Meet Scarlet Parke, the singer-songwriter bringing Seattle’s music scene closer together

For the past few years, Scarlet Parke has become a force of nature in the Seattle music scene. As a musician, she released an excellent soul and jazz influenced pop album in 2016 called Long Night. It’s a great album that would sound like a lost Amy Winehouse album if it wasn’t so focused around a theme. “It should be like, you’re getting ready for the night. Basically it starts at 7:00 pm and then the final song is 4:00 am,” she said in an interview. “The final song is just piano. You shouldn’t be up anymore. You’re drinking a coffee, being like, ‘What the fuck happened last night?’”

Parke has also built her own social network for people in the music industry called, appropriately enough, Parke Avenue. It has become a place for musicians and other music industry people to connect to one another, away from the noise of Facebook and Twitter. There’s a lot to be gained from joining. For example, Parke has worked out partnerships with recording studios for discounts for members. I wrote a post about how musicians can best attract attention from music bloggers. Hanging out on Parke Ave, you’ll likely see shows being booked and collaborations forming.

Parke Ave hosts monthly mixer events where musicians can meet one another and jam together. The next one is this Sunday at Chop Suey.

I wanted to learn more about what Scarlet Parke built her own niche inside the Seattle music scene and what she has planned for the future, so we met for an interview.

First thing, I wanted to ask you what prompted you to create Parke Ave?

I quit my job in October. I was an event planner at a private club and wedding venue in Eastlake and I quit my job to really focus on music, with my soul band. I wanted to schedule recording, but threw out my back really, really bad and I couldn’t walk for like three weeks. While I was down, I thought, “You know, such a huge part of being a musician is going out to shows and networking. Like asking people, ‘What do you think about this?’ or ‘How did you do this?,’ and ‘What’s the best way to do this?’” You want to hear from people that have actually done it but I was stuck at home, so I couldn’t go out. I wished there was a place I could access musicians to find out the best place to record and the best engineers and the best shows that are coming up and all that…but from an artist and business standpoint. And so I thought to myself, I’ve got a lot of time on my hands right now, I’m gonna look into it creating something. I ended up finding Mighty Networks, which made it easy to create a temporary app platform. And because I’ve been an event planner forever and love meeting people, I wanted to also create a monthly event for artists to meet. I think it’s really important to network and I haven’t really been able to find a regular place for artists to go and talk about anything like this. Now that I’ve started this, I have had people reach out to me and be like, “Hey, I’ve been doing something similar.” And so of course there were those smaller pockets that I just didn’t know about, but that’s kind of the point, that there’s all these things happening that nobody knows about.

I think something like Parke Ave. is important because social networks seem to get flooded with outsiders that insert themselves into conversations, especially when it’s something like music where everyone has an opinion.

I really wanted there to just be a place where it’s all genres, all networks, and you know that everybody goes through a verified process so you know everybody on there is legit. Everyone is accredited and if they’re not, we filter people out on a monthly basis.

I see Parke Ave.’s name and logo often, so it looks like you’ve been successful at getting your name out there throughout the music scene.

Yay! We just partnered with KEXP, and we’re going to be at every one of their Mastering the Hustle series. It’s a monthly educational event, where they create a different panel every month of different tastemakers or higher up people in the industry, to speak on different topics. And artists can go, or anybody can go really. And just kind of face-to-face get to meet them, get to the talk with them. Everybody can go and get face-to-face time and meet or talk with them. I believe they’ll be promoting the Parke Ave events as a place to meet other musicians and jam and do all that.

You have some really ambitious goals for Parke Ave, no?

Yeah. We started January 21st and we just hit the 300 member mark! Our goal is to get 100 members every month and once we hit 500 members we want to start incorporating businesses. Before I started it, I reached out to all these huge companies saying, “I wanna do this. I’m going to get all these artists together.” There’s a huge market right now of brands that are looking for influencers to promote their products, promote their brand and promote all their new and upcoming items. You know, advertising is going in so many directions that the only thing really sticking is influencers promoting things on their website and their Instagram and their all of that, you know? My goal is to have 1000 members after one year and then expand to other cities, but keep it very local. Each branch will be very local. So, basically, you’ll go in where the pages will be a little more personalized. You’ll go in and it’ll be a home feed, kind of like Reddit. You ever go on Reddit?

Oh definitely.

Yeah. So kind of like there’s a home feed and then you can go to Seattle and it’s all things Seattle. Within Seattle you can go to the KEXP sub page, or you could go to this or you could go to your blog page and you could be like, “Hey, looking for an artist to interview about this or like, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah,” and you can be the one reaching out to artists instead of the other way around. Or you could go, “Oh, I’m gonna go into the San Francisco one’ and there’s all the hyper local stuff going on in San Francisco as a music professional or clubber or whatever. I wanna slowly get everybody together. I think there’s a lot of benefit in artists working together.

Even from a purely selfish perspective, it looks like joining Parke Ave. has a lot of benefits, like discounts on recording studios.

