Parson James On Why His New Single "Sad Song" Isn't So Sad

Parson James On Why His New Single "Sad Song" Isn't So Sad

After his breakout song "Stole the Show" and his hit EP 'Temple,' Parson James is following it all up with an empowering new track, "Sad Song." Today, with its release, V talks to the singer about his many inspirations, signature uniform, and shared love of hats with Lady Gaga.

After his breakout song "Stole the Show" and his hit EP 'Temple,' Parson James is following it all up with an empowering new track, "Sad Song." Today, with its release, V talks to the singer about his many inspirations, signature uniform, and shared love of hats with Lady Gaga.

Text: William Defebaugh

So tell me about the inspiration behind "Sad Song."

PARSON JAMES I was here [in L.A.] a few months ago, at The Eagle Bar, and I ran into this guy that I used to date. He’s actually the one that I wrote "Stole the Show" about. He’s just really pretentious and super too-cool-for-school kind of person that always made me feel like I needed to prove myself or change to fit in with his crowd. But, I went ahead with him to the bar and he was super drunk. He thought that he could flirt with me and that he knew people—kind of bougie—and it made me  immediately have all these different emotions and memories of how many times I cried over him and how many times I sat at home waiting for him to answer me back. It’s just such a sad time in my life because I didn’t have my work and I didn’t value myself and I was dependent on someone that maybe had been a bad thing and I wanted to see if it would work out so I was kind of just leading him along or anybody or any assistance, so I lost that, still writing that now and the video is [inaudible 3:56] and I just started writing that out of memories that I had that were negative thoughts about the relations I had with that man but I was actually happy because I didn't have to go through that anymore and I was going through this dark period to come out on the other side. Sometimes the person you think you’re in love with is just not good enough for you.

Do you think that he knows "Sad Song" or "Stole the Show" is about him?

PJ I would think. You know that song "You’re So Vain"? He’s definitely asked me about "Stole the Show" before and I didn’t give him too much, but I’m sure he’s aware.

Who did you make "Sad Song" with? Who produced it?

PJ Elof, he's Swedish. He's done everything with me. He and I did the whole Temple EP together and he’s just one of those people that I feel so comfortable with. I don’t know if it’s in my head, I just go in and make something immediately because it’s just the kind of way he makes you feel. Other people are like “Oh let’s put you in a big huge session. You’ve got to come out with a big huge hit.” He actually targets my most personal material.

The song is definitely more straightforwardly pop. What was the thought process there?

PJ It was pretty effortless, actually, I mean we’re all into the '90s, I’ve always loved pop and I’ve always integrated pop into everything that I do. I think the Temple EP was so specific for me because I was dealing with something that I hadn't had the chance to deal with as a kid and as a teenager because I was depressed for so long. Temple was just my moment of therapy, to kind of get through that situation.

And so is it fair to say the first album is going to explore more themes than just what you touched on with Temple?

PJ Yeah, I mean obviously my main goal is always to inspire and uplift and make sure people are celebrating who they are and loving themselves regardless of what their surrounding peers say. That’s always going to be my message—to be the biggest ally for the LGBTQ community. That’s just who I am and that’s what I stand for. I think there are definitely going to be more things other than just the "healing yourself." There’s a lot of heartache and a lot of grief and me drinking too much and doing things in excess that I shouldn't do, which I think we all can relate to.

Tell me a little bit about the visuals for the single art?

PJ I found this artist Ed Li. I definitely wanted to use his illustration with photography from this guy Rams. I know what I want for each project and, for example, the EP was a reflective project, so, in all of my single art, you never saw my eyes. So for "Sad Song" I wanted to show my eyes and that was the first step. Then I came across Ed and he had this photo with these painted tears that are super illustrated. They're literally just drawn lines, tears, and something about that spoke to me. Because all the tears that I shed for this guy, but now I look at them and they don't matter to me. The whole time I should've stepped back and looked at myself in the mirror and realize that I don't deserve these sort of things. I got this photo of myself looking in the distance because I’m looking towards the future. I know that sounds weird, but I'm not looking at the past or anything—I'm looking forward.

And are you working on a video for it?

PJ Yes. We're talking to a few directors now. I want to keep it consistent. I want to work with the same director who did Temple, for me. If you find your people, your heads are connected and you guys get each other. It really works out for the better. I know the label is always like bounding around a whole bunch of producers or a hundred different directors and what not, but I'm talking to the director of the Temple video and I'm hoping to have that up soon.

Speaking of consistency, you have definitely developed a bit of a uniform. Tell me a little bit about your style, and I know that a lot of your hats are from Gladys. Tell me how you first got connected with her.

PJ I will definitely say I have a uniform, for sure. When I got into that mindset for Temple, that was very much my version of a sermon that I never heard preached to me, so I think that I started developing this obsession with—I don't know. I wouldn't say I was like the gay preacher or anything, but something about the look for me demands attention and power. I was writing that EP and I was getting through the issues that happened to me in my childhood and everything after that. I had gotten to a place where I was able to speak on it, so I just naturally started gravitating towards certain things. The hat, for me, everything was associated with the South and the aesthetic felt kind of church-y but more high fashion wise. And Gladys—I don't know I always love the idea of wearing hats and stuff, but I never found one that worked for me. We went down to her studio. This was before anyone was wearing the hats. We met her and she gave me one and ever since then she's always provided me with that.

And when was it that you found Gladys?

PJ About two years ago.

And now Lady Gaga is wearing her hats.

PJ And now Lady Gaga is wearing her hats. I went to see Gaga and she had one on that was similar to mine.

It has been about 8 months since Temple came out. Tell me about the times that it has been a whirlwind.

PJ Yeah, it's been crazy. Obviously, from Kygo to Temple to now. I think Kygo has been two years at this point. "Temple," the single, came out almost a year ago now. The EP came out 8 months ago, like you were saying. It's been incredible. What's most important is knowing that people are connecting and feeling like they can relate in some sort of way even though we have completely different stories. Seeing the comments and seeing genuine reactions. It's a dream of what I thought I would be making it. One of my songs, "Waiting Game," is covered so much and I have so many people sending me messages and covers. It's insane.

One of the crazy things that happened with that song was that I had auditioned for American Idol like 10 times or something, but I never made it through any of the rounds. Then, last year, American Idol was airing and they chose "Waiting Game" as the final song for the guy that ultimately won. It was insane to me that that song came off my EP. Things like that, with that EP, gave me the platform and the opportunity to play so many prides this year. You know, I went to New Zealand where I performed for the LGBTQ gospel choir and in a huge cathedral. It was incredible and I think that EP has a purpose and that EP will always be my proudest body of work.

Aside from the album, what are you looking forward to most in 2017?

PJ Just touring. I need to be performing live so much more often. It's my favorite thing. That's where I get my high from. I mean I get high from writing the music and obviously putting it out, but you get a genuine instant reaction when you perform it for people. I love meeting people. I can meet a stranger and just talk. My biggest issue is that I'll be out at a show and I want to stay and talk to every single person because I’m so interested in those people's stories and where they come from. My momma told me that every person has a story and you don't know what it is and where they come from and that always stuck with me. So performing live is the thing that I’m looking forward to the most and I'm going to be doing a s*** ton of it next year.

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