The work of Melbourne quartet Parsnip lands somewhere between the ancestral garage pop of Shadows of Knight and the pointed punk commentary of X-Ray Spex. There’s a playfulness to their seriousness, which shouldn’t really work in this context, but the band is able to navigate these tricky thematic and musical deviations in a way that allows their ideas to invade your heart while simultaneously challenging your preconceptions about what punk, pop and rock can be.
Over the last couple of years, Parsnip has released two 7-inch singles, one in 2017 (which is basically a 4-track EP) and 2018’s “Feeling Small.” These earlier recordings display a preternatural ability on the part of the band to dismantle and reconfigure a wide cross-section of influences and impulses, not an easy thing to do considering the often-disparate sounds within which they work. Casually travelling from whimsical ‘60s pop and folk à la Dr. Strangely Strange and Fresh Maggots to something more in the pop-centric punk vein of The Only Ones and Rich Kids, they incorporate these dramatic inspirations without sacrificing their own unique perspective.
Their forthcoming debut full-length, “When the Tree Bears Fruit” (due out August 30 via Trouble in Mind Records), continues these sonic explorations, crafting a complicated and intensely catchy miasma of various aesthetics and the techniques by which the band entangles itself in these sounds. Fantastical pop movements coexist alongside more ragged guitar theatrics, all in service to the band’s broad rhythmic palette. It’s an instant wonder, and one that refuses to be easily labelled or forgotten.
Influenced and inspired by the writings of guru-poet Sri Chinmoy, the record takes on his idea that a tree will offer its fruit to anyone who walks by, regardless of any outside characterization – there is no partiality or prejudice. Parsnip offers their music in much the same way, to anyone willing to listen and share their time for a short period of time. Along with the band’s guileless melodic immersion, it’s this sense of overwhelming openness and inclusivity that sets these songs apart from others who tread the same musical waters.
Bassist and main lyricist Paris Rebel Richens sat down with The Southern Sounding recently to discuss some of the records which have influenced her own trajectory as a musician and how those same records have inspired the tone of Parsnip’s debut album. Check out her picks and thoughts below.
Daniel Johnston - “More Songs of Pain”
It’s difficult for me to choose just one of Daniel Johnston’s cassettes when he has so much material - all equally as heartbreaking and funny and true. When I first came across Daniel, I used to spin “More Songs of Pain” a fair bit, particularly the track “Poptunes.” I’ve always admired Daniel’s storytelling and vast imagination, his raw expression of hope and joy and sorrow and all the background noise and family banter throughout. Entering his world is a wonderful form of escapism. I love Daniel like a dear friend, and he came into my life right when I needed one.
Paul and Linda McCartney - “Ram”
I’m a big fan of diverse albums that explore all different avenues of sounds and moods. On “Ram,” Paul and Linda allowed for plenty of freedom to express their new lives and landscape together. It’s colourful, playful and wildly imaginative – just how I like it! I tend to lose all inhibitions during the chorus (“Hand across the water!/Heads across the sky!”) on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.”The toffee English humour always makes me giggle too, “I had another look and I had a cup of tea and a butter pie! A butter pie? The butter wouldn’t melt so I put it in a pie!”
Sunforest - “Sound of Sunforest”
“Sound of Sunforest” is another album I consider significant for its varying sounds and story telling. At times it is a medieval fairy tale, and draws similarities to Sagittarius’ sunshine pop mastery, but then busts a groove on tracks “And I Was Blue” and “Lady Next Door.” They don’t shy away from silly voices and noises which for me is just a dream to take in. A magnificent and magical effort for their only release.
Syd Barrett - “The Madcap Laughs”
I consider Syd Barrett’s song writing pretty well unattainable, and I could only dream of creating anything of his far-out calibre. I don’t even really have a clue what he is singing about sometimes … but his Edward Learian nonsense and word play is a real jaunt to chant along to. It’s broken and a little dark at times but then is lifted up through a sweet, childlike lens. I have a lot of rubbish from early attempts at song writing trying to piece together Barrett-esque lyrics, nothing worth seeing the light of day but it certainly helped craft a voice of my own.
Pearls Before Swine - “One Nation Underground”
I love this for its awkward fragility. “One Nation Underground” could fall apart at any moment, it’s so awry – the kind of thing I am very easily drawn to, the weirder the better! “Drop Out!” seems like an appropriate song title for the strange, loose changes between verse and chorus that only just manage to knit together. My favourite track “(Oh Dear) Miss Morse” is a sweet little tune that just sounds so wrong it’s right. Vale Tom Rapp and your gorgeous lisp!