Prom Queen Process: An interview with Sudan Archives
Music — 20.09.22
Words: Cassie Morien
Editor: Silken Weinberg
Photographer: Kate Biel
Stylist: Autumn Randolph
Makeup: Selena Ruiz
Photography Assist: Christian Scutt
Styling Assist: Jamil Morgan
Somewhere in Santee Alley, Brittney Parks has wandered into a fluorescent-forward boutique. In a dressing room decorated with neon orbs and approachable aliens, she ponders a shimmery, encrusted bralette — a piece that is reserved almost exclusively for opulent raves and audacious rockstars.
Parks is, of course, the latter. Better known under her moniker Sudan Archives, Parks is a scintillating and globally-respected violinist, singer, songwriter, and producer. Since her debut in 2017, Parks has captivated fans and critics with her genre-melding music. These sounds are always supported by dizzying visuals and unforgettable wardrobe ensembles.
Sudan Archives’ hypnotic and avant-garde creations explore new heights in her sophomore album, Natural Brown Prom Queen. This release was born in Parks’s basement during the lonely height of the pandemic. It is rooted in the concept of home.
In an exclusive interview with Teeth, Parks shares her experience orchestrating a “blind test” with international producers, learning to play the violin while suspended upside down, and how her current tour is an overdue personal promenade.
You are leaving for Germany in less than 24 hours and touring through November. How are you feeling ahead of this international tour?
I’m just feeling a little nervous but in a good way. I have to perform all these new songs, and they’re so high energy. I’m learning how to contain all of that in one hour. I need to figure out how to format the songs and how it’s going to flow.
This tour is in support of your sophomore album Natural Brown Prom Queen. This album has been described as being for “a homecoming event” and explores many themes around ‘home’. You allude to this in multiple song titles: “Home Maker,” “Homesick,” and “TDLY (Homegrown Land).” Tell us more about this theme and how it resonates throughout this album.
Basically, I was just homesick, and during COVID, you weren’t really allowed to go anywhere. I have a studio in my basement and made the album from beginning to end in my basement. I was just having growing pains. I thought it would be nice to center the album around that feeling. I thought it would probably be cathartic.
What home comforts do you bring with you — or seek — while touring and away from Los Angeles and Cincinnati, your hometown?
I am always Facetiming my family. I facetime my cousin Taylor every day, because she is a makeup artist. I Facetime her and am like, ‘Alright, what’s the look for today?’ And she’ll help me figure out how to do these crazy looks that I try to do.
I always try to bring some incense, something that smells similar to something that I would burn in my house. I really love smells.
For this homecoming tour, when I’m driving, I’m going to try to bring my dog for the first time. I brought her to the last show and it went really well.
Speaking of pets, I have read you own a ball python, Goldie. I think I read at one point that he was lost…
So, my snake is lost in the basement studio right now. I don’t know where he is. He’s been lost for two months and does not want to come out of his hiding spot. Hopefully, we will find him soon!
But yeah, I have a dog and now I have a mouse. I thought the mouse would lure the snake, but now I have a pet rat.
Does the rat have a name?
Um, no. I didn’t expect to have him for that long. Maybe his name is NoName?
Let’s chat more about Natural Brown Prom Queen. You had an incredibly unique process of working with an array of producers, including Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Jim-E Stack, Simon on the Moon, and Nosaj. Can you tell me about this “blind test,” and the freedom it provided you?
It was so fun! I was basically doing my own thing in my basement and whenever someone wanted to send over something that they thought would be cool I was open to that. I was also able to have access to all the stems. Whatever I didn’t like, I could just take away. Whatever I did like, I could just add.
It took away the whole process of having to communicate and say, ‘I don’t like this part’ and all that time it would take to get it right. I just chopped it up the way I wanted. It worked better that way for me because I just wanted to never leave the house. I wanted to stay in my basement and work with other people remotely. It just seemed like it was the best way to do it at that time.
Would you use this process again in the future?
Yes. I would probably invite over all the people and artists I already know, personally. They can just come to my house and hang out with my dog. We’re just vibin’ out. And whoever else is overseas? They can keep sending me stuff.
Tell us, what are you most proud of on this upcoming album?
I am most proud of the lyrics.
