A relatively new face on the block, New York-born London-based producer Hollis Parker is a man whose music demands an ever-growing amount of attention. He popped onto our radar last year with a stunning house edit of Roy Ayer’s iconic track ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine‘, followed by two consistently warming EPs on London-based vinyl-only label SoSure Music. In keeping with the label’s mantra of focusing on authentic, underground house music, Parker’s output has been both refreshing and pure, every track instilled with warmth and soul.
Prior to his house productions, the New York native spent a long time producing hip-hop, a suitable allure for someone growing up in hip-hop’s hometown and neighbourhood. The connection between the two genres instantly makes itself known in Parker’s music, including a dreamy house cut of Soul of Mischeif’s ’93 ’til Infinity’. Ahead of forthcoming material from the fast-rising producer, we got to know Hollis Parker a little better with a full interview below, accompanied by a eclectic mix of soulful house and jazz-infused breakbeat recorded by the man himself.
Hollis Parker’s The Tunnel EP and Looking Back EP are available to buy here.
For those that aren’t yet familiar with you and your work as Hollis Parker, could you give us some background of your musical history up until now?
I started out as a hip-hop and house DJ with two broke down turntables my pops got me from the swap meet and some Radio Shack DJ mixer. Eventually I got a sampler and started making hip-hop tracks. Over the years I got interested in creating other styles of music as well, including drum-n-bass and 2-step, but I’ve always come back to house and to hip-hop. This project is an amalgamation of those two styles… two styles that up until now I treated as separate entities.
What’s the story behind your name?
I chose the name Hollis Parker for this project because I wanted a name that really embodies the music itself. I chose Hollis as a representation of the borough of Queens, New York City, since Hollis is one of the most widely known parts of Queens. And Parker I took from saxophonist Charlie Parker, one of my favorite jazz players of all time.
We know you came from a hip-hop background, and your music is brimming with soulful samples and hip-hop inflections. Could you tell us a little about your how and why you shifted over to House music?
Well if you go back in time a bit, not too long ago, hip-hop and house were far more connected than they appear to be these days. Both genres come from similar roots, in some cases by people from the same neighbourhoods. Back in the day, DJs were likely to play both house and hip-hop in their sets, and plenty of cats that I knew who made one genre also made the other. I’ve always DJ’d both genres, though I have switched predominance in my set of one or the other throughout the years. So I guess to speak directly to the question, I have always and will always create both.
Do you think there’s a definitive relationship or link between the worlds of house and hip-hop?
Oh absolutely, like I was just saying, to me hip-hop and house are cousins. They’re born from the same era, made by similar people in similar circumstances. They went completely opposite paths over the years, but there’s no question both genres are cut from the same cloth. It’s one of the reasons my music comes together so naturally in my opinion.
You’re originally from Queens, NY – when did you move to London and why?
I’ve been in London for just over three years now. Basically I came to London for the same reason many people switch cities… I needed a change. New York will always be my home and my heart, but sometimes you also got to realize when you need to seek out other pastures. Even the most flavourful food can get stale if you eat it every day, you dig? That’s how I felt about New York. Sometimes you got to take a step back, and I’m glad I did.
How is the environment different from your home in New York and has this affected your music is any way?
Well from my experience, London and New York are probably the two cities most like each other I’ve ever been to. The pace here is just a hair slower, which for me is a good thing. I feel like New York is often enough people in a hurry to go nowhere, always rushing for nothing & agitated for no reason. At least in London, if people are rushing or agitated, it’s for a purpose. But being in London has absolutely affected my music, being away from NY allowed me to see my own home from a completely different perspective. I’d say that none of the tracks I’ve done would even exist if I was still in New York… I had to step away in order to see things clearly.
Just looking at tendencies to associate New York with hip-hop, Detroit/Chicago with House etc, is there any genre of music that defines London for you?
For me in my era, I associate London with drum-n-bass and UK garage, two scenes that I was involved in back in New York as well. In fact, the first time I ever came to London was off the back of some UK Garage tunes that I’d done. Coming here and seeing both of those genres being far more mainstream than they were at the time in the US, where they felt like niches of a niche, definitely cemented them as true London-based genres. They were created and cultivated here, and old school drum-n-bass and UKG definitely still excite me.
You’ve released two brilliant EPs on So Sure Music so far – how did you end up hooking up with the label?
I’ve known the label manager for ages, so when I finished the first EP, he was the first person I sent it to. Everything about SoSure matches up with what I do from a philosophical standpoint, from their aesthetics that combine old and new to their commitment to physical product. I didn’t want to just release these tracks on digital sites, I wanted to have a vinyl record and release these as vinyl-only. SoSure was happy to oblige, and it’s been a great relationship so far.
Your Looking Back EP contains some amazing samples. Could you talk us some of the samples you chose for each track and how you came about using them?
