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by Kat Parsonsian

Macey: The New Parsons’ Project

by Kat Parsonsian

Macey: The New Parsons’ Project

Macey is the newly adopted creative pseudonym of Auckland-based artist Harry Parsons. Over the past couple of years, the 26-year old has been on a journey of heartbreak, healing, and self-discovery, all of which are reflected in his debut single The River, released mid-May. Making the most of a sibling studio day, Parsons sat down with his sister, regular NZM contributor Kat Parsons, to chat about the track, heartache, and finding a new direction. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.

“I think for me it’s a cathartic experience,” contemplates Harry Parsons, when asked what keeps him coming back to music. “Sometimes with purpose, oftentimes without even knowing it, it’s a way to process events.

“Even when I’m co-writing, it has to come from somewhere. I have to relate it back to my own experiences. Often I’ll listen back to a song I’ve helped write, or one of my own songs, even a year later, and be like, ‘Ahhh yeah that’s what I was feeling, and I’m so different now.’ It’s a way to process and then hopefully connect with someone else when they listen to me. I’m looking for connection.”

Music has been prevalent in the Auckland artist’s life since day one. His father, Ian Parsons, was a classical and jazz musician who instilled a passion in his son for the arts. Growing up in Cambridge, Parsons took piano, guitar, and singing lessons, performed in school shows, and had formed a rock/metal band before he was 15.

After winning the solo/duo category of the 2013 Smokefree Rockquest his debut single You’ll Be Fine (2013) set his path in stone. He has a Bachelor of Music (Pop) from the University of Auckland and opened for Tash Sultana in 2018, Lime Cordial in 2019, even playing a homecoming show at the Cambridge Town Hall with Kiwi legend Tim Finn that year.

“I was Harry Parsons from day one,” he reminisces in the context of his new artistic persona. “From the Rockquest days, I had always been Harry Parsons. I always had a big obsession with Ben Howard and Matt Corby, but I think at that age I wasn’t really sure who ‘Harry’ was, I just wanted to be like them. So a lot of my music was very influenced by those sorts of artists. It wasn’t until I did the Auckland university course that I delved into trying to do pop things, being a little pop star – because that was what all my peers were trying to go for and that, to me, was what success looked like. I was doing it for the wrong reasons, trying to fit a mould that I didn’t fit into.”

On the lookout for answers, he applied for the Parachute Artist Development Programme.

“The whole plan with that was don’t release for a while, just hunker down and work on yourself. That was scary to me because I felt like I needed to keep the momentum going and keep putting stuff out. That year changed a lot for me because I just focused on songwriting. I met wonderful people that are doing it literally to just keep artists happy and sane. That was the main thing – because we are prone to panic and anxiety and questions like, ‘What’s the point?’ That year really helped solidify the fact that what I am doing is special, it is beautiful.

“I met Ben Malone through that,” he continues. “Just on my late nights in Studio Six, he’d often pop in or I’d go into his room and just dialogue, dialogue, dialogue; talking about all things music. Then it became talking about all things mental health, and he became like a little therapist for me.

“One day I was like, let’s try to make a song, and we made Promise [2020]. We started making more and when it came around to having a few songs made at the end of the year for Parachute, I requested Ben because something was going right there. He got me to sing differently, got me to talk about the music I love like The Killers, The War on Drugs, all that sort of stuff. Suddenly the music that was coming out was actually me and that was awesome!”

In mid-2020 Parsons joined up with Rory Noble and indie label 5AM. After receiving NewMusic Projects funding from NZ On Air in 2021, Parsons and his new team set about putting together an album. Through its creation, Macey was born.

“For a couple of years, obviously Covid happened, my dad was very sick. A lot of struggles during that time but Ben stuck with me and we put a couple of songs out. We joined up with Rory [Noble], met that team and they have all been a huge support network.

“Macey came around because after we got funding from NZ On Air and put this album together, I think Rory mentioned a name change. I was umming and ahhing, and had had the name ‘Macey’ swimming around for years. Eventually, I took the risk and thought, ‘This is a fresh start – just go for it.’ I’m super stoked I did it because now the music feels exciting again. It feels like this thing that I can channel energy into and then leave it at that. Be ‘Harry’ in my day-to-day life. Not be so weighed down by it all, if that makes sense?”

Parsons reveals that one of his favourite songs growing up was Macy’s Day Parade by Green Day.

“In 2015, me and a couple of the lads from pop school thought, ‘Why don’t we call our band Macey At The Fair?’ Then it was called just Macey, and then that band split up. I always just thought I’d love to have that name, but I put it off for years because I was so scared of letting go of all the progress ‘Harry Parsons’ had been making.