Definitely. I mean, studios need artists and they don’t really have a way to collectively reach them. There’s a ton of people out there who would love to record at a nice studio. Yelp doesn’t have good reviews, Google doesn’t have good reviews. Studios sometimes don’t really keep up on their social media and stuff, but artists and studios need each other yet they can’t find each other. You know what I mean? So, hopefully that creates a buzz and helps out both sides.

It feels like that’s very important because recording studios have to be very specific about who they advertise to because even with targeted ads on Facebook, you’re probably marketing yourself to an audience where 99% of the people who see the ad won’t need it. Plus not everyone is on Facebook…

That was my exact thought: there’s no place you can go collectively reach artists. Like, there’s nowhere that they congregate because every artist is independent and every artist is doing their own thing and, you know, a friend of a friend maybe will refer you, and then another friend of a friend and…

And with so many new people that move to Seattle, it’s like they haven’t even been integrated into any scene yet or anything, so there’s … I feel like this is the perfect moment to create a community like that. To connect the city with all this community. They come in and hopefully they find Parke Ave. I really am marketing it towards the newcomers, and have that just build organically.

I noticed, when I wrote a piece for Parke Ave. about musicians getting the attention of music bloggers, the people to respond to it were, almost exclusively, not on my radar previously. One of the things that burnt me out of music blogging was how narratives would coalesce around the same handful of artists.

It’s like so many of the shows I was going to, it’s like the same openers and the same this and the same that. I’ve invited all the bookers I know. Like, ‘Hey, create a profile on here and there’s a ton of really great artists on here that you’ve probably never heard of.’ And just have them like open or whatever and mix up the bills. It’s doesn’t need to be this same bill playing. When I was playing all the time, I was pretty much always playing with the same ten artists, you know? It’s a great place for other artists to discover, “Oh, I love playing with you. Let’s plan something else or let’s do this.”

I want to ask about your music, too. We talked a little before I turned on my tape recorder that you’re next album will be more pop-forward.

So I recently decided, with the help of Maurice Jones. He told me after I did a full day of recording with my band, and I was pretty pleased with everything that was coming out, but I had always kind of had this disconnect of like, ‘yeah this sounds good.’ I like it because I like these songs. I wrote them. But something’s missing and I don’t know what it is and I’m not an experienced enough player to communicate with my band like, ‘I need this’ or like, ‘yes, I like that. No I don’t like that. Yes, I like that. No, I don’t like that.” And it was just this process of elimination.

And then I met with Maurice and after our first day of recording he’s like, “I don’t think that you should be a soul singer. I don’t think you should be playing with a soul jazz band.” He’s like, “You should be doing pop music. Your songs are very poppy.”

And I kind of thought about it. For four years of my life … And I just thought about it and I was like, “You know what, I think you’re right. I think you’re totally right. I think that’s what I haven’t been able to communicate, is that this just isn’t for me.”

Whatever I’m doing, it’s fulfilling. It’s great. I love it. I’ve done well with it. But it’s … I would love to just be that, just have so much fun and people dancing with me, so yeah, we’re kind of changing things up and my next show, I’ll probably play with a DJ, plus a horn player, or a guitarist or … But it’ll be like a lot of lights and I’m gonna have an outfit change and, you know what I mean?

I did the soul, sultry, blues, jazz singer forever. And I just feel like I kind of played all the venues and I reached the level that I was going to. I kind of was over putting in the energy trying to make that a thing. And, managing six people is really hard.

As soon as I started Parke Ave I was like, “I’m not gonna be able to play with a band anymore.” It’s too much: trying to schedule the practice, trying to make sure that all the payments are out on time and trying to then keep track of the taxes of paying everybody. So much goes into it and I was just like, I just can’t. And it’s been super-fun and I’m on good terms with everybody. Everybody said something like, “Yeah, we kind of saw this coming.” Talk about a transition! Six months ago I had a full time job and I was working at this place for the past four years and I was in a soul band and then fast forward here. I just started a business and I’m going into pop. It’s just kind of been really crazy.

What can you tell us about the new direction you’re taking your music?

I’m just focusing on releasing the first single right now. It’s called “Moonlight.” I’m producing with Jake Crocker and it’s a very like fresh sound, to be honest. I’m bringing in a lot of my blues influence and he’s an EDM producer, so it’s like a mix of … like Flume meets like The Weeknd meets like Amy Winehouse?

And the cool thing is that every song that I’ve brought to him is very different. I mean some are ballads. Some I wrote with kind of a Latin beat. We’re riding a lot on the feeling of it. It’s about the lyrics. It’s about the vocals, which I feel like got lost a lot on my last album, because first and foremost I’m a lyricist. The words are meant to be heard and they are very personal and they’re all told from actual events that have happened and so I think that’s my goal with this album, to really reach people with lyrics.

