Always on the Edge of Shame
An Interview with Parcels
Photo: Antoine Henault
Balancing between lies and truth, Profet's Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström takes on an interview with Australian pop sensation Parcels, to find out what keeps them on the edge of shame.
There is nothing in the Pop Journalist’s golden codex that says we can’t lie. We haven’t sworn any oaths nor taken any pledges that restrict us to telling the truth, and nothing but the truth. This is why I feel free to shamelessly lie to the faces of Parcels’ drummer Anatole »Toto« Serret and guitarist Jules Crommelin when I meet them in a charmingly untidy tent backstage at Stockholm festival Popaganda.
Why don’t we start with a bit of background information and get to the lies a little later? Parcels, a band consisting of five young men, play an utterly popular type of falsetto fractured, dangerously danceable pop music that has granted the band access to stages all around the world. The members are from Byron Bay, Australia, a place known globally for surfing and the excessive use of a certain hand movement where one’s thumb and little finger are pointed upward in opposite directions, wiggling restlessly along with the rest of the hand. I tell Jules and Toto, two fifths of the band, that a good friend of mine from Australia’s Gold Coast has a T-shirt saying »I Hate Byron Bay & Surfing«, upon which Jules only says:
- That sounds like a Gold Coast person.
- We don’t like them very much, Toto laughs.
- There’s rivalry, Jules continues to giggle.
Parcels have come from their Berlin base to Stockholm to perform one of my home town’s most popular festivals, and they are as laid back as if they were about to go down to the beach to catch some waves. There are no visible signs of nervousness or angst when the band carelessly gets divided into two groups, one of which goes with an Australian journalist and the other comes with me into the shelter of a white plastic tent.
»You could walk down the street naked and you’d be okay«
- Jules Crommelin
Since I’ve purposefully lost my phone, as a gonzo journalism experiment for an interview with German producer and event planner Marlon Hoffstadt, entitled »The Definition of Berlin« , I have to record my conversation with Jules and Toto on my computer, using GarageBand to their amusement.
- I started on GarageBand, Jules says. I remember the first song I wrote for Parcels was on GarageBand, that was »Another Clock«.
- Me and my sister used to make rap tunes for our parents’ birthdays on GarageBand, using the loops and recording ourselves over it, Toto remembers.
- It was great, I had so much fun on it when I was fourteen-fifteen. Then I finally went to Logic, which is pretty similar though, says Jules.
- So you produce yourselves? I ask, getting closer and closer to the terrible lie I’m about to tell the boys.
- Yeah, but this record that we’re about to release we did properly in a studio, Jules confirms. There’s a bit of DIY on there but we try to keep it classic and do it properly, because we wanted it to sound good this time. We’re going for a really clean studio sound.
- And that’s difficult to achieve in a home studio, or in GarageBand? I wonder.
- Pretty much impossible when it comes to recording drums, or guitar, or vocals. Well, you can record vocals but they’re never going to sound as good as in a studio, Jules declares.
Here, dearest reader, when Jules Crommelin has announced that the Parcels sound is basically not possible to reach outside of a studio, I make way for the gruesome lie that eventually ends up haunting me for the rest of the interview in the small white plastic tent (just to make things clear to avoid confusion, it’s not like I’m used to enormous white plastic tents and therefore judge our white plastic tent for its smallness, I’d just like to point out that it, in fact, is one of the smaller white plastic tents that I’ve sat in).
- The album does sound like a Western American studio album from the 70’s, like a Toto album almost, I say confidently after looking around the white plastic tent nervously for a half of a second.
- Oh, so you’ve heard the album? both Jules and Toto ask me, surprised.
- Yeah, well, I’ve heard your singles, I lie after long enough time has passed for it to sound true.
Well, my lovely readers, I’m not proud of lying to two blue eyed Australian pop stars, but what should I have done? »Told the truth and admitted you were full of shit, not at all knowing whether the new Parcels album sounds like Toto or not!« Yes, that would probably have been easier, and less of a heavy weight on my conscience, but I think I mostly wanted to mention the band Toto to see if the drummer Toto would react at all. He didn’t.
