Amid Life's uncertainties and challenges, Krista Parrish finds it in music.
Krista Parrish is drawn to tragedy. It may seem an unlikely confession for the petite 27-year-old with a ready laugh and gregarious ease in conversation.
But Parrish is not talking about strange obsession or morbid fascination. Though she will admit that she's been through much in her short life-including several losses, the specifics she shies away from-there is something benevolent in her regard of the suffering that surrounds her.
It is as if being exposed to it, whether personally or as a witness on a broader scale, she is becoming more aware of our shared humanity and mustering a resilient compassion that inspires dreams much bigger than making music.
“There is so much sadness out there, so much pain,” says the singer-songwriter and guitarist, who serves as music director for Doylestown First Friday, booking local bands for benefit concerts on the Main Stage. “I feel that my life goal is to help people. I’m really into raising money and getting people’s attention for a cause, whether it’s the Hurricane Katrina victims or ALS or cancer-there needs to be more attention to those types of things instead of Paris Hilton being in jail for five minutes. So what?”
Music may not have as direct an effect in creating the changes she’d like to see, but Parrish, who performs Saturday at Puck in Doylestown in a “Ladies On The Edge” singer-songwriter showcase, is similarly magnanimous in her approach to song.
“I just want people to feel good, to take away a feeling of comfort and serenity,” she says of her jazz-inspired acoustic songs. “I want to write music that draws people together and makes them realize that we all have circumstances that we’re going through and it’s a tough world, but we’re all in this together and we can comfort each other and be there to support each other.”
While she acknowledges that much of her music has been inspired by the personal, in particular the dynamics of her devoted family-“We’re pretty tight and pretty crazy, but the love is really strong,” she says-she prefers a comforting ambiguity in song, relying on metaphors and oblique references that allows listeners to connect with their own experiences. Whether she’s singing about the risk to be venerable in love, the striving for optimism even in difficult times, the challenge to let loved ones find their way in life or the struggles to be comfortable in our own skin and confidently walk our path, she proves illuminating, never self-indulgent.
With four home studio albums to her credit-a fifth, “A Genuine Distraction”, being recorded at a professional studio in Valley Forge, will be out this fall-Parrish says she’s committed to making “music for the mind.”
“When I listen to lyrics with some of the stuff I hear on the radio, it’s, like, ‘What the heck are they talking about? A second grader could write that!’ I know they’re looking for something with a beat, something you can bob your head to, something catchy, but I think you can be catchy and intellectual at the same time.“ she says.
To that end, the Central Bucks West High School graduate plans to start her own label, which she we run from her home in Lansdale.
To bay the bills, Parrish teaches voice, guitar and piano. She would like to offer her students an affordable space to record their music, as well as the benefit of her own experience recording and producing albums, with the help of her fiancé, Steven Murphy, a bassist and guitarist who also plays mandolin and banjo.
“Everyone, when they start out, they think rock star, but the way the music industry’s gone, it’s so hard for a singer songwriter to make it, “ she says “Pop is so in your face-Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan-and that’s not me so I kind of put those dreams aside.”
“I’d love to be in a position to just tour around and have whoever I want on my label that I believe in and have it be just about the music-healthy music, positive music, something you hear that’s going to make you think, something more personal and more inspiring.”
For Parrish, it was a love of writing that sparked an interest in becoming a singer-songwriter. Growing up in a musical family-her father is a classical guitarist, her mom an opera singer and her brother Corey also plays guitar-she had a natural affinity for singing. He parents performed locally as the Faith Parrish Orchestra, and occasionally, she would get up on stage and sing with her mom.
“I would see my mom up there in these beautiful dresses with her makeup and her hair and think, ‘I want to do that’. I wanted to be a singer,” she says. “The guitar playing, I knew that would take a little more work and be a challenge, and I liked that. I wanted to make my daddy proud and be his little guitar player. In the beginning, I started out wanting to make my parents proud, but then it became something that comforted me. When I was I my room, just playing my music, I felt safe-like nothing can touch me now, no one can hurt me.”
She had already begun piano lessons at age 7, but the guitar from the start proved more intriguing. Then while in high school, she discovered she could marry two of her joys-writing and playing music.
“In school, English was my favorite subject. I loved writing short stories and poems,” recalls Parrish. “That’s how I got into this. I was playing guitar and I realized I could write stories to go with the music.”
Jonatha Brooke, Shawn Colvin and Tori Amos were among the artists she turned to for lyrical and musical inspiration.
“I was really into Tori Amos, so I was writing a lot of weird stuff, “ Parrish Says, confessing with a laugh that she refuses to let anyone hear her first album. “I wanted to be weird and eccentric like Tori Amos, but that wasn’t my calling. She’s better at it, so I’ll leave that to her.”
While early influences such as Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Patti LaBelle helped define her voice-supple and soulful with a broad palette that is equally at home conveying sweet playfulness or smoky-timbered yearning, saucy disdain or dusky introspection-it was her immersion into jazz that left the greatest impression. Parrish majored in jazz guitar and voice at Bucks County Community College and minored in piano.
“That’s where all this stuff opened up for me. Discovering Ella (Fitzgerald) and Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Carmen McRae-I felt this is where it’s at for me,” says the performer, whose vocals, along with her sophisticated finger-picking and chord progressions, often recalls the sultry elegance and fresh inventiveness of the heyday of such greats. “I just didn’t know how intricate music could get-and the whole improv thing where you didn’t have to stick to this chord or this melody, all these sounds just rocked my world.”
While she admits to her own uncertainty at time about what it is she should be doing, she always returns to music.
“I would probably be in therapy if I wasn’t a songwriter,” she says with a laugh. “My relationship with music is like my relationship with my family. It just feels like home.”