INTERVIEW: Dan Parsons
Armed with profound tales and lustrous vocals, Brissie-turned-Melbourne singer songwriter Dan Parsons has an innate knack to connect and enthrall with his modern twist on vintage folk stylings, a skill bested only by his tenacity to evolve and challenge his own sense of musical self.
Following a string of charming releases (including 2015's 'Valleywood') and solo tours that took him across the country and beyond, it would be seemingly easy to predict the next move for this established artist; but Dan Parsons is not one to adhere to typecasts, and has instead shifted his one-man-band ways into new technical and creative waters with his brand new album 'Sunday Morning Cinema' due out on August 10th.
But before the album drops next week (and over ten years since we first met at compulsory university choir), Dan took some time out to chat directive chaos, rhythmic pursuits and the unique bliss of striking collaborative gold. Interview below.
TIANA SPETER: Hey Dan, how's it going?! So great to talk to you, I fondly recall you from a very long time ago.
DAN PARSONS: Yeah, you too! Remember back in the choir (laughs).
TIANA: Very long time no speak! How on earth is life for Dan Parsons in 2018, it seems like you've got a lot of awesome stuff going on right now!
DAN: Yeah, I guess it's true!! Recording this album was pretty important, we sort of set out to do something different...when I say "we" I mean my band and I. I haven't always had like a regular band, it's always been kind of myself either solo or with people who I could get around me for a certain kind of gig, or a certain tour. But for the past year and a half I've been working with the same people. And that's probably been one of the main differences between this album and any other one I've ever done, the people who played in the band had a real say about how things sounded on the record. And that was something pretty different for me, and pretty refreshing for me, just to have a shared experience! That's been a really positive thing, but it's been a pretty hectic couple of months to be honest. A lot of uprooting, moving around and relationships ending and all sorts of crazy things. But, it's...it's good! It's sort of coincided with me having to kind of knuckle down and get this album out, so I've got something good to focus on.
TIANA: It's weird sometimes how the chaos can kinda really fire that focus...I dunno, I feel like every time everything seems to be falling apart it just drives you more...I'm not saying I'm glad all that upheaval happened to you, but you've got something pretty amazing that's come through it...
DAN: (laughs) No, that's really spot on, that's what it feels like! It's like you've got all....well, you're not really "ridding" yourself of distractions, because they're more important than to call them distractions. But, you definitely get way more focused, that's for sure!
TIANA: On the topic of the new album 'Sunday Morning Cinema', I have been very, very lucky and had a sneaky listen to it...and it's absolutely fucking delightful, pardon my French. And as you mentioned earlier this time you've been working with more people collaboratively...was it different from a writing perspective with this album?
DAN: I think so! I had some songs that were left over, or had been written very soon after I made the last album, so they were kind of written with nothing really particular in mind, but I guess at that point I’d kind of assumed that I might attack the next album the same way I'd done previously, which is to play some of the instruments myself. So they were written with that in mind I suppose, but as the rehearsals went on and the new songs kind of came, I found that there wasn't enough time to go and demo them as I normally would. I was taking them straight from writing them into the rehearsal room, and the band and I would just kind of run through them. And the song would arrange itself, and people would work out their parts. It was just a very....I hate this word...but it was very organic (laughs). You can't do that unless you've got four or five people in a room who are engaged, and it helps that they're great musicians as well and I just love their natural inclinations, musically. Like, I don't have to shape them or mould them, they just kind of do wonderful things straight off the bat, so that was a huge advantage. And something which doesn't always happen, you can get a bunch of people in a room and it doesn't always work! But in this case it really did.
TIANA: It's like taking that risk of moving into a sharehouse with friends. Housemate roulette, music style! But this sounds definitely like a positive outcome.
DAN: Yeah, it really was! To answer your question more succinctly, by the end of the rehearsals for this recording, I was writing songs and bringing them straight in, and I think the best example of that was the title track ('Sunday Morning Cinema') which I wrote in about fifteen minutes in the morning, and I brought it into the rehearsal that afternoon and we worked it up, and then we recorded it at the session the next day on the very first take! That's never gonna happen again (laughs). That's a once in a lifetime sort of thing.
TIANA: And I believe the dream behind this album for you as well was to record it live to tape without a computer - but also to be able to hear it back on vinyl, which is where your Pozible campaign came into play as well. And not only did you make your goal of $10,000 to cover the costs associated with this venture, you smashed it! Did you you ever dream that this would come to fruition?
DAN: (laughs) Not at all, a lot of the stuff that happens on the administration side of music I'm never very confident with. But people around me tend to kind of say "nah man, come on, you can do it, it'll be alright, just give it a go!". And usually it works out ok. But with the Pozible thing...I mean, not to sound ungrateful but I never really liked the idea of Pozible when it first came out, it sort of made me feel a bit strange. But I think I came round to it over time, and the truth of the matter is, what's more important? Getting my music on a medium that I really wanted to hear it on and getting it out, or being proud and spending a long time saving money and then still not being able to afford to put it out as an LP? So I just thought - bugger it! I'm just gonna to the Pozible thing and see what happens. And everyone's doing it, so it's not like I'm some kind of anomaly. But it worked out really well! I was actually quite stunned, to be honest!
TIANA: Well people don't give away their money easily, so clearly everyone is heavily digging on what you're doing.
