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SudanArchives_credit Ally Green 2
Photography Ally Green

Sudan Archives is breaking her generational curses

As her new album Natural Brown Prom Queen is released, we speak to the LA artist about cancel culture, overcoming insecurity, and the dark family trauma that inspired the record

Of all the components available to a musician, melody is often sacrificed most freely at the altar of experimentalism. After all, it’s hard to write catchy hooks when there are boundaries to push and conventions to transgress. It is a rare artist who can keep melody at the table and play an avant-garde hand. Brittney Parks – better known as Sudan Archives – is one of those few. A remarkable R&B-leaning artist who toys with the clay of genre to create new shapes, whilst incorporating box-fresh melodies to plague radios and fill playlists.

Raised in Cincinnati, she was drawn to the violin in fourth grade following a school visit by Irish fiddle players. Teaching herself how to play by ear, Parks moved to LA at 19 to expand her musical horizons. Utilising the plethora of apps available, she’d record layers of violin to replicate an orchestra on the iPad her father bought her. Her debut album, Athena, was released to critical fanfare in 2019.

For her second album, Natural Brown Prom Queen, Sudan Archives has turned things up several notches. It is a sprawling 18-track opus that leaves few stones unturned. Lyrically, candid confessionals sit alongside defiant, two-fingered kiss-offs, and the music sails through the rough, the smooth and everything in between. It is a nuanced, forward-thinking, and inspired sophomore outing – the likes of “Home Maker” and “Ciara” being just a couple of highlights on an album stuffed with them. 

Amid the joy and exploration, however, there are also “generational curses” she wants to address. We sat down with Sudan Archives to talk about them, along with cancel culture, touring with Tame Impala and more.

How do you feel Natural Brown Prom Queen differs from your first album, 2019’s Athena?

Sudan Archives: It’s mixed way better. The production is crazy. If you play my song and then play a top 10 on the Billboard… the quality is there. People might say it’s more pop, or there’s less violin, but there’s more violin than ever – it’s just in ways that you can never imagine. 

This year, Beyonce faced controversy over her album, RENAISSANCE. She had to remove lyrics deemed offensive. Do you think twice about the lyrics you put into your songs and how provocative you might be? 

Sudan Archives: Yeah, [I did] with “(NBPQ) Topless”. When I made that, the first lines made me cringe: “Sometimes I think that if I was light-skinned/Then I would get into all the parties/Win all the Grammys…give me some butt plants…give me some boobs, because that’s the only thing that’s going to make me poppin’!’ That sounds kinda hater-ish. I remember thinking, I gotta take that lyric out; that’s just a placeholder. I was going to make it vaguer. But then I was like, ‘no, fuck it! Those are just insecurities’ [laughs].

Did you really worry that it could sound “hater-ish”?

Sudan Archives: Yeah, because if I get cancelled… but the coolest thing to get cancelled for is for speaking the truth. 

You break a violin in your music video to “Omg Britt”. Isn’t it sacrilege to break a violin? Why did you do it?

Sudan Archives: Well, I haven’t told anybody the real reason why I broke it, but I’m gonna tell you. My uncle Ted bought me my first violin. And this is the violin that I break. Part of me thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I broke a violin because other violinists would be like, [mimics shocked expression].

But I also broke it because my uncle Ted molested a close family member. He’s dead now, but she’s going through a hard time. She was a little girl [when it happened] – about nine or ten. She’s drinking a lot of alcohol and people in the family are kind of judging her. I don’t think anyone believed her when she was young and told them what had happened. I broke [the violin] because I want to break those generational curses.

That’s terrible. 

Sudan Archives: Yeah. And it’s interesting how a person can [molest someone] and yet, to another kid, they don’t come off like that at all: they’re just the person who bought them their first instrument.

He’s the guy who gave you the gift of music, but he also ruined someone’s life. 

Sudan Archives: Right. And no one’s realising that she just wasn't really listened to. No one’s really wanting to help her now and she’s getting really bad. She definitely needs to go to rehab.

Do you think your message in the video will get through?

Sudan Archives: I don’t think it’ll get through but it’s symbolic for me. Everything always has a reason in my art. To other people, they will probably consider breaking the violin to represent breaking the conventional conformities of the instrument, but everything [in my art has] a deeper reason. 

“The coolest thing to get cancelled for is for speaking the truth” – Sudan Archives

Do you play any other instruments other than the violin?

Sudan Archives: I can play a little bit of everything to the point where I can record it and it sounds decent. I’m trying to play more instruments live. I bought this Baroque instrument called the violoncello da spalla that you can play over your shoulder. It’s 1/10 size and it has the same intervals as playing violin. So, I bought a guitar strap and I’ve been playing it. 

You recently toured the US opening for Tame Impala. What was that like?

Sudan Archives: It was my first time doing an arena tour. I was nervous at first but it’s actually way more nerve-wracking when you’re in a [small] room and people are like right there. When you’re in an arena, if they are boos, you can’t hear them. They probably weren't booing because Tame Impala fans were probably on drugs, excited as fuck for the event!

Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker likes to collaborate and write for others. Did you talk about the possibility of a collaboration?

Sudan Archives: No, because he was just so focused, so I only talked to him for a little bit. But it was a really cool tour. He was a bedroom producer that influenced the next pop sound. And I feel like, you know, that’s me.

Your music marries organic instrumentation with electronic music. Is this balance something that really appeals to you?

Sudan Archives: [Late Cameroonian writer and composer] Francis Bebey combined traditional instruments with electronic music, and I feel like that is the perfect combination, because you get the best of both worlds… When I’m on stage, I feel like I am a sci-fi character. You know those anime girls with the big boobs, making all those weird noises and stuff? I’m that [laughs].

How do you view the music scene back home in LA?

Sudan Archives: I moved to LA [from Cincinnati] when I was 19. Back home is the scene. You can really be yourself there. You can find yourself artistically as there are so many different lanes to go into. 

Did you play live when you first moved there? 

Sudan Archives: No, but I was going to a lot of experimental electronic, shows. [Weekly experimental hip hop and electronic music club] Low End Theory is a huge thing in LA. It’s where producers go and showcase their beats. I went there a lot.  

You have a very striking aesthetic. Are there any fashion designers that you particularly want to work with?

Sudan Archives: I really want to work with Iris van Herpen. I’m about to do The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and I was thinking, I want to wear something like that. I’ve got to find a stylist who can call Iris van Herpen!

Speaking of the Stephen Colbert show, how do you feel about doing press?

Sudan Archives: At first, it was really nerve-wracking, because you have all these interviews: you get asked questions and you’ve got to answer them, but, really, you can just say what you want to say. It’s cool.

Have you ever regretted something you’ve said in an interview?

Sudan Archives: Maybe the thing about the molestation [earlier]! But, no, I don't really regret it, because it’s the truth, and I feel like people might relate to it. 

Natural Brown Prom Queen is out now