On April 30th, Parcels released an eerily prescient video of a live set they’d recorded at Berlin’s legendary Hansa Tonstudio; playing to an invisible audience (aside from a few camera crew members), often from behind plate glass, the whole experience feels very unwittingly “now”.
Seemingly a distant memory at this point, Parcels kicked off the new year with a string of dates in their native Australia, and the sunny snaps they captured from the journey paint a fairly idyllic portrait of what most people hoped 2020 would be – fruitfully productive in the breeziest, most posi-vibes way possible.
Then, a pandemic happened.
Back in their home base of Berlin when lockdowns started to domino worldwide, the transplants paused on writing new material together to hunker down apart. And while Germany is on track to begin easing restrictions, the music scene will likely be one of the slowest facets to return to “normal”, if such a word manages to retain any value moving forward.
So where does that leave the five-piece? I had a chat to Patrick Hetherington last week to find out about all that and more:
How are things where you are right now? I think I heard the restrictions are going to ease up a bit soon, yeah?
Yeah, I just read in the news today that they officially announced that the numbers are going down, so they’re going to start opening things up, and things will go back to normal slowly.
That’s good news! It also sounds like Germany is one of the best places to be for self-employed creatives. It seems like there’s a decent safety net in place. (Much better than whatever we have here in the US, anyway.)
Yeah. There are a lot of people who are struggling, but I’ve been pretty amazed about the social support system compared with a lot of other places.
So regardless of whether or not things start getting back to semi-normal where you are, global touring is kind of super fucked for a while. I’ve spoken to a few people who were meant to be on the road right now, and several have mentioned feeling added pressure to create during this forced downtime. Are you guys experiencing any of that?
It’s that classic thing that everyone’s talking about, the pressure to use this time productively. I started off really productive, and then I started going totally crazy; I felt this pressure to be writing music every day, therefore I got stuck. So I’ve been jumping back and forth between trying to let go and just let it come, and then also feeling the pressure.
Same. (Not in a musical sense, just in a sort of existential sense.)
Yeah, I think everyone’s asking themselves a lot of questions. Today I’m really feeling it; I’ve been stuck for the last few days with music and…just everything. So today I’m reshuffling my room, trying to get some fresh inspiration in here by moving everything around.
I’m on the verge of that. Haven’t moved anything yet physically, but have been imagining some new layouts in my mind. We’ll see how bored I get. Now, you guys also just released the video from your live studio set, which is actually perfect timing. When did you actually decide to create it in the first place? It was well before all of this, right?
Totally. I think we wanted to do it for a long time; it was always the plan, even when we were making the album, to have a live version of it. It really came together after we toured the first album we made, because by the end of it we had a set that felt really tight, really exciting, and we thought we should end the chapter by putting it out there. It kind of came roundabout.
Was it a quick process to film it? Not too many takes?
Yeah, we were really tight. We practiced a lot and played so many shows that it just felt deeply ingrained. But it was kind of a whole different experience; obviously we were in the studio with no crowd, so there was a lot of pressure. We were all much more nervous than we would’ve been playing for a big crowd. But we only had two or three takes, because it was all to tape, and you only have so much tape. We had to nail it.
Does it feel strange to watch yourselves back in that environment? Any faces you didn’t realize you made? [Laughs]
[Laughs] I’m used to seeing my strange faces in stuff, so I’ve become a little desensitized to it. I did enjoy this video, though, because it was really different; I could feel this weird tension, I could feel that we were all nervous, and then there’s moments where you can see we let go, but just a little bit, like in a really awkward way. Like one of us would smile or dance just a little bit, and I find it really funny and awkward in a nice way.
What was it like being in Hansa? Had you recorded anything there before, or was this your first time?
It was our first time working there. We went to visit once a couple of years ago, because Louie’s landlord was a mastering engineer there, and he’d just invited us to come hang. So that was the first time we saw it, and he was showing us all the original vinyl pressings of Bowie records and Bee Gees records and Iggy Pop and stuff, and we were like, WOW. It was pretty inspiring, and we always wanted to go back.
That’s so cool! Now, let’s talk about life in Berlin. When you moved there initially, it was sort of right out of high school, yeah? How many years have you been there at this point?
Five years now.
Wow! Had any of you ever been there before that? What was the major impetus to choose that city in particular?
It was pretty out of the blue. We were fresh out of high school, and we pretty much just wanted to go as far as we could from Australia. (Geographically, at least.) It was quite random; we’d just heard a few things at the time, that it was cool. Jules had visited once, but he didn’t really know. We just jumped in, really. I don’t think we were like, “Let’s go live there for five years,” I think it was more, “Let’s just go to Europe and play music.” We just fell into it and loved it.
