By Isabel Corp
Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, solo doom pop outfit Divingstation95 creates output that is impossible to categorize. Thomas Clark is the brains behind the project, and his influences range from new romantics to post punk, ambient, avant folk, and noise rock. His latest project, Parka, is an EP named after his newest single, a song he started writing eight years ago at his grandparents’ place by laying down a basic synth drum pattern and autotuned vocal samples held together by a rippling xylophone riff.
“The song was originally supposed to be on my last album, but I couldn’t get the words right,” Clark says of the titular single. “It’s a song that welcomes everyone. I’m on the autism spectrum, so socializing has never been easy for me — music is my way of connecting with people. “Parka” is the best song I’ve ever written, and I [hope] people will connect with it as much as I do.”
A majority of the EP consists of unreleased tracks from an upcoming album that Clark started writing last year. He eventually postponed the release after realizing that the process was taking longer than usual and the heavy source material he drew from was causing him severe emotional distress.
“I’ve always been sort of fixated on the horrible stuff that gets pushed under the rug,” Clark tells me. “As a child I was homeschooled and sheltered to the point of not being allowed to watch movies, and it all fell apart very suddenly with my mom’s death. So it was an ugly awakening to realize as a nine year old that the world is actually pretty terrible.”
The upcoming album already has a title in the works and a single of the same name. Clark named the album Death of Sporus after reading about the tale of Sporus, the Roman eunuch whom Emperor Nero had kidnapped and married. However, Clark has also included the song “Death of Sporus” on the Parka EP.
“I was in a seriously bad place — I was dealing with very unpleasant withdrawals, and really lost my shit for a while after reading about Sporus,” Clark confesses. “A lot of what I read about Sporus was very indifferent. Nobody really seemed to mourn him. This is someone whose name has been synonymous with degradation and humiliation for thousands of years. So I thought, Well, fine. I’ll take that name and I’ll give him the dignified memorial he deserves.”
Clark has a serious knack for unfurling grief and anger through classic pop melodies set against a backdrop of disruptive, distorted instrumentation. A majority of his writing delves into mental health, true crime, and disruptive everyday thoughts that plague the mind.
The true crime elements are brought to the fore on the song “For Colleen Ritzer,” an instrumental track dedicated to a deceased math teacher who taught at Danvers High School in Massachusetts, and was brutally murdered by one of her students.
“Every Goddamn Night,” is an abrasive and dissonant existential cacophony with unpredictable sequencing, idiosyncratic percussion, and lyrics that go “Hell is a place that was built for the innocent/By rulers and kings as they rise and they fall.” It’s super reminiscent of early Swans, if Michael Gira read 18th century Gothic novels instead of humanist philosophy.
When I ask Clark if he follows any personal guidelines for writing about true crime, he says “I do have a few that I always try to follow. I’ve never written a song about the perpetrator, because we already have a bunch of those… I write about the things that upset me. Colleen Ritzer’s cheerful twitter feed is still one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. It really messed me up when I found it. Writing songs about these things recontextualizes them and allows the listener to feel the pain being expressed more viscerally. I don’t want anyone to be able to listen to these songs as an indifferent voyeur.”
As a whole, Parka is a shining example of Clark’s ability to take the dense subject matter that keeps him up at night and make it digestible. The granular black synthpop of Parka balances joy and human connection with ruminations on mental health and the more obfuscated crimes of humanity.