For such a bubbly girl, Mel Parsons has some pretty tear-jerking numbers.

But she's all smiles and belly-laughs when she catches up with TimeOut to talk about the success of her debut album and its Tui award nomination for folk album of the year.

At 28, Parsons is unsure about being labelled a folk musician - she doesn't play the banjo, not just yet.

"[Folk] just has so many connotations, not bad connotations but it just sounds uncool. I guess it's just not indie," she says.

But a group of other young local ladies who all write songs, play guitar, sing and have therefore also fallen under the folk genre often catch up with each other for tea or coffee and to bounce ideas around - Parsons regularly sees the Sami sisters, Jess Chambers, Reb Fountain and Anna Coddington.

Following the release of her debut album Over My Shoulder in March last year Parsons has toured most of the country. She is performing alongside the other Tui folk album nominees Emeralds & Greenstone from Christchurch and Chris Prowse from Wellington at the Auckland Folk Festival on Sunday evening, before the winner is announced.

Over My Shoulder features some devastatingly sad songs, and Parsons explains that this is because most of her lyrics are prompted by grief of some sort: "Songwriting is more of an outlet for me, so when I'm feeling gutted or sad, that's when all this stuff comes out. And then I'm back to my normal self."

She began playing the guitar at 14, and like most young guitarists of the era, one of her favourite songs was Stand By Me.

"I was one of those kids who started playing the guitar and was like, 'wow'," she says.

Growing up on a farm at Cape Foulwind, near Westport, meant Parsons was not exposed to many touring bands, but listened to a lot of Dire Straits and Cat Stevens.

There was no music department at her local high school, but her maths teacher happened to be a guitarist and encouraged Parsons' passion for songwriting. Singing came later.

Then, instead of following everyone else into a Bachelor of Arts at university, Parsons took herself to the Nelson School of Music.

She then moved to Auckland to complete a music degree and after several years travelling - including two years in Canada where she worked on skifields in winter and in the bush during summer - Parsons returned to New Zealand in 2007, to create the album that had been bubbling away for years.

"The album has always been the goal. Until then you are floating around going, 'yup I'm a musician'. But with an album, you don't have to talk about what you do so much," she says.

Lowdown
Who: Mel Parsons, Westport singer-songwriter
When and Where: Playing the weekend-long Auckland folk festival in the Kumeu showgrounds at 6pm on Sunday
Other festival acts include: Stephan Grossman, Emily Smith, Coolgrass, Mary Kippenberger and Peter Charlton-Jones, Forbidden Joe, Rhonda and the Ravers