I noticed that John from Parralox is very interactive with Parralox fans on social media. So I took a chance and reached out to him for an interview! I was so happy he said yes. I'd had so many questions swirling around my head about the history of the group. I hope you enjoy the interview. But most of all, I hope you support Parralox by legally downloading their music.
My questions are in bold. John's answers are in italic.
Hello John! I think I might have known who you were before Parralox. I’m not quite sure. Did you run a Human League fan website called Electronically Yours? I’ve been a Human League fan for ages. And when I saw your name, it seemed so familiar.
Close! I used the run “Hysteria” an unofficial Human League website. At the time it was the world’s biggest Human League site, especially after Barry Tomkinson’s “Dare” site closed and he kindly sent me his entire site to integrate into Hysteria. Later on, when Parralox was formed, we were greatly supported by an electronic / synthpop blog called “Electronically Yours” who championed synthpop bands. We owe a lot of our success to the synthpop blogs who supported us in those early days, including Electronically Yours, CyberAngels, Electropop (run by Ingo Moller!), Worrapolava and Popjustice.
Ah yes! "Hysteria!" I remember it! Now as you know, I am new to Parralox. When I first went to look Parralox up on the Internet, I went to Wikipedia, but there is nothing there. Why not?
Good question, we did have a Wikipedia page when we first started, but one of the Wikipedia editors removed the page as we weren’t considered “noteworthy.” I guess with over half a million YouTube hits plus official Chart Positions in USA and UK we somehow still don’t qualify. LOL!
<<2016 Update! Check out Parralox's Wikipedia page now!>>
Can you tell the readers how Parralox came about? How did you form the group?
I train a few times a week in Muay Thai and kickboxing, and met a guy called Roberto at the dojo. He’s actually a boxer and we started sparring together. I knew he was in a band (Tankt) at the time, but wasn’t really sure about the fine details. After a few months we got to know each other and realized that each other’s music experience was a little more substantial than we both thought. Roby’s band was recording a new album but needed to take it up a notch in terms of vocal recording, and so Roby’s asked me if I would record vocals for the next Tankt album (which I did). The results spoke for themselves and everyone was thrilled. It was the next evolution in the band’s development. The vocals now took centre stage and sounded pristine and amazing. After a period of time Tankt disbanded, but Roby and I still were training together at the dojo. I’m not sure how, but we toyed with the idea of making a track together. I guess he was at a loose end, and I was doing a lot of corporate work and major label stuff (demoing for artists etc) and I wanted to stretch my wings and start working on my own music again, which I hadn’t done since I started working commercially in Subterrane Recording Studio. We wrote a track together called “The Hangman’s Retribution” and we were very happy with the result. We then decided to form a band called “The Tenth Stage.” It was a Steampunk/Gothic band. Quite an amazing sound really. We recorded three albums together. During the last albums I started writing my own songs. Up until then Roby had written the lyrics, and I took those lyrics and wrote music and melody to them and turned it into a fully formed song. I’d never actually written proper lyrics myself. Well I had in the past but they were complete rubbish. Anyway I wrote a track called “Chez Mabuse” for our Grand Guignol album and then another track called “Travelogue” that ended up on the Tales From The Casket album. These were the first songs that I’d written entirely myself. I felt I had reached a milestone and there was a growing awareness that perhaps I could actually write proper songs myself.
I’d written a track called "Factory Friends" during the recording of “Grand Guignol” and showed it to Roby. He didn’t think it fitted with the sound of The Tenth Stage, and perhaps he was right. I felt like something inside had been triggered and I wanted to continue it. I was speaking with my friend Ken Evans (Tycho Brahe) about all the amazing synthpop that was coming out at the time (Ladyhawke, Ladytron, Little Boots etc) and felt like it was something I wanted to be part of. The music spoke to me and I’m an 80’s tragic…I think you know where this is heading right?? ;) So I wrote a total tongue in cheek song called “I Fell In Love With A Drum Machine” with a good friend Roxy, who I’d been using as a session vocalist on my studio sessions. I came up with a band name, manifesto, and image and leaked the song to the internet. The reaction was amazing! I knew I was onto something and so chatted with Roxy and asked if she wanted to join a band I was creating called Parralox. She said yes! And we then began recording Electricity.
And we are so glad she did! Did you always know you would be a songwriter?
