Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Interview with Mel Parsons

Your debut album Over My Shoulder has been praised almost universally by critics across the land for its traditional take on folk and an underestimated charm no doubt brought about by, among other things, your refusal to mask your kiwi accent. What are your thoughts on kiwi musicians putting on American accents?

Well it’s funny aye, I don’t know if it’s so much put on as it’s so much of what we hear and what we’re influenced by just sounds like that so that’s just what you naturally go to. I think some of my stuff is a bit like that but it’s a hard one I don’t think anyone sets out to go “Hey guys we’re totally not from NZ” . But yeah it’s an interesting one for sure. I don’t know, I can’t think of any. I try not to think about it I guess whatever comes out comes out, if it sounds a bit kiwi then sweet as and if it doesn’t then that’s the influences. I guess that we all just about universally just grew up listening to it you know it’s kind of what we know.

You lyrics focus on love, loss and heartbreak, was expressing these feelings through music a type of therapy for you?

Yea definitely I think it’s an outlet for sure you know song writing in general and lyrics and yea sometimes what comes out can be umm what’s a good word for it (laughs) ... it’s definitely a way to get the bad stuff out I suppose. In my normal life I’m a pretty happy person sometimes in my lyrics (laughs) I can get a little bit down. I think music is a therapeutic thing for both sides, for me as a writer it’s pretty therapeutic and hopefully for listeners too. And people I don’t know listen to it when they’re sad or whatever you know. Like you know everyone has a heartbreak album aye whenever we’re really gutted about something we put it on.

So going back to the album what was it like to have the help and support from the big names of David Long (of The Mutton Birds, but also produced Fur Patrol’s Pet), Don McGlashan (The Plague, The Mutton Birds) and Neil Watson for the record?

It was pretty awesome actually I was really lucky to have both those guys helping out. Don McGlashan was great, he was the person that hooked me up with David Long in the first place and Don was just a (crackle of ski radio) sorry that’s just my hut radio going (laughs) umm yea Don was just a go-to guy I suppose he was just there supporting. I mean because he’s been doing it for so long and he knows, I mean it wasn’t new to him and it was for me making an album and stuff it was awesome actually and David Long was just the same you know he’s just he’s got super ears and he’s just a cool guy and it was just awesome. And Neil was just amazing and is a good friend of mine for a long time so yea I am pretty chuffed really with the people that turned up to play.

And how did you come across the Rhythm Kings from Welly, so you going from Westport up to Auckland did you kind of come across them along the way up or?

The Rhythm Kings: I suppose the base of them was Shaun Elley who I actually went to music school with ten years ago in Nelson and we had sort of played together on and off so we had always wanted to get together at some point. We finally got the opportunity and he’s now based in Wellington and he’s just been around the jazz school in that scene up there. The other guys Aaron Stuart the bass player and Ennon Keys, they’re both friends of Shaun’s and musical colleagues I suppose you’d say and so yea I kind of got into that Welly musical scene through Shaun.

So far this year you’ve been a pretty busy girl: your album was released in March jostling with a large amount of kiwi releases leading up to NZ music month and even taking part in Kiwi FM’s 31 Bands in a Box as well as the Redbull Sessions. How was that?.

That’s funny that Band in a Box it’s a tiny, tiny studio (laughs) and the Redbull Sessions one was awesome just in a sense that it’s got a really cool set up like they’ve got a huge studio and we’ve got the whole band in the room with a bunch of backup singers.

And I’ve noticed with this upcoming August/October tour you’re mainly doing small bars particularly through of small town Otago and Canterbury and also going up to the Nelson Arts Festival. Do you feel that these more intimate the gigs and the audiences that they attract do you think that they better suit who you’re aiming your music at or is your music more broad based.

Yea probably a bit of both really I mean for sure those smaller venues have a real charm and a nice ambience that it’s hard to get in big places and you know I’m not a rock band really and I’m not a huge reggae act, but there’s definitely advantages to the smaller places, like often the Nelson shows are the bigger venues. But this wee tour it’s kind of like a, because I’m down here skiing for the winter so it’s shit you know (laughs) I have to work as well completely skive off for the winter. I guess it was a bit: there are some cool places I want to go, like I want to go to Oamaru and I love Wanaka, I’m a skier so it was a bit of both. We don’t have the full line up, it’s just myself and Aron the bass player and Neil on guitar, it’s more of a broken down acoustic kind of set than the full monty.

