It is a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon in Whelan’s when I meet singer/songwriter Lucy Rose Parton in the midst of her lengthy European tour promoting her debut album, Like I Used To. Somewhat surreally, the first thing the waif-like 23-year-old does is proffer a tupperware box in my direction and ask if I’d like a brownie. This, I muse through a mouthful of chocolate, isn’t that incongruous coming from an artist who, along with the standard merchandise of CDs and t-shirts, is known to sell own-brand jam and tea (“Builder Grey” – two parts English Breakfast, one part Earl Grey).
The brownies are in fact a gift from a fan, but Parton concedes that selling her own tea is unusual as far as music merchandise goes. “It’s nice to be able to sell different merch if they’ve got the CD already,” she says, though of course – so the story goes – she started selling her tea at shows back in the days when she didn’t have any CDs to sell.
That was a few years ago, when Parton secured a place to read Geography at University College London. “It was always a back-up plan”, she explains, “I went to London to try and do music but I had a place at university in case things didn’t work out. I didn’t know if I was gonna like it or not but I really wanted to give music a shot . . . and then I loved it.”
When she left her native home of Warwickshire, Parton played countless open-mic nights, tirelessly perfecting her craft and climbing the hefty ladder of London’s music scene. Looking back on those early days, Lucy is quick to dismiss the idea that she is really that far removed from where she started. “It feels like I’m still right at the beginning, and I’m still working towards something . . . ” She hesitates before continuing, “It’s really good so far, but it’s not like things are mad crazy or anything. It still feels like things are getting better and better – a really natural progression.”
On the subject of her progression since she started out, at Bestival last September she noted the strangeness of seeing familiar faces from her old school among the sizeable crowd. “Yeah, that was weird. There was another gig recently, actually, and there was this girl who was like . . . the “cool girl” in the year above – and I remember her being like a “mean girl”. And I was probably a geek in her eyes at the time but then she came to the show and queued up and she asked for a photo with me. And I just thought, that is hilarious.” Former-Regina George cases aside, she is grateful for the support she’s been getting: “I mean, people that I knew before are like, ‘It’s amazing that you’re actually doing this,’ and, y’know, it’s really nice of them.”
Her music is pretty and light, her vocals fluid yet powerful, but it is her lyricism especially that has captured attention – it feels a bit like eavesdropping on something very private. Did she feel awkward about playing such candid songs to people for the first time? “Definitely”, Parton agrees immediately. “That’s why ‘Red Face’ is called that – I was embarrassed. I mean, all of my songs, really. I don’t write songs for anybody else but myself, as a release of my own emotions.”
We discuss her musical influences (including Joni Mitchell and Neil Young) but she says that she’s not really limited to a particular artist or genre: “I’m influenced by so many things – by good music – by powerful songs, true emotions, interesting musicality . . . Great art, in general.”
The first time Lucy Rose came into the public consciousness was probably around the time she started singing with Bombay Bicycle Club, featuring heavily as a vocalist on both Flaws and A Different Kind of Fix, and touring with them before veering off into her own music. “I’d love to work with them again,” she says of her time with the band, “It just felt like it was the right time to try and make music for me – I didn’t want to be a backing singer for the rest of my life or constantly hanging onto the coattails of somebody else.”
In person, Parton is a little more reserved than the openness of her songs might imply, but later that night when she gets on the stage, she really comes alive. She tells me earlier that the part of tour where she’s happiest is when she gets to play to a new crowd every night. I ask her what I fear is a somewhat clichéd question: where does she see herself in five years time? Her response makes me glad I asked, however: “I don’t want to be anywhere but where I am right now. If I’m still getting paid to make music then I’m gonna be truly happy.”
Originally published in tn2 Magazine.