Parson James Talks New Single, Lockdown, and Artistic Freedom

The singer-songwriter returns with a soulful new release and newfound artistic freedom.

“I’m always trying to help others before ever helping myself and more often than not this does not work in my favor.”

Multi-platinum artist Parson James‘ empathy is confessed in his new single “High Tide, Low Tide,” which dropped today, marking his first music release since signing to his new label, 12Tone Music.

His poetic lyricism is, as always, paired with vocals powerful enough to fill the heights of a cathedral, emotion palpable enough to taste, and soul blended with pop in an ethereal experience transmuting tribulation into inspiration. The song is a story in his soulful style, a rhythmic ode to the contents of Parson’s heart—which, when not residing on his sleeve, permeates all aspects of his music.

We chatted with the LA-based, South-Carolina native singer/songwriter about lockdown, his new label, and artistry. Read the full interview below, and stream “High Tide, Low Tide” here.

V MAGAZINE With more freedom (in terms of the new label), how is your artistry changing?

PARSON JAMES I feel that I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always had a clear vision of what I want to say and how I want to say it. I think even with my last label I still was able to get my message across even when the politics of the industry got in the way here and there. I think then, though, I was just more likely to back down when faced with opposing opinions from within that unit. I wanted to please everyone so much that I found myself to be a bit more passive in my approach for things I wanted to fight for. I’ve experienced a lot in those years since and have taken all of it into account to really learn from. The biggest change I have noticed within my artistry personally is something that is very similar to the way I felt before I had any success or a label and I was just back in New York writing from the heart. I am leading with what feels right for me rather than what I feel is right for someone else. I’ve been so inspired to explore the many facets of my abilities and range and not put myself in this unnecessary box I so long thought I needed to be in.

V In terms of what this song’s about – why do you think we so easily put aside our own best interests for others when, logically, this makes no sense?

P You know I honestly think it’s just much easier to deal with other people’s shit than your own sometimes, simply. I’m sure you have had that realization of catching yourself giving someone the most brilliant fucking advice ever and as you’re relaying it you’re like “why don’t I listen to myself more often??”. I know for me I’ve always just had this empathetic nature and I never really knew what it truly was until the last few years when I sit back and think about how tired, exhausted and crazy I make myself over OTHER PEOPLE’S PROBLEMS! Empathy is this weird thing that I both hate and wouldn’t trade for the world… I genuinely want people to be at their best, especially when it’s those I care for. it pains me in a way I can’t really describe if they’re not. I didn’t know the toll it was taking on me though until these last few months and now I’ve been making a valiant effort to treat myself with the same care and concern I give to those around me.

V Hopefully lockdowns and lockdown relationships will be a once in a lifetime thing. Are you happy that this one was the one you had?

P Omg, even the word lockdown incites a twitch in my eye lol this has all been so insanely odd and unimaginable. I know it’s the same for absolutely everyone, but I do hope that lockdown love is a one time thing as well hahaha. Look this happened in the most amazing way… I met this guy about 2 days before lockdown started in LA… on a dating app… we went on a date like the last night before quarantine started and then when it did we just were like… let’s keep hanging out? It was truly a universe thing and I have to say the months of quarantine became some of the absolute best of my life. When you’re dating or getting to know someone in quarantine it’s like you’re going backwards… you can’t hide behind a bar or restaurant buzz.. you’re at one of your respective homes… seeing all the shit good bad and ugly right away. It’s such a wild way to get to know someone. Quickly I learned so much about him and I saw so many parallels in his upbringing and mine… (crazy religious father, sexuality repression, body image, commitment, trust) allll of the things. I took those on because I genuinely felt such a connection that blew my mind and above all I felt that there was an opportunity for a true deep friendship and bond. That’s what ultimately happened… the closer we got it became apparent that we needed to be there for each other in this crazy time as friends first and I can safely say his presence and friendship saved me this quarantine… so yes I am super happy that it happened.

V What did you learn during lockdown that you plan to carry with you for the rest of your life?

P I learned how to say no and I learned how to just be with myself. I’ve always had this incessant need to be around people constantly & this inability to say no to anyones plans. This has caused me to spend way too much money, drink way too much, gain weight, become exhausted and it goes back to doing for others before myself. I learned that I was out socializing because I was escaping from facing a lot of my own mental struggles… I was seeking validation and needed to be everywhere with everyone all the time.I developed a fear of sleep unless I was with someone or with people… just really unhealthy behaviors. This lockdown situation was tough for me at first… I had plenty of anxiety attacks & breakdowns bc I was out of my comfort zone being with myself so much… but ultimately I pushed through the discomfort and found solace in being enough for myself. I also found out how important it was to have moments of selfishness & to say no sometimes. This may seem trivial but it has been a life changing realization for me.

V Were you the type that got creative while in lockdown, or who just sort of took it day by day since, you know, Armageddon?

P I’ll be honest the first few weeks I was in this whirlwind thing and had no clue how long it was gonna last so I saw it as a full blown escape and opportunity to drink wine as much as I wanted hahaha. I also am a SEVERE hypochondriac so this whole thing was the most for me lol.. so I didn’t want to really go to any studio or do anything… my mind was all over the place. I wasn’t creative at all until my manager introduced me to Colin Brittain who produced the single. It was just a timing thing where I was a few months into this whole quarantine thing… and it was at a point with the lockdown love that was getting difficult.. the push and pull was happening (which is what high tide low tide is all about)… so I agreed to go in and work with him one day socially distanced and masked… and this song came about in minutes. Since then, I’ve not been able to stop working and it’s felt more liberating than anything I’ve done in years.

V What can we expect from you in terms of new music (after this)?

P I’ve been on a roll. Not to mention I had several projects prepped before I even got the new deal and all of the new material started coming about. The music really touches on what’s happened since my first project. I call myself a gambler in life because I find I am always taking chances on people… in work, love, friendships etc. I am constantly getting fucked over or finding myself wrong about a situation… of course sometimes I’m also lucky and I land right where I am supposed to. That’s life though, it’s The Gamble you take. I’ve written a lot about this lockdown love as well so I’ve made some space for that on the first part of the project… but overall this next bit of work is about being even more honest than before… with myself… with my own demons… the demons of those I love, my empathy, overcoming trauma, acceptance and finding true understanding of who the fuck I am as a human.

V “With great power comes great responsibility,” and all that. Now that you really have power over your own sound, do you feel any more or less nervous about your work? I can imagine sometimes, that newfound autonomy can almost be intimidating.

P I feel nervous about everything I do. I am a nervous fucking wreck always. I just so desperately want to make sure that I am always creating honest work that someone somewhere can latch on to and find a piece of their story within. I am here to tell my story so that others can find it within themselves to tell theirs. My only responsibility is to not mince my words and to forever tell the truth in the only way that I know how, to sing it.

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