“It’s kind of funny because Macy’s Day Parade is about consumerism in the ‘90s and forgetting to care about the important things – friends, love, etc. They’d have a whole parade for Macy’s, everything on discount. ‘Get your TV!’ ‘Get your toaster!’ It’s about that kind of unhealthy side of life. I think Billy Joe was singing about how dangerous that is, and how everyone becomes zombies. Through Macey, I want to represent all my feelings, emotions, sexuality, catharsis release; so it kind of fits.”

This new musical venture under the Macey branding has captured the style and genre that Parsons wants his music to encompass. After years of experimenting and navigating his sound, the artist has found a place where he feels he belongs.

“Well, it’s really just a blend of influences that me and Ben love,” he smiles. “It’s a little passion project for both of us. Ben has put hours and hours of his own time in, simply because he wanted to do it. Even if we hadn’t got funding, I think Ben would have tried to help me get this thing happening anyway. So it’s just this mix of, I guess you’d call it a little bit ‘shoe-gazey’ because of the softness of it. There’s punk influence, there’s grunge influence, there’s stadium rock, like The War On Drugs, The Killers, and The 1975. It’s classic songwriting, with all that and those other influences that I previously mentioned.”

The River, written by Parsons and Joe Faris, is a soulful and poetic tribute to a lost love. A driving rhythm with flowing guitar and synths, and an uplifting vocal performance produce an exciting and compelling track, that belies its origins.

“So my partner of six years, we came to an amicable agreement that it was time to let go,” Parsons reveals with evident sadness. “And in amongst that separation was the crux of my father’s terminal illness. I just remember, as soon as we broke up, I went down to see mum and dad at the rest home. I cried the whole way. I called Ben actually. He was the first person I talked to when we split. I remember getting to mum and dad’s house and going out in the rain, like the dramatic, moody b**** that I am, getting my cigarette out and standing on the bank smoking. I was just looking out on this stormy, Wuthering Heights-esque scenery!

“A few days later I had a session booked with Joe Farris and he caught me on one of the lowest days of my life. I bought this demo that I’d made. It was a lot slower. The original snippets of lyrics were about a girl I knew, about how she refuses help and tries to get through life on her own – but that it’s okay to ask for help. Then Joe helped me draw out my own experience and it became what it is now.

“We wrote it very slowly on his upright piano in the studio. Heaps of time was spent on lyrics and crafting this little song. Well, I say heaps of time, I think it only took half a day, we didn’t change it much! We chucked it on the computer, sped it up, I sang a rough demo track and I had that for about a year. We put it into the list of songs for the album and everyone, including myself, said it had to go on it. So me and Joe finished it, probably about half a year later, and Ben mixed it.”

“We knew pretty quickly that we wanted it to have that stadium-rock feel. We wanted live drums. We wanted analogue synths. Everything you hear on the track is being run through real compressors and real old synths, real piano, live bass, and guitars.

“In the second verse, there’s a little arpeggiator that comes in, and the guitar and bass rhythm kind of changes,” he enthusiastically describes. “I think it just adds this amazing push and moves the song forward beautifully. I think Joe’s a genius for how he put it together. It sounds so simple but those little additions fit in so nicely that you wouldn’t even notice them, but they’re what makes the song.”

The music video for The River was directed by Connor Lambert, who also created the single artwork. Filmed at Auckland’s Parnell Baths, Parsons’ performance is one of charisma and passion, as he dances and darts through the dark, lit only by a spotlight. It was Lambert’s first-time directing.

“I’ve been a fan of Connor’s art for about two years,” Parsons gushes. “We always got on whenever he walked into the cafe for coffee. So I just reached out to him, and he instantly jumped on it and was so keen to be a part of it. Then Connor, Ben, and I came up with this idea and we hired out the Parnell Baths and I also got my friend Aidan [Rogers] to do DP because I had worked with him previously. I got Laura [Taylor] to style it. It was a really wholesome, fulfilling experience doing all that, a labour of love and friends!

“I just remember dancing around the Parnell Baths maybe 20-30 times and Connor going, ‘Yes, Harry! Yes! Faster! Now jump! Now leap!’ He was dancing with me behind the camera. It was a beautiful experience,” Parsons grins.

The second single under Macey, Summer Grunge, is set for mid-July release, with ‘The Lovers Side A’ dropping in September. With so much to look forward to, the artist glances back on the past 10 years and offers a little advice to others trying to navigate their way through the industry.

“Try to kill that comparison thing,” he encourages. “Every artist in my experience, no matter how far up the ladder they are, always has further to go. So everyone’s always thinking that they’re not doing good enough or whatever. You’ve got to train yourself to shut that little voice up. That’s the biggest thing.

“Look after yourself because it’s not an easy job, but it’s so rewarding to appreciate the moments.”