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Parson James's New Track is a Love Song: "If You're Hearing This"

After releasing a successful EP last year, collaborating with the likes of Kygo and Betty Who, and signing with RCA Records, South Carolina-born singer Parson James has had a busy two years.

Not only did his track “Stole The Show” with Kygo top the charts all over the world, but the Norwegian producer also christened his recently released documentary with the same name. Following the success of his EP The Temple, James didn’t miss a beat: keeping his momentum steady with the release another new track, “If You’re Hearing This” (in collaboration Betty Who), the singer is also preparing to release even more new music later this year.

After picking up and leaving New York for LA, the singer sat down with MILK.XYZ to talk writing music, heartbreak, and more. Oh, and if you’re west coast—catch James at Peppermint Lounge in LA this evening.

Can you tell us about your song “If You’re Hearing This”? 

Well, “If You’re Hearing This” came kind of sporadically. I’m good friends with Betty Who and Anthony from Hook N Sling. We wanted to do something together to some capacity, and this song came about. It’s a song about longing for someone. The way that I envisioned it, there’s that perfect person you’re trying to wait for in your life, and you sometimes have these people come into your life for a season. Just recently, I got out of a relationship. I think that person taught me a lot, but I think as human beings, we’re all wanting love and waiting for that click, that spark. Honestly, it’s just one of those really beautiful love songs where you’re just longing for that personand my situation as well! I’m also wrapping my head around how I never had a relationship with my father or anything like that. When I was making the lyric video, I wanted to include this universal message where this could be you coming out to any person you may have lost contact with or may have been waiting to come back into your life. “If You’re Hearing This” is just that message to them. Hopefully, they’re hearing what you’re saying.

That’s awesome. So, you have a really healthy balance of collabs and solo stuff. How do you go about choosing which collabs you do and which ones you do by yourself? Do you write the song and then figure out if you want to collab on it or not? What’s the process with that?

Yeah, my first two releases were collaborations. The first one was a week before Kygo’s [“Stole the Show”] even came out. I was just trying to step my foot into the industry and I knew that collaborating could give me more visibility. So that first song that I did was one that I really love with Audien [“Insomnia”] was about me not being able to sleep. I really related to and connected with what he was doing with it as well. Then came Kygo and the same thing; he was able to add another layer to something that I created. As long as the person I am collaborating with is able to add their flair, it makes it a beautiful melding of worlds. I’m always down for a collaboration, in that sense. I’ve been really feeling particular, I’ve only had three. [Laughs] I could have easily become the feature guy, [but I’m] not about to fall into that world. Yeah, I am so in love with collaboration. I’m working on my own solo stuff as well. I love collaborating with some other songwriters, here and there. It’s just people sometimes. People will just bring something out of you that you never thought that you could really express. And it goes different ways, where a song is presented to me and I go ahead and put my stamp on it. Otherwise, I’ll write something and then I’ll find someone who can share their style and energy with the song.

That’s awesome! So you write all of your music, yeah?

Yeah, I try to make sure that I have an input on every single thing. Especially with the first EP I put out, and everything I put out since, and going forth with the record. I am a very honest, vulnerable, and personal person so it has to feel like it’s mine. And writing is so therapeutic for me that I could not go without not doing it. You know, there are some times where instances and things do come across where someone’s written something like, “Hey, what do you think of this?” It doesn’t happen that much, but sometimes it’s that exact moment where you’re just sitting there and someone presents you with something that makes you go, “Woah, this sounds like what I’m going through.” [Laughs] But, I’m not the one to be sent pitched songs and I’m definitely involved in every aspect.

That’s great. Can you tell me a bit about the Kygo doc that was named after y’all’s track?

I was so fucked up emotionally about that. That was emotional! I didn’t know about it, really. I didn’t know that, during the course of us performing, I didn’t know what the grand result was gonna be. And then they hit me up and they said that the documentary is named after your song. I was like, “Woo, that’s kinda crazy!”

That’s insane.

