Amy Jane Bedwell spoke to Parson James, gay singer/songwriter from America to talk about his upcoming visit to New Zealand, growing up gay on the bible belt, and the recent Orlando massacre.
Most famous in New Zealand for the massive single “Stole The Show” with Kygo (yes, you definitely know it and you totally have to listen to his amazing acoustic version right now), Parson James is a music buffs one-stop-shop for quality! A talented singer and songwriter, Parson harnesses his experience of growing up amidst racism and bigotry as a way of empowering himself and the wider GLBT community.
His first trip to New Zealand, Parson says, is long overdue. “It’ll be my first time” he says, “but I feel like I’ve been to New Zealand already, because a lot of my friends and the people around me a Kiwis.”
Previously Parson James shared a manager with our own national treasure, Lorde. “I’ve known her since she was about sixteen” Parson tells express, “I got to see that whole journey from the start. From first show to seeing her at Roseland Ball Room selling out four nights in a row.”
Parson says that he will never rule out the possibility of a collaboration, saying he’d be totally open to it. “she’s always blown be away, she is such a incredibly smart and genuine girl.”
But before Parson James was minging with the likes of Lorde, he was a young gay man growing up in South Carolina where racism and bigotry were regular parts of everyday life.
“Traditional is a nice way of putting [the religious situation in South Carolina]. It’s pretty extreme down there. From my inception there was chaos. My mom had me at fifteen. My father was an African American, and her pregnancy alone caused her family to kick her out of the house.”
Parson tells express that racism flew from both sides of his family, which made being a bi-racial child particularly difficult. Heaping on top of that the discovery that he was gay, and growing up was a long way from a walk in the park.
“I knew I was gay at age six or seven” he says, but admits that he didn’t really even know that being gay was because of the lack of education given around the subject in the state. “I’d hear words. A lot of derogatory terms and a lot of racist terms. I didn’t know where I stood.” He admits that he often felt lost in his younger years, something he tries to address in his music.
“It was very difficult. I went back and forth from one group to another trying to fit in until I got to this place where I realized I wasn’t going to fit in. I knew I wanted to do something big and something outside of these walls.”
Parson says that at sixteen, he was dead set on moving to New York to pursue his dreams and live his truth. However, sheding the small town mentality was a lengthy process and it took a long time to become comfortable with himself.
“I was still holding in who I was because of the fear of rejection and the fear of judgement. But New York taught me to be free to be myself and love who you are and that changed everything.”
Now Parson James is rightfully able to rub his success in the noses of the racists and bigots who had his life hell in his home town. With his music, Parson says, he hopes to reach out and help people who are experiencing similar feelings to his younger self.
“I thought of myself as the one kind in a town that is growing up and internalizing all of this stuff. There has to be and there are millions of other kids who are doing the same thing right now at this very moment. I get emotionally overwhelmed [when writing music] because I am speaking to someone other than myself.”
“A lot of these kids are so trapped, they felt like there is no escape. I try to build a message that you can be who you are, you can celebrate who you are, and love who you want. Your opportunities are endless. This life is mine and I am the only one living it. I wish that version of myself, that kid, knew that.”
This message is front and centre in Parson James’ debut single Temple which explores the struggle between religion and sexuality. In the song, he questions why the church tells queer people that they are sinners, and asks tells his listeners that the most important thing in life is to be yourself no matter what you face.
“I wanted it to be a message to stand up, and not silence yourself for any person because this is the only life you have to live. You have to love yourself and be proud of the person that you are.”
As a gay male from a state only one away from Florida, Parson was deeply affected by the Orlando shootings. He told express that “everytime that I think about it, my stomach turbs. I feel like I am going to vomit. It is incomprehensible. It is indescribable. I can’t put it into words.”
Although he has suffered in his life, Parson says that he doesn’t “know what it is to hate something that much.”
He says that the most obvious first change that needs to be made in America is gun control. “No one needs a f**king assult rifle. I mean, look at the name. Assult Rifle. What the hell are you doing with that? You can go to a Walmart and buy one of those in America. It is bonkers.”
He says that there is also a need for the GLBT community to work together to achieve universal acceptance. “Within our community, there is so much self hatred for being homosexual because of the way that society makes us feel – and sometimes, even within the gay community. You can’t block out your brothers and sisters.”
While in New Zealand, Parson is putting on a free one night show to raise money for the families of the victims of the Orlando massacre. Taking place at St Mary’s Church in Parnell on 10 July, Parson says that this is his opportunity “to give something back” to a community which has supported him. Performing with him will be New Zealand’s own GALS, Gay and Lesbian Singers. As well as being down here to promote his music, he’s going to meet with local indigenous and LGBT groups to share his story to raise awareness.
“I’m in a great place where I love myseslf. I am in a healthy relationship and doing what I love. I want people to know that it get’s better.”