Recently we spoke with Parsnip and Hierophants’ Paris Rebel Richens, a Melbourne-based musician and visual artist. In the Gimmie office we collectively voted her our favourite song writer of 2019! In the past year Parsnip released poetic, playful punk album, When The Tree Bears Fruit; Hierophants released their “true wave” LP, Spitting Out Moonlight; and if that wasn’t enough, Paris also released a solo tape P.P Is… Peeping Piebald Past The Night! under the moniker P.P.Rebel—all on Anti Fade Records. We love her art too, she created some of our favourite local record covers including: The Living Eyes’ Modern Living, ORB’s Naturality and of course her bands’ art.
The following interview is an extract from a larger in-depth chat with Paris for a forthcoming book our editor’s been working on, which includes conversations on creativity and the deeper aspects of life with musicians like Gerry Casale from DEVO, Minor Threat and Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye, Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, Henry Rollins & many more.
You went bird watching yesterday, how was it?
PARIS RICHENS: It was fantastic. I’ve always appreciated birds. It was only about a year and a half ago that I started bird watching, I bought myself a pair of binoculars for my birthday. Yesterday was the third time I’ve been out with a group of people, I’m learning so much through other people, all the different species and different markings, so many look similar. I was the youngest person there, everyone else was about sixty years old [laughs]. It was really cool. I find “birdos” are just really lovely people, all really peaceful.
Do you like being out in nature?
PR: Yeah. I guess I feel like it’s essential for everyone’s wellbeing. Sometimes if you’re hard at work just sitting in front of computers when it comes to making music and stuff like that, you can just end up listening to loops of things over and over again, it can really clutter the mind and it feels like it’s essential just to be near a tree or something that might emanate some peace and remind you to slow down or clear the mind.
I get that, I swim in the ocean most days. Why is music important to you?
PR: It has a lot to do with my upbringing. My mum is a dress maker, she’s also quite talented at illustrating and art. My father has a massive appreciation for music. We were just raised to be creative. My older sister was a jeweller and is an artist now that works with beads and different mediums. There’s four of us, sisters, my next sister does art and helps with different collections at Melbourne University. My little sister is also a stylist. I grew up doing drawing a painting, music is probably the one that feels like the most direct expression, or maybe the expression that I’ve tried to achieve for my life.
How did you come to playing music?
PR: It started through Hierophants. At the time Jake [Roberts] and Zak [Olsen] just asked if I wanted to play keyboard. I had no experience really [laughs]. I still don’t know music theory or anything like that. I just learnt by being in the band. It was terrifying but it was also a great learning curb for me. I learnt through Hierophants how to write strange songs [laughs]. I felt like putting that towards other projects as well, it evolved from there.
I love when people are self-taught. I feel that way there’s no rules and there can be more of a freer mindset. Knowing theory etc. could have its pluses too I guess. I feel like being self-taught you’d have a different perspective.
PR: I have met people who can read music and are classically trained but then they’re not capable of writing their own music. They can play other people’s music basically but no their own. For me on the flipside, sometimes I wish I knew more than I do but at the same time I guess my song writing has a lot to do with what just feels good to me. Sometimes it might sound a bit strange to others but whatever I feel is right in that moment I’ll just go with it [laughs].
I find the Parsnip songs you write are very joyous and positive, but then you’re also very honest about difficulties in life.
PR: Yeah. It is kind of funny because some people just listen to our music and think we’re kids or something but, maybe some of the messages are coming across in the music… I’ve learnt through song writing how great it is to just create expression or emotion, so it seems like a nice thing to create happiness if you can or create joy or hope and be able to lift other people up at the same time. It’s special, it’s just a nice thing to share with other people.
Was there anything that was happening in your life that made you write to make music that does up lift people?
PR: Yeah, absolutely. A few years ago I got to a point where I just had to make some changes in my life when it was very challenging. Maybe some of that comes across in the Parsnip album. I was maybe a bit lost and just seeking, ultimately happiness. I guess I got to a point where I didn’t really feel like making music that might generate more pain. I think another thing is when I was going to a meditation centre, we’d sing all these songs about just bringing light and singing within the soul and singing about the heart—that was really uplifting. I thought that it was quite powerful, I’ve just taken that and put that into my creations, my song writing…
On your P.P. Rebel solo tape you have a song called “Die Before You Die”.
PR: I came across that idea through Eckhart Tolle, of shedding yourself, the ego or whatever, the things you identify with that make you up, as opposed to maybe just being present and knowing yourself as the soul, the inner essence of yourself rather than all the external associations—being who you, what’s in the heart.