Subtle jazz flourishes, echoes of country swing and overtones of Laurel Canyon: Angela Parrish weaves radiant threads of American music into a style she describes as “new music for old souls.”
A breezy verve and a whimsical vibe, offset by poignant lyricism, illustrate her artistry in her newest collection of songs, Vehicle. Titled in homage to her personal history of living in her car in her early months in Los Angeles (a Honda Fit named Tessa), and the transitions of life, she notes that words and melodies are also a vehicle to transport her stories to the world.
There is a much wider world now. Millions of cinema devotees have heard her buoyant vocals on “Another Day of Sun,” the song that opens the Academy Award-winning film musical La La Land. Attending studio screenings and performing at the posh ASCAP Screen Awards is a far cry from dining on dollar meals from Taco Bell, as she did when she first arrived on the West Coast.
Angela is originally from Newton, Kansas, an industrious railroad town. “I grew up falling asleep to the lullaby of train whistles every night,” she remembers. Music came into her life with piano and viola lessons, children’s chorus and high school choir. Playing piano with the jazz ensemble in high school foreshadowed her future. After graduating from Wichita State University with degrees in special music education and jazz piano performance, she was awarded a master’s degree in jazz piano from the University of Northern Colorado.
Returning to Kansas, she was planning to travel to China for an extended gig, but the necessary paperwork never came through. She took this as an omen, and with $700 in savings, came to Los Angeles. “I wanted to pursue performing, a part of me I was denying,” she says.
After car sleeping and couch surfing, a regular stint at the venerable Vitello’s jazz club in Studio City became Angela’s anchor gig. It was through a musician friend that she heard about the La La Land opportunity. After auditions, she spent four days recording the track with the film’s creative team, including composer Justin Hurwitz and director Damien Chazelle. “I was being directed in the most positive way,” Angela says. “I felt challenged, but also encouraged in the most beautiful professional balance. I can’t say enough good things about the experience.”
Although Angela does not have a formal songwriting education, writing songs is her primary focus. Among her mentors are jazz luminary Mark Winkler, legendary drummer Jeff Hamilton, and the incomparable Oscar and Grammy-winning composer, singer and songwriter Paul Williams, with whom she has performed as a guest artist. “I consider myself more of a songwriter than anything,” Angela confirms. “I’m not the person doing backflips and cartwheels onstage, rather I want to pull listeners in by creating an atmosphere and a feeling.”
As a recording artist, Angela’s debut CD, Faithful and Tall, with guest vocals from Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek, was nominated for a pair of Independent Music Awards. Her song “Borrowed Time” was selected as a Lennon Award Winner in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest; she sang backup with Ben Folds at the Hollywood Bowl, and headlined listening rooms on a national tour.
Vehicle was recorded over time in a variety of locales. Authentic and organic, it features real instruments and sterling musicians, including a live string quartet. At the center glows the sound, soul and substance of Angela Parrish.
Living and writing in the present tense is essential to Angela’s musical mission. “I am making music about what my life is like and what it’s like to be alive right now,” she says. And Vehicle resonates with themes of encouragement from a small town girl who took a mighty leap of faith. “People might be afraid to try something because they fear the result. I would much rather have bad results than hate myself forever because I didn’t attempt a life as a performer and a writer,” she confirms. “I’m so glad that I did.”