Not at all. I always knew I’d be a musician, and was always obsessed with technology and synthesizers. I knew I’d be part of the sound making process and that’s exactly how I began. I recorded noises with my friends, and then it progressed from there and I started producing music for friends. Which then melded into writing, programming and arranging music! I found it easy to write music itself, but had little experience with writing top lines and lyrics. I always worked with songwriters who did that, so I had no need to write actual “songs” because someone else always did that part of it for me. That’s not to devalue the strength of an instrumental composition, but I was really onlycontributing half of a song. That changed with The Tenth Stage and then Parralox.
What was it like to record your debut album Electricity?
Pretty much a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kind of experience. After we leaked our first song “I Fell In Love With A Drum Machine” to the internet it was clear that people loved the band. Initially the project was all hidden and anonymous and no one knew who Parralox was or where they came from. A few blog masters started to suspect it was me, because of the sound, influences etc. After a month or two I made it public that I was behind the project. I wrote and recorded all the songs with Roxy in about 6 weeks and rush-released Electricity. In hindsight I should really have split the album into 2 separate albums! It was a great time recording that because I was so gung-ho. I threw all my musical influences into all the productions. It was the first time in my life I had been able to fully produce something exactly the way I wanted to without some record company A&R guy telling me to make it sound more like “the hit of the day.” It was an independent release and I really went hell for leather with paying homage to all my musical influences, both in terms of lyrics and sonic palette.
“Sharper Than a Knife” is AMAZING! Was it the obvious first single?
Thanks. I think from everyone’s positive reaction it was clear that we needed to release it as a single. Perez Hilton was a champion of the song and that really helped to raise Parralox’s profile. I remember my phone and email going wild with hundreds of emails etc. I wondered what the hell was going on and quickly realized that Perez had written an article. It was so surreal….It felt like we had a number one record!
Speaking of songs from Electricity, are you wearing "Black Jeans"?
Good to know! ~:-) Why did singer Roxy leave the group?
Parralox had just been together for about 6 months and we found ourselves in London doing our debut live performance at the Electronically Yours 3 gig. It was a packed venue and EVERYONE was singing every word to our songs. It was so amazing to see the positive reaction. It was equally as amazing when I got back to the hotel room with Roxy and she told me wanted to leave Parralox. I was shocked of course. But she wanted to settle down with her boyfriend and start a new family so I totally understood her reasons. We are still good friends, and I occasionally ask her if she wants to do some vocals for Parralox again, knowing full well what her response will be. ;)
Was that why there weren’t any other singles from the first album?
Hmm good question. You’re probably right. I think after Roxy left I was so focused on finding a new singer (see next question) that I didn’t consider releasing singles off the album. Which was a mistake, as there are so many brilliant songs. But I guess it didn’t feel right to release songs that featured a singer who had just left the band.
How did you find the new singer Amii?
How was it recording the second album State Of Decay with different singer than the first album?
I guess psychologically I had purged all the influences from my system with Electricity, and I was aware that I needed to venture into new territory, but still maintain a cohesive sound. I’m a prolific songwriter so the songs kind of wrote themselves. I have a technique called lucid-dreaming in which I will be dreaming and hear a song in the dream. Then as soon as I realize it’s a new song I’ll wake myself up and record it into my phone, which I always keep at the beside. Real life also is a great inspiration. I was also getting to know Amii’s voice and was really excited because I knew I had struck gold. She looked and sounded great. Again, it was a chance to stretch my wings and go nuts with producing an electronic sound that represented my influences, both past and current.
How did you get former Human League member Ian Burden to play on the album?
I met Ian while I was running the “Hysteria” website. On the website I had a section that included my dreams and all the imaginary records and releases I had dreamt up. Ian Burden had read one of them and contacted me via the website. Since then we have been friends. I’ve visited him in UK and he’s played bass on a few of our albums. It’s pretty surreal to think that someone from the Human League has contributed to Parralox. I guess we’ve come full circle in a way.
Nice! The first single from State of Decay was “Hotter.” I can never decide if the lyrics are tongue-in-cheek or serious. I don’t suppose you would care to comment?
I love how people misinterpret that song. Actually people tend to misinterpret a lot of songs, but that’s OK! It’s always fascinating when people comment on their analysis of a songs meaning. Most times they end up revealing ‘their’ inner psyche, not the other way round.
