Even though the struggling artist’s caveat warns against giving up your day job, Charles Michael Parks Jr. , who anchors neo-psychedelic Nashville quartet All Them Witches, had no choice two years ago.
He and band drummer Robby Staebler had to quit their 9 to 5 gigs as arborists before the work killed them.
“I’ve always done manual-labor jobs because I don’t do well sitting down for a whole day,” says the bassist and vocalist, who hasn’t punched a time card since. “But there were a couple of close calls that shook me out of ever wanting to do that again.”
First, says Parks — who appears with the band today, backing its surreal concept record “Dying Surfer Meets His Maker “ — was the daily damage done to his hands, and the potential for even more.
“Constantly, your fingers are in jeopardy, because chainsaws are everywhere,” he says. “And you’re constantly hauling wood and scratching yourself up and throwing out your back. It’s crazy. I nearly got beaned in the head by a falling log once, and that would have paralyzed me.”
Parks’ worst experience was when his leg got snagged, then caught, on a jagged tree limb that was being fed into a wood chipper.
Terrified, he was pulled toward the whirring saw blades alongside the tree, with a safety shut-off lever just out of reach.
“I wasn’t paying attention – I was just throwing logs in the chipper, and it hooked me,” he says with a shudder. “But luckily, I untangled myself just in time and rolled out, just before it sucked me in.”
Enough was enough. The rocker went back to his native Louisiana on a songwriting sabbatical, where he came up with much of “Surfer” (on New West) and decided to get serious about his group.
“And that was it,” he says. “When I came back to town, I just never really went back to work. There was no big ‘F— you, boss!’ moment.”
Instead, All Them Witches rented a Smoky Mountains cabin that overlooked Pigeon Forge, Tenn. and delved into the album, which opens on bluesy processional “Call Me Star” and concludes eight tracks later on the droning “Blood and Sand – Milk and Endless Waters.”
Parks storyboarded the album for a possible film script, part of which is revealed in an animated video for kickoff single “Dirt Preachers.”
It doesn’t necessarily concern a moribund surfer, either. He says, “It could be about a dying arborist — it all depends on how you view it. And I really like that about music. It’s a different story for everybody that hears it.”
IF YOU GO
All Them Witches
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 21
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.ticketfly.com