Once the solitary outpost of a songwriter far from home, Human Behavior has grown to a double-digit collective of musicians, bending folk music to their will.
And for Andres Parada, the central figure in this difficult-to-define musical, visual and communal art project, losing a bit of control over his creation is a thrill.
"Now there are others who are contributing and it makes Human Behavior its own thing, not just my solo songs amped up," Parada says. "It's more fun like that and way more fulfilling. When other people are coming forward with stuff, I get to start coming to it with contributions that I never would've come up with on my own. Collaboration is an awesome element to have."
Human Behavior will release Bethphage—the middle part of a biblically inspired trilogy of albums—with a special show Wednesday, Feb. 25 performing, for the only time, the full record from front to back, with the accompaniment of a new video installation.
Bethphage, released on vinyl through Folktale Records and on CD through Diet Pop Records, is two tracks split into 10 chapters, an album that was written in sequence, a dark and weird folk odyssey that ponders a moment, a transition in Jesus' life.
The story is set on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, where Jesus sent his disciples out to get a donkey for him to ride into the city. As Jesus approached and saw the city, he wept over it.
"It's one of my favorite things to analyze because there's no real explanation," Parada says. "It just says he wept over the city. The way I read it, he's not weeping for himself, he's weeping for the inescapable death for all of these people who are going to have to go through it together."
The first part of the Human Behavior album trilogy, Golgotha, dealt with death and the fear of death. Parada and the band haven't started conceptualizing the last album of the trilogy yet, but it will deal with the birth of God or the resurrection of God. The members of Human Behavior aren't religious, Parada says, but the subject matter reflects a fascination with the stories of his upbringing in the church.
"I was raised Roman Catholic, which a lot of times means to be raised to repress a lot of things," Parada says. "For me, it's a way to explore a part of my childhood where a lot of things can be negative and instead of saying 'Fuck Catholicism,' asking 'how can I embrace this?' How can I make it a way to conquer the past?"
Bethphage is the first album Human Behavior recorded in a proper studio and is also the first project recorded at the new Saint Cecilia Studios in downtown Tucson.
"I feel like it's my first record as an adult musician," Parada says. "When I went into Saint Cecilia, I knew right away it was the place. There were candles waiting to be lit and it was the most comfortable, cool recording studio I'd ever been in. It was incredible. We got to do a lot of things we hadn't gotten to do before."
The studio is a far cry from his grandmother's house in Minnesota, where Parada lived alone, moving to escape some things in Arizona. It was a huge, beautiful house, where he spent every summer growing up, and Parada wrote 40 songs, cut out what he calls the garbage, and recorded his first album, layering the instruments himself.
However, "solitude can only last so long," Parada says and he came back to Tucson and put together a band, asking musicians and non-musicians alike to help round out the Human Behavior sound.
"I wanted to build up a choir of people with normal voices, like you hear in a church," he says. "Everyone was super into it. That's the best part of how it started. It was just people I loved already."
Band members have moved in and out since, as Human Behavior has ranged from a single member to as many as 13 people together for one performance. The band name ties in with the video art Parada makes to go along with the shows, mixing old home videos with new footage.
"I wanted it to be almost like a documentary, like a soundtrack to some ethnography," he says.
The band name also nods to Bjork's 1993 single of the same name. A huge fan, Parada says Bjork is one of the musical artists who changed his life.
Lastly, the band name evokes the shared human experience, the urge to create art, to self medicate, to embrace depression, to attempt to fill the void.
"It makes sure the project is broad in the same way human behavior is. It blankets every single thing humans do. Collective is the word that comes to mind," Parada says.
The collective adds some spoken word and poetry elements to its music-and-video performances. Describing the sound, however, can be tricky. "People say goth-folk a lot. One I really liked was bluegrass-drone," Parada says.
Human Behavior is one of the rare local bands that tours regularly and performs more often outside of Tucson than in venues at home. The lineup changes for every tour, as the band hits the road with whoever is available, usually about five people.
"We choose the songs that fit the arrangement and modify what's necessary," Parada says. "Even though the bare bones are there, we're constantly changing. The songs are always morphing."
That fleeting nature of performance, the malleable nature of the songs, the videos and the lyrics that tie together on an emotional level are the essence of Human Behavior's music.
"Most of the time, people create their own meanings," Parada says. "Artists piggy back on that tendency."
Which, whether it's seeing shapes in clouds or hearing something about your own life in a snippet of song, has always been a part of human behavior.