Mel Parsons couldn't sleep, so she wrote an album. Parts of the Christchurch-based singer-songwriter's new album, Glass Heart, were conceived on a string of solo dates throughout the US and Canada. Writing on the road is "unusual" for her, but Parsons suddenly found herself with a surplus of time on her hands.
"I had really chronic insomnia," she says. "I was probably sleeping three or four hours a night. So I had a lot of bonus time that I wouldn't normally have. Normally I would be quite pissed off about not being able to sleep, but then that time I was like, 'I might as well use this and I guess my body will crash me when it needs to'.
"None of those songs were laboured at all – they just arrived, if that's not too trite to say. Sometimes they just turn up quite quickly and then you're like, 'Right, well I'm awake, so there it is'."
Glass Heart was recorded in LA with producer Mitchell Froom, who has worked with Fleetwood Mac, Crowded House and Suzanne Vega. The session came right at the end of her tour, with Parsons finishing the last song literally the morning she went into the studio.
"I'm a very deadline-based person," she says. "I've learnt that to get something finished I need the studio time booked. It's maybe like artists having an exhibition or something – you intend to paint all this time, but it's not until you've got to have 10 paintings ready in a month that you knuckle down."
Recording was a breeze. Most of what ended up on the album was the first or second take, with Parsons singing the majority of her vocals live to tape. Though she normally co-produces her records, she let Froom take the driver's seat this time, which allowed her to shake off the perfectionist within her.
"It was super chilled," she says. "It just flowed. We were just outside playing basketball half the time."
The result is a gorgeous folk record, awash with earthy tones and a captivating gloominess – all brought together by Parsons' transfixing voice. Parsons says she's drawn towards darkness in music, even if it's a departure from the way she lives her life.
"[Darkness] really appeals to me," she says. "In my personal life, I'm a really happy person mostly, but I think I'm just drawn to more sad and dark music as a listener, as a music fan. I wanted to produce something in that vein – without being, 'Oh woe is me, everything is melancholy', – more just in terms of the soundscape and the feeling of it."
Glass Heart looks at the fragility and transparency of wearing your heart on your sleeve –something Parsons is familiar with as a songwriter.
"It's that feeling where you know that you're sad and you know that everyone can see it, and that makes you feel even worse – that you can't cover it up, that people can see through you."
The record's journey finishes with What Would You Change, a soothing folk track that asks what one would do if they had the option to re-route their past. But Parsons says the question is less about trying to amend your history, and more about coming to terms with it.
"You think [life's] one thing and you're heading in one direction, and then next minute there's a total handbrake and you're heading in completely the other direction, doing something you never could've imagined," she says.
"You might have regret about an amount of time spent on something, or with someone, and feel, 'Oh god, have I wasted that time?', But I think it's just accepting that regardless of how bad a situation is or was or whatever, time is never wasted ... Everyone takes their time and comes to the right realisation at different times, and I guess it's just talking about the process of accepting that."
Who: Mel Parsons
What: New album Glass Heart
Tour: Playing Meow, Wellington, December 5; Anthology Lounge, Auckland, December 6; Lyttleton Arts Factory, December 8