Parson James: The singer-songwriter you need to know

30 June 2016

WORDS BY Fashion Quarterly New Zealand

parson james

Who is Parson James?

Well, you might already know him… You just didn’t know you knew him, you know? He features on Kygo’s hit ‘Stole the Show’, has known Lorde since she before she was a household name and he’s just announced that he’s heading to New Zealand in July for a very special showcase and promo tour.

Just a week after the shootings in Orlando, FQ’s Skye Ross caught up with the openly gay, bi-racial American singer over the phone to not only talk about how he was affected by the tragedy (and the amazing way he’s helping out the victims while here in New Zealand), but to find out more about his “conflicted pop gospel” style of music, his favourite fashion finds and how his upbringing in South Carolina has shaped his musical journey.

Click here to win one of 5 double passes to see Parson James LIVE in Auckland on July 12!

FQ: How do you think style and fashion influence you as an artist?
I think that what you wear really kind of speaks about who you are as an artist. Every time I’m wearing an outfit or I see something that catches my eye, I’m thinking about it representing me and what I stand for and whatnot. So I think that fashion, without someone hearing your [music] or knowing what you do, can tell a lot about you by the things you choose to wear.

Yeah, I love the hat that you wear on your album cover it’s really cool, where’s it from?
Thank you! There’s a lady called Gladys Tamez, she’s a Mexican designer but she’s based out in Los Angeles I think? I just ran into her store one day and I saw a hat and she was just starting out so I kinda got pretty lucky. I just contacted her on Instagram and we’ve been working together for the past year now. She’s basically made every hat that I wear. Sia and Beyoncé are wearing her hats so…


I guess people see what you’re wearing and kind of make connections to you and your music. How would you explain your style of music to people who are new to it?
I call my music sort of ‘conflicted pop gospel’. I mean, in the grand scheme, it’s definitely pop music but I’m from South Carolina in The States and there’s this definite touch of Southern gospel and Southern soul that trickles into all of my stuff. So in terms of my fashion and how that relates to the music I think that I’ve got this whole kind of Southern, like, not quite preacher, but maybe high fashion preacher sort of thing going on. People usually, immediately after hearing my stuff, sort of put it together like “Yeah, yeah I should have known that by the way he’s dressed”.

You grew up going to church and you had quite a religious upbringing. Is that still a part of your life now?
Um, no, you know what, I broke that off. It was pretty full on in a 5000-person town and everything was sort of forced down my throat. There’s just so much judgement for anyone different in the community or if you were homosexual, or in an interracial relationship. Those sorts of things didn’t ring well with the community and at a young age I kind of knew that. I loved everyone and I was always taught by my mother never to judge, but the community that I was raised around was kind of the opposite, it was very tough so I found my way out of that. I’m very spiritual in a lot of ways – like the universe giving you what you put out. I’m a fan of anyone that has religion in their life and I don’t disregard any belief or whatnot, I believe everyone can believe what they want to believe.

Has music always been a creative outlet for you? When did you first discover your talent and become passionate about music?
I think probably when I was like five or six. I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t annoyingly singing all over the place. Growing up and going to church and stuff, choir, and the things that I saw at a young age had an effect, and the second that I kind of realised that I could utilise that and use it as sort of an escape and a way of forgetting about everything, it just became my thing. It was something that I was good at and I loved doing it. It made me feel just incredible and I could just escape from all the judgement and the fear and being ridiculed from my community and whatnot. When you hear a great song it can stop you in your tracks and that really, really inspired me and that’s what I’m hoping I can do with the stuff that I’m writing.

I know that you’re close with Lorde; can you tell me about the relationship that you have with her and how she has impacted you?
Yeah, I wouldn’t say that we’re super close, I mean I’ve known her since she was a kid – fifteen or sixteen or so? It was extraordinary, the second that I met her, it was something that I had never experienced face to face, where this girl was so unapologetically who she was and she, lyrically, was just such a brilliant poet and just had a way with her words. I thought that she was just the greatest chick that I had ever come into contact with and she was six years younger than me, and it intimidated me. I’m just insanely proud of her … she broke rules. You can be who you are, just don’t listen to the outsiders, just speak your true emotions. People are waiting for someone like that to connect to.

Definitely! So you’re coming to New Zealand next month, what have you got planned for your show? I understand that you are going to be singing with an LGBT choir, is that right?
That’s so right! I’m real stoked because I feel like I’ve been surrounded by Kiwis for years with my management and all of their friends, I feel like I’m an honorary Kiwi but I’ve not made it down there. So I’m stoked in general to be there, but the show I’m super excited about. It’s going to be quite special because we’re having the LGBT choir – which is massive! We’re also going to be raising some donations for the Orlando victims, from the shooting that happened here in The States at the show, which I’m excited about, too.

How has the past week been for you after the Orlando shootings? How has it affected you?
It’s one of those things that there’s such an issue here in The States that people around the world look at our country and be like “What the f@#k , how can this continually happen?” I was actually performing at the New Jersey Pride Show at their Gay Pride Festival, and that morning on my way there I found out about it. I think it’s one of those things where, as a gay man from the south who fought through discrimination and witnessed so many others having to do the same, you get to a place like New York or someplace even like New Zealand where you can find that love and acceptance – especially within the community – and we look to these places that have gay establishments as “safe havens” or “sanctuaries”. To have a place like that where we all get together and laugh and dance and not worry about judgement because all of us have been through the process of trying to come out, the process to be accepted. [To have] those trials and tribulations disrupted by something that is so hateful and so terrifying, I don’t think it really hit me until maybe the day after when the names where released, the occupations and just who these people were.  I don’t know, I can’t wrap my head around it, it’s been very hard.

Yeah I can imagine. There has certainly been a unification of people around the world and people have banded together against this hate, is this something that you’ve noticed and you’ve felt?
I think it’s incredible. The mayor came down in the West Village of New York and the amount of people that showed up for that, straight, gay and lesbian, everyone was coming together because it’s truly just an attack on humanity. It was brutal, it was just based on hatred, it was just so incomprehensible. I’ve got so many texts, like random, from friends I haven’t spoken to in a long time saying that they “love me”, or to just “tell somebody that you love them”, you know, I think that everyone really is opening their eyes and seeing how cruel the world can be and how important it is for us to stand united, make this the last of its kind. I’ve definitely seen an out pour of support from everyone, and I think it’s really helping lift us up.

I think there must be so many people who haven’t come out and who are afraid of coming out and this wouldn’t have helped them. What advice do you have or words of wisdom and kindness to those young people who are afraid of coming out?
You know what? It’s hard because everyone has a different home situation and different circumstances and this is not an easy task especially when you’re dealing with families that are 100 percent against your way of life. What I always say is truly love yourself, accept that you’re just a human being – you’re no different, and if those people around you are not ready to accept you for who you are, you have to exude confidence and pride and know that there’s nothing wrong with you. Those people who love you will come around. If they don’t immediately they will later and there’s a whole world of people that will embrace and accept you and it’s not worth going and ending your life or not worth being terrified because it’s life, it’s who you are and you should be so proud of that. You’re a special human being, and yeah, that’s kind of all I have to say.

Watch the video for Parson James’ single ‘Temple’ below: 

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