He added: “A lot of the songs carry this idea of time passing, of seeing your life flash before your eyes, being able to see clearly your life from this point onwards. I’m being swept by this notion of time passing. There’s something really intoxicating about it.”
Days after the Malibu wildfire, Parker had set up a basement studio in the Hollywood Hills house. He sat in a swivel chair facing a table with his computer, small monitor speakers and a toy skull staring at him. Keyboards and guitars were on the left; an Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder and a battered Fuzz Face effects pedal on the floor were in one corner, with a rolling rack of mixers and compressors in the other. Price tags still dangled from some freshly delivered equipment. Most important, he had a new, promising four-bar melody that he had sung into his phone as a voice memo.
He picked a tempo, found the notes of the melody on the Hofner, recorded them and started playing them back in Ableton looping software. Then he built a chord progression under them on guitar, discarding some obvious choices — “I don’t want to throw down the first thing that fits” — before adding rhythm guitar chords, low and then high. With samples of his drum kit that he had recorded at home in Perth, he built a realistic-sounding R&B backbeat, then ran it through a compressor and the tape recorder for a more backdated sound. He improvised a bass line, sketching a counterpoint.
He worked fast and intuitively, immersed in the music, sometimes smiling, sometimes groaning. He hit some dead ends — “Terrible!” he observed at one point — but persisted, adding handclaps (his own, sampled), a reedy synthesizer improvisation and a keyboard-simulated saxophone section. In an hour and a half, he had built what could easily be a song’s middle section or an album’s instrumental interlude. “At this point,” he said, silencing the playback, “I’d probably go out and smoke a spliff, listen to it for two hours on end and wait for something to hit me. Or not.”
Parker was fully in his element, building music out of thin air. “When I start working on something that I love, or start writing some really good stuff, I feel like I’m on top of the world,” he said. “The feeling is, ‘This is going to be great, this is going to change my life, this is going to change other people’s lives,’ like, everything’s good now.
“And of course, the next day, as time goes on the feeling wanes,” he said with a shrug. “At the end, it’s kind of like back to feeling worthless again.”