What is your songwriting process like? When do you do your best work?
When I’m in my basement, by myself.
You have released three brilliant singles ahead of your album. One of your singles “NBPQ (Topless)” premiered in August. It is a colorful, joyful, alluring trip. What was the most challenging part of bringing this single to life visually?
Basically looking at the treatment and trusting that it’s going to be just that. All of it was shot on a green screen. I’m in a green room, and I’m riding a weird green machine, and [the director’s] like, ‘That’s going to be a zebra.’ And I’m hoping this turns out right! Am I going to look crazy?
I had to trust the process.
“Selfish Soul” is another single that also has a fantastic video to accompany it. At one point, it involves you being gracefully suspended, upside down, playing the violin. How was that experience? How long did it take to learn and film that scene?
I took, like, three pole classes a while ago, and that teacher said, ‘You’re a natural. You should do this more often.’ And I wanted to, I just don’t have time. When [the video producers] gave me the treatment, they said I was going to be playing violin in nature. That was one of the scenes. I was like, ‘I don’t know. I feel like that is kind of boring. What if I was upside down a stripper pole playing?’ They were like, ‘Okay!’
I was like, ‘Oh shit. They like it. How am I going to do this? Because I don’t know how to do that.’ I hit up my [pole fitness] teacher and she was like, ‘Oh, yeah. You can do that. You’re strong.’ I was like, ‘Really? How long is it going to take? A couple of days?’ And she was like, ‘One hour.’
I paid $60 and booked a one-hour session with her. She was like, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’ I don’t know how, but we figured out how to do it in one hour. The next thing you know, she’s twirling me upside down. I thought I would need at least a day or two.
That day [filming], it was the last scene. I realized that probably wasn’t smart because I was sweating, so I kept sliding down the pole. I had to really grip my legs together, grip as hard as I could, so I just wouldn’t slide down.
You made it look effortless! How long did it take to shoot?
They captured it quickly because I was slipping so much. I probably did that scene in 15 seconds.
I don’t know much about vehicles, but on your album, you have a track called “ChevyS10.” My partner happens to drive a 1991 ChevyS10. It was his grandfather’s and is very sentimental to him. I’d love to know more about this track in your own words.
My boyfriend bought a ChevyS10 during COVID, and it was really symbolic because it was the car he’s always wanted. I guess when I was writing the song, it was like a love story. I used that car, in a way, to describe my love for him.
Weirdly, in the song, I feel like when he pulled up in the car to come get me, we were in like this crazy threesome — the car was a girl or something!
The way I’m talking about it [in the song] is how amazed I am by the car, how the car is a chariot to our love, and how the car means so much to the growth of the relationship.
What do you want listeners, both new and old fans, to take away from Natural Brown Prom Queen?
I am always going to be showcasing a different side of myself. It may seem a little different to you. Basically, I’m more bipolar than you thought.
You appear to be such a confident artist and woman. When do you feel powerful?
When I’m playing the violin.
You are a multi-instrumentalist, violinist, singer, writer, and producer. Are there any other areas you want to master and develop your own expertise?
Yes, violin playing — because I still feel like I’m not a master yet. Also, engineering. I want to be able to start a song —beginning to end — and then it’s just mixed exactly the way that I envision it.
What is the greatest compliment you could receive?
The greatest compliment? Hm. I’m trying to think what’s the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten.
To be honest, when people appreciate thoughtful things that you do, I feel like that’s a really big compliment. Yeah, when people appreciate things that could typically go unnoticed.
In regards to the title of your album, did you attend your own prom in high school?
No, I didn’t! That’s why this is going to be my prom, this tour.
I went to so many different high schools, and at that point, I was like I don’t want to go to prom. I graduated early, so I didn’t even go through the process of prom. I didn’t even want to go. But now, thinking back, I wish I did go. It’s an experience you want to remember.
Now, I’m just going to ask my fans to go to prom with me!
Is there anything I haven’t directly asked you that you wish fans knew about you or about this incredible album?
I just want them to dance and have fun. I am so silly, and now you get to see that side.
Listen to Sudan Archives’ album Natural Brown Prom Queen in its entirety below and stay up-to-date with her tour via Instagram.