bowie, people unafraid of going in a different direction.

I can understand how fans can potentially be turned off by something like that. You go to the store to get a Coke. Then it’s actually Sprite or something and you’re like, ‘What the fuck? I didn’t sign up for this.’ But my hope is that maybe there’s enough of a thread that I have, so that fans can follow me through it.

VISIT: Model Child

Photos: Marcus McDonald