But yes, the lyrics are total tongue in cheek. I was doing a lot of internet dating back in those days and found it so shallow how people judged a person on just a thumbnail photo. That someone’s whole life experience and value would be judged by a 100 pixel photo is ridiculous. I guess it’s a commentary on the sometimes shallow nature of humans, and the fact that we could miss the opportunity to meet our soul-mate all because they were wearing the wrong clothes that day in the photo, or their hair was parted on the wrong side etc.
We were in full swing after recording State of Decay and I just kind of kept on going. I spent a lot of time in Europe that year so the songs have a very Germanic influence, which is also reflected in the title. It was the first Parralox album in which I sung lead vocals on a sung. I guess I was taking a leaf out of Martin Gore’s book. LOL!
The music isn’t similar, it’s identical! With the exception of the guitar parts and lyrics of course, they are the same song. Miracles was actually a thought experiment that manifested itself in real life. I set myself the challenge to write 2 songs, using the same bed of music. The first mix of “Supermagic” was much different than the final version you all know and love. It was a swingbeat Goldfrapp type “Strict Machine” sound. I then did a remix of it for a bit of fun, and as so often happens with me, the remix became the main version (see Aeronaut!). The new mix was inspired by Bobby Orlando. At the time I was doing a bunch of remixes and I dubbed them part of the “Bobby O” series. I wonder how many readers can find all my Bobby O remixes?
I think I saw or read in an interview with you that “I Sing The Body Electric” was your favourite song. Is that still true?
My favourites change on a daily basis. But that song is still very close to my heart, yes. "Time" is also a favourite, as well as “Mystery”, “Companion” and “New Light.” Ask me tomorrow and I’ll give you a new list. ;)
I'm the same way. My favourites always change! Parralox’s album Recovery was an album of covers. How did that come about?
I’d recorded quite a few cover versions for when we did live shows. And also as bit of fun and release in the studio. The fans kept asking for them to be officially released. It wasn’t until we recorded “Silent Morning” that I thought it would make sense to release an album with most of the covers we’d recorded, as we had already released a cover of “Creep” the year prior. We usually performed a medley of “Enjoy The Silence” / “I Sing The Body Electric” in our live shows, so I knew the album wouldn’t be hard to put together. The hardest part was choosing which songs to include, and which new songs to record. There were literally hundreds of songs I wanted to do. Not many people know this, but I use a number system for all Parralox productions, and all songs start off with a production number of 000. The songs don’t get an actual production number until we record vocals for them. You can see a list of songs online at Parralox.com/songs. I think at last count there are probably around 40 or 50 songs that are in demo form that don’t have production numbers. Most of them are originals, but some are cover versions that no one’s heard yet. Maybe in the future we’ll release Recovery II. We started a new thing by releasing our Holiday ‘xx series. The next one will be Holiday ’15, due for release in November / December. A while ago I started recording tracks from The Human League’s first three albums (Reproduction / Travelogue / Dare ) with the idea of releasing them to the fans only on Bandcamp. Then I’d record Depeche Mode and Heaven 17’s first 3 albums, and Yazoo etc. But after Recovery I realised that I wanted to get back to releasing original material, as I was worried we would be perceived as a cover’s band. Which is kind of strange when we only released one album of covers. I kept referring back to the Pet Shop Boys and the amount of cover versions they released, and how people (myself included) loved them all. As long as the music is good, then the fans will be happy, so in the end it’s OK.
Speaking of covers, your version of “Eye In The Sky” is so good. As soon as I heard it, I thought “John should sing more!” And it seems like you have since then. What changed?
After Amii left the band I found myself without a lead vocalist, but a whole bunch of songs that needed recording. The usual process for the band is that I would write and produce the songs and do a guide vocal and present them to Amii. I had a large amount of songs that hadn’t been used (including Aeronaut) and I thought I may as well record the vocals properly and see how it went. I never wanted to be a lead vocalist and find it a bit odd that somehow it’s now happened! I’m now recording songs with Johanna Gervin as well so we will share vocal duties, which gives the band a nice Human League kind of feel, or at least that’s what I hope!
I love how all the Parralox album and single covers have the same look. What was your inspiration for that? And I absolutely love how on Parralox’s website there is cover image for every song.
