STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
Joseph Parsons used to be a staple in the Philadelphia area singer-songwriter scene. Since the late 1980s he performed as a solo artist and later with 4 Way Street, which morphed into US Rails.
And then he fell in love with a German woman. In 2008 he moved to Berlin, Germany. His record label, Blue Rose Records, is located in Germany and he had toured in Europe frequently, so it was easy for him to transition to a new base of operations.
Philadelphia will always be home, though. And Parsons is in the U.S. for a short solo tour with Jess Klein and to record a new album with the band Hardpan. He is excited about the musical aspects of this visit as well as to spend time with old friends.
I spoke to Parsons by phone from a house in Sea Isle City, N.J. that he and his Hardpan band mates were renting for two weeks to live in and to record a new album. That was a surprise to this writer because as someone who had followed his musical career since it first began, I hadn’t heard him mention Hardpan – his band with singer-songwriters Chris Burroughs, Terry Lee Hale and Todd Thibaud – in years. The band released an eponymous studio album (Blue Rose) in 2002 and did a tour.
“And then we all went our ways and got busy in our lives,” said Parsons. “I was in 4 Way Street at the time, and Todd had a band, Chris had a band, Terry Lee had a band. And I maintained friendship and contact with each of them through the years.
“And then finally… in 2013, (Blue Rose Records) said, ‘You think Hardpan would get together and play our Christmas party?’ And (we) all said ‘Yeah, why not?’ So the label flew everybody in to northern Germany, to where I live, actually. And we rehearsed and then played this really fun, great gig.”
That inspired the band to tour in Europe in 2015 and they decided to record another album, which brought them to Sea Isle City.
“We were going to go to a cabin in Vermont, originally. And then that fell through. The idea was to build the recording around what we do, and how we interact musically with each other. We don’t know what we’re going to do. Sometimes I’ll play bass or I’ll play a snare or I’ll play the guitar, electric or acoustic. Everybody switches around” explained Parsons.
“We just felt like we wanted to do it together and we wanted to be really comfortable. And because of technology and the talent of people we know, we looked around and we said, “Well, you know, this is a perfect gig for Matty” [Matt Muir, studio engineer and Parsons’ former band mate in 4 Way Street and US Rails].
So the first week in Sea Isle the band did pre-production and the second week was for recording. They plan to release the album this fall and tour Europe in November. Sorry U.S. fans.
But Americans, don’t fret. You too have an opportunity to see Joseph Parsons. After the two weeks of recording Parsons will embark on a northeast U.S. solo tour with Jess Klein, which makes a stop at Burlap and Bean in Newtown Square.
“Jess and I, we’re label-mates, and we played a festival a few years ago together, and we just hit it off… we had a lot of respect for what each other was doing. She’s a great singer, she’s got great songs, and she’s fun and she travels well… so I just sort of dovetailed (the tour) with making the Hardpan record.”
This will be Parsons’ first tour in the U.S. since 2008, other than a tour in 2014 with his former band US Rails, which he amicably left to focus on his solo career and other projects.
Although Parsons did a solo tour in Europe last year, he is most accustomed to recording and touring with his band, which has been together for 10 years. The Joseph Parsons Band features Philadelphia’s renowned Ross Bellenoit (guitars), Freddi Lubitz (bass) and Sven Hansen (drums and percussion).
As for the potential difficulties of having one band member in the U.S. and the others in Germany, Parsons considers the logistical elements “minimal” and says he doesn’t even think about them.
“I can’t replace Ross. (He) is probably the best guitar player I’ve ever known. Sven and Freddi, they’re each the same. They’re all a dream to work with. If any one of these guys left, (the band) would probably break up. It just wouldn’t be the band anymore. It’s a family thing, almost. And it’s intuitive.”
Most recently the band recorded and toured to support The Field The Forest (Blue Rose, 2016), Parsons’ latest recording. He explained that it wasn’t until the songs were fully recorded and he was having trouble sequencing the album that he realized it needed to be divided into two distinct parts.
“‘The Field’ represents something sort of light, a little more love-oriented, and ‘The Forest’ is more adventurous and darker, rockier.”
Parsons will find himself alone on stage this time but he looks forward to the experience.
“Last year I did a pretty extensive solo tour in Europe and I had such a great time. I normally tour with a band or a duo or some other side project, and I really had a great time touring. I (was) able to go into my catalog and play what I wanted to play… and so that’s kind of what I’m focusing on.”
He added: “I take requests, and… I just make sure I know some of the older stuff and stuff that I love to play. It’s exciting for me. So that’s what people can expect. I’m doing old stuff, new stuff, everything in the middle and requests.”