It had always been in the back of her mind.
Local soul/jazz singer Scarlet Parke was ready to cut the second record with her band. The classically trained vocalist from Kitsap County had established herself in Seattle’s amalgamative soul/funk/jazz circle since moving to the city to pursue music more seriously. But on the first day in the studio, her producer (a good friend) pulled her aside, suggesting that her songs were better suited for a pop format.
“I had this mental block about being a pop singer,” Parke says. “That all changed that day. I really started to think about it.”
Parke canceled the rest of the studio sessions, took a few days to reflect and rang DJ/producer Jake Crocker. She had met the Seattle EDM ace at Capitol Hill Block Party the previous summer when Crocker inquired about collaborating, should she ever want to go pop. “Weird foreshadowing, right?” she says.
On Saturday, Parke makes her Block Party return armed with “Flight Risk” — the Seattle pop album of the summer — which finds Parke sticking the landing on a sonic 180. The new-look indie-pop songsmith plays a prime-time 7:45 p.m. set at Neumos, backed by Crocker, who produced the majority of the record. While Parke wrote the songs on her piano, gone is her previous soul-band sound, largely replaced with tastefully hitting bass lines and electronic dressings — “landscapes of sound” Crocker built with Parke’s direction.
“Some of these songs are eight to 10 years old,” says Parke, who’s now splitting her time between Los Angeles and Seattle. “I feel like my whole life led up to this album coming out and finding that sound that I was longing for, but didn’t even know how to say it.”
While there’s a hands-in-the-air quality to tracks like the Latin-flavored “Man Like You,” some of those oldies date back to a difficult time in her life. When Parke was 17, her “cookie cutter American family” fell apart, with her and her siblings staying with various friends. Though they’ve since reconciled, it forced Parke to grow up quickly and “figure out how to survive” on her own.
Parke found herself looking for stability in what turned out to be an abusive relationship, something she tackles on waltzing soul-pop standout “Night.” Following their split, Parke lived in her car for six months, earning enough from her coffee shop gig to cover gas and a membership to the YMCA where she showered and worked out “viciously” every day. “I felt like the safest place that I could be, and be alone, was in my Mazda Protege,” she says.
Eventually she found a free room staying with a Seattle firefighter in Kitsap County in exchange for housekeeping. It was there she crafted many of the songs that wound up on “Flight Risk.”
“I literally moved into this house with two garbage bags of clothes and my piano,” Parke recalls. “I found a bean bag [chair] on Craigslist and that was the bed I slept in.”
Much of the album deals with triumph over adversity, often from a solitary place. While Crocker trades more in dance music, EDM-pop crossovers and hip-hop, it was important to Parke that the emotional weight and message behind her songs not get lost in a sea of festival-ready beats. The slow-rolling trap-lite injection on “What We’ve Become” initially gave her pause, but throughout the album, Parke and Crocker worked to bridge his EDM side with Parke’s Ella Fitzgerald and Amy Winehouse influences. Knee-quivering knockout ballad “Never Going Home” is perhaps the closest spiritual connection to Parke’s past work, putting the depth and richness of her soulful vocals on display.
With her sonic transition a clear success, Parke says she feels like she’s “in a creative playground right now,” as she looks to push her sound even further with a run of upcoming singles. Still, she’s enjoying the moment.
“Putting out this album, for me it’s almost a medal,” Parke says, “like you survived all this [expletive].”
Scarlet Parke featuring Jake Crocker plays Capitol Hill Block Party at 7:45 p.m. Saturday, July 20 at Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle. Capitol Hill Block Party, July 19-21, main entrance at East Pike Street and 12th Avenue, $75-$305, capitolhillblockparty.com