Last year I was commissioned by friend Will Quiring to write a bio for his new project, Parkland. Sometimes writing about music as a person who knows nothing about making music makes me feel like a dummy (the wamboozleboppadoo sound of the noise machine creates an atmosphere of smooth toffee-like bliss etc etc). But it’s fun to be involved in people’s projects, so I was glad to join.
Parkland is a place of contrast and a place of adaptation. The debut self-titled album of Parkland, pieced together inside the heads of six musicians across Treaty 6 and Treaty 4 territories in western Canada, negotiates the space between personal discovery and cooperative writing. Aspen parkland, as a biome, breaks the tension between prairie and boreal forest with dense brush and river valleys. Parkland, as both an album and a project, breaks the tension of songwriting and collaborating, clean production and honest sound, strategic instrumentation and open lyrics. Both the biome and the band merely exist as transitions between two different places. Prairie and forest. Before Parkland and after.
Started with a solo project in mind, Will Quiring (vocals/guitars/keys) made the most of an abundance of spare time to form sturdy skeletons of songs. He eventually came to realize that these songs could reach new places by incorporating the vision of some of his favourite musicians spanning the parklands. He spanned the biome, selecting collaborators naturally but with intention: the types of people you wouldn’t mind (hell, might even enjoy) being snowed in with.
Coming from bands such as Close Talker and Rah Rah, each musician wrote independently. Each performance was recorded in basements and friends’ home-studios in figurative (and at times literal) isolation, yet the album has the warm feel of a band playing together. Given the freedom to write the parts they envisioned, Jerms Olson (bass), Janelle Moskalyk (guitar/vocals), Ian Cameron (pedal steel), Jeffrey Romanyk (drums), and Steve Schneider (keys/vocals) each added to Quiring’s lyrical and musical exploration. Together, they crafted a record spanning folk, country, emo, and indie rock; never fully committing to one but giving a respectful nod to them all.
Lyrically, the struggle and contrast of growing with and into connection with someone, while at the same time beginning to loath activities that used to give hope, is part of what helps Parkland rise above the crowd. Like the cities and towns that dot the parkland biome, the lyrics are literal and free from forced glamour; a purposeful decision that comes with not wanting to hide behind obscure writing tactics, even if it exposes insecurities and vulnerability.
North of the Border leads the album with the conflict that comes when two people want the same thing (connection and comfort), while admitting one’s own itch to create personal memories and stories out of nothing. The second half of the album emerges with Buzz Cut, a reconsideration of former band dreams and the implications these dreams had on adjacent relationships. Quiring is learning from the words as they fall on the page, making realizations after the fact. The music rises to meet the lyrics as if no one would know what the words meant until they were interpreted with piano and pedal steel.
Parkland, as a band and an album and an ecosystem, is about interrelation. The songs arc through relationships that are rooted to specific places (North of the Border, Abby, Ohio, Alice Lake) but come off naturally as if they could be everywhere else all at once. The production is modest, lending the songs an approachable, easy relatability. Parkland balances the fading nostalgia of a house party at sunrise with the revelations that come from knowing someone intimately, falling asleep together before 9pm. Bands gearing up and winding down, old friendships evolving to new places, love in changing times and eras. Parkland shows that the person and the ecosystem can still thrive in each new season.
When Parkland ends you know you’re in a different place than when you started. You look up and you’re in the forest or the prairie. Parkland is both a place and an album of genuine self-discovery, which thrives when surrounded by people you love and a community that brings out your best. This is the ethos of Parkland, and how the debut album manages to feel new yet familiar, relaxed yet purposeful all at the same time.