Music

Byron Bay’s Parcels Have Won Over Europe, Now They’re Coming For Australia

Inside the rise of one of Australia's most hyped acts.

It’s an unfortunate truth of the Australian music industry that sometimes, it’s not until a local artist makes it big overseas that we decide they might be worthy of our attention. It happened with Courtney Barnett, it happened with Troye Sivan and now, it’s happening with Parcels.

The Byron Bay five-piece moved to Berlin in 2015, barely out of their teens. In the three years since they’ve signed to super trendy French record label Kitsuné, released two EPs, co-produced and co-written a track with Daft Punk, performed on Conan, played festivals including Glastonbury and Melt!, filmed a music video with Milla Jovovich (a megafan), supported Phoenix on their European tour, and recently released their self-produced eponymous debut album.

Parcels is both a distillation of the disco-funk sound for which the band is known and a demonstration of what else they’re capable of. It’s sleek, warm and remarkably assured, especially in light of their age.

Parcels was Triple J’s feature album last week, and two of Parcels’ January shows in Sydney and Melbourne have already sold out. Finally, it seems, Australian audiences are starting to catch on.

Parcels Profile Interview

Photo by Antoine Henault

Parcels, Paris, Punk

Music Junkee caught up with keyboardist Patrick Hetherington and bassist Noah Hill a couple of months ago in Paris, arguably home to their biggest fan base (and home to their record label). It was the morning after a packed intimate album launch at Silencio, the noirish nightclub owned by film director David Lynch.

It was hard to get a good view of the band, but the new songs, three of which they were playing for the first time, got an enthusiastic response. The band are never sure how to take that.

Parcels’ success isn’t the sort that comes overnight.

“A friend told me something interesting the other day,” Hetherington says, rolling a cigarette in the courtyard of their hotel in Montmartre, near the Sacre Coeur basilica. Sunshine belies the crisp air but it’s much warmer than in Berlin, they tell me.

“If you play a song for the first time and people like it, you know it’s not a good song,” Hetherington continues. “It means it’s too dumb.”

Hill, munching a croissant, interjects. “That’s why ‘Comedown’ worked so well live! We had to change it.”

“It was just kind of silly,” Hetherington agrees. “So we refined it for us to feel better about it.”

Between their sunny tunes, sprightly live performances and committed ’70s aesthetic — a last minute decision to dress up for a Lollapalooza afterparty gig has become their uniform on and off stage, extending to their haircuts — Parcels can come across as an effortless, fun project. Contrary to the title of their Daft Punk collab, however, theirs isn’t the sort of success that comes overnight.

The Birth Of Parcels

A year in the making, Parcels’ debut album is proof positive of their work ethic.

The bulk of the writing and recording happened around this time last year. Over the course of a freezing Berlin winter, they “put their heads down and did nothing else,” says Hetherington.

“We lost our minds,” says Hill. “If you go to the studio day after day for 14 hours, you just lose your mind. I was talking nonsense.”

The experience was almost as brutal as the weather, but conditions were ripe for a productive if intense few months spent in the warm refuge of the studio. The band had a fair idea of the sort of record they wanted to make. “We decided very early on not to make a concept album, or to make it all sound the same, we wanted to experiment with different sounds,” says Hetherington.

“We lost our minds,” says Hill. “If you go to the studio day after day for 14 hours, you just lose your mind. I was talking nonsense.”

That much was palpable as soon as the album came out, with eight tracks that were very different to the three singles that preceded it (the 12th track is the closing credits voiced by local Berlin rapper Dean Dawson).

Parcels traverses surf-rock (‘Tape’), folky ballads (‘Withorwithout’), spacey psychedelic jams (‘Everyroad’), perky funk-pop (‘IknowhowIfeel’) and more. One track, ‘Exotica’, was named for the genre that inspired it, “a rich, American, white take on tropical sound”.

As always, you can hear some of Parcels’ abiding influences — among them The Beach Boys, Daft Punk and Steely Dan — but their nostalgia has a fresh, modern sheen, too. The record is an impressively varied, accomplished step forward for the band.

“That was kind of the goal, to show people what was really going on — the music that we played before, the music that we like, and the music that we can play,” says Hill. Dipping into different styles was also partly in response to being labelled a “disco band,” Hetherington admits.

“You don’t want to get stuck in a box, especially on your first album, then it’s an uphill battle trying to get out of it,” he says. “We love disco music and funk music, but we love all sorts of music and we want to give ourselves that freedom from the start of our career.”

Unusually for a modern pop album, long instrumental sections feature heavily throughout, something that fans have come to expect from the Parcels live show.

“The Parcels outro is a staple — we play the song we have, and then we just have fun jamming,” says Hill. “The amount of shows we’ve done in the past two years and have done similar things that typify our live sound, those things have crept into the album.”

