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Mel Parsons Shares New Album 'Glass Heart' + Interview

Mel Parsons Shares New Album 'Glass Heart' + Interview

Lydia Jenkin / Friday 30th November, 2018 10:13AM

Award-winning songwriter Mel Parsons spoke with Lydia Jenkin about her fourth studio album 'Glass Heart', which is out today. Parsons is taking her new songs on the road next week, with shows in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch - for more info and tickets head along here.

One of New Zealand’s most prolific touring acts, indie-folk songbird Mel Parsons releases her new record Glass Heart today. It’s a beautiful album of dark, sweeping, contemplations of the heart, recorded with American producer Mitchell Froom who has produced albums for Crowded House, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega, and Missy Higgins among others.

Congratulations on the new album. You recorded it in America, and it was your first time recording overseas, how did that come about?

I was very lucky that I got to record with Mitchell Froom in America. I met him through Ron Sexsmith, who did a wee cameo on my Drylands album. Ron’s made about five records with Mitchell I think, and rates him really highly, and he thought we might work well together, so he introduced us, and Mitchell heard the Drylands album, liked it, and agreed to work with me.

I spent a couple of days in the studio with Mitchell in 2017, just demoing stuff and figuring out if we clicked. It’s a funny thing with a producer, because it’s essentially like an intense short-term relationship – you really have to give each other everything, all your trust and you get pretty personal. But after those couple of days together we felt like it was a good fit. I mean obviously his work speaks for itself – his CV is ridiculous – so it was more about whether he liked me, and whether we had a good vibe in the studio.

Then we just had to find a window to make it work. It looked like he had a gap in between making a Randy Newman record, and Rufus Wainwright in the middle of the year – that’s how ridiculous he is – and so I managed to jam myself in the middle as his kind of pro-bono case for the year, relatively speaking, which was very kind.

That says a lot about your songwriting, and your voice, that he made that time to work with you.

I guess so. I had to keep reminding myself of that when you’re sitting in the studio feeling like the little kid from NZ, going ‘What am I doing here?’ Everyone involved, the engineer, the band, they were all lovely, but the stuff they’ve worked on just makes my eyes water, and it’s hard not to feel like an imposter. It was cool to be there knowing that they didn’t have to be doing it though, that they wanted to be there.

Did Mitchell put the band together?

Yes he did, which was amazing. It was hard for me because I have a wonderful band based here, and was super keen to record with them, but for logistical and financial reasons, it just wasn’t going to work out.

So Mitchell put together this amazing band of superstars - Kaveh Rastegar who plays bass for John Legend and Sia, Adam Levy who is Norah Jones guitarist, and drummer Ted Poor who works with Andrew Bird.

And they were so lovely. I think ironically it ended up being the most relaxed studio experience I’ve ever had. Mitchell put a lot of effort into pre-production, and everyone was just really in the zone, and most stuff was recorded in one or two takes, and most of it was live, with hardly any overdubbing. Mitchell is evidently pretty brilliant at what he does.

Was there anything you specifically set out to do with this album? Does it feel like a continuation from Drylands for you, or did you want to change direction?

This probably sounds really bad, but I’m not very good at planning or thinking about what an album is going to be. I just sort of write what I write. I wish I could be a bit more conceptual, and say I’m going to write an album about XYZ, but instead it’s usually ‘Oh, a whole bunch of songs just fell out. Great! This is what the record is going to be’.

Hopefully they’re a development from Drylands, and hopefully the sound of the album has progressed a bit, it’s a bit fuller and a bit darker, but essentially I’m still the same songwriter, and the songs kind of dictate what they need in terms of production and where they want to go.

Tell me a bit about why Glass Heart felt like the right title for this album.

The idea that I was thinking about with Glass Heart, was sort of comparing your heart to something that is so fragile that if it drops, it smashes. So that feeling, plus also the idea of feeling so dark that everyone must be able to see right inside, you know, that your heart becomes transparent.

It seems like an album that looks at the darker sides of the heart than Drylands did – your first three singles especially have definitely pointed towards heartbreak: 'Blame', 'I Got the Lonely', and 'Just Cause You Don’t Want Me'. Are these pretty personal songs?

It’s based on personal experience, but also the experiences of others. I also don’t like to be too prescriptive about what a song is about, it’s almost like ‘TMI’, you know, if you tell people everything, it changes the experience of the song for them, and makes them absorb it differently. As a listener if I know too much about a song, I find it harder to put myself in the song. And I want to leave it so that people can take it in their own way and have their own stories around them.

But yes, it’s about a tough time, about heartbreak. But it’s also just human observation too. There’s a seed of truth in them all, but even when it’s mostly truth, there’s always a bit of poetic license in there too.

You wrote a chunk of the album while you were on tour in the US – do you find yourself inspired by the random people you meet and crazy conversations you have when you’re traveling on your own?

Yes, it’s funny because travelling solo is actually kind of the opposite to what people expect - when you’re on your own you’re so open and you’re more likely to meet really interesting, amazing people that you wouldn’t come across otherwise. And that seems like a bit of a gift sometimes, particularly because when you’ve just performed a show, people seem to feel like they know you, and will come and share some quite intimate stuff with you, and you can end up making these very real connections which wouldn’t happen otherwise, because you don’t often just bump into random people and start talking about their personal life.

Inevitably there’s someone who also wants to tell you their whole life story, unabridged, when you’re trying to sell merch or pack up your gear, but that’s all part of it.

But I definitely gather up all those stories and experiences and some of it might come through in my writing.

And I read you spent some time holed up in a cabin over there doing some writing?

Oh I know, it’s such a cliché! But yes, I did spend some time by myself in a cabin. That’s where I wrote 'Just ‘Cause You Don’t Want Me'. I had a couple of days off in between shows, and somehow ended up staying in cabin in the woods on the edge of a lake in Washington state. It was quite crazy actually, I sort of felt like, ‘this is all lovely but also am I going to be murdered while I’m hanging out here by myself?’ So I was always grateful to wake up in the morning! But there was a piano in this cabin and I was like ‘Oh hello piano, I’ll have a little tootle around on you’.

It sounds like the whole process of writing and recording this album has been a bit of an unexpected journey of catharsis for you – I notice on your lovely album sleeve notes, on the back you’ve written “Everything is going to work out fine, I promise” – what made you want to include that?

I guess mostly it’s a message to myself, but also to anyone else who’s listening to my music, because if you like my music you probably get that life is not always perfect. It’s just an affirmation really. I feel like my life is a rollercoaster, so I just have to keep remembering that it can turn out great. It’s kind of cheesy, but oh well! I think it’s probably quite a good summary of the songs too, in a way, that whatever you’re battling through now, you will be able to look back on with a new perspective eventually.

Mel Parsons and her band play Meow in Wellington on Wednesday 5th December; Anthology Lounge in Auckland on Thursday 6th December, and LAF in Christchurch on Sunday 8th December - for tickets and more info head along here.


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Mel Parsons - Album Release Tour
Wed 5th Dec 7:30pm
Meow, Wellington
Mel Parsons - Album Release Tour
Thu 6th Dec 7:30pm
Anthology Lounge, Auckland
Mel Parsons - Album Release Tour
Sat 8th Dec 7:30pm
Lyttelton Arts Factory, Christchurch