DAN: Yeah, it's been really nice to see that, I just didn't expect it (laughs). It's great though!
I'LL LIVE AND I'LL DIE (DAN PARSONS)
TIANA: So 'Sunday Morning Cinema' is dropping on the 10th of August...and you're also going to be playing some intimate east coast shows around the same time. How keen are you to bust out some of these new tunes live?
DAN: Pretty keen! Pretty, pretty keen, it's been a while since I've toured with a band, in fact it's been years! I've done a lot of solo touring but playing and touring with a band is so much fun. You've got people to hang out with, for one! (laughs) And people to share the experience musically with onstage, and I think people enjoy watching and listening to that a lot. Playing solo can be engaging for people as well, but I think it'll be great to really be able to do the album justice sonically on the road and not feel like you have to tell people to imagine a band behind this (laughs).
TIANA: "Imagine the bass is playing.... NOW!"
DAN: Exactly right! They don't know, and you know all the bits and pieces, but this time we'll be able to do it justice. And for me it's really fun because in the past my music's not always been conducive to, you know, kinda letting your hair down, it' sort of been a little bit more self-contained and introspective. But this album's got some songs that you can kinda actually dance to!
TIANA: Bust a move!
DAN: Yeah, yeah, you can bust a move if you so desire, which is nice. And that's good for me because that's actually the kind of stuff that I actually listen to, so finally my musical style is getting in line with the stuff that I listen to!
TIANA: Well you may just be a psychic cos you legitimately just guessed my next question...you obviously have comparisons and influences that are inevitable for your particular style of music, but what bands and artists do you actually listen to outside of this project?
DAN: Well I've been listening to this band called Hiss Golden Messenger, they're really cool, they're from the States. They kinda do, I guess, a similar thing in the way that they're a modern band, or a modern songwriter, working predominantly with old-school kinda 70s influences. And Wilco are a great band, I love that band a lot. I love Laura Marling and Blake Mills, he's a fantastic guitarist and songwriter, and he kinda channels a bit of Ry Cooder, who's another hero of mine. But he's definitely a 70s guy, came out in the late 60s I think? He's a really great slide guitar player. Who else....(laughs) I can't do this list without including The Eagles! As much as people find them an embarrassing kind of band to admit to liking, I actually love them so much. They are responsible for a fair bit, maybe not so much the sound, but certainly their great pop songwriting and they did that particular thing really well. Also a guy called Bobby Charles, and Levon Helm, all that kind of real Southern American style of music with a great backbeat. I think rhythm really was the most important thing for me on this album. I didn't do this, I should've done this though, some people trawl through these great drum beats or great rhythms and write songs to rhythms. I should try and do this, cos I think it'll be interesting. But that was something which I think came through on this album a little bit more than others that I've done, it's very rhythmic and not just based around the acoustic guitar. There are some tracks like that, but it's good to have a good drum beat!
TIANA: Funny you say that, I played 'Hear Goes Nothin' from the new album to my housemate the other morning on the drive into work, and we were both just grooving and bopping...you just can't not tap your feet! It's 100% gonna happen every time.
DAN: (laughs) That's awesome. That's great!
TIANA: To briefly wander back in time, I believe you started your musical adventures properly in your teens, but was music always an interest or a goal back in the day?
DAN: It was always something that I was drawn to, I was always doing a version of it. I started out tapping on pots and pans when I was like four or five because my dad somehow...he didn't buy me a pair of drumsticks, but he'd found them on a job site and gave them to me. And they just looked so great and I just kinda had to get next to it somehow, just get next to playing the drums which was my first instrument. So it's not an accident, it's always been there and it was a long time before my parents bought me a drum kit when I was about 11 because they wanted to see if it was a phase (laughs).
TIANA: A noisy phase!
DAN: Yeah, that's right! Their biggest concern was that it was gonna be super noisy - and they were right! But, I stuck with it, I stuck with the pots and pans for a long time (laughs). And they bought me that drum kit, and I didn't really stop. I never stopped playing. So, it's always been there and it's always been something which has always been more than just a hobby. It's...I dunno. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it's a bit of a life-force sorta thing, you know?
TIANA: Some things kinda steer you no matter what and no matter how hard you might inadvertently fight against them. I think it's awesome that you did stick with it, but I think you would've ended up here no matter what by the sound of it!
DAN: I think so too! (laughs) Thank you.
TIANA: Final question - it's a bit of a cheesy one but I'm going with it. Your upcoming album is obviously called 'Sunday Morning Cinema'. What's your ultimate movie to watch on a lazy Sunday morning if you happen to have that kind of spare time up your sleeve?
DAN: Oh my god! Sunday morning! I can't say Casino, that's a full-on movie. I'm gonna say...Ghostbusters.
TIANA: Ohhh epic answer. Great, great choice. Well thank you so much for the chats, all the best with the upcoming release, and will hopefully catch you in action when you swing by Sydney town in August!
DAN: Thanks so much Tiana!
DAN'S BRAND NEW ALBUM 'SUNDAY MORNING CINEMA' IS DUE OUT AUGUST 10TH THROUGH MGM, AND HE'LL ALSO BE HITTING THE ROAD ON THE EAST COAST SOON AFTER.
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BY TIANA SPETER