And you had kind of an interesting musical progression considering where you moved, because I think I read you guys were much more strictly electronic-based, but now you’ve incorporated much more live instrumentation and things like this. Which obviously feels like it should’ve gone the opposite, because Berlin is notoriously the techno mecca. Do you think that’s a stereotype? That everyone is making electronic music and doing DJ sets in Berlin? Or is there truth to that?
I don’t know. I’m not 100% sure if that shift from us was purely internal, because once we got here and practiced together as a band, and got better as a band, we realized that we were excited to have live instruments in a room. But Berlin really does feel like a techno city, and it’s been quite hard for us to find a live scene. There’s a few bands around, but I think part of it was us wanting to do the opposite of what everyone else was doing here, what felt like it had been done. We were trying to fight that a little bit.
It also seems like a really interesting city to explore the nostalgic sounds that people often talk about with your music, because it’s got such a complex history. It’s not that nostalgia is outright rejected, but part of the whole reason techno popped off in Berlin the first place was that people wanted something totally new to move forward, and it was very political. Do you think Berlin will remain home base for you guys for the foreseeable future? Or have you considered relocating at all?
I think we’re really fluid with it, because we move around so much. We just spent two months back in Australia, which was awesome. I think we’re all really excited to spend some time in America as well. I don’t know what that will lead to. It just doesn’t feel like we have to choose one really solid home base and stick to it right now; it feels like we’re touring half the time and traveling around, but Berlin does feel like a really nice, calm place to return to. When you compare it to Paris and London, it’s just so mellow here. I love coming back to this city after touring.
I bet! Now, I know you guys had planned to kick off this Moodboard series right before everything went to shit, so what do you think will happen with that? Any plans to digitize it, or will you just wait until parties are back on in Berlin?
Yeah, it was ironic, because we were planning the idea with Carmen, our creative director, and she was like, “Let’s have a party called Before the Crash! We can base it on the 80’s stock market crash, have a utopian feel, and then we can have a dystopian After the Crash party!” Literally a few days later they announced all these lockdowns, and this real crash happened. There was something beautiful about that. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the parties in the end. It doesn’t look like there are going to be many parties for the rest of the year.
I know, it’s so unfortunate. Well, in the absence of parties and shows, what’s your plan for when the restrictions are loosened? Will you guys get together to work on new material, or…?
At the rate things are going, I don’t think we’ll be playing this year, but maybe at some point we can start throwing small parties. It would be really fun to play in little clubs and stuff. But we’re really excited to get together again and write music. We kind of needed this time; before the lockdown we were writing a lot together, and it felt really good, but I think it also felt really good when we were forced to split and all write by ourselves, have a bit of distance, and get that excitement around being together again. I think once we get back in the studio there’s going to be a lot bubbling out.
That’s what we wanna hear! And aside from that, what else are you looking forward to or feeling positive about that’s on the horizon?
It’s so strange to think about, because you really just have to put your mind in each day at this time, don’t you? I mean, I’m really excited to make new music and to hit the road, hopefully next year, and come to America. We’re so inspired by the music culture there. And then this is kind of a deep cut, but I really want to go to Russia. [Laughs] Louie’s dad sings in a Russian choir. He’s the choirmaster for a Russian choir. [Laughs]
Oh my god, what?! That’s kind of amazing.
Yeah, he’s Australian and he doesn’t speak Russian, but there’s a group of maybe thirty men from our hometown who sing in a Russian choir, and they learn all these Red Army songs phonetically. [Laughs] Anyway, they got invited to sing in Red Square, and it was supposed to happen on the 1st of May, but obviously it got canceled. But I’m really excited to go to Russia whenever they do end up performing, travel around a bit. So that’s a little personal thing I’m excited for.
That’s incredible. [Laughs] Maybe we’ll start hearing some Russian influences in your music. Speaking of which, the last thing I wanted to ask you about before we wrap up was whether or not (in writing new material) you’ve noticed any early evolutionary changes or vibe shifts that you can talk about now. Maybe too soon to say?
It’s very hard to talk about. I’m pretty inspired at the moment, and I do like to talk about it, but I just think nobody should take anything that I say at face value, because things change every month. I think this live album was a really good exercise in bridging our studio world and our live world, and I think we do want to follow that. We want to record more for our albums live in a room together. We want to capture those raw, live room sounds, and maybe mix that with some of the more studio elements. That’s one direction we’re looking to follow.
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