When most young Australians move to Europe after finishing school, they tend to end up working in bars. I can only think of five whose spell of post-academic travelling resulted in appearances on stage at Glastonbury and a Roman ampitheatre, and having a single produced by Daft Punk. With a fantastic debut album out today and a long world tour on the way that includes a show at Camden’s Roundhouse, they won’t be going back any time soon.
Parcels are five school friends in their early twenties from Byron Bay on the east coast of Australia, a holiday enclave for surfing and whale watching that is literally half a world away from Berlin, where the quintet ended up in 2015. “In Byron Bay we’re brought up in such a different way. The environment is so relaxed. The lifestyle is pretty incredible and we’re very privileged to be a part of that world,” says 23-year-old guitarist and singer Jules Crommelin. “If it wasn’t for music, I wouldn’t have moved.”
Growing up, they had been in various bands playing various styles in various line-up permutations, but nothing quite hit the spot. Crommelin and drummer Anatole “Toto” Serret were the only two who hadn’t played together before this group. “Maybe that’s the genius of Parcels: you two together!” suggests keyboardist Pat Hetherington, 22.
Hetherington and Crommelin are given the chore of today’s interview in their UK record label’s Spitalfields office, perhaps selected during the band’s lunch in the Nando’s downstairs, where they ordered the “Wing Roulette” and competed to see who would get the hot one. “Oh man, you got the worst two!” jokes Serret when he pops in to pick up some clothes for their showcase gig at Rough Trade East later in the day. They seem all right to me, with Crommelin in particular going above and beyond on the outfit front. In his black turtleneck and a retro two-piece suit with the legs rolled up and the jacket tucked into the trousers, he looks every inch the Seventies disco king. His feathery hair and natty moustache also make him look uncannily like George Harrison on the cover of Let It Be. “We want to look fresh, just like you do in any job, I guess,” he says.
In Byron Bay they made one EP and played just three gigs as Parcels, taking the band name from an antique post office sign in second keyboardist Louie Swain’s parents’ house, where they rehearsed. Bassist Noah Hill completed the group. It wasn’t long before they started to think that this was a band that deserved to go places. “We decided to move to Berlin before there was any sort of record company interest, but maybe there was this glimpse of a feeling that we could do something bigger over there.”
“We’ve all been in heaps of bands and all of a sudden it was like, ‘Ah, this is it!’ We got that feeling we could do anything we want musically,” continues Crommelin. “Finding people you can really bounce off is the most important thing for me in songwriting. I’ve had it a bit in the past, but there have always been problems. This time, it felt electric.”
They rented cheap AirBNBs and lived on minimal central heating and potato soup. Their German wasn’t great but most people spoke English anyway. Crommelin and Swain signed up on Helpling, an app for finding cleaners, and scrubbed people’s bathrooms for money. “It didn’t feel tough in the beginning, because we were so full of energy on our first trip to Europe,” says the guitarist.
“The first three or four months were just a party,” adds Hetherington. “But then we started to run out of money, and there was this dark winter.”
Despite the plummeting temperatures outside, at home they were developing a sound that was pure sunshine: a blissed out mix of soft rock, chic disco and five-way vocal harmonies that recalled some of the smoother moments of Daft Punk’s hit 2013 album, Random Access Memories. So naturally it was Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, minus their robot helmets, who showed up at Parcels’ first ever Paris gig, at the Les Baines bar in April 2016 – Get Lucky indeed.
“We heard a rumour that they were there and I didn’t believe it,” says Crommelin. “Then I had such a long conversation with Thomas after the show. He talked and talked into my ear while there was another band playing, then said we should come to their studio next week. It was so exciting.”
Parcels’ invite to Daft Punk’s workplace was initially just supposed to be an opportunity to carry on the chat, but recognising kindred spirits, they ended up working on a single together. Overnight, with its clipped, funky guitar, honeyed organ and disco handclaps, was released in the summer of 2017, though it sounds like it should have come out in the summer of 1977.
“Like them, we do feel separate from what else is going on in music right now,” says Hetherington. “It’s not about trying to cater to what people might want, or how everything else sounds.”
The link is a particularly huge deal considering that prior to this, the elusive Frenchmen had only written songs outside their own albums with Kanye West, The Weeknd and Pharrell Williams. Parcels’ French connections have continued too, with a tour supporting Phoenix and a giant gig in an ancient ampitheatre just outside Rome supporting the third act in that holy trinity of modern French music, Air. Yet the band, though clearly resigned to having to tell the Daft Punk story in every interview forever, have been bold enough to make less of the link than they could have. Their self-titled debut album is also self-produced, and leaves Overnight off the tracklist.
“We want to make our own name, and that’s what they wanted for us too,” says Hetherington. “Doing it ourselves was a long process, spending hours and hours on single sounds, and the editing afterwards was madness, always losing files. But that ignorance is all part of it. It’s fun.”
They’ve ended up with an album that’s a complete package, out of step with the cherrypicking ethos of the streaming era, from the gorgeous airline-themed sleeve to the song sequencing. It begins with an anticipation-building instrumental (Comedown, one of the first songs they wrote and a firm live favourite), goes a bit crazy in the middle with Everyroad, which starts soft and ends up approaching dubstep, and finishes up with a musical credits sequence featuring an American announcer reading out the thank yous.
It’s not how it’s done these days, but that’s the point. Parcels are delivering something you may not have realised you’ve been missing. Make sure you’re home.
Parcels’ self-titled album is out today on Because Music. They play Nov 8 at the Roundhouse, NW1. roundhouse.org.uk