Sudan Archives Follows Her Own Muse
By Jeff McCord
We’re waiting around backstage at ACL Fest, and our last interview of the day is running late. It’s been an hour or so since Sudan Archives (Cincinatti-born Brittney Parks) stepped off the ACL stage, and her periodic texts assure us not to worry. “There soon.” “On the way!” “Just changing clothes.”
And then, like a whirlwind, she and her people arrive, her tiny white dog running circles around everyone. Tall, lanky, dark glasses, long nails, outlandish and silly, she’s anything but the introvert I’ve read about.
We’re setting up microphones and cameras. Brittany comments, “I was just, like, staring at the air earlier, a couple of hours ago before we got here, and I was like, Hey, I think we’re burned out.”
We get right into it, me asking about her teen years, and her stepdad – who started LaFace Records with LA Reid – trying to groom Brittney and her sister in the next big pop act. And how, instead….
“I bailed and I got kicked out.”
Wait. You didn’t want to be a teenage pop star?
Her stepdad had been sick and away from the music business for years, she explains.
“Right around graduating high school, he just came into the picture and was trying to help us be a group. But I was just so young at the time and I didn’t really want to like practice 9 hours a day and make 9 p.m. curfew. So yeah, it just didn’t work out, you know.”
“I’m a vibe person. Or maybe it’s just like I’m a brat, but basically I just wasn’t feeling it.”
It’s the rare teenager with such a strong sense of self. Instead, with limited coaching, she began playing the violin in public at her church, falling for Irish folk and other stringed indigenous music. Once she relocated to L.A., she wanted to study ethnomusicology, but she didn’t have the GPA to get into any programs.
So how did she become Sudan Archives?
“Well, that’s like a weird kind of preordained thing that I don’t know how to explain, but Sudan is just a nickname my mom gave me. I’ve always been into fiddle music and traditional string music. Sudan happens to have a strong violin culture that is really cool to me. So if she hadn’t called me that, then I wouldn’t have found out about it.”
Sudan Archives’ first releases, two EP’s and a 2018 album, were rootsy and beautiful, receiving rapturous praise from critics and fans.
Things were rolling along, until they weren’t. During the pandemic pause, Brittney and her partner built a home studio.
“I’ve always made music in my home. My whole life in L.A. was just me living in rooms and it would probably be like this big [she gestures at our tiny tent]. The studio is the bedroom. But, a couple of years ago, I moved into this cute little fairy house and they had a basement, and I was like, ooh, but there’s bugs and stuff. It was so nasty. But I got a dehumidifier and left it down there for a couple of months. And then James basically built a studio for me.”
So did this transform the way she made music? Not really.
“Honestly, I’m not down there a lot,” she laughs. “I’m so used to the bedroom, the studio. Sometimes it’s like, sometimes really hard to just go downstairs, you know?”
Wherever it was created, the new album, Natural Brown Prom Queen, is worlds away from the hippie-ish vibe of her earlier works. Brash, upfront, a rallying cry for Black feminity, the songs crackle with a modern pop urgency.
“I just made a bunch of songs,” she shrugs, “and then I told everyone to add stuff to it, but I told them to send it back. Like, don’t show me who it is. I don’t want to know who it is, just number it. So I had all these numbers and I had all these new sounds and I was just like, I want one to be the verse I’m going to make to two the hook. Then I was just like, kind of piecing it all together.”
“I don’t want to be like, judgmental of humans. What if I look at someone and I’m like, I don’t like their shirt, you know? Or I’m putting someone on a pedestal where I’m like, not, I don’t know… humans are weird. Maybe thinking weird shit.”
However it was made, Natural Brown Prom Queen is a triumph, a polar opposite from what came before. She’s stated in other interviews how she’s completely uninterested in repeating herself. I ask why.
“Because I’m crazy. That’s why I got my eyes covered up.”
She lower her shades, peers over them. “Because under it, I’m like [rolls her eyes dramatically] I just be splitting up all the time with this crazy.”
She is fidgeting, starting to lose focus, holding her dog up to the microphone like she wants the dog to answer the next question.
I comment that she doesn’t seem like the introvert she makes herself out to be.
“I’m dying inside right now, though. I’m not going to lie.”
At first I think she means this interview, but really, she means the whole thing. ACL. Performing.
”I don’t want to be here. I just want to curl up in a ball. I just want to make music. I just want to be like a studio rat.”
She doesn’t enjoy the stage?
“I used to have to take ten shots of tequila to do it. Yeah, but now I don’t need to do that. Yeah. And now I have beautiful, talented friends that help me. Constantly doing that by yourself, it’s kind of nerve wracking. When you have people on stage who jam with you and stuff like that, it just makes everything so much better. I kind of feel like I’m back in charge again.”
“You feel like it’s like a spiritual experience, you know, like you’re with your people? You’re on the stage like when you would be in church and everybody is just like into… like they’re feeling things, you know?”
She knows. It’s the vibe.
“We should all know what we want and we should all do that. ’Cause, like, you should do what the fuck we want if you’re out there, if you don’t know what you want to do, it’s okay. You’re going to figure it out. And when you do, DO WHAT THE FUCK YOU WANT!”