On “When The Tree Bears Fruit,” Parsnip Update Nursery Rhymes

Parsnip

Photos by Charlotte Tobin

The songs on When The Tree Bears Fruit, the debut album from the Melbourne group Parsnip, approaches adult experiences through childlike eyes. Their songs have a nursery rhyme-like quirkiness, full of loopy keyboard riffs and buoyant choruses, but the theme that runs through all of them is the same: be open about life’s difficulties, but optimistic about what the future holds.

The childlike wonder in their music isn’t coincidental: Paris Richens, the group’s bassist and songwriter, is inspired by children’s literature and picture books where, as she puts is, “the images are essential at extending the meaning.” On “Sprouts,” Richens compares the experience of growing up to the blossoming of a plant shoot. On “Soft Spot,” the group venture into darker territory, exploring the ways sadness can make you feel like you’re drowning, and trying to find ways to “convince the sun to stay.” “Rip It Off,” which opens with Stella Rennex’s wavering guitar riff, describes the uneasy feeling of an impending breakup. The group’s lyrics throughout the record are assembled to feel like tongue twisters; on opening track “For A Ride,” Richens sings, “A run down trundle rumbles up the street / Pulls up to the curb, suburban war and weaponry.” Each word clicks in with the one before, setting an outlandish scene. And while it’s fun to listen to, putting phrases like that together is no small task.

“It can be a long process,” Richens says. “It might take hours to find the right vowel sound or suitable amount of syllables. I’ve always struggled with communication as a super shy and introverted teen, so a lot of my time was spent with words in their written form. I used to go through this huge dictionary at home and pick out words that I liked the sound of, and would keep a bank of synonyms. I love alliteration and repetition.” 

For all her close attention to syntax and structure—something she credits to her father exposing her to a wide range of music—Richens is the member of Parsnip with the least formal training. Keyboardist Rebecca Liston and drummer Carolyn Hawkins both studied music for over a decade, and Rennex began playing the saxophone when she was eight years old, and went on to study music in an arts high school. 

As their giddy songs might indicate, the driving goal of Parsnip is “to share joy with the world”; all four members have “ordinary nine-to-five lives,” as Richens puts it, and the band has become a space for them to escape the monotony of that routine. Accordingly, all of the members are given plenty of room to express themselves—or, as Rennex phrases it, “put our collective interests into a big jingle-jangle blender and seeing what juice comes out.” This comfort with one another comes from a trust in each others creative instincts and a mutual desire to put friendship first. 

The album’s final track, “Trip the Light Fantastic,” speaks directly to that idea of music as restoration. “Hush now dark cloud / The rain it brings me down,” Richens sings in the first verse. 

Then, the song rushes into a chorus that describes how easily stress melts away when you give yourself over to dancing. The message of the song—and the album as a whole—is clear: Parsnip want their listeners to give themselves a break. 

-Rachel Davies

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