The cover of Parcels’ 2018 self-titled debut album hinted at a band going places. There they stood: fresh-faced, playful, dressed as the airline crew of a private jet, hopelessly pining for the stylish passenger just striding out of shot. It captured a young band in their ascendant phase.
Compare it now to the artwork of single ‘Comingback’, from their upcoming second album ‘Day/Night’. The ’70s sheen has gone, instead, a solitary guitar case sits on a dusty runway, alone under the wing of a small aircraft. A shadow shows one of the band (or, perhaps, cabin crew) strumming a guitar. After years of slick presentation, Parcels are painting a lonelier, more honest picture of themselves.
To make their new album ‘Day/Night’, the band hit the ejector seat, bailed out of the high life and went back to basics. It is a sprawling double-album, full of – deep breath – orchestral movements, vintage pop ditties and acoustic excellence. It’s a deeper, darker concept album that ruminates on the role of light and dark and the cyclical nature of our lives. A marvellous, fascinating collection of songs, it’s the type of drastic reinvention bands save for decades down the line.
The band haven’t abandoned the disco-pop goodness of their debut completely, but there’s a clean break and shift to denser, knottier songwriting and lyrics to kick off their new era. “It was a way of escaping,” frontman Jules Crommelin says. “Maybe it was a reaction from the start by going this route and taking out a lot of the electronic elements.”
When NME meets the band in their Berlin base – the five-piece left Byron Bay for Germany several years ago – there’s a calm air to the group. Our first interview location, a bright white workshop next to our photography studio, is nixed, Crommelin and Patrick Hetherington (keys, guitar) instead opting for a storage room at the back of the studio that’s nearly pitch-black. The darkness brings out their best conversation – they appear unburdened and relaxed.
“The project was a part of us trying to come back to nature with the whole day and night thing, but also a way of showing people how important that is: to come back to nature,” Crommelin says. “It feels like a reaction to that first album. This is what we needed this time: stillness and silence.”
You can understand the band’s – completed by Anatole “Toto” Serret (drums), Louie Swain (keys) and Noah Hill (bass) – pursuit of serenity. In a handful of years, they’ve gone from unknowns in a foreign land to festival stalwarts across the globe, worked with Daft Punk and recorded a daring live album with no edits at Berlin’s iconic Hansa Studios. Their most recent Australian showings saw them take on The Metro Theatre in Sydney and the travelling Falls Festival, while a show at London’s iconic Brixton Academy is due next September. Their globetrotting mindset – and sound – is paying dividends.
Parcels are a true collective, pulling in the same direction in pursuit of musical bliss. When the band head outside into a soggy courtyard for some shots with their instruments, a gentle, improvised ditty blossoms between all five members; you sense that the band could swap roles and clobber and still make something of real skill. That’s not to say they are a faceless group with interchangeable members, but the opposite: they have a startlingly strong connection.
That bond was only strengthened by the approach to ‘Day/Night’ and the intense period of its creation. When lockdown hit Europe early last year, the band had just returned from a period in Australia, where they’d rented a house in the forests of northern New South Wales. They’d hoped to take the plunge into the next recording period, but the Black Summer, the 2019-20 bushfires that ripped through the country, provided no such solace. As they describe in a personal letter on their website, a stream that ran by the accommodation almost engulfed the house, and seeing the disrupted, displaced wildlife – a dead kangaroo washed up in the flood – took a heavy emotional toll on them.
“It started in this place of feeling connected to nature and realising how much we’d been missing Australia, the beauty of the land and being connected to it,” Hetherington says. “But it ended with us going back and still not quite having an answer about where exactly home is for us.”
Crommelin adds: “I discovered by the end of our time there that the groundedness we were hoping for wasn’t really found and the question still remains. It’s like opening a Pandora’s box. It’s almost a running joke for Australians to be running around the globe and bringing their problems everywhere they go.”
They again went seeking that connection in Silverton, a small village in the NSW outback, earlier this year. Their live performance of ‘Free’, on the dusty plains outside the Silverton Hotel, attracted most of the 40 or so people that live there. But Parcels still strike as a band both keen for connection with the ground beneath their feet, but inevitably passing through, ready for the next stop on the journey back to home – wherever that may be.
“This is what we needed this time: stillness and silence”
That quest looms large over the project. It dominates ‘Day’s ‘Comingback’, where Crommelin asks if anyone else is “out here, out on their own” navigating these crazy times; “persevere”, he urges, “till we find our way home”. But on ‘Night’, there’s comfort in the mystery of not knowing: “I call this home / In the dark of the night / All alone”. By the record’s end, they appear no closer to any resolution and continue to wander.
They at least seem more content than ever with each other. In the project’s infancy, Parcels staged their own mini “bootcamp” where they tried to shed all preconceptions of their own playing and embrace a new approach to their craft. “It felt really necessary coming off tour and going into this next album,” Crommelin says. “We knew we had to get better as a band before we started recording.”
This exercise led to greater emotional breakthroughs, collectively and individually. “It was a conscious decision to create an environment together where we can really come into ourselves and create a space to be a bit more vulnerable together,” says Crommelin. “I feel very grateful to have this outlet. It was also the first time I’ve gone to therapy and I’ve got into meditation, but it’s just scratching the surface still.”
