THE IRREPRESSIBLE PARSON JAMES
(Shirt by ASOS, Jacket by Sandro, Hat by Gladys Tamez)
Parson James knows a thing or two about judgment, ambivalence, and heartbreak. But he’s here to tell you there’s something better on the other side.
Almost every album review and interview with Parson highlights the fact that he is a gay, biracial man from the South who was raised in an environment heavily saturated with Southern Baptist values. But Parson can’t be simply defined by this intersection of columns. The Gospel influence on The Temple EP, released just over a year ago, is undeniable in both sound and imagery, as is the grappling with condemnation of being a certain brand of sinner in that context. But Parson can’t be ghettoized. “It does get frustrating,” he explains, “because folks do immediately jump to those words [biracial, southern, gay] when describing me. Almost as if that is all that makes me who I am…Yes, they are important facts given what I do and where I come from, but they don’t completely define me. Sometimes it can be limiting because it may give off the message that is all I am or all I stand for. I want to be known as an honest artist that makes material for all people. I want to uplift, inspire, challenge and unite. I’m a man. Not just a gay man. I am an artist and writer. Not just a gay artist and writer. I’m a storyteller with a voice and I think that’s important to know.”
Indeed, Parson thematically transcends race and sexuality, and his gripping narrative-driven lyrics speak to universal struggle: “Lyrically I try to be as honest as possible and tell stories the way that I remember them. So really my songs are short stories recounting the fucked up things life has thrown at me set to music. My southern drawl, addiction to gospel choirs and pop melodies just bring it all together.” Perhaps the most lyrically compelling moments on The Temple EP are those that demonstrate simultaneous reverie for religion while also being literally and figuratively iconoclastic. It is precisely this kind of inherent paradox in Parson’s work and the bearing of his own internal contradictions which makes him most authentic and relatable.
(Shirt by ASOS, Hat by Gladys Tamez)
(Shirt + Jacket by Sandro, Hat by Gladys Tamez)
The Temple EP very definitively makes a statement about acceptance and perseverance. There is a lot of strife, but also a great deal of rising up. Getting “bolder”, empowerment in doing what you want and need to do regardless of judgment or what is deemed societally objectionable because, as he belts in “Sinner Like You”, “Oh mama, we’re not alone/Don’t know what they do at home/But everybody got a bag of bones”. In the final moments, both beautifully and perplexingly, Parson rounds out the EP with “Waiting Game”— the kind of song that is devastating and poignant for any of us stagnating in an unbearably painful situation with no discernable solution. As it turns out, this is “100 percent” his favorite song. “I’ll never forget that time in my life. Never losing hope of what was ahead of me, but also in complete pain in that waiting period before I was able to do this for a living. That time of my life taught me how to survive, how to make something out of nothing and how to truly appreciate life and the gift that I was given. I cry every time I sing it”.
This past October Parson released “Sad Song”, a single from his forthcoming album, which he clarifies is anything but sad: “It’s my little baby bop! This song is basically about the same guy I’ve written all of my love songs about. I’m learning from our relationship constantly. I ran into him in LA one night and even after all these years I saw absolutely no change in him. Unmotivated, degrading, cocky. “Sad Song” was born after that encounter because I realized how insanely happy I was to not be in that situation any longer. It’s not a sad song at all. It’s an empowerment record about realizing your worth. I think too many of us are afraid to admit we deserve better and we shouldn’t be!”
The melding of emotional honesty, resilience in the face of pain, and a relentless commitment to hope continues to pay off for Parson, and keeps his fans inspired to look for light in the dark moments. “I firmly believe no matter how bleak life can seem sometimes, there is always a way to find peace and happiness.”
(Shirt by ASOS, Jacket by Carolina Sarria, Hat by Gladys Tamez)
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CHECK OUT PARSON JAMES IN THE LADYGUNN SS’17 PRINT ISSUE!