Thanks! In keeping with my old-school mentality, I won’t divulge the exact sources of the samples, since I’d still rather have heads do their homework. Though obviously you won’t have to dig too far to find most of these, especially the ones on the Looking Back EP. I specifically chose those samples based off of old hip-hop tunes that helped define me as an individual, as a DJ, and as a musician and producer. But I also wanted to take the samples to a different place, so I made sure to hunt down the original vinyls for every sample I used if I didn’t already have them; I definitely wanted to stay away from just re-creating old hip-hop beats. The goal was to capture the essence and in some songs pay homage, not to re-hash or bite old stuff.
Any favourite record shops to go crate-digging (London, NY and anywhere else)?
I try to get out at least every other week to go digging, even though more and more shops seem to be closing. The good news is, lately it seems for every one that closes, a new one opens. Right now, my #1 spot in London is probably Reckless Records on Berwick Street. Every time I go in there I pretty much find something I’d want to buy and the prices are great. I also like Flashback in Islington, they have a fantastic selection as well. There are a few other spots I go regularly, but I can’t divulge all my secrets, can I? I was just back in New York a few weeks ago and I managed to get out to some of the spots there too, but generally I found them overpriced. The one fun spot that every digger has to check is The Thing in Brooklyn. Their basement is off the hook, and pretty much every record is $2. Of course, word got out on this place over the years, so all the real gems are long gone, but you can still find some mega-heat if you move the crates around and really get digging. I know I did.
What makes a good sample for you?
This is probably the hardest question to give a verbal answer to. I guess the best way to answer it is: a good sample just has a certain vibe and a certain movement to it. It’s one of those things, when you’ve done this long enough you can pick up on a great sample almost instantly. Like I can be listening to hours worth of music, doing other things, answering emails or whatever, and as soon as a dope sample comes over the speakers my ears perk up. It has that vibe, that energy and emotion.
Moving on to some tech talk, what’s your current studio set-up in terms of gear?
Basically it’s just four things: an MPC 2000 Classic, an Akai S3000XL, 2 sample CDs, and a small collection of records. Every sound you hear on my records comes out of those machines, regardless of source. I also use Ableton Live as a kind of sketch pad for my tracks a lot, simply due to its ease of use and how quickly things can be tried out. I never wanted my set-up to be completely old school… there has to be some element of new school or else it’s just a re-hash to me.
Has it changed since you’ve moved from hip-hop to house?
Not at all. In fact, this is exactly what I started with, the only exception being that I originally had an Akai S2000 instead of the S3000XL.
Favourite bit of gear that you couldn’t do without?
Has to be my MPC of course! The groove, the punch, the vibe, all of that comes from the MPC. The 2000 series gets a bad rep in MPC circles, but it’s probably my favorite. Still got a soft spot for the 60 & the 3000 though.
Looking forward, what’s on the cards for you in terms of upcoming releases/shows?
At the moment I’m working on my next batch of tracks, trying to progress the whole project to the next step, which is getting original vocals involved. While I’ve always enjoyed the DJ Shadow-esque vibe of having every sound coming from records, I also enjoy the idea of adding something completely original to the pot. Not for every track of course, but definitely for some of them.
Finally, could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve made for us?
You would think that being so vinyl-based that my DJ sets would be the same as well, but I actually DJ with Ableton Live. It’s part of that old-to-the-new crossover mantra of mine. So when I play, I typically use Live as a kind of big sampler, where I play & chop loops from new tunes and lay old school tracks and acapellas over them. I started the mix with a brand new original intro track that I made just for you guys and this mix… I always think a good mix should start with something that sets the scene and the tone. I called it ‘Friday Night Lights’, and it’s a track based on late night drives through the suburbs. I remember driving around the suburbs down south as a teenager, alone in the car, feeling like there were no other people on the planet, just cars, wondering where everyone was going. And as I drove, I would see the lights on at the different high school football fields, reminding me that there were people there congregating and I wasn’t alone in this world.
It’s hard to put together a track list for the mix because of the way I played it, but I start it off with a little bootleg I did for SoSure Music that I made one day after being inspired by an old DJ Clue mixtape I was listening to. It reminded me of that fusion of R&B vocals with gritty hip-hop beats thing they were doing back in the day, and I wanted to do the same with a track of mine. Some of the other highlights are a mix between Emanuel Satie’s mix of Black Loops’ ‘The Point’ and St. Germain’s ‘Rose Rouge’ on Blue Note, one of the best records of the 2000s. I also threw in Brodanse’s ‘Train of Thought’ which in an absolute banger. Then there’s my track ‘Parker’s Lament’ followed by a cross-blend with Furry Phreaks’ ‘Soothe’. There are a few more cross-blends before I wrap it up with my tune ‘Vibes Part I’.