Yeah! I went to the premiere and I didn’t know what to expect. You know, there’s so many things that we we’re doing that everything was so fast and big that I didn’t have a chance to start small with him and grow. We just went straight for big, big, big. It was kinda mind blowing because I didn’t really have time to think or digest what we were doing. So I just had to sit for an hour and a half and watch a documentary to see the beginnings. We performed at Barclays and I used to live next door to that when it was being built. It used to be something I walked by every day. I had only seen grainy Instagram photos of it, but still. Even in that form, I was super overwhelmed. It was, honestly, an honor to be a part of. It was so beautifully shot.  

So did you know Kygo before the collab?

Oh no, it was one of those things where I had heard “Stole the Show” already. It was a ballad floating around labels and whatnot. Somehow his manager came across it through our label, RCA Records, and he messaged me on Facebook. And it kinda just went from there. I didn’t meet him until after I practiced the song for a full two weeks. It was already popular and we met and had to perform together that night. We didn’t really know each other.

That’s amazing. Well I know you spoke before about how you wanted to do a collab with Betty Who for awhile. How was that process different from doing it with Kygo, who you actually never met until the song was literally was out?

Yeah, that’s a whole different thing because she’s a friend of mine. It was one of these things that, honestly, it sometimes can be easy to approach friends on collaborations and sometimes it’s awkward. I have a lot of friends who are artists who I admire so much and generally look up to what they do with their work. I get freaked out and nervous to even suggest the idea. But then there’s some that are just so open and they’re like, “Let’s do something, we have to!” For [Betty and I] to work together it was just text exchange; just getting all the layers and pieces back and forth. It was a fun experience! We were super excited and amped to be working together. That experience was different because she’s someone I knew and was so comfortable with. I can tell her like, “I don’t like this,” or she could tell me, “This is weird,” and it’s fine!

So back in June you and Billboard celebrated the 30 Days of Pride. Do you want to talk a little bit about what it is, what your involvement was, or how you got involved?

Yeah! For me, personally, my platform has always been very open and expressive. I’m always standing up for the community and any opportunity that I get to speak on that I’m gonna take it. The Billboard Pride had a segment where we had to highlight a few LGBTQ artist and creators that have come along that inspired us in some way. I did an essay about that and what Pride means to me. For me, it’s such a weird time in the world right now. For me, Pride means being proud of who you are, obviously. But it’s also being invited to the party. There are so many elements that go into it because we all don’t want to feel left out, as a whole. I think that this year was important to highlight how important unity is. So, in that essay for Billboard, I kind of just touch on those things and highlighted the people who inspired me along the way. The trailblazers along the way, people who stuck to who they were, people like Madonna and Gaga, of course. I also had some fun elements with the Billboard thing, we were doing some Q&A on-camera stuff about historical gay events like Stonewall. Yeah, it was amazing.

I was just watching your music videos for “Temple” and “Waiting Game”. Do you want to do a music video for “If You’re Hearing This”?

Yeah, we did a lyric video for “If You’re Hearing This”. It’s just difficult to get all three of us together. We thoroughly thought this out—it tells many tales. Like I was saying before, the song could be translated from a perspective of someone waiting on their significant other to come back, or for someone waiting for another person to come into their life because they’re lonely. There’s someone waiting for that support from their dad to come play basketball with them because they never had that before. So, the lyric video kind of encompasses all of those things. I think it really tells that story very well. I mean, I did want a music video, but I really want all three of us in it together. We didn’t think that was gonna happen so we kinda thought that out, and didn’t think that was gonna happen. So we just put that piece of content out and I’m happy with that.

Do you want to talk a bit more about your songwriting process and how you started writing your new album?

Yeah, the first project that I put out was very much for me to deal with how my childhood and my past was. I was kinda overcoming these obstacles of acceptance and loving myself and celebrating myself. Those elements are still present in what’s forming my album. I also recently went through a breakup after three years and so that kind of jumbled a lot of things. In the past, my writing process would vary. For example, on the train, I’d get an idea, start voice noting it, then running to the studio sitting with pianists, and then singing out to get a song. Or it would be me in a room with a musician and we, of course, inspire each other. Now, I’ve been in this very tactile state of writing where I need a pen and a piece of paper. It’s very much like I’m writing stories. Right now, I think that’s what’s getting me through this. I moved to California from New York—I’ve been there for eight years. Everything that I know really is from New York. I walked out of a relationship and got here in the same month. You know, sometimes you think it makes it easier to run away from something so far and just be by yourself. What I’ve learned is that it’s a very difficult adjustment. Putting that in writing and physically writing every day has given me some of the most amazing material I’ve worked on in a long time. My stuff is always laced with potential hope and feelings adjusting to life on my own. I’ve had people around me so much and acknowledging how difficult it is while learning to grow. So, this record is about being honest with myself about my issues and my dependencies. Losing love just let me realize how beautiful life was and what’s ahead. Overall, I think the record is still uplifting.

