Winter is here, and it's the perfect time for hunkering down with a stack of records and a pot of homemade soup. This month we have a special feature: taking a trek through music maven, Kat Parker's impressive vinyl collection, and the influences that brought her deep into the world of music... I couldn't be more excited to announce that Kat, or as we know her, Sweaterweather, is the mastermind behind our new music section, Nativen Sounds.
Read her story below, and travel with us through the first of many playlists to come...
Nativen: First off, can you talk a little bit about where you're from?
Kat: I'm from Minneapolis, which is surprisingly actually a lot like Brooklyn. It's sort of this little island in the middle of the Midwest with a lot of great theater and music and restaurants and progressive politics.
Nativen: Do you think growing up in Minneapolis with the type of upbringing that you had had any effect on your musical pursuits, and your interest in record collecting specifically?
Kat: Definitely. I played piano for ten years and my mom is really into music. She’s a trained classical vocalist, so growing up we always had on classical music or jazz in the house. She wanted us to understand music so much that in the car, we would play this game: what is this? Is it Baroque? Who do you think the composer is? What instruments do you hear? Is it a concerto? When I was little, I was annoyed by it, but it’s served me really well because it tuned my ear as far as listening to music theory and picking out instruments and listening to rhythm.
Nativen: When did you really start collecting records?
Kat: I always grew up with records, knowing how to play them and take care of them. But it wasn’t until I met my husband, Tom, when I was in college that I started collecting seriously. He was really into vinyl and took me to my first record fair 12 years ago when we were in London. I didn't even have a record player at the time because we were traveling through Europe with backpacks. It's funny because instead of going to the Louvre, we went on the hunt for record stores. So I've never been to the Louvre, but I bought my first record as an adult (Billie Holiday!) on that trip to Paris.
Nativen: What do you love most about living in Brooklyn, in particular as it pertains to your relationship with music or record collecting?
Kat: There are a lot of music lovers and vinyl lovers in Brooklyn. The vibrancy of being around a lot of people like that, surrounded by sounds and movement, gives me so much energy. There are record stores and record vendors on the street, and lots of places to buy vinyl in Brooklyn, even if it's not the cheapest!
Nativen: Do you have a favorite restaurant in Brooklyn?
Kat: Right now, I’ll go with Talde. It's one of those places where you read the menu and you're like, "those things are disgusting together." Then you get it on your plate and it’s mumbo jumbo magic!
Nativen: Do you have a favorite home goods store or clothing store?
Kat: I love to shop at Eva Gentry. But also, Brooklyn has this awesome thing where we all put stuff out on our stoop that we don't want. It's just such a cool way to recycle things, to give and take. Seriously, people put out the weirdest stuff.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space?
Kat: Prospect Park is kind of the reason we moved right here. It’s gorgeous, the same guy who designed Central Park designed it, and you've got everything from fishing and to ice-skating and roller-skating. But the best part is just the huge, long meadow. It’s this expansive green space where your eyes can adjust to this long view that you don't usually get in a city. It just feels so healthy.
Nativen: What’s your M.O. when it comes to collecting records?
Kat: I've been a collector for over a decade. My theory on collecting is that I just buy what I like. I've bought stuff out of the dollar bin because I like the cover. I love to take a chance, even if it doesn't always come through. A lot of people are “completists,” and they say okay, this is a band that I like right now, I'm going to buy every single record that they've ever made. I want original pressing, I want mint condition, and I'm going to buy records by them that I don't even like and I'm going to buy multiple copies because I want their complete catalog. That's not me at all. I buy stuff because I like the way it sounds or it's challenging.
Nativen: Do you have a standout record or maybe a favorite that has really great significance or lasting power among your collection?
Kat: Back in the day, I had the CD of Dizzy Gillespie's “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac” checked out from the Minneapolis Public Library for like, 5 years. I was getting all these back fines on it, but I couldn't return it because it was so good! It's just this amazing sort of back-to-Africa moment in jazz, a beautiful convergence of African rhythms and instruments paired with American jazz in the 60s and 70s. I looked for the record for years and years until I finally found it at the WFMU record fair. I was so excited! I saw it hanging up as one of the featured records at one of the booths. I've subsequently found it two other times; once at Princeton Record Exchange, and then, of course, my husband found this pristine, perfect copy for $10.
Nativen: You've curated and put together playlists, and DJ’d some events and spaces. Can you talk a little bit about your own musical journey?
Kat: I love being tasked with DJ-ing a specific kind of event or making a specific kind of playlist because it’s a fun way to shop your own collection and re-listen and reexamine and make connections. But I don't consider myself a DJ in the professional sense of the word because I know a lot of professional DJ’s who are amazing and I wouldn't put myself in their company. I consider myself a collector who likes to curate soundscapes in intimate environments, whether it's my home, a good friend's wedding, a party or an art opening.
Nativen: How do you organize your records?
Kat: We have two really big record cases that hold the bulk of everything. And then we have a bunch of crates and piles that are invading the rest of our house. One side is all rock—some blues-rock, indie rock, folk rock, and classic rock. The other side is a mixture of blues, jazz, soul, and funk. Then it's alphabetical by very large genre umbrellas—but we also have specific crates for specific things.
Nativen: Do you have a favorite section?
Kat: I think is our coolest section is Arhoolie, which is this record label started by Chris Strachwitz in the late 50s that recorded all these American musicians from the turn of the century and the 20s and 30s that were starting to pass away. He was a kind of modern songcatcher, without him, their music would have been lost to history! They still put out albums even if it's not so much like, go and find a dying blues guy in Alabama. But they still sign regional artists to their labels.
Nativen: What are your thoughts on digital music?
Kat: Not to sound like the proverbial broken record of what every person criticizing digital music says, but we really don't listen to albums anymore, so the act of listening to an album is fun. When you put on a record, you play the entire thing through, as opposed to an iPod, where you've just made a mix that you're playing over and over again. That’s not to say that I don't also listen to digital music, because I have Spotify playlists and playlists I've made on iTunes.
Nativen: If you could travel anywhere right now, where would you go?
Kat: Musically, I like places that are kind of at the crossroads where different sounds and genres collide. I think Morocco and Spain would both be really cool to visit because there's such heavy tradition of African and North African influence with sort of a European flavor.
Nativen: Do you have a hero or motivator that really inspires you musically?
Kat: There are people that I admire from afar, but I don't have a specific mentor. Then again, I'd like to say East Village Radio (even though it’s off air now), because I really used to love exploring and turning it on and hearing what was going on. I know the girl who ran the station for a while and I have a friend who had a hip-hop show on it for a decade. It was a place that was totally free of the commercialism that has taken over radio. There was every genre imaginable, it was such a mix! Some stuff you liked and some stuff you didn't, but I just liked that it was such a free place of musical exploration.
Nativen: What part of the curation of soundscapes brings you the greatest joy?
Kat: Just being able to go through all the records that I've bought over the last decade and make connections between them. Figuring out that combination of walking the edge of familiar and new, but making it a totally pleasurable experience and bringing people along on this ride. Ultimately, I make the mix or create the soundscape for myself, but I’m also always thinking about the listener who's going to be at the party.
Nativen: And, finally, what do you think is the hardest part of pursuing your musical passions?
Kat: Time. Always time. I am fervently against the idea that there's no good new music out there. Anyone who says that there's not good new music being made is not listening. The more music I have, the more music I realize that I don't have or I don't know about, but I want to. My appetite's insatiable—I'm like the blob.