I see on youtube you’ve got a video for Darlin Darlin, that’s a cool video, it’s got the whole 1940s/1950s periods leading up to the 1970s when the Dad comes home and sees just so many kids it’s not funny. Was Darlin Darlin written with this kind of thing in mind?

No not really, the video was made by a guy called Murray Keen who he does lots of stuff but he directs Outrageous Fortune and bits and pieces of TV and film in New Zealand. The whole concept and everything was all his, he pitched the idea and I was like “cool sounds great let’s go for it”. It was pretty full on but it was really quite different from where the song came from but I think that’s fine, I suppose I try not to take myself too seriously it’s like you know it’s a song and what people get out of it people get out of it. I think it’s kind of nice to have a video, and you know it’s a piss-take it’s supposed to be a bit comedy really.

You grew up banging and plucking on your mum’s musical instruments, was your mum a performer like you in her day?

No my mum and my grandmother played the piano just for enjoyment I suppose but never too seriously. Mum was very into us getting into music we had this big table with all these different instruments so that when you’re kids you can march round the house banging and yea there was always music at home. We all played the piano from when we were quite young and I was crap at the piano but never mind (laughs).

So when did you pick up the old guitar?

Umm when I was about 14 I just stumbled across it and it’s funny because as you are when you start off with something you’re pretty average, like quite bad, but there was still something in it that still kind of grabbed me and that was it I just couldn’t put it down (laughs).

So what inspired you to make your move up to Auckland, the home of hustle and bustle, when you grew up just outside of Cape Foulwind a town I’ve been told is well known for its rugged beauty and sealions?

Well I went right through high school on the coast and it was an experience (laughs). Nah I can’t complain it was all good and I spent a year in Nelson at the music school and I took a year off sort of teaching and you know went around Australia bumming around as you do and just did stuff that you do and I wanted to go to music school in Auckland. I think it was 2001 just put my life into my van and drove up. I spent a year at MAINZ the music and audio institute, it was a super good place actually, it was definitely my best, it’s the place I recommend people to go. And then I spent a couple of years over at Auckland Uni after being transferred over there which was interesting you know great and all that but I still think MAINZ is a bit more real and practical.

So where were you first based, and where are you subsequently based when you return, to Auckland? With your sound I imagine that you’d be sort of Muriwai, Piha or Bethells, somewhere very surfy out west to suit your music, or are you more city based?

Actually to be honest I’m more of a city girl but all those places that you mentioned I love it out there but I think that they have a lot of similarities to where I grew up like that wild west coasty kind of stuff but yeah when I’m in Auckland, because I’m usually there for a few months at a time, usually somewhere pretty close to the city. I used to live in Parnell which is the antithesis to the West Coast. But where I’m based that’s a sort of interesting question sometimes it’s out the back of my Hilux (laughs) – I’m trying to steer away from the clich├ęs but they just keep on coming. But I suppose that since we’ve put the album out I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Wellington putting out the album and back and forwards and then of course there’s the ski season down here for 4 months or so. But yea a lot of my friends, my musical colleagues, are in Auckland so yea I guess I get around a little bit (laughs) – I’m desperately trying not to grow up really.

So while you were at Auckland Uni you were doing a Bachelor of Performing Arts, I understand that you’re a very spur of the moment type of musician. Was this quite a bit of a clash, like with the academic study there’s a process of dividing a song into parts etc.

Yea absolutely, it was interesting the theory the technical stuff behind it but where my music comes from is sort of probably more intuitive like just kind of blank out everything and whatever comes, comes out you know. I definitely think you can get too caught up in all the technical bits and pieces, and that can take away the special thing. I found that while I was at university the analysis was fascinating on that level but at the same time trying to be creative but I don’t think I really agree with forcing creativity, I think if it’s there it’s there, if you can do it it’s cool but if you’re not it’s not worth trying to squeeze something out. I think the potential for things to become really contrived is there with that kind of thing, but having said that that’s the way some people write and some people write some amazing songs from the really theoretical point of view. I guess for me it doesn’t really get me going.

Mel Parsons is performing at Lyttelton Harbour Light Theatre on the Friday the 7th of August. Doors open at 7.30pm. Tickets available from ‘What’s On’, and door sales.


Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


WAI 2010 said...

Thanks Maximus, Interesting stuff. I am going to meet Mel for the first time later this month (love the music) so was looking for some goss.