Seattle Songwriters Series: Kathleen Parrish

Kathleen Parrish is an immensely creative singer/songwriter and visual artist. Parrish’s songwriting is a flirtation with dark, moody and progressive arrangements intertwined with lyrics of longing and self-reflection. At first listen she reminded me of a combination of Lana Del Rey, Evanescence and Michelle Branch. Parrish sings with long, sustaining notes against her percussive arrangements. There are some moments in her song, “Ghost,” that Parrish’s voice had strong similarities to Amy Lee (of Evanescence.) Her song, “Red Fleece Jacket,” from her EP Veins was nominated by the International Songwriting Contest in 2014. Not limited to songwriting, Parrish also is a talented photographer, writer and painter. Her journalism has been featured on Sonicbids, Hello Giggles, To Write Love On Her Arms, ASCAP, The Free Woman, and more. Currently, Kathleen Parrish is working on her next EP, which is set to release in the winter of 2017, and hosting a benefit concert for the NEDA at Vera Project in Seattle in July.

How would you best describe your music?
I feel my sound is constantly evolving but when I look back at what I’ve released and am currently working on, it all shares a dark, melancholy pop sound. While there are undertones of rock and jazz which lend themselves to the darker sound, I think overall my music falls into pop based on song structure and the uplifting nature of the songs, even if the subject matter is darker.

How did you initially get into music?
Growing up, my Dad played guitar all the time and really encouraged me as a singer by accompanying me before I started lessons. We’d play a lot of James Taylor, Bruce Cockburn, Sting; basically all the late 70’s songwriters. This in combination with all the Disney movies coming out at the time was a great push into expressing myself through song as a young kid. I always loved coming up with little songs as a kid but think it was around 11 or 12 when I really started piecing together music and words and taking things a little more seriously.

Who were some of your biggest muses/influences (music and/or non music) and how did they impact you musically and creatively?
Ahh I never know how to answer this question because I feel there have been so many phases of artists inspiring me from Michelle Branch, A.F.I., Bruce Cockburn, Patrick Wolf, Christina Aguilera, Sigur Ros, Erykah Badu. I find I’m usually more inspired by individual songs than a whole artist’s discography. The most long lasting musical influences that I find inspiration from are Patrick Wolf and Bruce Cockburn. Their ability to consistently paint a picture with words and music, regardless of what evolution they’re in with their sound, is a huge inspiration. In the past few years I’ve really been more interested in the production aspect of songwriting. Darkchild made a ton of late 90’s pop songs, so as far as production of contemporary pop goes, I find I’m drawn to a more subtle beat with darker nuances thrown in.

What song resonates with you the most and would you please explain
There are a few that come to mind, I suppose it depends on what mood I’m in. One of my favorite Cockburn tunes is “Pacing the Cage.” This song holds a lot of meaning to me, especially in the last verse:

“Sometimes the best map will not guide you
You can’t see what’s round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend”

So much of my life has been chaotic based on external events that sometimes turned inward. There was often a thought of why is what I’m doing not working? And maybe in embracing the darkness, that’s how I’d find my way out.

You’re incredibly creative! What is your songwriting process? Being a photographer, do you feel that you are sometimes visual when you write music?
I’m totally visual when I write, but I’d say more in terms of my artistic side of being a painter. If I’m feeling in a rut, I’ll often try painting and see what inspiration comes from that and apply that to my song. As far as the process, it’s a combination of being at my keyboard playing some chords and then seeing what verse could come from that, what words the music inspires. It’s always music first, even though it’s a combined process, the words come from the music. I think I see it as a story and as much of my music gains momentum from start to finish, writing the verse first rather than a hook lends to this sound.

You’re throwing a benefit concert for the NEDA, can you tell us more about that and how you got involved?
I’ve dealt with bulimia off and on for ten years. While in high school I felt it would be more beneficial for myself and others to be open about it and make room for a conversation on health and awareness so I started a club called Self Harm Prevention Club to educate other students about healthy alternatives to destructive behaviors. At the time, NEDA was very supportive with offering assistance and guidance to students on how to receive care, so now that I’m further along in my recovery as an adult I wanted to organize something to give back. Eating disorders are one of the most common yet silent disorders in our society. As a writer, I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to write journalism regarding recovery, healthy habits and my journey. This experience and outlook on recovery seemed to be alignment with NEDA’s values so I approached them about organizing the event and they gave the go ahead! 

What is your favorite song you have ever written and why?
For a while it was Hard to Breathe as it summed up my experience with bulimia so purely, but right now I think it’s a tie between Architect of Reality (will be released soon) and In The Grey. These are both newer songs and some of the more advanced lyrics and music I feel I’ve written. The ideas for these songs were both conceived around the same time, with In the Grey leading to the realizations Architect of Reality explores.

What are three things you have to have with you at all times during your songwriting process?
My iPhone for voice memos to record ideas, a pen, and notebook.

What was your favorite performance and why?
Actually not one of my own performances, but I was singing back up for my friend Champagne Honeybee recently at Nectar Lounge. This was a totally new experience for me as I’m always front and center. It was nice to take on a different role. As for my own performances, my EP release show for Veins back in 2014 is a very memorable and meaningful concert for me as it was my first official release show

Shout out to Seattle! What are some of your favorite places to hang out at in Seattle?
Well I’m pretty much a hermit, but when I do go out I love the beach (any beach haha). I’m a coffee and breakfast food fiend – Toulouse Petit and Café Besalu are two of my favs. I love biking around Green Lake and stopping into Chocolati. I feel like I’m filling out a dating survey haha.

Thank you so much Kathleen! Do you have anything else coming up for our readers to look out for?
I’m so excited to be a part of the songwriter series, thank you for having me! My drummer, Kyle Kirkpatrick, and I will be releasing Architect of Reality in the next few months. This is a very new sound for me and really captures that darker pop sound I mentioned at the beginning. Aside from this, I’m organizing a benefit concert for NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) on July 28th at the Vera Project featuring a variety of Seattle songwriters I’m super excited about. Ideally I’ll be hitting the studio before the end of the year with my full band to get started on my next album.

More on Kathleen Parrish
Facebook: @KathleenParrish
Instagram: @KathleenParrish

Kathleen Parrish’s Playlist
The playlist below is a collection of songs selected by Kathleen Parrish.
The songs selected are some of her biggest influences.


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