Also unusual for a debut on a major label (France’s Because Music, with Kitsuné) is the fact that this young band produced the entire record themselves. Back in 2016, after signing with Kitsuné, Parcels were assigned a producer to help record their first EP, Hideout.

“The label put us together with a hotshot producer in London and we did a few days and just…hated it,” says Hetherington.

“We met him, he’s a nice guy, and the things that he’s done and what people say about him….but he just worked in a totally different way to us,” says Hill. “It was abundantly clear that we had our own way of doing things and we had to be protective of that.”

Their label was not thrilled when the band effectively fired the producer. But when the self-produced Hideout was a hit in Europe and beyond, Kitsuné gave Parcels their blessing to go ahead and produce the LP themselves, too. Hetherington says they haven’t ruled out collaborations completely, it just needs to be the “right people and the right vibe.”

“The only time that’s happened has been with Daft Punk and hopefully that can happen again sometime.”

Then Came The Robots

The Daft Punk collaboration, of course, was the seal of approval most artists can only dream of. Daft Punk approached the band about working with them after coming to their first ever Paris gig. The resulting single, ‘Overnight’, involved a few studio sessions with Daft Punk in Los Angeles over the course of a year and inspired the band to start recording in a much more “live” way, Hetherington says.

“It was the first time we just all set up in a room and played together, and that was the song. We’d overdubbed so heavily on the previous stuff and we were like, ‘Wow, there’s actually a magic to the sound of the room.'”

“In the studio with Thomas [Bangalter] he’d always be pulling out songs, like, ‘Oh, have you heard that?’ or, ‘Listen to this!'” adds Hill. “He’d just have references coming out of his ears…he had such an encyclopaedic knowledge of music.”

Ironically, considering they were learning from a couple of the world’s best producers, Hetherington’s biggest takeaway was the value of stripping things back to basics. “The main thing for me was just finding where the emotions and the magic is in a simple demo that’s maybe just piano and voice, and bringing that magic out with as few elements as you can — just forgetting all the shiny production tips at the start and just making a song.”

Close Quarters

Parcels have been near-inseparable for the past three years, sharing everything from the stage to their cramped Berlin apartment (it’s just Hill and Swain who still live together now) to the tour bus. Even for best mates, it can get a bit much at times.

“We’ve all gone through moments of ‘Fuck you, man,'” says Hill. “You do that a few times and realise it doesn’t matter and it becomes easier or something. But everyone’s sympathetic and has had those feelings before so it’s much smoother these days, we’ve all matured a lot,” he says.

“We toured less this year than last year because we were like, ‘I don’t want to kill myself this year.'”

The touring, on the other hand, is harder to get used to. During summer it’s especially relentless when they can be on the road for a couple of months at a time with minimal sleep and personal space. Early on, they learned that it’s ok to say no sometimes in order to preserve your sanity.

“The cool thing is that the bigger you get, it doesn’t mean the more you have to do, you just get bigger opportunities,” says Hetherington. “We actually toured less this year than last year because we were like, ‘I don’t want to kill myself this year.'”

Parcels

Photo by Jean Raclet

Regularly over the past year, Parcels have averaged audiences of a few hundred people at their headline gigs, but in places where they have the most fans, like Paris, Berlin and London, they might be play to a couple of thousand people. It can be hard to navigate the leap to bigger crowds and venues, they say.

“We’d be like, ‘Whoa, this is another level to what we’re doing, we don’t have the production and the lights and stuff, we felt out of our depth, and now we’re doing the same thing where we’re making this jump to double that size,” says Hetherington. “We can’t go any higher with these jumps because we need to be comfortable on stage first.”

“It feels like our lives have been put on audio, like the last ten years that have been leading up to this.”

They might just have to get used to these bigger shows, and quickly. At the start of 2017, they supported Two Door Cinema Club at Columbiahalle in Berlin, with a capacity of 3,500.

“Afterwards we were like, ‘That was crazy, that was so cool, and we were like, if we can play our own show here that would be so cool.” Just shy of two years later, Parcels’ December 12 Berlin show was upgraded to Columbiahalle. “It was a bit of a dream, it’s symbolic for us,” says Hetherington. “It will be our biggest show so far.”

The band are excited about their annual pilgrimage to Australia in January, especially with the increasing buzz around the band at home and with an album they are rightly proud of.

“It feels like our lives have been put on audio, like the last ten years that have been leading up to this for us, we’ve been trying so many different things and having so many different experiences,” says Hetherington. “Lyrically and in every way, it’s all come together in this big story of different moments pulled from different pieces of our past which is so special.”


Annabel Ross is an Australian freelance writer, recently returned to Melbourne from Paris. Follow her on Twitter.

Parcels will be touring Australia throughout January. See all dates and details here

Lead image by Antoine Henault