by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
It’s not often that I’m surprisingly blown away by acoustic-guitar duos. I’ve seen so many bands, time and time again, and always enjoy live music. But it takes something special to get my attention.
Zach Parkman is something, or rather someone, special, I discovered a couple of Saturdays ago, when my band Grandma’s Mini played an intimate set with his band The Darkest Timeline at the Silver Spring, Md.-based Record Exchange. The band, which he started with the equally brilliant D.C.-area local Juels Bland, brings him into the Nation’s Capital every so often, to play melodic, passionate sets at little clubs.
Shortly after The Darkest Timeline’s 9/22 set at the Record Exchange, I learned that the talented Zach is also a new dad, and plays for second band, Bad Robot Jones, in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and baby.
Here, Zach reflects on his musical projects and discusses how fatherhood’s changed his life.
Rockmommy: Can you tell us about your musical evolution — how long have you been performing and playing?
Zach Parkman: I started playing guitar in high school, around age 13 or 14. It was the early 1990s, so grunge was king and I was a skateboarder and was really into bands like Operation Ivy, Fugazi and NOFX. At the same time I was listening to my parents LPs from the 60s and 70s, so really being influenced by The Beatles, James Taylor, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, etc. These to competing dichotomies have followed me throughout the my musical evolution right up to today.
Rockmommy: We recently met when your band The Darkest Timeline played in Silver Spring. How did you and Juels meet? How did that band come to be?
Zach Parkman: So, I’m in a couple of projects. The Darkest Timeline is an acoustic duo (sometimes electrified foursome) with DC area songwriter Juels Bland. While living in Takoma Park, Md., a suburb of Washington D.C., I found myself at one of Rob Hinkal’s many open mics and saw this dapper and dour songwriter get up and just blow everybody away. We briefly introduced ourselves to one another and nothing else was said, but we both kept running into each other at songwriter showcases and open mics and bonded over our shared taste in music and geeky pop culture. Fast forward a year, Juels was starting a band and I asked if he needed a guitar player and the rest is history. Needless to say our sound has evolved over the years from more of a blues-based electric band to a more brooding, melancholy acoustic sound with harmonies and themes about space and murder. My other project is a band called Bad Robot Jones, which is a sci-fi rock/indie-prog trio with bassist Doogie Whittaker and drummer Joey Jenkins (who was the original drummer for The Darkest Timeline and also drummer for ilyAIMY). This is a much heavier band, drawing influences from punk, prog and metal.
Rockmommy: Is it hard to play when you both live in different cities in different states?
Zach Parkman: Juels and I have been playing together so long that we can jump into a set without much practice. It is difficult adding new material to the set and of course traveling to gigs can be time consuming (and an added crunch to an already full schedule with a new baby). We usually try to book an equal number of shows in the NYC and DC areas to keep things egalitarian and fair. With Bad Robot Jones things are a little more complex. First off, it is an electric band, so equipment comes into play. Secondly, Doogie and I are both fathers so schedules can be tough to sink up. Third, Joey is a full-time musician in several bands, so that can be a challenging hurdle. I usually schedule as much into my weekend travels down to DC as I can (i.e., if I have a gig with The Darkest Timeline on Saturday, I will try to schedule a rehearsal with Bad Robot Jones for Sunday). All in all we make it work. I love making different kinds of music with different kinds of people.
Rockmommy: You recently became a dad. What’s that been like?
Zach Parkman: I can’t even begin to describe the amount of joy or daughter has brought into our lives. The dividing line between life without children and life with is pretty drastic and severe. I think I was frightened for the longest time of having children (lack of sleep, no more “me” time, causing them irreparable harm), but at some point the desire to share in the upbringing of another human being with my wife outweighed that fear. I’m so glad that it did. When I saw my daughter for the first time I felt molecularly changed. Everything about my perspective shifted. I’m still the same jack-ass that I was before, but I’m an elevated jack-ass. I’ve leveled up.
Rockmommy: How do you find time to practice? Any tips?
Zach Parkman: Every other year, starting in 2013, I write a song a week (so 2013, 2015, 2017 and next year 2019). This has really helped me to break out of the “only writing when I felt inspired” habit. It’s forced me to sit down and focus on being creative, which was alien to me. Now, regardless of how I am feeling, I can sit down and start the writing process and get myself into that creative space without having to wait for it to appear magically. It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised. That has really helped with my musical and creative discipline. I find it very easy to write or practice in the small increments of time that a busy life in NYC allows or the small increments of time that a baby allows. I highly recommend finding some kind or ritual or regimen like that. It may seem daunting at first, but stick with it and after time it becomes second nature.
For more information on Zach’s upcoming gigs, visit The Darkest Timeline’s web page (or go here for info about Bad Robot Jones if prog-rock with sci-fi themes is your thing). To hear more of Zach’s solo stuff, visit his personal bandcamp page.