Do you think it made it easier to write in LA, not only because you were out of a relationship, but also because so many musicians and producers are everywhere in California?

Yeah, I was so anti-LA. I was totally the New York guy. I was like, “Fuck this place, it sucks!” [Laughs] I’ve said it so many times like, “I’m never ever moving there.” And, of course, situations arise where you kind of have no control. When I got here, I found this group of friends who I’d known but got really close to earlier this year. They were basically living in this house. One of my friends was an artist and his other roommates were producers. Every single morning they would not allow themselves to do anything fun or anything else unless they created something. I just thought that was super inspiring.

That’s such a cool environment.

It’s so amazing and I was so overwhelmed that I kept pushing my flights back. I was like, “I want to stay because it just feels really good. This is what it should be like.” Everyone was so collaborative and so open to working. Getting here was definitely one of the best decisions, creatively. It’s not only just because of the atmosphere or how beautiful it is, but it’s also just working with a creative to collaborate with. They’re just so much more accessible.

That’s great!

Yeah, it is great. Definitely easier than working in New York. You have to find people to work with. Whereas here, you can stumble upon the most amazing pianists.

Yeah, it’s random. LA is just so much more willing to collaborate. Everybody is much more laid back.

Yes! And, obviously, New York has a hustle. That’s where I learned my hustle and that hustle here is very different, I think. The hustle in New York is much more for ‘You.’ It’s like, “I don’t need you, I’ma do this myself.” While here, everyone wants to collaborate because they’re like, “Maybe you can help me make this crazy record together.” It’s really inspiring. I’ve been having a tough time adjusting because of personal stuff. But then now that I’ve been so busy with the writing side it’s been super awesome.

That’s great! Collab-wise, can you tell me about and collabs you have coming up or any collabs that you want to do?

Um, I don’t know if I can say yet. [Laughs] I can say that there’s two at the moment. I can say that there’s some British DJs I’ve been working with. Who would I want to work with, in terms of artists? Billie Eilish.

Wow! I’m seeing her tonight.

Are you? Oh my god, I just saw her the other day. She’s so remarkable.

She’s so talented!

She’s so nice, don’t get me wrong, but I was like, “Woah, I’m kinda nervous to meet this girl.” Yeah, Billie Eilish would be a dream. I think there’s so much good music and so many amazing experimental things happening at the moment. Khalid is another one I want to work with. I think that would be awesome. My main dream is Danger Mouse, but that might be a little unattainable. I can dream.

I love how much of a wide variety that you have already done and what you want to do.

That’s the thing! I definitely have a specific kind niche for my personal stuff, my solo stuff. I love so many different kinds of music so that’s been one of the most fun things to do and experiment with what I can do. All the things that I can’t do won’t represent who I am as an audience. You can definitely push the needle a bit. I think I was so laser focused on being a particular kind of artist for a bit. I was hammering it in like, “I gotta have the hat on! I gotta talk about religion, I gotta do this!” But you know, there’s really no rules. I love so many things that made me who I am. So it’s been fun to experiment. I think that when we get two worlds that are totally different, even if it was Billie Eilish, often times you make something so remarkable. Your brains are just thinking so differently. I’m inspired by so much.

Is there anything that you want people to know or announce?

I have a new single coming out, which I think is gonna be a surprise for people. It’s a song about thinking that you made the wrong decision in a moment of letting someone out of your life. You know that period where you’re just leaving a situation and wondering, “Is that right?” It’s a really straightforward and vulnerable album. I think people are really gonna connect to it.

Images courtesy of Luke Fontana

Stay tuned to Milk for more Southern stardom.

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