Songwriter Patrick Park

Songwriter Patrick Park

Mia Kirby/Courtesy of the artist

Last week, Los Angeles troubadour Patrick Park released his fifth full-length album “Here/Gone,” a beautiful and alarmingly intimate 10-song folk rock record. He’s been an active musician for nearly 20 years, working alongside other LA notables such as Earlimart, producer Dave Trumfio (Wilco, My Morning Jacket), and Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Dr. Dog), who produced Park’s latest album. “Here/Gone” is, in a way, a return to his roots as a mostly acoustic songwriter. The guitar and vocals were recorded in just two days, and a string quartet was brought in to round out the record’s lush sound.

We recently chatted with Park about his approach to songwriting, what it’s like to balance a music career with an almost 2-year-old son at home, and his time answering phones for a suicide hotline.

Park plays Mississippi Studios in Portland on Friday, May 3, opening for Dan Mangan.

On balancing family life with music and how it impacted the recording process:

“I’ve always been working on music, but having a kid sort of stops you in your tracks. For the most part, the record was written before he was born. I’d already made a version of a lot of the songs, but because my son ended up being born early I ended up wanting to go in a different direction. That’s when I decided to go in with Rob [Schnapf, who produced the album] and just do them really stripped back. My plan was to get in, get the record going, and then it just didn’t work out that way. It’s been a longer road than I intended.”

On keeping the album’s instrumentation sparse:

“I ended up doing all the vocals and acoustic guitar for the whole record in two days, and then on the third day we had a string quartet come in and do all the string arrangements. And that was pretty much the record. I took it back into my studio and did some atmospheric things here and there, but it’s very sparse. I always like production, coming up with different parts, playing different instruments, so sometimes when I get in the studio, in the past, it’s ‘Oh, what if I put that on there?’ It’s always really fun, but with this record I wanted to do something that’s representative of what I’ve been doing and what I tend to do live. I realized that it was kind of scary to me. I’m used to [playing solo] live, but it was something that I really had to consciously work to do and stay on that track. I kept wanting to put more things on there, and then it was like, ‘Why? Is it going to make it better or is it just going to fill space?’ I kept having to ask myself that question a lot, so in the end it ended up being a pretty stripped-back record for me and I’m happy with it.”

On the lyrical themes of the album:

“There are a couple of songs on the album that are kind of talking to my son before he came. But I feel like in the past three years, thematically, all of my songs have been going in the same direction. The world just seems so crazy; our lives seem so ridiculous on so many levels. We’re constantly chasing after some idea of happiness, and it ends up not being what we thought it was or we want something different. Or we get exactly what we wanted, but we find it’s not as fulfilling as we thought it was going to be.

“It’s ironic that technology that’s ostensibly all about communication is kind of destroying communication in so many ways. You can’t go out and not come across a group of people who are all out together and none of them are interacting.”

On working for a suicide hotline for five years:

“Awhile back I had this realization that everyone wants to live their life and be of service to other people in some way or another, but then in practice our life ends up being ‘What about me? What am I going to do? How am I going to forward my career trajectory?’ In practice, our life becomes very small and just about ourselves, so I wanted to do something that wasn’t about me at all. I dealt with a lot of depression throughout my life, but I had come to a place where I finally had figured out how to work with it, how to overcome it in so many ways, and so I wanted to see what I could do to help people who were in that situation who maybe couldn’t see over that imaginary mountain. When you’re in that state you just build things up and your thoughts create all these emotions and these emotions create all these thoughts you just have this enormous mountain that’s in front of you and you can’t see anything around it, but the mountain itself doesn’t actually exist. Sometimes you just need some help, so I wanted to do my best to see if I could help some people.  

“My sense of empathy really grew a lot deeper during that time. I didn’t write songs about any of the stories I heard or the people I talked to, but [I gained an] overall sense of this collective experience that we all kind of have. I’m not saying everyone experiences thoughts of suicide or crippling depression, but there’s always a sense of itchiness, a sense of incompleteness and wanting something else and not knowing exactly what that is. Even the happiest person you meet will have that feeling, and it’s something we should all explore.”

On naming the album “Here/Gone”:

“I felt like it summed up what a lot of the songs were getting at and the very brief and transitory nature of our life and our relationships and the situations that come up in our lives that we feel like are sometimes so insurmountable but end up being temporary. To me, it’s a reminder: Time is brief, so you want to be as present as you can be. Be present in your relationships and in the world. There is no past, there is no future. It’s just right now — that’s all we have.”