Mel Parsons always has an interesting project on the go. Following 2018’s ‘Glass Heart’, an album that saw her winning the Tūī for Best Folk Artist, alongside nominations for both the Taite Music Prize and Silver Scroll Award, she did some high-profile theatre shows with local all-star casts, amid other Covid-impacted personal touring. The second half of 2021 brought new original material, including the latest single, Already Gone. Hayden Pyke talked to her. Made with the support of NZ On Air.
Mel Parsons is hunkered down in her home in Christchurch’s port township of Lyttelton. The early Summer rain has been insistent, and for the singer-songwriter who’s so often on the move, staying in must seem a little strange.
Lyttelton has become a focal point for NZ folk and country musicians over recent decades. The likes of Nadia Reid have lately recorded there, while Delaney Davidson, Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding call it home. Parsons has been living there for a couple of years, and likens it to a little Wellington with an exciting and creative community. In reality, she explains, just because a number of well-known musicians are based there, it hasn’t become it a hub for performing necessarily.
“I’m more likely to see Delaney in Auckland,” she laughs, having revealed that he lives just down the road. Likely the result of her typically busy touring schedule as much as anything. At any one time, either her or her contemporaries are, in normal times, likely to be on the road.
Repeatedly acclaimed for her achievements as a self-managed artist, Parsons has made a life as a touring performer, solo and with band. Covid has certainly hampered that, and when there are no gigs, there is very little income. Keeping busy through the uncertainty since early 2020 she’s recorded new music and played various showcases, including a ‘Brothers in Arms’ album tribute show, a natural fit given she’s long been a fervent Dire Straits fan.
“I can’t have been too bad,” she jokes, acknowledging she found herself being asked back to perform for similar ‘Abbey Road’, ‘Live Rust’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ tribute shows. These events were loved by audiences, and as a regular member of the supergroup that also featured the likes of Davidson and Laughton Kora, Parsons was able to get her fix for playing live.
Recent shows have been the first playing her own material in some time, and even that hasn’t been easy. Auckland’s gig in particular needed to be rescheduled several times. Parsons has been working on the songs for a new album with guitarist/producer, Josh Logan for some 18 months. The combination of Logan’s soundscapes and Parsons’ lyrics makes for ready pathways to connection for listeners.
New singles Carry On and Already Gone have been brought to audiences for the first time, and she talks enthusiastically about how her songs take on a life of their own once released, despite all the delays they’ve been subjected to. Carry On became an anthem of sorts for people getting through lockdowns, despite being written much earlier and without the imminence of closed borders and traffic lights on the horizon.
Already Gone is more straightforward and while willing to say the song shares a feeling of being in a relationship physically, while emotionally already having moved on, Parsons wouldn’t be drawn on what personal connection might lie behind the song.
“I don’t want to dive too deep into where this song came from, or my feelings then, because I think when things are explained too explicitly people think that it’s about a particular thing, and maybe don’t put their own story into it.”
She gets a lot of pleasure from having audiences find her music, and though many will know of her as a steely solo performer, she and points to her band (which often includes cousin Jed Parsons), as being essential in bringing together her songs and the energy onstage. The forthcoming album, which is yet to be given a name or a release date, will no doubt feature a masterclass of band performances.
It seems Lyttelton’s rain isn’t going to break, and the lyrics of Already Gone spin around our conversation, yet Parsons seems chipper – excited about her upcoming record, her new home and hopes of getting back to playing live soon.