Midnight Special

What’s Hot New Zealand caught up with Jed Parsons about his highly anticipated debut full-length album Midnight Feast, upcoming album tour, and not being too bothered about what people think.

You learned the guitar and drums from your brothers. What else do you think brothers are good for, other than teaching you epic music skills? Brothers are good for toughening you up when you’re young – my brothers once stuffed me in a cardboard box and balanced me on top of the mailbox, ready for pick-up. When you’re older they become your best friends with comfy couches to crash on whilst touring.

What was the first song you ever wrote? Was it any good? I think it was ‘Lose My Mind’, or ‘Banana’. Performed by The Muffin Men or Choco Pie. Neither of them were good but people still remember the hooks, which is what I try to be all about.

How does it feel to drop your first single ‘Get Lost’ and have people love it? What if people had hated it? The love I’ve received has been so overwhelming. As much as I’m doing music for myself, I’m aware that my job as a songwriter is to make other people feel something, so it’s incredibly satisfying to feel that I have done my job properly. When you’re an artist, you take the love or the hate for your art very personally because it really is a part of you. I’m sure there are a few people who hate what I’m releasing, which is scary – but when I start to feel self-conscious, I just remind myself that some people don’t like mint sauce, either. Even those people aren’t going to go and punch the mint plant in the face, so the mint plant, like me, needn’t be too bothered.

What’s your songwriting process? I generally start with a small random idea, which could be a title, line or just a thought. That part of the process can happen when I’m just humming a melody, or when I’m just thinking or writing. I then analyse the little bit I’ve got and decipher whatever meaning I can from it, and then I’m away. Otherwise it starts with a chord progression, but chords and melodies come as a bit of a package in my brain. ‘Get Lost’ started with the title, closely followed by the drum groove which is unusual for me.

How did you get into the music industry? The first big step was making the top 20 of Mike Chunn’s ‘Play It Strange’ songwriting competition at high school. Part of the prize was studio time, and I ended up getting along really well with the guys who played as session musicians on the track – they were jamming at the studio just by chance. I was two days into Jazz School when the big earthquake happened, so with the same group of guys, we formed a band called House Of Mountain, which I played drums in, and got straight on the road. We played over 50 dates in under a year, mostly around the South Island before playing bigger locally here and abroad. I ended up playing in all sorts of projects from folk to hip-hop, which all led to the development of my own solo project.

Do you get stage fright? Not really. I would have played over 300 shows now, so I feel pretty comfy on stage. A band I played drums in opened for Imagine Dragons in front of many thousands, and my limbs all kind of seized up, which came as a real surprise to me. I am getting a bit nervous about my album release tour in July, but once I’m on stage, I’m usually right at home.

Tell us about your best/worst experience on tour/at a concert … I toured Iceland after playing at Iceland Airwaves Festival with a singer songwriter called Hera. One of the shows was in a little stone church in the middle of nowhere, and after the show the entire crowd came outside with us where we all buzzed out at the Northern Lights together. That was pretty amazing. The worst (and some great) experiences were moments on tour with a band whose lead-singer would insist on trashing hotel rooms… I also played at a festival on a small island in Sydney Harbour where the accommodation for eight of us turned out to be a single tent, and they didn’t have a drum kit for me on our stage.

Weirdest fan request/incident? There used to be a squad of girls called Tegan and the Troubles who would turn up to every single Christchurch gig and do parlour tricks around the dance floor. They used gymnastics ribbons and glittery make-up, and would get kicked out of most gigs. They were pretty quirky.

What album/song do you have on high-rotation at the moment? Sex & Food by Unknown Mortal Orchestra is up there, as well as Smiley Smile by The Beach Boys.

Tell us about your first event/gig. My first proper gig was in Wanaka for a Christchurch rebuild fundraiser concert. Straight after the February 2011 earthquake, Snow Park had offered their accommodation for free to Cantabrians as a bit of an escape, so my crew of creatives headed down there and set up a studio in the lodge for a week where we wrote songs and recorded. We played at the concert as “repayment” for their hospitality. It was super fun, and Cairo Knife Fight played.

Person you’d love to collaborate with. A healthy Neil Diamond would be pretty hilarious.

Biggest influence. It’s a tie between the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, and 10’s. There’s no second place, though.

What can we expect from your Christchurch gig? Expect a rollercoaster of a night. I’ll be playing all the songs from my album, a few of which are a bit more heartfelt than what I’d usually play at my rowdy live shows. But be absolutely prepared for some stage-diving antics and terrible jokes. We have a pretty funny 80’s synth-wave style band called Sunset Synth opening for us, which will be fun too.

If you weren’t doing what you are now, what would you want to be? Sometimes I wish I was a builder – I love the idea of being able to create something tangible, with clear start and finish points. I hate mornings too much though.

Fave haunt you’ve ever performed at? There was a place in Harlem, New York called Silvana – it was super jazzy and pretty entertaining. There was even an ex-US marine that got up on stage and proposed to his fiance in typical American style, which really got me going.

One day I’ll … Pull big crowds in Japan.

If you could invite any three people living or dead to a dinner party, who would they be? Tim Shadbolt – what is it about that guy? Have you seen the video of him riding a child’s scooter past someone’s house? Jimi Hendrix – he’s probably the coolest person ever, plus he was OK at music. Donald Trump – he’d make the dynamics at my dinner party hilarious, plus I’d love to figure out what’s going on up in there.

What’s on the cards for this year? My debut album release! Midnight Feast comes out on July 13, with a tour of all the main centres to follow – I’ll be in Christchurch on July 27. I’m not aware of life beyond then, at this point.