It’s historically difficult to make the violin seem cool. It’s a gorgeous instrument but one that never lent itself to pop culture cachet. There was that corny attempt to anoint the “hip-hop violinist,” that one guy in Dave Matthews Band, the tweedy Andrew Bird, and innumerable anonymous session musicians grafted onto tracks for symphonic gravitas. (Shout-out to Xzibit’s “Paparazzi.”)
So give Sudan Archives credit for disrupting decades of awkward collisions between the classical, commercial and experimental music worlds. Her self-titled Stones Throw debut might be the best violin-centered fusion since Jean-Luc Ponty and George Duke.
“I was always messing around … experimenting with different equipment, trying to figure out what sounds best with the violin in it,” the Cincinnati-raised L.A. transplant says when we meet at a cafe near Stones Throw headquarters. She wears a striped shirt and black pants, and slightly resembles a young Lauryn Hill.
“At first it was just all on my iPhone, but then I started working at Forever 21 and McDonald’s and buying new gear slowly.”
It’s as difficult to imagine Archives surrounded by McDoubles as it is to consider her birth name, Brittney Parks. Her music is shrouded in an inherent mystery, an orphic swirl of strings and loop pedals, warped electronic and hip-hop beats, and vocals that sound as weightless and extraterrestrial as an classified NASA experiment.
Suffice to say, she’s not a Brittney, which her mother recognized when she was a teenager, rechristening her Sudan, a nod to her predilection for African-style necklaces and patterns. The nickname seemed prophetic later when, still a teen, she discovered Sudanese and West African fiddle music and incorporated these ancient, glistening rhythms into her own sound. The Archives surname arrived later, an ode to her passion for ethnomusicology, which she’s currently studying at Pasadena City College.
Her arrival in Highland Park and at the legendarily freewheeling Stones Throw is a longer tale, one that starts with her picking up the violin in the fourth grade after being enraptured by a squad of fiddle players. Raised in an ultra-religious household, she attended church three times a week in a Holy Ghost–type congregation where people occasionally spoke in tongues.
By 17, a rebellious streak emerged, which didn’t blend well with her stepfather’s attempts to launch Archives and her twin sister as a pop duo. A music executive who had discovered L.A. Reid and Babyface and helped launch LaFace Records, he’d envisioned them as a Top 40 juggernaut.
“He made us perform for Babyface, but I just wasn’t into the pop ballads we made. I’d just be thinking, ‘I’m not feeling this, but I don’t know why,’” Archives says. “I remember looking at the producer and envying him, like, ‘I wanna be in that chair, making the music.’
After getting kicked out of her house, she saved up enough for a plane ticket out to L.A. and subsequently enrolled in college, worked as a barista, and began suturing bass-heavy MPC beats with gossamer R&B and primeval fiddle music.
After she met Stones Throw A&R and Leaving Records boss Matthewdavid at a Low End Theory night, Archives’ music made its way to Peanut Butter Wolf, who quickly signed her. One of the most original and best records of the year, Sudan Archives expands and reimagines the possibilities of the violin, a difficult thing to do in a postmodern world in which everything seems to have been done.
“I started out making music on my iPad. You don’t need lessons or money to do this, you just have to have the desire and make it a reality.” Archives says. “There are no rules to anything now, so just do whatever you wanna do.”
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