That’s an easy one to answer, Dave. Most of the bands that had a huge musical influence on me also had a visual impact as well. And it was common for bands to brand each album with an identity and stick with that brand as they released singles off the specific album, ie they would use the same font /logo for the band name across several releases. Depeche Mode, The Human League, Yazoo, Heaven 17, New Order and many others used the same branding across their album and publicity campaigns, and I always found that thrilling. It turned a group of albums and singles into something that was collectible. When you line up all the releases from the "Dare" album next to each other you just have to marvel at how amazing the artwork looks, with that beautiful League text standing proudly at the top of each record sleeve. Peter Saville was obviously a huge influence too, as well as Town & Country Planning. I knew from the beginning that I wanted all my releases to have a strict visual identity and be instantly identifiable as part of the Parralox series. My initial inspiration for the Parralox design ethos was The Human League’s album "Dare", easily one of the most iconic album sleeves ever. It still looks brilliant today, and I doubt it will ever date. There’s something to be said for simplicity. Many people have tried to get me to change the designs of the sleeves, and in my weaker moments I have almost relented, but I think there’s a strength in working within a design constraint. It’s not like I don’t have room to be creative, it’s just that I’ve confined my creativity to a rectangular box surrounded by a lot of negative white space!
I'm happy you haven't changed it! When did Amii officially leave the group? And why?
Amii left Parralox in 2013. She left to start her own band / girl group.
Next up for you was a side project called The Sound of the Crowd. Why was this under a different name and not Parralox?
As I mentioned earlier, I had a bunch of Parralox songs that Amii didn’t end up singing on, and I didn’t want them to sit on the shelf, so I eventually decided to release them under a side project. I really had faith in the songs and I wanted the world to hear them.
“Wildlife” was originally a Parralox song, as are all “The Sound Of The Crowd” songs. We might re-release Wildlife as Parralox, it would be nice for all my wayward children to return home. ;)
<<2016 Update! "Wildlife" was released as a Parralox song on the digital version of Aeronaut, as well as single. It came in at #3 of Poptastic Confessions favourite songs of 2015!>>
Now as you know, “Crying on the Dancefloor” was my introduction to Parralox. I’ve read that you wrote it for Andy Bell in Erasure. Thank goodness he declined! How did you get Francine on board?
Oh thank you! I’m glad you like it! Andy and I were so close to recording vocals for “Crying on the Dancefloor”, but then he told me that Vince and he were about to start recording a new Erasure album, so sadly it never eventuated. I caught up with Andy after the live shows in UK last year and we was very happy with the reception that “Crying on the Dancefloor” had received. In an alternate universe Andy would have sung vocals and it would have been equally as fabulous as Francine!
I met Francine via my manager Raj. I seem to be so damn lucky when it comes to female vocalists. Every single one of them has been brilliant. Francine and I get along like a house on fire.
Yes, that’s right. "Crying on the Dancefloor" was the only video that I didn’t direct. I thought I’d try something different, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out (thanks to the amazing efforts of Simon Wan, the director). I guess my favourite clip is always the latest one (Aeronaut).
One of the clips I’m most proud of is the animated lyric video to "Sharper Than a Knife (Pete Hammond Remix)."
It was the first lyric video I’ve ever animated, and I was happy to come up with a concept video that hasn’t been done before. The public’s reaction to it has been amazing! And I had so many offers to do clips like that for other bands, but unless it was a major like Depeche Mode, Lady Gaga or Goldfrapp then I’d prefer to keep the concept for just Parralox. Animating those clips isn’t rocket science, it just takes lot of research and time to deconstruct the original cover artwork and present them in a way that doesn’t get you sued for plagiarism! Each animated clip takes about 3 weeks to animate, working on them for about 6 hours a day. Hard work, but I love it. Once I get in a zone I just totally focus on all the nitty gritty work. The visual aspect of making music is just as satisfying for me as the production side.
YES! That lyric video is AWESOME! As is the the lyric video for "Crying On The Dancefloor!" Would you like to highlight three Parralox videos?
I only recently watched all the Parralox videos again, so they were all new to me. Once I finish directing a video I don’t generally watch it again, and some Parralox clips I hadn’t watched for years, believe it or not. I really like "Sharper Than a Knife", it’s quite funny and it’s nice to have a bit of humour in the clips, and a storyline, vague as it is! We drove 3 hours to an old convent in the country and filmed the entire clip in 12 hours. We actually had recorded all the black and white scenes about 4 months earlier, but when I edited that footage I realized that, as glamorous as the footage was, it was a bit empty. We then came up with the idea of doing some sort of a storyline. I remember we discussed something along the lines of “50 Shades Of Shit Grey”, but quickly discarded the idea of having any sort of bondage in the video. I guess the idea of male / female relationships stuck, and we ended up with the indifferent husband / cheating wife concept, which kind of worked with the lyrical narrative.