- We were aiming at that golden era of studio recording, says Toto.
- Yeah…the 70’s…definitely, Jules says slowly, like he has discovered that I actually haven’t heard a beat of their new record.
- So that’s for the sound of the production, I stutter as Jules looks me up and down for me to crack. I forcefully stabilize my voice and ask one more question: When you write songs, do you try to aim in that direction as well?
Jules lets his guard down, like he has swallowed my lie or at least let it slip his mind. His mustache still trembles with distrust, yet he answers with ease.
- There’s less aim when it comes to song writing, because it’s just a mash up. When you write something, you don’t think too much of where it’s coming from. It’s a combination of everything you listen to, and then you make something yourself. A lot of people who have heard the album say it sounds really modern. I don’t quite get it. To me, we went classic but of course the result is a bit modern because…
- …because we’re living in 2018, Toto parchedly finishes the sentence.
- We didn’t want to make a throwback album, Jules says, we just appreciate recordings from that time. Personally, I don’t think it has gotten any better since the 70’s, recordingwise.
Parcel's upcoming debut album, which Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström hasn't heard a beat of.
Parcels don’t only sound painfully right, they look dashing as well. Their quasi-retro style of clothing filtered through the shine that comes to a person who has bathed in the waters of Byron Bay adds up to an alchemic equation that Mac DeMarco thought he had solved a couple of years back. Keeping Parcels’ love of past recording methods in mind, I want to know if they ever look back on the fashion from yesterday for inspiration.
- I look back at my own style and kind of vomit, that’s for sure. I had really long hair, Jules says and laughs with great effort.
I don’t know if he’s laughing at long hair in general, looking at my long hair and cursing all long hairs there are, because he has in fact encountered my untruth and still holds a staggering grudge toward me. He then, to my indescribable relief, asks Toto what he has to say about his own past style.
- I reckon I hit my style peak at fourteen, with this big fringe that came down and curled just perfectly around my eye, and landed on my cheek. My mum just came to see me in Sweden, and we were laughing about this short film that we’d made where I’m wearing a maroon T-shirt that’s about four sizes too big, and I remember having that T-shirt and thinking »Wow, this is such a cool T-shirt«. It was not.
- A Maroon 5 T-shirt? I ask Toto foolishly.
- No, just the color maroon, but I was into Maroon 5 at the time though, and I still am.
- And Jules, you only had long hair? That’s what you’re ashamed of? I needily ask in order to reclaim some honor to my brethren, people with long hair.
- And everything else, he says. The part I’m really ashamed of is when we first moved to Berlin, and I stopped by Kuala Lumpur where I got myself and all the boys some fake Adidas stuff, some T-shirts, some sunglasses and some watches. To give you an idea, I had really long hair, a black Adidas T-shirt, tight jeans and bright yellow Adidas shoes.
- Was that accepted in Berlin?
Both Jules and Toto laugh hysterically at my question. Maybe the oxygen in the small white plastic tent has been spent much too quickly.
- Surprisingly, yes, Toto chuckles.
- It was my ignorant interpretation of what Berliners wear. I’d heard that everyone’s going to wear black, Jules smiles.
- Do you still live there?
- Yes, and I’m wearing all colors now.
- So, that’s accepted as well?
- Yeah, it’s all accepted in Berlin. You could walk down the street naked and you’d be okay.
On this late summer day in Stockholm, neither Jules nor Toto is wearing black. Jules has a suede jacket on that matches the color of his hair and Toto is sporting an under-the-radar plain T-shirt (not the maroon one though). I am wearing a short bomber jacket in orange and blue, that once made my friend (not the one who hates Byron Bay and surfing) call me a color blind hobo, but I’m not ashamed. I have worse looks to look back at, for sure.
Also stated in »The Definition of Berlin: An Interview with Marlon Hoffstadt« , I’ve interviewed quite a lot of people from Berlin in my days, but Hoffstadt is one of the few original Berliners I’ve encountered. I mention this to Jules and Toto.
