Released in 2014, Parabola West ’s first EP ‘Did You Hear’ revealed an accomplished musician and songwriter, with an evident hippy-, or at least alternate lifestyle-bent. Besides being very much a form of therapy, music creation is for her a mixture of precise structure and imperfect elements – rather like the New Zealand nature, where she has found her happy place. She talked with Ania Glowacz about her second EP, titled ‘Purity Of Weakness’.
Parabola West was born in NZ in 2013, but Amy West (her real name) is originally from Springfield, just outside of Boston on America’s east coast. She’s been here since 2003, but took a decade away from the machinations of the music ‘industry’ before finding her creative comfort zone – living off-grid, with solar and wind power in the beautiful Waikato seaside and surf town of Raglan. Finding her muse in nature, Parabola West now had the necessary grounding to start to put down her own unique musical roots.
The name came from Amy’s investigations into making a parabolic solar heater… (and her interest in maths and science).
“The light comes from all different directions, but focuses on just one spot,” she explains. “Music is like a parabola.”
The adopted name allowed Amy to give her music its own persona, and to find the courage and confidence to take her material out into the world.
Parabola West is already a very accomplished and talented songwriter, with an ear for a deceptively simple but often stunning song. It’s no surprise to learn that she grew up in a musical family, and that singing together came naturally. She started playing the piano around 4 or 5, but later piano lessons had to be abandoned as the young Amy was not very good at following the rules.
“I tried but I was disobedient! I just wanted to go and do my own thing!”
Songwriting began as a teenager and by now is a well-practised discipline. At university, she got involved with an acapella group, where she enjoyed experimenting with harmonies. Influences (unsurprisingly) include Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Sarah McLaughlin, but she also had a love affair with the ‘80s synth-pop of Depeche Mode and New Order. Artists that, as she says, “…are clearly connected to the heart,” also including Bjork and Fiona Apple.
Overseas adventures beckoned and Amy headed to the UK, where she joined left field trip hop band Dreamfield, which she was part of for two years, adding keys, and backing vocals.
“And then I met a Kiwi guy…!”
The first solo performances in her whole life have been here in NZ, as Parabola West. Her live sets have just been girl and piano (though often with mood lighting, projections and other artistic props) until her husband David joined her on stage six months ago to help flesh out the newer material. Amy explains she felt her songs were losing their energy just on the piano.
David uses RecordBox, playing samples in real time, along with some of the backing tracks and drums.
Hers is an unforced style.
“Sometimes it starts as a poem. Mostly it starts as a melody that I hear. Then I start expanding on that and then the words come… it’s not always the same.”
Some songs have a pop edge (Run Away), others are more intimate in that special singer/ songwriter way (Do You Want To Know?, Nowhere To Be Found).Touches of electronica (and Kate Bush on the delectable Disappear), slight and thoughtful music embellishments, more folky and somewhat ethereal moments (Down To The Ground), courtesy of Amy’s angelic voice.
‘Purity Of Weakness’ is the follow up to Parabola West’s 2014 debut EP titled ‘Did You Hear?’
“The last one for me was more acoustic, and looking more into childhood and girlhood. This one’s more ‘womanhood’ and sits in the now for me,” she explains.
Completed with the aid of a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, ‘Purity Of Weakness’ was mostly recorded by Scott Newth at The Porch Recording Studio in Hamilton, with the single Fire, plus mastering, done at The Lab. The main template is Amy’s gorgeous voice, accompanying herself on piano. Lending a hand on the seven original compositions were Natasha Wesbunk and Rachel Twyman on violin, Jack Porimu on double bass, Rachel Kibblewhite and Harry Parsons on electric guitar, Trevor Faville on drums, Matthew King on Irish whistle and Andy on keys and programming. Aaron Gott and Amy Maynard provided BVs.
Originally released in October 2015, Fire, the EP’s lead single is a stunner. The accompanying video was filmed in a forest with a very Green Man feel – it looks like a black metal video from Behemoth, with chain mail and Amy (Parabola) in a feather mask dancing around like a wood nymph.
“It’s about the seduction of self-destruction,” Amy explains, tying the track in nicely with the EP title. “It’s dark but it’s not. Sitting, writing in Raglan, and nature’s all around me, but all these different things come out…”
That geographic positioning by itself places Parabola West’s music outside of the mainstream and makes gigging a challenge.
She makes up for that with home concerts –20 or so people getting together at someone’s house and chipping in for an intimate set.
“I love doing the home concerts and stuff. Whenever I travel I try and do a couple of home concerts. It’s really my fave way to do it because you get to get to connect with people and stuff, have a chat…”
Asked why she’s done a second EP, rather than an album, her response is humble.
“I feel like you only get one shot at a debut album. And I feel like I’m still gathering momentum to justify it. It’s a big investment and I want it to be…”
Great. One thing that cannot be denied is Parabola West’s extraordinary talent, both as a songwriter and performer. The rest of the world will one day catch on, but in the meantime Amy’s slaying them in the lounges, one home concert at a time…