Synths and Surf: A Conversation with Parcels
I’m sitting on the top deck of Thekla, the boat that Parcels will be rocking tonight. The doors are soon to open and a queue has already formed in the miserable weather. Through a set of double doors comes Noah Hill and Jules Crommelin, bassist and guitarist in the five piece. Their moods are high as they take a seat in our booth and crack open some beers. “We’re good!” Jules enthusiastically tells me, “we slept really well, surprisingly.” There’s a high chance that this is to do with the fact that today marks the second night of a mammoth world tour which sees the band take on the U.K, Europe and Australia. Most shows on the tour are sold out, including tonight.
Parcels defy any attempt to late them. They’ve been called “electronic-funk” by Vogue and “retro-pop” by Pitchfork, and I’m wondering how far genres can go before they become fairly meaningless words churned out by reviewers. Funk, retro, soul, disco, its all apparent in the band’s distinctive style, which is constantly referencing their influences. “Funk, soul and blues is the music that moves me the most,” Jules states. It could be this simple, but for both of them it digs a bit deeper. As musicians their individual backgrounds may not be what you expect. “I was only introduced to electronic music a year or two before Parcels formed,” Noah reflects. “I was strictly a folk man.” Jules, however, has a background in metal. Noah calls him out on this and Jules laughs, turning away. “You should have seen him three years ago,” Noah laughs. “It was groove metal, you know, very riff based and groove based,” Jules interrupts, defending his metal past. Noah tells me that Jules used to live in his garage. “I’d be sitting with my friends and you’d just hear this riff coming from the garage and the whole house would be shaking,” Jules is laughing in the background. “They weren’t even wearing ear plugs,” Noah continues, “no wonder he’s got tinnitus now!”
The band grew up in Byron Bay, Australia, and this environment had a huge impact on them as musicians. “My whole family surfed,” Jules remembers. Noah’s family was the same, and he talks about his obsession with 60s and 70s surf films. “I started having these spiritual ideas based around 60s surf culture. The sentiment of not being part of society, and I was super inspired by that,” Noah explains. “Those aesthetics, fashion wise and music, it all plays a part.” Jules has the same interest in films, they both fondly remember iconic cult films Sea of Joy and Morning of the Earth. Noah continues, “that was actually one of the biggest ways I found music, through surf films.” Jules also has a background in skateboarding and remembers watching early skate edits, focusing on how each skater would have their own track to their edits. “I think that’s where I first heard hip hop and that got me into the 90s scene.”
Even though Noah and Jules are clearly fond and nostalgic about their Byron Bay home, the band decided to pick up their stuff and head to hipster capital Berlin. “It came down to us finishing school and just thinking, well, we don’t really want to hang around,” Noah tells me. “We were really into this band Whitest Boy Alive,” Noah continues. “There was a video of them playing in a shop window in Berlin with a huge crowd, and we just got attached to this idea. Berlin has been great to us. It just had everything we were looking for.”
The band’s live set drops them at the top of the game. Parcels have a blend of guitar, synths, groove fuelled bass lines and drums, whilst also using harmonies as a melodic addition. They’ve stated before that they wanted latest E.P Hideout to have a “live feel to it.” We get talking on this and how they come to achieving that goal. “Before it was all electronic, on a computer, and it was all really one person. The more we’ve played live we’ve realised it’s what we are good at and what we enjoy, so we want to bring it into the recordings more.” Noah comments. Jules agrees and adds, “It’s kinda the harder thing to do, recording wise, to make rigid electronic music but live, it’s a goal for us to make this electronic inspired stuff sound live but tight in the studio.” This is what Parcels are currently working on. After seeing them live that tightness and almost perfection is something they have already achieved. The vibe the band can bring to a room is outstanding. It’s impossible to stand still and impossible not to be blown back by the sheer musicianship and chemistry they have with each other. “It’s equally as rewarding [playing live] as in the studio,” Jules tells. “It’s way more enjoyable playing to a dancing crowd.” Noah adds. “There’s something really enjoyable about the energy of seeing a moving crowd, and it’s definitely something that we feed off.”
It’s not just the average gig-goer that Parcels have impressed. After a sweaty and intimate Paris show, the band caught the attention of electronica legends Daft Punk. “It barely makes any sense to us,” Noah and Jules laugh. “It’s wild, the whole thing was crazy.” They worked with Daft Punk for their single Overnight, co-writing and co-producing. “The vibe in the studio was great.” Jules remembers. “It was just so inspiring. We were just all focused on trying to make something sound good. There was nothing more to it.” Working with The Robots was, in some way, quite revolutionary for the band. Jules thinks back, “For me it changed the way I look at recording music.” There’s a moment of pause as Jules and Noah reflect. “It changed everything,” Noah admits. “Thinking of how iconic they are, maybe we should have been more nervous than we were,” he continues before Jules cuts in. “Oh, I was nervous,” he laughs. “Yeah,” Noah continues, “we were nervous, but not as much as you’d think and I think that’s just because they [Daft Punk] didn’t give us that feeling.” They give the sense that the entire time spent with Daft Punk was reflective of Daft Punk’s career of being so free which is probably a major aspect to how they became such icons.
Hideout is a strong E.P from Parcels and it sets the bar high. Upon first listen it’s easy to get lost in that funk and groove label but when you really tune in to it there are some interesting underlying themes that aren’t apparent on the surface. Some topics focus on subjects that create a sort of juxtaposition between the sound and subject, something that both Jules and Noah recognise. “It’s cool that you spotted that,” Noah says. “We noticed that only after it happened.” Surprisingly this was not something they were consciously working on and think of it more as an impact from outside factors. “Sometimes we attributed it to writing a lot of it in the winter, you know, that dark Berlin winter, or just personal stuff.” Despite this geographical influence, Noah does admit that they always wanted the E.P to be fun. “We wanted to create that fun music, but we also did end up having a darker and more vulnerable side to it, which is cool also.” This juxtaposition within songwriting is something that Noah especially is aware of with other artists. “You can write this happy sounding melody, but as soon as happy lyrics go with it also for some reason I just automatically find it cheesy,” he laughs. “If you can get the right combination with the music and lyrics you can find a nice place in the middle that works.”
As the bar next to us starts preparing for the night my conversation with Jules and Noah comes to an end. With Hideout the band have clearly gone through a learning curve and grown as not only musicians but people also. A new city and new people to work with have shaped them into more confident and creative people, but their honesty and genuineness sticks close to their hearts which is a trait I don’t think they will ever lose. I leave them with one question before they take the stage. If tonight’s gig is going to be the sound track to a film, what film would you want it to be? Both Jules and Noah pause, in thought, before Jules blurts out, “The Boat That Rocked.” Jules laughs, “I’m sorry if you’re disappointed! You got the cliché answer!”