Prolific Detroit house music mainstay Terrence Parker might use an old-school telephone handset instead of a pair of traditional DJ headphones when he’s behind the decks, but any novelty about what he does musically ends there. Known affectionately as the Telephone Man, Parker has been dialed into house music for 30 years, remixing and producing a litany of soulful, spiritual tracks while continually blazing new trails as an artist.
Parker’s career continues along at a swift pace. He DJs all over and released his third full-length, Life On The Back 9, on Carl Craig’s Planet E label, which was released on January 27. It’s a joyous album brimming with inspired deep excursions, with many of the uplifting songs drawing from his own faith. We talked to the Motor City maestro about how the role religion plays in his artistry, how the new album came to be and what he thinks about the new crop of producers currently drawing influence from retro grooves.
Telephone Man, how’s life in Detroit? Is it cold enough for you?!
Terrence Parker: Life in Detroit is good, and yes it has been extremely cold here as well. Over the last three weeks we have had wind chills between -15 to -35 below zero. So we are chillin’ here in the D for real [smiles].
The new album is a truly deeply soulful body of work. Anyone who knows your history would expect nothing less from you. How did this third album evolve? What was the creative process like this time around?
I took my time in compiling this album. It is certainly a more mature sounding album with a message that I think most people can relate to no matter where they come from. It took me just over a year to record all of the tracks for this album. [Plane E’s] Carl [Craig] gave me full creative control. His confidence and belief in my music helped me shape a solid album project.
In the past few years there’s been an uptick in a new generation of house producers whose work takes influence from the ground that have already been laid by veterans such as yourself. How do you feel about this? In this sense, is imitation the sincerest form of flattery as long as it is coming from their hearts?
Sure, I feel the new generation embracing ’90s music is awesome. Now if we can get them to go back to the ’80s or ’70s that would really be something special!
“Night Light” reminds me of a track I’d hear Tony Humphries drop back in the day. The combination of those crisp hi-hats, deep keyboards and grooves render it an instant classic. Any special story how that track came about?
Actually, it was originally a remix I made for a pop artist, but the label passed on my remix. I still think the music is great and so I decided to keep my music as an instrumental and make it part of my album.
“For me it is about having a relationship with God. Through my music I talk about that relationship, the importance of it, and how it has changed my life for the better, keeping me joyful through good and bad days.”
Religion is front and center on this album (“Saved Forever,” “God He Is,” “Spiritual Warfare,” “Pentecost”). While lyrics in dance music are often about love, passion and nights of reckless abandon, gospel house has been a small but passionate micron audience for years. How does spirituality and religion inform your songwriting? Are you ever conflicted between he hedonism of club life and your beliefs?
For me it is not about religion because in the true definition of the word, one could “religiously” go to Starbucks to get a coffee each morning. For me it is about having a relationship with God. Through my music I talk about that relationship, the importance of it, and how it has changed my life for the better, keeping me joyful through good and bad days.
I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about the golf reference of the new album’s title. Are you a golfer?
No, I don’t play golf (although I use to go to the driving range with my Dad to hit a few golf balls). The album title comes from a conversation I had with my Dad. I was very sad and depressed over a great personal loss. My Dad told me about his golf game where he played badly on the first nine holes, but played much better on the second nine holes and won the golf match. Then he told me to view my life like that golf game. The front nine holes of my life perhaps weren’t as good as I has hoped it would be, but God has given me a second chance on the back nine holes to have a much happier life.
Now that the album is out, what are your plans? Are you always thinking about making music? What’s your work-life balance like?
Yes, I think a lot about making music and DJing. But I also think about family and friends. It is important to have the proper balance keeping God first. I am working on music as I seem to be full of ideas.
As someone who has been behind the decks for three decades, is there anything that you learned about yourself in the process of making this album?
I see the personal growth within my spirit and the music. It does cause me to be a bit introspective to see who I am as a person. I am human and have made a lot of mistakes. But the key is to grow and learn from those mistakes. I am growing and learning a lot.
Where’s the one place I’ve got to visit the next time I’m in Detroit?
You must go see the old Packard Plant! It is an abandoned automotive factory where myself, Richie Hawtin and others have DJ’ed parties!
Terrence Parker’s Life On The Back 9 is out now on Planet E.