And it’s this emotional maturity that distinguishes ‘Day/Night’ from their self-titled debut. Streaming sensations ‘Tieduprightnow’ and ‘Lightenup’ remain deeply satisfying, but seldom do they examine the root cause. They were primed for live performances, but left the band hungry for more.
“When we were touring we got that release and rush from the feedback” of playing those songs, Crommelin says. “You saw it touching people in real time, but when that went away some of the purpose we had went away too. It’s a complicated relationship with that feedback, because I like it when people enjoy the music – which is the point – but it doesn’t feel like it’s the answer or the deeper sustainable feeling of purpose.”
Following the breakthrough period, the songs for ‘Day/Night’ tumbled out of Parcels, the vision of the record taking shape. The goal became two full records that operate as a cycle – opener ‘Light’ and closer ‘Inside’s string parts match up perfectly. At one point, they approached the album as a soundtrack to a film that hadn’t been shot yet: orchestral interludes and snatches of field recordings permeate the record. The influences of Quincy Jones, OutKast, Wings and The Band are felt in their own unique ways.
“I like it when people enjoy the music… but it doesn’t feel like it’s the answer or the deeper sustainable feeling of purpose”
“Once you split it into two, you’ve got more possibilities to go into each opposite,” says Crommelin. “We really struggled trying to bring everything into the middle, so two albums meant that we could go more organic, lighter, positive and soft for ‘Day’ and then for ‘Night’ we could go deeper and darker. It brought so many ideas from the strat, from songwriting to producing; we could go into this deeper space. It’s such fun.”
There are more ‘traditional’ Parcels moments on the record – see the throbbing ‘Famous’ and explosive ‘Somethinggreater’ – but there’s real finesse in the new directions: ‘LordHenry’ flits between the funk and the flashy, while the gorgeous, tender ‘Outside’ is their most affecting and complete composition yet. Are they worried about the response from the fans who might be expecting a pure bangers album?
“We didn’t really think about it,” Hetherington says. “We did what we had to do so it didn’t really cross my mind. I didn’t think about it once until we started releasing stuff, there was a moment like, ‘I hope people are up for this trip’. That initial fear gave way to the thinking that we couldn’t have done anything else – we couldn’t have forced ourselves to make anything different. Some people are always going to be upset with change, and some people are going to be up for it.”
Crommelin adds: “It’s so important to follow that muse. I remember listening to an interview with Lindsey Buckingham where he said that it’s really hard to get back if you lose the ability to follow your gut. It’s impossible to get that back.”
What’s your gut saying for the next move?
“Do not do another double album,” Hetherington laughs.
The band decamped to La Frette Studios just outside Paris to record the album late last year – recent guests at the recording complex include Arctic Monkeys (‘Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino’, 2018) and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (‘Skeleton Tree’, 2016). Hetherington calls it a “magical place” that they took full advantage of, dedicating the rustic mansion’s lighter rooms upstairs to ‘Day’’s brighter songs, and the depths of the basement studios to ‘Night’s shadowplay.
The group stuck with self-production this time around – “it’s too fun of a job to give to someone else”, says Crommelin – but invited some new faces into the fold: James Ford on mixing duties (Foals, Klaxons) and indie’s favourite violinist Owen Pallett (Arcade Fire, Wolf Alice). They wanted the duo to chase “thicker, rockier sounds”, but their editing credentials proved vital to realising the double-album format.
“Daft Punk showed us the value of putting everything else away and coming together to try and just create magic in a recording”
“James was the first person we really showed the album to and that was a really scary time,” Crommelin says. “We got a pretty intense mailback of brutally honest feedback. It was a bit of a test about our faith in the record.”
“Owen was also fun to work with and they were even clearer about his opinion on some of the work,” Hetherington adds. “We’d have them on the phone and be like ‘we should change this part’ and they’d say ‘no, that’s perfect’ – they were so clear in his vision for it so we wanted to give them a lot of room. You have to allow people all the space that they need, because if there’s any kind of contrived space, it won’t work.”
It’s not the first time that Parcels have played well with others. A crucial juncture of their career arrived in 2016 when Daft Punk caught them live at a show in Paris, expressed an interest in working together, then invited the band to record ‘Overnight’ in their studio. In doing so, the band joined an illustrious list of names who The Robots have produced, alongside The Weeknd and Kanye West; the duo’s shock split earlier this year means the last piece of music they publicly put their name to was Parcels’.
“It doesn’t make much sense still,” Crommelin laughs. “They really helped us reflect who we are in the music – that was a big learning curve for us. They showed us the value of putting everything else away and coming together to try and just create magic in a recording. I remember Thomas [Bangalter] telling us ‘you never hit it, you’re never going to hit perfection, you’re just going to get close’. That’s maybe a real esoteric way of looking at it but I totally see that.”
That is all that many of us can ask for in a record: the pursuit of evolution and growth, both musically and personally. ‘Day/Night’ is a record of epic proportions, spritely and serious at the same time; the sound of a collective pouring out their heart and soul into a record of real beauty. Perhaps, as Daft Punk once told them, they feel like they’ve not quite hit the mystical sweet spot, but from where we’re sitting, they’ve got pretty damn close.
Parcels ‘Day/Night’ is out November 5 via Because Music
Styling by Carmen Crommelin