The Obelisk Questionnaire: Duncan Park of Return to Worm Mountain, Rise Up Dead Man & More

Duncan Park

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Duncan Park of Return to Worm Mountain, Rise Up Dead Man & More

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

At the core, I play guitar and write songs. I started playing when I was ten years old, largely because my dad played guitar and my parents played loads of great guitar music in the house as I was growing up. At that age I also started listening to my “own” music, which at that point in time was pretty average pop “punk” like the Offspring and Blink-182 and then nü-metal bands like System of a Down, which was also generally guitar-oriented music.

From there I quickly realized that I love making new sounds on the guitar and started writing my own licks and riffs. At a very young age I knew that I preferred creating my own music to playing covers. I suppose it all just snowballed from there, especially as my tastes in music expanded and my artistic horizons broadened, which opened my eyes to the almost infinite possibilities of musical creation.

Describe your first musical memory.

I was lying on a couch which had been prepared as my bed for the night. I assume we were on a family holiday, or at the very least, we were travelling somewhere and staying in an unfamiliar house. I am not sure how young I was, but I remember feeling excited, and my dad was playing some songs to me on guitar in an attempt to get me to fall asleep. Appropriately, he was playing the song “I’m Only Sleeping” by the Beatles. I remember the song making me feel hopeful, and almost hypnotized. It was a feeling of pure emotive euphoria, which to this day only music can make me feel. It was incredible.

Growing up, my father often played my sister and I songs to get us to fall asleep. He would play his own renditions of the usual Disney songs that kids our age would have liked, but he was a massive Beatles and John Lennon fan, so to this day when I hear the original versions of “I’m Looking Through You,” “Beautiful Boy” or “I’m Only Sleeping,” it always makes me think of him, and more specifically, how much I preferred his versions of those songs (even though the originals are all stone cold classics). I’d love to get a recording of him playing those songs. Next time he comes to stay at my house I think I may force him into it.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

This is an incredibly difficult question. There are so many moments when writing music which give one an unbridled feeling of euphoria which is immensely satisfying, and I suppose these moments are my best musical memories. One moment in particular would be when Cameron and I wrote the song Umdhlebi Tree for the second Return to Worm Mountain album. We only had a handful of songs and whilst we were jamming and recording some live take’s in his garage to get things started on making the album he said to me we needed to write another song for the record, and kind of put me on the spot to come up with a riff there and then. I felt this immediate pressure and just started to let my fingers wander up and down the fretboard trying to find a riff. He kept saying “nah, I don’t like that” to everything I was coming up with, until I fell upon that serpentine arpeggio that makes up the main riff of the song. At that point we both knew we had something that was special to the two of us, and to this day that remains my favourite riff I have written, and Umdhlebi Tree is one of the songs that I am most proud of out of everything I have ever recorded.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

In my day job, my firmly held beliefs are tested all the time. But in music, one firmly held belief of mine that is often tested in an incredibly positive way is my belief that when it really comes down to it, the only person you can rely on is yourself. Time and again my friends and musical peers have proved me wrong on this. The musical community has supported me through a great many experiences where I thought I was alone. Music tests me in ways which make me realise that people are generally kinder and more supportive than I believe them to be. And that is a wonderful way to be tested.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Within my own personal experience and understanding of what “artistic progression” is, it leads to an increased satisfaction in one’s own ability to articulate, express, and emote artistically. Something like becoming more fluent in the ability to communicate musically and express feelings and emotions which cannot be expressed through the limitations of conventional language. As you progress artistically, the wider and more powerful your emotive range becomes. With this ability, the more your own satisfaction in the art you create grows.

However, I don’t necessarily believe that I (or anyone) is constantly “progressing” artistically. I often feel more like I have “regressed” in certain aspects of the art I create, which can be incredibly frustrating.

How do you define success?

For me, success is almost synonymous with satisfaction or contentment. Some people are satisfied just being able to write a song which they will only ever play in their living room, and to them that is an accomplishment and a success in itself. Other people may only be satisfied if their album gets five-star reviews and they sell out a headlining tour of Europe or something like that. So it’s not the same for everyone, and I don’t believe anyone’s own criteria for success is more or less valid than the next person’s.

I also don’t believe that success is something that is static. Everything’s relative. When a band starts out, getting that first gig is a success worth celebrating. As they progress over time their own perception or threshold for success may change and evolve. These days, I often see the number of social media followers an artist has being used as a metric for success. Twenty years ago, social media didn’t even exist, so what is generally perceived or accepted as a measure for success by the public changes over time.

For me, playing music is an extremely personal, cathartic experience, so when I play music, whether it be live or recording and experimenting in my home, if I feel like I have achieved that satisfying release of catharsis, then it has been a success. If I walk away feeling elated, euphoric, or even “cleansed”, like I have purged my frustrations, then it has been a success. If I walk away feeling frustrated or disappointed, then it certainly was not a success at all. I guess that’s my metric for measuring success.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

There are undoubtedly a couple of gigs I wish I hadn’t seen. Conversely, there are a few audiences I wish I hadn’t seen either. However, I suppose these were all learning experiences. Master classes in what not to do on either side of the stage. Not that I’ve come close to mastering the art of performing live.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I would really like to create an immersive, meditative drone recording that is over an hour long. I dabble in drone music in my solo stuff and with Rise Up, Dead Man, but I am always nervous to go for that overblown expanse of songs which last for 20+ minutes. It’s ironic, because many of my favourite songs and albums are crazy long, but I suppose I’m building up the confidence to pull something like that off myself. I also don’t want to go into writing a song or an album with the intention of just “making it really long” as an unwarranted tickbox criteria. I feel like it has to happen naturally, so I’m just waiting for the right piece of music or inspiration to come along so that I can ride that wave in a way that is organic rather than forced. Perhaps a stupid goal, but I guess I just want to make the kind of album or piece of music that I really love getting lost in myself. But if it never ends up happening, I am perfectly comfortable with that too.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

In the immortal words of Shia LaBeouf, “Anything that moves you is art,” and much to my own amazement, I agree with the guy on this point. Whether it makes you reconsider the fabric of reality or just makes you feel happy and want to dance, if it moves you, it is art. Art’s most essential function is to move the audience. I’m sure there are artists who create their art with the intention to communicate something specific (even I have created art with this intention), but once it’s out in the world people will experience and interpret it in their own ways which you cannot, and should not be able to control. So regardless of the specific intention of the artwork, so long as it moves people, it is art.

I suppose this could also fall under the above question regarding how success is defined – art is ultimately successful if it moves the audience.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

So many things… Summer vacation (I’m in South Africa in the Southern Hemisphere, so it’s currently the middle of summer), my wife’s birthday, going hiking again, taking my dogs for a walk in the Durban botanic gardens, seeing my mother for the first time in two years (thanks Covid)… There are many things I am excited for.

Duncan Park, Invoking the Flood (2022)

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One Response to “The Obelisk Questionnaire: Duncan Park of Return to Worm Mountain, Rise Up Dead Man & More”

  1. Lenore says:

    Love your sense of the value of beautiful sounds . I love you lots and lots xxxx

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