May/June 2022

by Jemilah Ross-Hayes

Parabola West: Star Struck

by Jemilah Ross-Hayes

Parabola West: Star Struck

Parabola West, aka Amy West, is a folktronica musician, fantasy storyteller, and self-described nerd. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, and first known for her part in London-based trip-hop band Dreamfield, she moved to NZ in 2003 and ten years later moved to Raglan to live off-grid with solar and wind power. She talks to Jemilah Ross-Hayes about her album ’Stars Will Light The Way’, released in April, and how it was created at 432Hz to encourage relaxation.

Your music includes quite a blend of genres, where have those influences stemmed from do you think?

There was a lot of music in our household growing up, and I think the musical tastes of my mother and sister were early influences. My mother listened to a lot of singer-songwriter records, but also loved to dance to ABBA. My sister introduced me to Loreena McKennitt, Depeche Mode, and New Order. There was also a lot of classical music happening in our household, and I distinctly remember being emotionally moved the first time I heard Pachelbel’s Canon on a cassette tape.
Looking back, that was probably the first clue that I was going to be a sensitive nerd.

What made you feel drawn to pursuing a solo music project originally?

I used to write my music privately, and I really only shared it with my husband. He kept encouraging me to record some of my songs professionally, and I finally got the courage to ask a friend with a home studio to help me do that. We created a six-song EP back in 2013, and that was a turning point for me. That experience unlocked something inside of me, and I decided to wholeheartedly pursue music under the moniker Parabola West. I’ve never looked back!

How do you translate the folk-tronica sound of your recorded music to a live setting?

It’s a combination of playing the piano/keyboard live and then triggering production tracks to bring in the extra vibes. I try to make a live show sound as close to the recorded version as possible, but then again, sometimes the moment calls for a completely acoustic and pared-down rendition of a song. It’s good to have options!

You say this album has been in the works for five years. In what way has that time shaped the songs on the album?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like the last five years have been some of the most formative of my adult life. What a ride! Everyone says that 2020 was the worst, but for me 2019 ate that cake… It’s fair to say that my sound has evolved and changed over the past five years, as well as my confidence around production. I’m more experimental with the music than I was five years ago, and much less worried about how the music will be received, commercially. Some songs were dropped, and some were added at the last minute. I had the fear knocked out of me a little bit by surviving some tough things, and that has been a blessing for me and the music.

Who else has been involved in creating your ’Stars Will Light The Way’ album?

First and foremost, my husband and the wonderful crowdfund supporters who fan-funded the studio recordings for much of this album. Musically, my producers Scott Newth and Andrew Newth of BLKHUS Studios have been there from the start. There are some amazing musicians featured; Rachel Moxham, Alex Slap (my sister!), Adam Casey, Nathan Bregmen. It was mastered by Chris Chetland.

In what ways has living off-grid impacted your ability to create and produce your music?

The inclination to live off-grid has forged a spirit of independence and DIY that extends to a lot of different areas, including the music. I’ve created a home studio where I write and produce my demos, and it’s a wonderful little space to get creative.
Being surrounded by nature and the sea has definitely influenced my songwriting. Living off-grid up a mountain has tuned me in to the cycles of nature in a way I hadn’t experienced before, and I can see those themes reflected in my music.

So, each song is about a different character. Where did the inspiration for the characters come from?

With the exception of Hannah, all of the songs actually came first and then the characters began to emerge. So I suppose each character is inspired by a different song. Music has always been a very visual experience for me, but in the past it was usually landscapes and colours that I would see. On this project, it was full characters with unique backstories that appeared in my head. It was very crowded in there for a while!

But with Hannah, both came at the same time, quite suddenly one day when I was driving the car. I had to pull over and sing it into my phone’s voice memo, and I could see her shadowy silhouette and the mist coming off the shoreline where she stood. It was pretty trippy, luckily I was almost home! I still have that voice memo.

Which songs connect with you in a more personal way?

While The Watchman Sleeps and The Best Thing are probably the two that have the highest potential of choking me up when I play them live.

What is the overall feeling you hope people will take away from ’Stars Will Light The Way’?

I’d like someone to listen to the album and feel a bit enchanted, transported to a relaxing realm inside the imagination. A safe and beautiful place to escape for a little while.

Could you tell us more about how 432Hz is a healing frequency and how this fits into your music making?

Thank you for asking! This is an exciting area of research, because it’s finally getting tested scientifically in the context of how our electromagnetic fields are impacted by the frequencies we encounter. When we listen to music tuned to A=432Hz (a Solfeggio frequency that resonates with Earth’s electromagnetic frequency), there is a measurable decrease in blood pressure, heart rate, and mean respiratory rate. One recent study showed an additional decrease in cortisol levels (stress hormone) in the saliva of participants in the “440 vs 432” study. Perhaps the ancient civilisations understood this intuitively, as many historical instruments (Tibetan singing bowls, Egyptian harps & lyres, Native American flutes, Gregorian chants, and Indian Sanskrit chants) utilised these frequencies and tunings. I am very interested in the beautiful overlapping of math, physics, music, nature, and the spiritual realm. I decided to create my music with these frequencies because they do no harm and have the potential to help people feel more relaxed and less stressed.

And how does the limited edition art book resonate with ’Stars Will Light The Way’?

The deluxe album book is the way to experience the album fully, as it was envisioned. The concept was to create a multi-sensory experience where you listen, look, and feel at the same time. It’s another layer of immersion, reading the lyrics and taking in the imagery as the music does its work. But it could stand alone as a beautiful fantasy photography art book, which is rad! The album book was put together by Kristy Wright. The creative content team was organised by Melodie McColl, and she did most of the amazing hair and makeup looks as well as costuming. The photographers; Abbey Hardwick (Trinitynavar), Richard Laing and Rakib Rax were incredible too.

You’re quite active on social media and have a following that seems to reach far beyond our shores…

My approach on social media is primarily based around mutual interests (fantasy stories, Celtic music, ancient folklore, lunar cycles, mythology, nature themes, etc,), rather than just my music. The music complements the mutual interests, and that has really worked well for me. It’s really fun to connect with the people who find me on social media, because we already have a lot in common!