- It’s quite amazing when you meet a real Berliner, Jules says.
- But that’s nice, I say and recollect: Marlon Hoffstadt said that, if you move to Berlin and contribute to the scene, then you’re a Berliner.
- My girlfriend is a true Berliner and she hardly has any friends that are also from Berlin, Toto shares. It’s just a part of the culture there, I feel like it’s very accepting. Once you’ve moved there and been there for a while, then it doesn’t matter where you’re from and it doesn’t even come up in conversation.
- It’s all about being individual, and it’s cool to be underground in Berlin, Jules says. Once you get past meeting all these people and getting in a social circle, then you are a Berliner. When we first moved, we weren’t and I actually felt pretty alone in Berlin.
- But you still had each other, I say to cheer Jules up in an attempt to deny my lie about having heard his album.
The cheering up works at first, but not all the way.
- Yes, it made it easier. To be honest, I don’t feel like a Berliner right now, because I’m never there.
- But that’s due to other circumstances I assume? You’re touring a lot?
- Exactly, Jules says shortly, leaving no information on what he actually thinks of the constant touring with Parcels.
Jules Crommelin (left) and Anatole »Toto« Serret (right).
I think of another Australian band that once emigrated to Europe, with a lead vocalist who later moved to Berlin. Parcels don’t really have a specific lead vocalist, since they all share the vocals, but they are specifically Australian, just like Nick Cave and his infamous The Birthday Party. Cave wrote his first novel, »And The Ass Saw The Angel«, in Berlin but while this would be enough inspiration for me to move there, it was not the reason that Parcels did. Toto doesn’t even know that Nick Cave is Australian, if he’s not a very good actor fooling me completely.
- You didn’t think anything special would happen through moving to Berlin? I ask the Parcels boys.
- We hoped, Toto says. We’d just heard it was a cool place, that it was cheap and there was a lot of people who liked creating for the sake of creating. We were also trying to get out of this small town where we all grew up, which is also a great place but we were just hungry for Europe.
Over the course of my distant studies of Berlin, I’ve noticed that most people travelling or settling down there are into electronic music, which makes it interesting that Parcels, a very organic and non-electronic group, chose to do so.
- When we first moved, we were into electronic music, Jules tries to convince me.
- We got really into it for a while and then we tried to combine it with the fact that we all play live instruments, Toto says. From there we got a bit off it, and we didn’t want to limit ourselves just to electronic music and production.
- I got really inspired by going to all the clubs and really listening to good electronic music. That was around the time of the »Hideout« EP (2017) and then all of a sudden I got turned off it, Jules reminisces. I realized it’s all the same. The genre I was into before, it was just the same, I was really into it and then I realized it was all the same. Then I went somewhere else.
- Do you think that’s more about you or the music? I wonder.
- Probably more about me in the end.
- It was nice to go into this year and be like »Let’s make a pop album« because there’s no boundaries when it comes to pop, says Toto. We were able to take all these genres that we really like and that we really enjoy playing, and put them with a pop structure.
Jules most definitely agrees.
- It’s fun, taking your music and a whole bunch of genres, and almost fitting it into an idea of it being pop. It was a challenge at the start and I really enjoyed that thought process. We all like pop music, right? It’s all in us, so it’s like working with a guilty pleasure. I thought I’d never make pop music, but then I thought »Maybe I could, maybe there’s that little part in me«, so I just did it. Then I realized I can write the cheesiest pop if I want to, that I really enjoy it and that it’s coming from an emotional side.
- Always on the edge of shame, I say to conclude our conversation in the claustrophobically small white plastic tent at Popaganda this unnaturally warm September afternoon in Stockholm.
The sentence sums it all up, every word we’ve said to each other, me, Jules Crommelin and Anatole »Toto« Serret. All the way from Jules’ yellow Adidas shoes and long hair, through Toto’s maroon T-shirt and freakishly long fringe, onto the first flirts with a pop sound – Parcels is a band always on the edge of shame.