When we were e-mailing back-and-forth to set up this interview, I remember after not hearing back for a couple of days, you said “Sorry, I was shooting four music videos last week.”

I was kind of testing it out to promote to businesses, of seeing if artists are being responsive to an offer if an offer was put on Parke Ave. To take it a little more seriously and you know, if we offer things on there, if it is a good deal and if it is for your benefit and it’s not a ripoff. It’s not just another algorithm promoting something to you.

So my boyfriend Marko (Kharmyshev) is a videographer and I made a post that was like, “We want you guys to have quality music videos and the first four people that claim this will get a music video for $400.00.” Which is an insane good deal.

It really is, and, like I wrote in my post for Parke Ave, I do think it’s super important for musicians to have quality content that is easy to share.

Marko is a phenomenal videographer. So I produced and did all the hair and make up and wardrobe and then Marco did all the directing and then we worked with the artists. They needed to provide all the props and pick the locations and make the storyline and you know, do all of the work, which is, I think, a good lesson for anybody. And we helped them put together the shot list.

We ended up pulling like 12, 13 hour days with each artist, because we’re not like, “Oh, well your eight hours is up.” We don’t want to put out a bad video and we don’t want them to have a bad video. It was a great experience.

We’re gonna be throwing a premiere, like a movie premiere, where we show all four videos that we shot and we’ll have like a red carpet and some paparazzi, and we’ll have all the artists invite all of their fans and stuff and do like grand little premiere.

It’s gonna be awesome. So we’re gonna try and do it sometime in May. I’m just all about events. I just think everybody needs to be going to out more and to new events. Not just like it’s another show or … You know, we should all be doing new fun things at different spaces. It’s fun. It’s creative and I think people in Seattle need a little more of those things to do. Especially because it’s always raining and you need a cool event to go to inside.

I think having a big event like that, and having a high-quality video for artists to share is important to projecting some legitimacy, where “Fake it ’til you make it” is an important ethos for musicians at the beginning of their career.

Yeah, and so I only have one music video, but I went all fucking out on that thing, okay? I went broke. I had a full team doing everything and with that music video, people took me more seriously once I had it. And it was just the one video. I haven’t done another one in like two years. I was just like playing off of that and then some stuff that I did on Revolt TV and you know some various other appearances. So, it’s not like you have to be pumping them out every two months.

There are many reasons I wanted to talk with you, but one big one is how you’ve been so aggressive in creating opportunities for yourself that I don’t think a lot of aspiring musicians would do.

So, this is kind of a funny story about that. I decided that I wanted to play Capital Hill Block party last year and I found the booker, Evan Johnson, from Neumos. Awesome guy. Good friend now, but I totally cold emailed him. I was like, “Hello. My name is Scarlet Parke and my album hasn’t come out yet but it will be coming out in November. You’re gonna love it. I’m gonna send it to you. I’m gonna play two sold out back to back shows and then you’re gonna book me at Neumos and then I’m gonna play Capitol Hill Block Party in the summer.”

And he responded and he was like, “Ah, nice to meet you.” And “thanks for an email. Gave me a laugh. Good luck on that.”

And I was like, “Okay, talk to you later.” And then I emailed him in November and I was like, “Here are the links to all my tracks, dah, dah, dah. I just played two sold out shows.” I sold out The Sunset and then I rented a space out in Pioneer Square. “And here’s my album. I would like you to tell me which one’s your favorite and please think of me to be on a bill for any Neumos shows this upcoming winter and hold up your end of the deal,” is what I said.

I remember the moment when I was like, “You know what? Fuck it. I’m gonna do it and I’m just gonna be like, ‘This is how it’s gonna be, because I’m different.’” I’m just gonna barge my way in there, because I’m not just gonna send out those blanket emails that are like, “Hi, I really love what you do and I would really love to dah, dah, dah.” I’m like, “This is what’s happening.”

And then it was sometime in December when I got the email from Evan being like, “So, I’ve got an opening at Neumos…” Yes! It was like such a triumphant moment, you know? I was like, “Fuck yeah.” Just do it. And if it wasn’t him, I would have done it with someone else and to be different and set myself apart.

It took me up to this point in my life to be like, “Just fuck it.” I wish would have told myself this when I was 21, but it’s like all that growth is necessary. Artists will only make it when they get to that point.

That’s incredible. Do you have a timeline for when we could hear your new songs?

I want to have “Moonlight” out by June. I’d love to have the next one, which I think will be this song … I actually haven’t landed on a name for it yet, but it’s a pretty funny song, an intense song about this time that I got super insane with this guy. I thought, “I can either be super embarrassed about this and never show my face again, or I can write a badass fucking song about it and just own it.” And, that’s what I did. So, I’m excited for that to come out and then the song after that will come out … So that’ll come out probably August or September. And then after that, the next will come out in November and then it’ll be like January/February for the album.

I’m very excited to hear it!

Honestly, its’ gonna be pretty badass. I don’t want to hype it up too much, but at the same time, it sounds so good.

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