I really like "Eye In The Sky" too. That was another collaboration between John Ibrahim and myself. (He was the creative director on "Aeronaut" too, so you can thank him for the beautiful visions of Paris in our latest clip.) I actually built the mirror box that we used to film that video. It took about 3 weeks to build. I had to get all these mirrors, and then a 2 way mirror that we could film through. We ended up with all these lights projected from above and below (the top mirror had a hole cut into it so we could light the talents faces). Then Rowena and I both sat on swivel chairs while someone spun us around as we sang. Lots of fun!
"I Sing The Body Electric" was filmed at the iconic Hanging Rock in Woodend, Australia. I am completely obsessed with the movie “Picnic At Hanging Rock” and wanted to use that location in a clip. The song itself was so stark and electronic that I wanted a totally organic video to counter it. We filmed other scenes at 90 Mile Beach on the East Coast of Australia, and even though you can’t tell in the video, it was about 43 degrees. Amii nearly passed out from the extreme heat coming from the sand that day. We filmed a 3rd scene at a Rose Garden, but that footage didn’t end up making the final cut, although we did use it in our "Enjoy The Silence" / "I Sing The Body Electric" video.
Fantastic! Now how did Johanna come to join the group?
I’d known Johanna since Parralox first started, and we’d always been good friends. But she had her band going, and I had mine so we pretty much left it at that. It wasn’t until Amii left Parralox and I had sung a few songs myself that my manager suggested Johanna (they both live in London). It seemed so obvious!
I’ve been a little curious as Johanna’s low profile since joining the group. Her first song out, she sang back up. And then she didn’t sing on Holiday ’14. Nor is she singing lead on the new single "Aeronaut." When will we hear Johanna sing lead?
Johanna and I have been busy recording songs, and you’ll hear them on our next album. I can’t wait! She was also onstage while we were supporting Erasure on their UK shows for The Violet Flame tour, so that’s not exactly low profile. LOL!
That is true. Fans, if you want to hear Johanna belt out "Sharper Than A Knife" live (You'll also get to hear John singing "Eye In The Sky" live, and see Francine singing along, too.) then watch this video ...
“Aeronaut” is getting a lot of press and praise! How nice is that?
I’m a little amazed to be honest. The video has had over 30,000 hits in a week. It’s been Parralox’s most successful song since "Eye In The Sky" so I’m a bit gob smacked. It’s all due to the amazing support from our loyal fans and the amazing blogs who write about Parralox and support us. Both Johanna and I are incredibly grateful for this.
What can we expect from the next album? Will you and Johanna be splitting vocal duties?
The next album will be a mix of Johanna and me on vocals. I’m really excited for people to hear the new songs. It’s a mix of electro, pop and soul. Still the classic Parralox sound that people know and love, but with a little newness added.
Will there be a tour in 2015? And if so, will you come to San Francisco? (Hint Hint)
Not so sure about touring in 2015, we are focusing on recording the new album. We were overseas 3 times in 2014 and it took a lot of time out of our recording schedule. We are using 2015 to get more new material under our belt. Our next album will also be released in 2015 (all going well!) and we have already started planning for some tours in early/mid 2016. At this stage we are looking at touring in Europe again. Although we might explore a tour of USA using a crowd funding platform. Parralox has never ventured into crowd funding, so it might be an interesting experience.
Last question, it looks like your dog Jack loves to pose with your photos on Instagram, Facebook, as well as in your JVA’s World of Electronica videos on YouTube. Has Jack ever been recorded for a Parralox song?
As a matter of fact yes! I used him on our newest song “Wrong or Right” but ended up taking his parts out at the last minute. I know there’s an early version of Wrong or Righton the internet. Those of you with good ears will hear his synchronized barking at the start of the song just before I start to sing. Jack seems to get more attention on Instagram than Johanna or myself! I may as well call it Dogs on Synths. LOL!
Thank you so much, John!
So Poptastic readers ... what are you waiting for? Go out and buy Parralox's music. I started by going to Parrlox's website and seeing what the singles were. I downloaded them first. And then I got all the albums. However, I would highly encourage you to start with the first album and keep buying them. My favourites change constantly. They have a lot of songs, and they are so wonderful.
I can't wait to hear the new album. Until then, don't forget to check out their latest single "Aeronaut." It is on a fantastic album also called Aeronaut. There is also a remix EP with 11 tracks!